Aug.17 Nice to Amsterdam then bus to Haarlem and Back

  • We departed Nice first by bus to the airport then a Transavia flight to Amsterdam. Earlier in the week, I had made arrangements online for our 3rd suitcase for 10€ to avoid complications. Our documentation didn’t specify the terminal for Transavia and following the advice of our bus driver, it turned out Terminal 2 was the wrong one! Our 50% chance of choosing right, was 100% wrong, but easily corrected after only 10 minutes with a free shuttle. At the check-in desk, a SWATCH store was conveniently located steps away and coincidentally Annika had been wanting a Swatch. Both Simone and Annika left Nice with a new Swatch Watch!
  • Two hours later at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam we were most surprised as we approached the doors to daylight. The I AMSTERDAM landmark was right there! Was it the same one we had photographed in Amsterdam during the first days of our trip at Museumplein? Those tricksters! No. This was a different one! Our #300 bus to Haarlem was waiting and we arrived in Haarlem 40 minutes later. Since Simone and I had already familiarized ourself with he location of our hotel 2 weeks earlier when on our cycling excursion spent the night in Haarlem, we got off the bus at the train station stop with the hotel visible – a 2 minute walk.
  • Haarlem is like a small town with all the features of Amsterdam – canals , canal houses, cyclists, bike lanes, Dutch people who enviably speak English when spoken to in English, and also envy worthy – these Dutch people in general are easily 6 to 12 inches taller than us! They are a race of very tall, fit people.
  • After dropping our luggage we walked to the central square of town and ate one our most amazing lunches yet. If it weren’t for my inability to speak Dutch and my lack of desire to learn, I think I could live in Haarlem. It felt so comfortable. Also lunch prices were considerably lower here than in Nice with one exception. We did get talked into a 1L bottle of still water (no carbonate) which was 8€ ($10.50) – more expensive than any of our entres – and it clearly affected the bottom line. That wasn’t the first time we had been caught like that. We started by asking for tap water in addition to our drinks, and a kindly suggestion by the server – which still sounded free/gratuit, …wasn’t!
  • We power napped back at the hotel and then Simone and I went out on foot to explore and shop. We discovered the underground parking garage for bikes only – it was full – at the train station, which was a cultural treasure chest for us. (Video on FB.). There were 18 rows and 250 bike parking spots – both upper and lower – in each row. Plus the perimeter of the facility also permitted upper and lower parking for bikes; probably another 2000 bikes! I had read in Rick Steves’ book that there was construction in front of the train station for this parking lot. I imagine before, all the bikes would have been parked on ground level at the station, whereas now the area in front of the station was clear of bikes. However, the back of the station was a different story! Toronto auto congestion could so easily be remedied by commuters using bicycles, but knowing that bike lanes were ordered removed by Rob Ford, the city is already defeated!
  • See some pics of my favourite style of bike included – a Johnny Loco. Also of interest to me is Dutch bikes are designed to be ridden and left outside all year round. Houses don’t have garages as far as we saw. Rain is their biggest weather element. The frames don’t rust and the chains of most bikes are completely enclosed in a metal casing to prevent exposure causing rusting.
  • Dinner was much later at a Mexican Restaurant in the heart of the Haarlem jazz festival. We were treated well there. Not sure if telling them it was our last night in Europe was related, but they gave us a postcard to write on and to address to anyone in the world. They said they would add postage and mail it. We must be a cynical family as we collectively decided we should send it to our own home address to test if the restaurant really will post the card!
  • The next morning – Saturday August 18th – we were up at 5:00 a.m. to get the bus back to Schiphol Airport for our Air Transat flight to Toronto. As we boarded the flight one of the crew recognized us as being on the Transavia flight from Nice the day before. The odds of being on the same flights as him 2 days in a row with different airlines plus the odds of being recognized must be very low! As I write our final blog entry for our Netherlands, Belgium and Nice 2012 vacation, I can guarantee we made it home to Markham!
  • Until next time…and there will be a next time! (Scandinavia comes to mind!)
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    Aug.16 Marc Chagall & Nice final full day

  • Our last day in Nice. After a leisurely morning we walked over to Place Masena to check out lunch venues and menus. After some discussion (read ‘This is day 24. We fly back on day 26. Hope we can take each other until then!), we settled upon an Italian restaurant. I chose baked Brie and raw pears on toast with a salad plus some bites from Simone (salmon and fried vegetables) and Annika (pizza). Maybe it was the wine, but I thoroughly enjoyed it! Pete had durato fish with fries. (He can no longer defend his haute culture comments about fries being French. We went to the Fry Museum in Bruges, Belgium and now we know better.)
  • Next stop…Chagall Museum in Cimiez. We walked there in about a half hour and were thankful for AC upon arrival. We hadn’t spent much time learning about Chagall, or his colleagues – so I am not sure we were excited to realize the entry fee was higher because the special exposition called Artists in Exile was in town. We watched the tail end followed by the beginning of a film about Chagall. It was interesting to learn that at age 77 he painted the ceiling of the opera house in New York. He was Russian but fled to France when he disagreed with the politics at home, then fled to the U.S. during the wars. He returned to France eventually and considered France to be his home although the film referred to him as a citizen of the world.
  • Our walk back to central Nice was followed up with the girls buying the souvenirs that we had screened over our 11 days and felt we could not live without. Me – shoes, Annika – the bike in glass, and Simone a music box that plays the Pink Panther jingle with the big wind up key at the top (although maybe I encouraged that choice for her!). Oh yes, then ice-cream for Annika!
  • After a quick dinner at the apartment, we did the majority of our packing to be ready for our early morning flight back to Amsterdam. Then off to the beach! The waves were the best yet to jump in! Post swim we walked the Promenade des Anglais to watch the roller blader tricks, the spray paint artist, and the Venetian guitarist play along for a tourist from the crowd who sang Hallelujah.
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    Aug.15 Saint-Tropez: Sea-Scape Paradise

  • We had a Saint-Tropez kind of day today. The Riviera cruise ship was smooth, first stopping at Isle Sainte-Maxime, then across the bay in Cannes, then 2.5 hours from Nice we docked in Saint-Tropez. The yachts and sailboats in the harbors looked really nice to me, but none of them stood out as the boat I’d want to own or live on! Over time, the hot Mediterranean sun destroys most colors, but the blue sea and sky along with the white sails and white and blue boats were all a welcoming and colorful sight. Sea-scape paradise!
  • We stopped by the T.I. Office to pick up a 2€ map including a 1 hour walking tour of Saint-Tropez. In the heat of the day when we could have just sat in Lices Market watching people and eating ice-cream after ice-cream, the walking tour gave us a welcomed direction. Thanks Rick Steve’s for suggesting it and to Pete for noticing the T.I. Office. We did see a boules game in progress just as we were leaving Lices Market area. Oh btw, Napoleon was born in Saint-Tropez. Simone and I agreed, our first impression was that Saint-Tropez wasn’t nearly as charming as we expected. In fact, it was grubby and the expensive cars weren’t out as they were in our memories of Cannes. Once we picked up the walking tour route, we did see nice areas and very expensive shops – with guards at the door. Apparently, Brigitte Bardot (77) still appears on Thursdays to sign autographs outside the TI office. We didn’t see her on Wednesday. We did take some photos in the small square where some of the scenes were shot in the movie ‘And God Created Woman’. The movie symbolizing the glamour of Saint-Tropez making the town popular in modern times.
  • Another Rick Steves suggestion was to buy a picnic lunch at a grocery store rather than eating lunch in a ridiculously expensive restaurant. That we did! We bought apples, nectarines, an orange, nuts and sandwiches/wraps for under 12€ whereas a restaurant lunch would have set us back over 100€. We ate in the shade in a little park which was nice, but we did question why the others in the park appeared to actually live there. A sign if the times in Saint-Tropez? Saint-Tropez appears to be set up to receive cruise ship guests. My impression is there aren’t so many restaurants for sit down meals like other well known towns, but rather pick- up sandwich places, fruit stands and ice-cream stands everywhere.
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    Aug.14 ‘Hi Beach’ Vitamin D-Day

  • Vitamin D-Day! It was a full day of sun for us at one of Nice’s private beaches…but probably more sun than any of us needed in a day! The Nice beach stretches for 5 km alternating private with public beaches. Today s the first time in all our time in Nice to venture into the seemingly elite world of ‘private’ beaching. The cushion between our bottoms and the stones was good, as was the sun cover, but the rest was all the same since the public-private dividing lines in the water are only imaginary.
  • We ate lunch in the Hi Beach restaurant which was far pricier than anyone could think was right. (Simone’s hamburger with fries was 24€ which is about. $31.) We did invoke our free cocktail coupon offered by Nice Pebbles, the rental agency we use for apartments here. Then we really felt like we came from the wrong side of the tracks. Que sera sera! I enjoyed my prawns & risotto with a Cosmo anyways! (Throughout lunch Pete struggled to sign on to Markham Parks & Rec website on his iPhone to register for the next session of bball. Registration opens at 6:30 a.m. ET and this program fills up in a half hour. The website had problems, even at home explaining the struggle.)
  • On the 45 min. tropically hot walk home we tried to stick to the shady side of the street as Annika’s back was burned. And every good beach day should end with a visit to a toy store – an air conditioned one – which this one did too!
  • After a frozen yogurt and pizza, Simone and Pete went back out for a run – on the promenade along the beach, wearing shirts to support our Canadian team abroad!
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    Aug.13 Nice – Chicken, Antique Market, Reserve Private beach

  • Today was a free day to hang around Nice. Simone and I bought half a roasted chicken for lunch. We later walked around the old town and happened upon one of Annika’s favourite streets because it is home to the toy store she loves and the store which has items in glass (acrylic). I told the lady in the store that we visited this store in 2010 and my daughter went home to Canada and told people it was the best store in Old Nice. The lady was really kind and we could tell she was proud to hear our story. She told us her husband is the artist and designs all the pieces himself. He is unique in that field of art. We are thinking we will go back to buy one of the lessor expensive items as a souvenir for Annie. A bike embedded in glass will tie together this part of our trip with the cycling part.
  • From there we walked through the antiques market which is held on Mondays, in the place where the fruits and vegetables market normally sets up. I separated from the group after that to have some shopping time on my own while the rest walked to the private beach to make arrangements for tomorrow. (My daughters accuse me of looking in all the stores, but never buying anything. They sometimes even drag me away to throw me off of the scent of stores.) I maintain I can’t buy when they are around because they don’t give me any time to decide. Anyways, I shopped on my own today. What did I buy? Well nothing…except a bottle of Rose wine from the grocery market around the corner from our place. Grin.
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    Aug.11-12 Clouds over Monaco

    Yesterday was Saturday, meaning Pete grocery shopped at the Cours Saleya open market and then at the Monoprix grocery store. Simone likes to go along as she makes the lists and carries the heavy groceries. Annika and I chilled in the apartment until we grew tired of our own laziness and went to Jean Medecin shopping area to check out the H&M store & Claire’s. When we returned, Simone had made each of us sandwiches for lunch using fresh croissants from Ble d’Azur; her favourite bakery.

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    Today we took the #100 bus to Monaco. Sad face. The park that the girls have been dreaming about returning to – was renovated for smaller children…and the monkey bars were gone! I explained this as an example why I am not fond of returning to a place I already know – as it might be impossible to experience the same good memories a second time. Poor Simone and Annika. It really just wasn’t their day! (Simone also wanted a ham and cheese panini like the first one she ever ate in her life in Monaco. That didn’t quite work out either.). Incidentally, in Monaco next to the palace where the changing if the guard takes place, there were lines of people sitting on curbs eating paninis. Without any further reflection or input, we decided to dub the Principality of Monaco as the panini capital of Europe!

    Today I reserved a sea excursion from Nice to St. Tropez for Wednesday. That will be our last big excursion before we blow his popsicle stand. On Tuesday we plan on hanging out for the day at Hi Beach, one of the private beaches.

    Tonight we went out for dinner in Place Rosetti. We have never eaten in that area before, yet we have walked through probably 10 times or more already on this trip. Our waiter wasn’t a funny guy, but one who smirked as he held back with his English when we spoke French. Initially he joked that maybe we were locals from Nice as we each took our turn ordering. (No matter how little we say in French, they would never be fooled!) At one point we thought he said to us ‘You could be suave’, but we weren’t sure and we didn’t ask for a repeat because it was more fun to just believe he said that!

    After the beach and Pete’s run tonight, we were amazed 3 different times when people asked us questions on the walk. Even more amazing, some of our answers were useful. It might have been Pete’s white hair that made us a target for a Greek mythology question which Annika answered. (Hope Mercury in Roman mythology is Hermes in Greek!). Then some Italian tourists asked us to point them in the direction of Place Girabaldi – which we could do easily. The 3rd question was, is it necessary to pay for parking on our Rue, to which we responded ‘We don’t know….we don’t live here.’ as Simone and Annika were shaking the outside door of our apartment (sticky lock, making it appear as if we were breaking in!)

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    Aug.10 Bus Adventure to Biot Village

    Our bus adventures continue! At 1€ per person for a bus ride within 90 minutes of Nice, why not explore? Today we travelled to Biot Village, a ‘perched village’ in the mountains. Our challenge: to arrange for a transfer (une correspondence) when we boarded the first bus (#200). That part went smoothly. By the way, the Nice bus station which was across the street from our 2010 apartment is now almost torn down. Bus stands are scattered across at least 3 surrounding streets – just to add a wrinkle to our plans. La la la. After boarding the 2nd bus (#10) we somehow realized we weren’t traveling in the right direction…which the driver confirmed then let us out…to traverse the street…and beg our way onto the next bus with tickets that were already validated. No sweat!…as in effort,, because it was easily 40C outside with no shortage of sweating going on! So far the buses have had AC when they didn’t in 2010.

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    Biot is known for the glass blowing trade. There was one demonstration shop on the street, but there wasn’t much activity to see there. I have just now read the others are on the outskirts of town, which (a) doesn’t help now; and (b) wouldn’t have been easily accessiible by us on foot. I did have the T.I. office address with me. I wish now we had stopped in to get their advice. As it was, we had a great lunch on a patio; and looking in the stores was entertaining. (Although, we may have seen most of the types of wares before in other places – with the exception of the leather shop where the girls were asked not to touch to prevent fingerprints on the leather. The blown glass pieces were lame.)

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