23 April 2010

It's nice in NICE, and even better in MONACO!

Last weekend we spent a fabulous three days on the French Riviera.  We traveled there and back on the TGV so our trip wasn't affected by the volcanic ash that closed airports throughout Europe.  Randy trained for months to compete in the 19th Annual International Semi-Marathon of Nice.   

Nice is the capital of the Côte d'Azur (French Riviera) and the fifth largest city in France.  The area of today’s Nice is believed to be among the oldest human settlements in the world, dating back approximately 400,000 years.

We arrived Saturday afternoon to a gorgeous, sunny day.  Tucker and Scout came along because they enjoyed Nice so much last summer and longed to return.  (Also because it was cheaper than having them go to the dog sitter.) Fortunately, they are the easiest traveling companions.  They sleep on our laps during the train ride and are well behaved (and welcome) in restaurants.

Saturday we picked up the registration materials and then set out to enjoy a delicious meal and fine wine at La Favola Risorante Italiano in the Cours Saleya neighborhood.  This part of Nice is always lively, with lots of restaurants, pubs, a flower market and open air stalls.

Sunday morning the race began at 9:30am.  Much of the route took place along the Promenade des Anglais parallel to the beach along the Mediterranean.  The dogs and I were poised at the halfway mark to take Randy's photo, but we missed him by a few minutes.  After a petit déjeuner pitstop, we ventured back and caught him coming in to cross the finish line.  He completed the 21.1KM run in 2 hours 6 minutes and 33 seconds.  It was a great accomplishment and cause for celebration.

After he showered, we took a 20 minute train ride to Monaco.  Monaco, the second smallest country in the world (Vatican City is the first), has a population of 34,000 and is just under 2 square kilometers in size.  The House of Grimaldi has ruled Monaco since 1297; Prince Albert II (son of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III) is the current head of state.

When we arrived, we were surprised to see lots of preparations underway for the 81st annual Monaco Grand Prix.   The Grand Prix is a Formula One race widely considered to be one of the most important and prestigious automobile races in the world.  The race is held on a narrow course laid out in the streets of Monaco, with many elevation changes and tight corners as well as a tunnel, making it one of the most demanding tracks in Formula One.  It is a dangerous place to race.  

As we walked along the streets, we saw grand stands for viewing erected in nearly every open space, and rolls of fencing erected in front of storefronts on both sides of the streets.  It was hard to imagine cars racing through these narrow streets at high speeds!

We spent some time in the Monaco-Ville area where the palace is located.  We went into the church where Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier (and where each is now entombed) and strolled the palace garden and the narrow streets.  We couldn't go into the Oceanographic Museum, headed for 30 years by Jacques Cousteau, because they don't allow dogs.  Can you believe that!?

We ventured over to Monte Carlo on the opposite side of the main harbor, where the casinos and luxury hotels and shops are located.  Randy was happy to see all of the Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and other exotic cars. We ended the evening with a meal on the harbor and then caught a late train back to Nice.

We spent our last day climbing the steep steps to the Parc du Chateau on top of the hill overlooking the harbor.  It has a huge waterfall, lit up at night and visible from the town and amazing views.

We packed a lot of sightseeing, feasting and fun into our three day adventure, and are blessed with many fond memories.