I scooted down to France for a little 10 day adventure. My train trip was as follows:
- Amsterdam to Paris
- Paris to Annecy
- Annecy to Avignon
- Avignon to Nice
- Nice, fly back to Amsterdam
City of Love
Nothing makes you hate hand holding more than being single in the City of Love. However, I was re-reading Harry Potter so I was guaranteed to have a good time. So I did. I took my book to the Luxembourg Gardens with an ice cream from Amorino. Although most of the park grass is pristine and you aren’t allowed to touch it with your grubby hands, there are some grass areas that you can lay down on in the south east corner. At least in 2018 this was the case. I also went for a pleasant stroll around Sacré-Cœur Basilica to see a little vineyard and to the Montmartre Cemetery. The entrance to which is near the road/ bridge Rue Caulaincourt. I found this out the hard way, after walking around the entire perimeter unable to see anything behind the massive stone wall serving as a fence. The entrance shows up on Google maps as a few dots. No trip to Paris is complete without visiting the Shakespeare and Co. bookshop.
Annecy is a Fantasy
This place. Mmmm mmm mmm. So fine.
It is small but jammed-packed with awesomeness. There are, maybe, two hostels. I stayed at the cheaper one that was outside the old centre but still within walking distance of the town.
I had the best meal of my life here. Wow, I can’t believe I just typed that but it is true. I ate half a wheel of melted cheese, known as Raclette at the delightful Le Freti. The meal meant for two comes with potatoes but I was worried that it wouldn’t be enough so, naturally, I also got a meat plate and half a litre of wine. I had a table for one but you would think there was a family of six sitting there. I was insanely full but it was so delicious that I kept eating. The staff were super nice and they would walk by as I was struggling to finish the cheese wheel off they would laugh and say you don’t have to finish it all. I think I impressed them.
Around Annecy, there are free washrooms such as in the Jardin de l’Europe. There are also these fire hydrant-type water fountains around which is fantastic. At least I think they’re drinking water. I saw some French kid drinking out of it and when I did, I didn’t get diarrhea or anything so it must be clean!
I went to the Plage d’Albigny and Plage Des Marquisats, both were delightful. There is also a market, that pops up on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays (I think!). I just stumbled upon it so I can’t remember what day it was but that is what the internet says.
Apparently, the French railways strike often and the 2018 summer was no different. When I left Annecy for Avignon, I arrived at the station an hour early. I searched on the timetable board only to not see my train listed. It was cancelled. I managed to get another train departing slightly earlier and arriving around the same time, by waiting in line to speak to a person who understood my English really well.
Avig-non, neh Avig-oui
The reason why I went to Avignon was mostly due to the fact that I wanted to see the lavender fields. I ended up booking a 55 euro tour through Viator (Provence Lavender Small Group Half-Day Trip). The tour was okay. I saw the lavender fields, which was what I wanted but the day was a bit rushed and the people in the 8-person van could have been better. The first thing that the guide informed us, was that bees are EVERYWHERE in the lavender. So if you are allergic, bring your EpiPen. I read lavender blooms from the end of June till August and went on July 1. There were still patches of green/ unblossomed flowers but overall, quite purple.
Avignon itself is small and nice for half a day. There is a cool half a bridge and some pope palace thing. You can take a little boat across the water and walk a bit on the other side. If you go to the Jardin des Doms and then walk down the Stairs to Rocher des Doms you more or less end up by the water where the little boat leaves from.
I stayed at Auberge Bagatelle, which was one of the weirdest hostels I have ever stayed at. First, trying to find the place was more complicated than trying to get into the Chamber of Secrets. You have to walk into the Bagatelle camping, all the way into the back of the area. Don’t walk along the water because you will get fenced out. Second, the hostel was, I am guessing, a converted school. Or maybe it was still a school and I just so happen to be there on a weekend. There is a little bar and supermarket on the premises, which was good because it is a walk into the centre of town, so you don’t want to be doing the journey more than twice a day.
I had an amazing meal at Chez Bodus Le Garçon Boucher. The guy let me taste all of the wines before I picked one to have with my meal. I ordered the regular-sized steak with fries. 10 minutes later the owner put a tiny dish with about four slices of steak on it. I tried not to show my disappointment with the portion size but once I bit into it, I thought yup, I am going to order the XXL times four. So when he came around and asked how it was I was smiling and rubbing my belly. Moments later, the owner brought out my actual, regular-sized meal of steak. I realised with his broken English, he wanted me to try the flavour before ordering the good-sized dish. What a guy.
This is Nice
You will soon realize, Nice is quite fancy. They have a tram line and people dress well. Therefore, it is expensive.
Unless you want a few beach days or to visit countless museums, you can do Nice in a day. Don’t get your knickers in a twist, hear me out. So Nice is a big-ish city but most of it is residential. Yes, some of those buildings are nice but nothing awe-inspiring.
I stayed in Hostel Baccarat which was close to the station and average. You can walk down to the beach from here, it just takes some time.
I went to Castle Hill which has gorgeous views of the coastline along with a solid waterfall and some old cathedral ruins and a kid’s park/ playground. I walked through the old town where I had a slightly disappointing meal at Les Distilleries Idéales. It was rated quite high on Trip Advisor’s cheap eats. I ordered the mixed meat and cheese platter for 12.50 and unfortunately, I was not thrilled. It clearly was in the fridge at least overnight in the configuration that it was since the cheeses were sweating and sticking to the stone plate and the meat was a bit wet. Maybe I just got there at a weird time of the day or I don’t know, I don’t want to make excuses for them.
Nice has a long rock beach that seems to be sectioned off between paid (the spots with fancy chairs and Jacuzzi’s) and public (where peasants like myself go). The public beach landscape is basically the same throughout, it has rocks. Although, some may argue the rocks are slightly smaller if you go to say Florida Plage (fancy word for beach). The water level drops quite quickly so you only have a few painful steps before you can dive in. I read some “best beaches in Nice” reviews online and they listed different ones all along the same strip of coastline but, to me, they were all the same.
Basically everything I just mentioned plus more (like seeing a Russian church- which was gated off and closed) I did in a day. So this is why I rightly expressed myself when saying Nice can easily be done in a day.
What I was pleasantly surprised with, and well worth the 20-minute, less than 5 euros train ride was the town of Villefranche Sur Mer. It has nicer beaches, a cute, coloured town and a little castle fort thing, which you can wander around in for free. So my favourite thing about Nice was a town 20 minutes away. I should have gone to Eze and Monaco but alas life happens.