So….Cruise vs DIY?

So did we do it better than taking a cruise?

Well, if you take out having to lug our suitcases everywhere, on and off trains, to and from airports and up and down all the steps we ended up having to navigate, then we obviously would have had a better time of it on a cruise.

BUT, we were able to immerse ourselves a lot more in the cities we stayed in and this, to me, is invaluable.  We were under no time constraints when it came to most of the things we wanted to see and do (unless it was those imposed by ourselves when we chose to do guided tours).  It was particularly lovely in spots like Venice and Capri to enjoy the place once all the day trippers had left.  We ate what we wanted, where we wanted and when we wanted.  We could stop when and where we wanted.  We got to use all sorts of public transport and we got out of the cities too.  We saw so many more countries and sights on our itinerary than if we had been on a cruise.  And there’s nothing like staying in a place for a few nights to get into its groove.

I loved the fresh markets we came across – being able to buy and cook with fresh local produce was a great experience, not to mention being able to interact with the locals.

I’m not saying don’t go on a cruise, they definitely have their place and there are people who absolutely adore cruising, but for us and the way we travel, d.i.y is the way to go.  Maybe just with less luggage next time….

The main thing I learnt out of this trip was that while it was great to tick off some of the major icons of the world, I actually much prefer going to a place that is quieter and where you can appreciate it for being itself.  I much preferred Barcelona and Lisbon over Paris and Florence.  Those flag carrying big tour groups were so annoying and I got so sick of being harrassed by people trying to hawk me stuff whenever I came near a popular sight.  I hated having to line up for everything, although to be honest, we didn’t have to do very much of that, we just moved on if there was a huge queue.

Where would I go back to?  Lisbon and Barcelona.  For sure.

I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to my Laos trip in November.  Even more so, because I know it will be a much more intimate experience.

If you’re interested in any of the facts from our trip, here they are:

We stayed with:

Parkroyal on Pickering, Chinatown/CBD, Singapore

Citadines La Ramblas, La Ramblas, Barcelona

Hotel Convento do Salvador, Alfama, Lisbon

Villa Montmartre, Montmartre, Paris

Citadines Lyon Presquile, Lyon

Chateau de Trigance, Trigance

Private Residence (AirBNB), Vieille Ville, Nice

Locanda Ca’Amadi, Cannaregio,Venice

Villa Il Mosaico, Florence

B&B Antico Monastero di Anacapri, Anacapri, Capri

Casa Di Eddy, Termini Station, Rome

We flew with:

Singapore Airlines Perth to Barcelona and from Rome to Perth

TAP Airlines from Barcelona to Lisbon and from Lisbon to Paris

HOP Airlines from Nice to Venice

We took trains between all other cities, a waterbus in Venice and the high speed ferry between Naples and Capri

We drove with:

Sixt (between Aix en Provence and Nice)

We bought these city cards to help save us money – they included free public transport:

Lyon City Card

Lisboa Card

Roma Pass

We used these tour companies (everything else we did ourselves):

Urban Adventures in Barcelona (Tapas Walking Tour)

France Tourisme in Paris (Versailles)

Tour Azur in Nice (Monaco Evening Trip)

Florencetown in Florence (Pizza and Gelato Making)

Dark Rome in Rome (Vatican Tour)

Coop Culture in Rome (Domus Aurea)

If you have any questions about our trip though, please ask me!

A Nice Evening out of Nice

On our second last day in Nice, I awake to find that all the plane tree allergies and cigarette smoke (the French smoke everywhere and often one after the other) have taken a toll on my system and I’m not feeling crash hot, coughing and coughing for most of the night.  So we opt for a quiet day.  Fresh croissants from the bakery next door, a nice late start, a bit of shopping and a spot of pasta for lunch.

Nice has long had ties with Italy (in fact Nice only became part of France in 1860 when Italy reluctantly gave her up in order to repay France for their help in defending Italy against the Austrians) so there is a lot of traditional Italian cooking to be found.

And as the Italian restaurant we have chosen for lunch is right next door to Fennochio, it’s only fitting we have ice cream for desssert – this time ginger, vanilla meringue and rose pepper.

Our last night in France is to be spent checking out how the other half live in the town of Monaco.  We have a guided tour and end up being the only ones on it, once again.  Our guide is lovely and full of information.

Along the way, we stop at several points overlooking the marvellous coast between Nice and Monaco.

Monaco is the second smallest country in the world (first place goes to the Vatican City) and squeezes itself into just 2km².  It does well in this area though, housing not on the glitzy Monte Carlo Casino, but a grand prix racetrack, two harbours (filled with high end yachts), streets full of high end boutiques and loads more – in short, a playround for the rich and famous.

They speak Monégasque here – a mixture of French and Italian – and it’s citizens don’t pay income tax.  In fact, most of its citizens don’t even live here year round, but it’s not easy to become one of those.

One lady who did was the American actress Grace Kelly, who married Prince Rainier in 1956 and became the Princess of Monaco.  While the Prince was happy for her to continue her acting career after their marriage, the people of Monaco were not and she had to make adjustments to her new life.  She sadly passed away after a car accident in 1982.

About half an hour’s drive and we are back home in Nice.

Wrist Sniffing in Nice

We sat in the bar of the grand, historic Negresco Hotel, eagerly awaiting our cocktails, madly sniffing away at our wrists.  I love this scent!  “Mine’s better”, counteracted Mum.  In fact, I couldn’t stop sniffing and the reason was we were both wearing our brand new, self created perfumes to drinks this evening.  Well, how’d you do that, I hear you ask?  Go to Molinard.

Lucky for us Molinard is just around the corner.  They have been making perfumes since 1849, though not from this swish shop, rather from the town of Grasse which we drove through yesterday and for a small price, you can come and do a perfume workshop.

Selecting scents from a range of top, heart and base notes, based on what smells good to your nose, we create a collection of scent testing strips.  Then it’s a matter of picking them up and smelling them all together, removing or adding anything that seems out of place or missing.  Next, the assistant puts together the dosages of each scent to make up the bottle and voila – your own scent!

Mine has tangerine, orange and praline scents among others and I just love it.

We are staying in a great location here in Nice actually, right in the old town.  I’ve heard of people booking accommodation on Air B&B before, but I have never tried it myself.  When I saw Luke Nguyen (Vietnamese TV chef from Australia whose family runs the incredible Red Lantern restaurant) exploring the streets of old Nice, I wanted to stay somewhere like that – in a little apartment, perhaps with a balcony, right in the thick of things.  And that’s what we found when we went looking – Diane’s gorgeous apartment in Ville Vieux – ready and waiting for us.

We have a little grocery store on one side of us, a bakery on the other and we are not far from the Cours Saleya – the flower market, where we did our grocery shopping this morning.  We are also not far from a little ice cream shop called Fennochio that makes Beer flavoured ice cream.  They also have a bunch of equally as interesting ice cream flavours on offer and the only question is – how many times a day can I go there to make sure I tried all the obscure flavours without making myself look like an ice cream glutton?

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Disguises?  Pay some kid to go and get one for me?  Get someone different to serve me each time?  Turns out I needn’t have worried.  Because at Fenocchio, you can get as many flavours as you like stacked on that there old cone, as long as it doesn’t fall over in the process.

For my first visit, of course I tried the beer sorbet (which just tastes like beer really and not very refreshing), but better than the beer flavour was the cactus sorbet – unexpectedly sweet and not very cactussy at all!

Now it’s around midday and all of a sudden, a massive BOOM reverberates around Place de Palais – around the whole of Nice as well.  Don’t be scared, it’s a normal part of every day living in Nice and yes, it is the sound of a cannon.  Story goes that Sir Thomas Coventry-More, residing in Nice in 1861, had trouble making sure his wife came home for lunch.  She loved a bit of gossip and once she got out into the streets, there was no stopping her.  So he petitioned for permission to set off the cannon each day to call her home to lunch.  Even though the Coventry-More’s left Nice in 1866, the tradition continued as it does to this day.  The cannon is dispensed from Castle Hill but if you happen to be in the old town centre when it goes off, you could be forgiven for thinking it had been shot around the next corner – it’s that loud!

Boarding the little Nice tourist train along the Promenade de Anglais, we take a quick trip through the streets until we reach Colline de Chateau (Castle Hill).  Here we ditch the tram in order to stroll through the gardens and take in the amazing view of Nice from up high.

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And so it is we find ourselves sitting in the Negresco bar.  Our second drink comes around – complimentary because it has taken them 25 minutes to serve our six pieces of canapes -and we are still sniffing our wrists.

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Rendezvouz with Renoir

If yesterday’s drive was beautiful, today’s was simply stunning.  Unfortunately being the driver, most of the scenery will stay in my head, but let’s just say there were quite a few times when I was like wowa weewa!

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After a quick little visit to the village of Trigance, cut short by rain, we hit the windy roads again to travel towards our next destination, Nice.  Fog spread its hands protectively over the valleys and there was a vista like no other around every corner.

We meandered along enjoying every moment, stopping to buy preservative free perfume by the roadside and attempting to stop in towns along the way (driving here is not like driving in Australia AT ALL – in Aus, if you need to pull over or stop, there is plenty of places to do so, the bays are nice and wide and there’s just room.  Here, cars literally cram every little space on the roadsides, the bays are tiny and the drivers totally impatient – it can be quite panicking when you just want to stop to check directions or take a breather!).

Driving down through Grasse, the valleys and greenery give way to Tuscan style villas crammed on hillsides.  Somehow we missed the turnoff for the town centre of Grasse and continued on to Cagnes Sur Mer, where after circling the same set of streets for ages, we finally found the Renoir Museum.

Pierre Auguste Renoir settled down in this property known as Domaine des Collettes in 1908.  He was already suffering from rheumatic arthritis badly by this point, requiring his paint brushes to be strapped to his hands to allow him to continue painting.  From the Impressionist school of painters, his most famous works were Luncheon of the Boating Party (my favourite), the Ball at the Moulin de la Galette and La Loge.  He also took up sculpting when he moved to this property and continued his artistic ventures until his death in 1919 at the age of 78.

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It’s not far to Nice now, but I’ve somehow to got to find some petrol and return the hire car in the centre of Nice which is harder than it looks.  Finally we find petrol, but when you return the car, there’s no clear lots to drive into like back in Australia.  Instead you need to park in an underground car park and then lug all your luggage up some flights of stairs before you find a lift to get back up to the road.  I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed the last bit of today’s journey.

One more obstacle faces us before the day is out – to find our apartment (which we do without much struggle thanks to the directions of the Air BNB owner) and lug our suitcases up four flights of stairs, taking instructions about the apartment completely in French from the owner’s friend.  I hope we have understood everything correctly as she leaves, but my head is still spinning from the drive.  I need a drink.

Thank goodness we find that without much hassle and we sit overlooking a fairly quiet Place du Palais watching a drunk madman throw things around the square.  Ah, welcome to Nice.