Thursday, June 28, 2012

Making a new friend in Menton. Summer 2012 Travelogue (6)

Tomorrow morning, I will say goodbye to Nice, and the French Riviera, or as we, French people, like to call it, "la Côte d'Azur." 

It has been quite the vacation. Tonight, as I am packing my bag, enjoying one last evening in my cozy apartment in the heart of le Vieux Nice (Nice's old town,) I can hear the street below, restaurant patrons laughing; the clinkering of wine glasses; a band playing. I know I will remember the sounds of la Belle Nice for months to come, counting the days until I can return.

I will miss exploring favorite neighborhoods, on my own, or with my friend Malyss

Blogging has been good to me. I have met in person another fellow blogger here, and made a new friend in the process. 

Her name is Jilly, from Menton Daily Photo. She lives near Menton, a short train ride away from Nice. Jilly is English, but she has traveled the world, and eventually chose to settle down near the last French town before the Italian border. 

Today, as a special treat before I head back to Paris where Junior and my family are waiting, she showed me around Menton, and the quaint perched village of Gorbio. After so many years here, and thanks to her popular blogs, she knows everyone in town and introduced me to all her friends.

- Jilly: "Voilà Véronique. Un French blogger de Seattle, Etats-Unis."

- Locals: "..." [insert puzzled look]

- Véronique: "Enchantée. Je suis Française. Je vis aux Etats-Unis. Je visite la région avec mon guide anglais, Jilly." (Nice to meet you. I am French. I live in the United States. I am visiting the area with my English guide, Jilly.)

- Locals (thinking: "It's a strange world we live in"): "Ahhhh... Bonjour... Bienvenue." 

We had a long, and interesting day together, filled with lively conversation; laughs; many photos (we are both bloggers after all,) and enough breathtaking sights to turn this French-Americanized tourist into a Riviera-convert for life. 

I want to do our time together justice, but it is late, and I am catching an early TGV back to Paris. Menton and Gorbio deserve a real story. I will get to it after I return to the Pacific Northwest. In the meantime, here are some snapshots of my fun day with Jilly.

First, there was a 30mn train ride (I will never praise the fantastic local public transportation system enough,) and I arrived in Menton where Jilly picked me up outside the train station.

We toured peaceful Menton in the morning before the weather got too hot. I saw enough to make me feel like coming back and exploring further during my next visit. I loved the beach, and the quaint old town, with its steep streets; cathedral; cemetery; and amazing views of the coast. Along the way, Jilly stopped to snap shots of local dogs. If you do not know her other blog, Riviera Dogs, I encourage you to visit it. She has an uncanny ability to capture our four-legged friends. 

Jilly, hard at work...

Mid-day, Jilly and I drove up a winding road and arrived at her home, a.k.a. "Pension Milou," a boarding place for [lucky] local pooches. While Jilly called a client in Australia to check on the whereabouts of a three-year old Lab that had been "shipped" back home to be reunited with her owners, I played with some of her furry guests. 

The terrace chez Pension Milou
This little one captured my heart...
So long, Roxy!

Life is good at Pension Milou, eh, "Beau?"

The "pièce de résistance" was a visit to Gorbio, a perched village just a few minutes outside of Menton. Jilly loves it there, and her enthusiasm is contagious. A special place, certainement, and not a tourist in sight. Incroyable. The local restaurant served us the best meal I had during the whole vacation. The owner and his family took turns greeting Jilly, who is a bit of a local celebrity thanks to her daily chronicles of life in Menton and Gorbio.  

Ah, the smell of the jasmine laden trellis!

There is no good meal in the South without Rosé wine...

Later on, we walked off our delicious lunch - slowly, due to the scorching heat - and explored the streets of Gorbio. There were several art exhibits in ancient buildings; breathtaking views of the mountains and the coast; a plethora of old houses and cobbled streets. Gorbio does pittoresque et authentique like no other village I have visited so far on the coast.

Les chats de Gorbio

When it was time to leave, Jilly and I hugged, promising to keep in touch, and I know we will. A bientôt, Jilly. Stay cool. Bonne chance pour le vernissage!

Back in Nice, Malyss was waiting for me at the train station. She had prepared a simple farewell meal at her house so we could chat one last time, because, you know, that's what girlfriends do. Merci encore, Marie.

As for you, ma chère Nice, you and I know... Ce n'est qu'un au revoir. 

A bientôt.

All photos by French Girl in Seattle
Please do not use without permission

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

In Nice, with Malyss... Summer 2012 Travelogue (5)

Bonjour à tous,

It has been a busy and fun two days in beautiful Nice. I have seen the city up close and personal, thanks to my very own travel guide, Malyss, from Chronicles from the Shore

When I arrived last Friday, I was a bit anxious. Last year's trip had been so successful. How could I possibly top that? Where to start? I need not have worried. This has been a different, but equally enjoyable, visit. I have my fellow blogger - and, as of this week, new friend - to thank for that. 

Malyss and I have been spending hours together over the last two days, and there is more coming tomorrow. We have walked all over Nice, but this time, I have discovered new landmarks and neighborhoods. I had asked her to show me her favorite sections of town, the native's version - I hoped - of Nissa la Bella. She has kept her word. My faithful sidekick, the Panasonic Lumix LX5 is begging for mercy. I have taken hundreds of shots. Good thing about traveling with another blogger: They totally get your need to document moments and wait patiently when you say: "Encore une!" (one more picture.) 

Another perk: There is someone who can take a few shots of me too!
It seems I have earned a new nickname:  "Paparazette"

Malyss and I have found out we have a lot in common. We are both Southern girls, and are only a couple of years apart. We both love to travel, and have moved around France with our families when we were younger. We have lived in foreign countries, speak several languages (Malyss, especially,) and appreciate other cultures. We love the same books; have the same cultural references; love a lot of the same movies. We had to meet. 

Thanks to Malyss, I got to see another side of Nice, away from the beaten track, up in the hills above the city. I am now convinced it is impossible to take a bad picture of this photogenic Southern beauty. It is not just the dark blue skies, or the rich shades of the Mediterranean. Wherever I look, up, down, behind me: There seems to be something, or someone catching my eye. Click. Click. Click, goes the Lumix. "Oh. Ah. Magnifique. Superbe. Incroyable," exclaims the French [Americanized] tourist. Malyss is quiet and smiles often as she watches me. I suspect she finds my enthusiasm rather entertaining. And that's all right. 

Malyss knew where to take me for a special late afternoon drink...
My fascination with Nice façades is endless...

I feel fortunate I got to see a side of the city that felt authentic, away from the bustling Promenade des Anglais, or the popular Vieux Nice (Old Town.) I wanted to watch locals go about their daily lives, but would not have known where to look. Malyss did. She is one of them. 

I swear this city does not just have looks. It has attitude too. There are some bizarre, incroyables moments! Click. Click. Click, goes the Lumix. 

Can a truck go through the old town's narrow streets?
This is Nice. No problem.

If Malyss had not moved our table to the side...

French girls know when to stop, kick back, and enjoy life, a good glass of rosé; a local dish; some ice cream... We have had many opportunities for casual conversation; talking about our families; blogging; our preference for sophisticated compact cameras; you know, the stuff two girls like to talk about-- life, love, and the pursuit of happiness...

Life is a café terrace in Nice...

Best socca in Nice, I am certain (and I am planning to try it everywhere!)

Like two old girlfriends, Malyss and I have started sharing our dreams too. She knows about one of mine, and she supports it, as it involves her city. I look at some old, abandoned houses, and imagine how grand, how magnificent, they once were; I wonder how much work it would be to bring them back to their past glory...

Hey, Mr Toad: This shot is for you!

I dream a dream... but for now, it is best to make short term plans. One such projet involves Le Husband and Junior. I would love for them to join me when I return next year. I spotted something today that Junior would really, really enjoy!

Nice sailing school students have it good!

For now, let's enjoy the present. There are still two days left, and on Thursday, lucky Moi will get to meet another fellow blogger, and discover more special places. 

Merci, Malyss, for your hospitality and your generosity when sharing your city with this strange French Girl who came all the way from Seattle! Merci pour ton amitié, Marie

Two bloggers shooting reflections... Don't ask!

Merci Nice, pour ton sourire... Nice, you make everyone smile.

A bientôt.

[Almost] all photos by French Girl in Seattle
Please do not use without permission.
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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Villa Ephrussi de Rotschild and Cap Ferrat. Summer 2012 Travelogue (4)

Off Cap Ferrat, near Beaulieu-sur-Mer

Bonjour les amis,

Les vacances are going smoothly here in my little corner of the French Riviera. The weather is ideal, around 85F during the day, and a balmy 70F at night. I could not ask for more. But Nice is a gift that keeps giving. 

The city itself has enough to keep anyone busy and entertained, and I have tried to make the most of it; walking around for hours; shooting hundreds of photos; regrouping in my cozy apartment when I get tired; shopping... 

As if this weren't enough, I can get anywhere in the Nice area thanks to the amazing public transportation system. For the ridiculous price of 2 Euros round trip, city buses take me to other cities along the coast, or inland, to perched villages in the Alps foothills. Last year, I visited Eze-Village, St. Paul de Vence, and Villefranche-sur-Mer, all wonderful day trip destinations. If I want to go faster, I can also ride the local trains. In short, Nice is the perfect base to explore the Southeastern part of France - and let's not forget Italy is just an hour away!

Today, I decided to get out of town for a few hours, and caught bus #81 to the Cap Ferrat peninsula. Cap Ferrat is an apt illustration of the opulence and exclusive lifestyle enjoyed by the Happy Few on the French Riviera. Behind closed gates and high walls, lavish estates are kept out of sight, only visible from the water. For a few Euros, tour boats enable the rest of the world, vous et moi, to take a peek... But today, I walked.

As I was following one of the trails on the peninsula (the paved section between the quaint village of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and the seaside town of Beaulieu-sur-Mer,) I could not get enough of the unobstructed marine views - Ah, la Méditerranée! - and admired several sumptuous properties along the way. 

Promenade Maurice Rouvier


Thanks, Jilly, for pointing out that the late David Niven
once owned this splendid house!

Sir David, you had great taste!

Truth be told, I considered inviting myself over to Paul Allen's exclusive estate. The Microsoft co-founder (and fellow Seattleite) has owned a house on Cap Ferrat for many years. I decided against it, and opted to visit one of the peninsula's most popular attractions instead: La Villa Ephrussi de Rotschild

The 1905 villa showed me what a creative person can do with a lot of time; good taste - and let's not forget - a wad load of money! At Villa Ephrussi, Venice, Versailles and the French Riviera meet in a breathtaking ensemble consisting of a Belle Epoque mansion - the dominant color theme is pastel pink - and no fewer than nine themed gardens.

The former owner, Béatrice de Rotschild, was a banker's daughter who inherited a colossal fortune when her father died. She loved the French Riviera, and like many of her [wealthy] contemporaries, elected to spend the winter here. Ask my Seattle friends - who are experiencing the chilliest, wettest June in slug memory - and they will no doubt tell you they get it!

The construction of the Villa and gardens on the rocky terrain was challenging and took seven years to complete (1905-1912.) When Béatrice died in 1934, she was determined to preserve the special place she had enjoyed with her friends and family. She did not have children and donated the property so it would become a museum. The pièce de résistance, the 9 themed gardens, were completed after her death. 

Villa Ephrussi, from the French Garden

I will be honest. The mansion was not my favorite part. There were lavish tapestries; antique furniture; art; rare china. The best feature were the breathtaking views from every window in the building. The famous shutters found all over Nice traditional façades were prominently displayed at Villa Ephrussi. They have proved to be an efficient cooling system, one Béatrice and her friends must have enjoyed on hot days.

Overlooking Villefranche-sur-Mer 

Like other visitors, I could not wait to get out and tour the prestigious gardens. Today was a special day: Local painters and artists (amateurs, mainly,) had been invited to visit the Villa for free so they could paint, or draw, at leisure. Late afternoon, Champagne would be served as their creations were on display. I arrived early in the morning (a trick I learned when I visited Nice during the peak of the tourist season,) and only met artists as I walked through the magnificent grounds. Designed in the shape of a ship (Béatrice was a fan of ocean liner trips,) the gardens are spectacular. From the majestuous French garden and its waterworks, to the peaceful Japanese garden; the fragrant rose garden; or the Mediterranean garden, I could not believe my eyes! What a special place. In the background, the insistent song of les cigales (cicadas,) reminded us we were in Southern France. 

A painter in the Japanese Garden

Artists by the "Temple of Love" gazebo

The Rose garden

Villa Ephrussi and the French garden

It was time to get back to reality. After a leisurely lunch in the quaint port of St Jean-Cap-Ferrat, I caught the bus back to Nice and spent the next couple of hours editing photos... and writing this story. 

Tomorrow is Monday, and a special day: I will be meeting a fellow blogger, Malyss, from Chronicles from the Shore. She lives in Nice, the lucky lady. Friendships born out of blogging have been a rare treat and a privilege. Meeting one of my cyber-friends in person is a wonderful opportunity, and I can't wait.

A bientôt.

All photos by French Girl in Seattle
Please do not use without permission.

As always, if you would like to see daily photos of the trip, "Like" the French Girl in Seattle page on FB. See you there!

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