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Trip Report My solo, mostly low-budget trip: Madrid, Nice, Rome, Andalucia

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Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who answered my numerous questions. Without your help, things would have been a lot more difficult and a lot less fun.

Although I hate writing trip reports, I figure that writing one is the best way to show my appreciation for all the help.

My vacation lasted 3 weeks and included Madrid, Nice, Rome, Seville, Granada, and Cordoba. In order to keep this trip report shorter than "War and Peace," I'll try to not bore you with all the details and will try to stick to info that would be useful to other planning a similar trip.

That said, I am going to digress at first to explain the rationale of how I planned my trip. If this sounds boring to you, skip the next entry.

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    Originally, I had planned on including a conference to help me rationalize the cost of another trip to Europe. But it turned out that the only way I could get a weekend off from work - in other words, be off from work for more than a week and a half during spring or summer - was to attend a conference.

    I work every other weekend and am rather low on the seniority totem pole, so I was told that the first weekend I could get off of work for a vacation was October 24 & 25. I did not like this option. But if I give work 30 days notice, they have to give me time off to attend a conference, even on a weekend.

    Turns out, there was a conference that was not only relevant to my job but it was in Nice the end of May/beginning of June. I've never been to Nice and this was a great opportunity to visit. But where else to go for the rest of the 3 weeks? I thought about Rome. I thought about
    Turin. Even though Turin is relatively close to Nice, transportation between the two isn't very straightforward. Then I decided that as long as I was going to be in the south of France - duh! - why not spend the entire vacation in the south of France?

    I got great advice from other Fodorites and had the whole trip planned.

    Then reality intervened. Another disadvantage of my job is that it is not until February that employees find out when we can take vacation for the following April through March. So I couldn't buy airline tickets until the end of February. At that time, the price of tickets to Nice was ridiculous - over $1300. Flying through Paris was almost as bad. So I started checking prices to other European cities. Dublin was the cheapest, it involved only one change of planes, and I could fly out of Sacramento instead of having to drive to San Francisco to catch a flight. Flying to Madrid offered the same advantages and cost only an additional $80. Madrid has the Prado. So I bought tickets to Madrid.

    Flying into Madrid got me to thinking about Spain. Thinking about Spain got me to thinking about the Alhambra. The Alhambra and the Sistine Chapel are at the very top of the list of places I want to see in Europe. So I switched my thinking from visiting the south of France to visiting the south of Spain. Ironically, it would have been really
    easy to fly open jaw from Madrid to Marseille and then back to Madrid from Toulouse - but by the time I figured that out, I had my heart set on seeing the Alhambra.

    But I very much appreciate all the advice Fodorites gave me about the south of France. I have a great trip planned for
    another time.

    So now it was time to plan flights to and from Nice.

    TIP #1: One way fares on non-budget airlines are jawdroppingly expensive. Don't bother with them.

    None of the discount airlines fly between Madrid and Nice. The least expensive one-way flight from Madrid to Nice was a
    little under €300 - and it involved a change of planes in
    Brussels and took 7-8 hours! That's over half of what I paid to fly found trip between Sacramento and Madrid. When I finally picked my jaw off the ground and resumed my air fare search, I was relieved to find that round trip fares and open jaw fares were a lot less expensive than were one-way fares.

    However, during this process I discovered that one of the discount airlines offered a one way ticket from Nice to Rome for about €80. And I was just about as eager to see the Sistine Chapel as I was to see the Alhambra. So I fit a short visit to Rome into my itinerary. I also flew Iberia between Madrid and Nice and then from Rome to Seville.

    My final itinerary ended up as: fly into Madrid (2 nights with trip planned to Toledo), fly to Nice (5 nights), fly to Rome (3 nights), fly to Seville (4 nights), then - thank God - finally be done with airplanes and take the train to
    Granada (4 nights), bus to Cordoba (1 night), train to Madrid 1 night), fly home.

    Enough of the background info. Now for the fun part.

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    Actually, Leely, I thought my itinerary was rather nutty myself. But it worked out in the end.

    MADRID

    AIRPORT
    On my last 2 trips to Europe, I flew into CDG, so flying into Barajas was like dying and going to airport heaven. I don't know if this was typical or if I was lucky, but the few times I flew in or out of Barajas were easy, fast, and stress-free.


    AIRPORT SHUTTLE
    I said that my trip was mostly low-budget, but there is a difference between low-budget and stupid. I had to admit that trying to navigate public transportation between Barajas and Madrid would have been stupid. I didn't know the city or the language and I was traveling by myself. But a taxi seemed too expensive, so I settled for a shuttle.

    I initially used AeroCity and was disappointed in them. Getting to Madrid wasn't too bad. They acted as though they had lost the record of my arrival, but were able to add me to a shuttle that was picking up two other people who arrived about 15-20 minutes later so I didn't have to wait very long. I liked the shuttle driver. Originally from Nigeria, he had lived in the UK so he spoke fluent English. He was also friendly and pointed out various sites.

    I wasn't so thrilled with the shuttle trip back to Barajas. I was to be picked up at 6:45 am for my 9:45 am flight. The
    driver then picks up two other people. No problem. We then drove to another hotel. Nobody is waiting there. The driver talks to one of the hotel employees. We wait. We wait some more. Just after 7 am the driver goes into the hotel. 7:10 - he's not back. I am beginning to think about flagging down one of the numerous taxis I see driving down the street. A few minutes later, the driver and two more passengers finally show up. Fortunately, I was leaving early on a Sunday morning. There was no traffic. Also fortunately, I was flying out of Barajas. It took about 20 minutes to self-check my baggage and go through Security. I probably would have been screwed if it was CDG or FCO.

    HOTELS
    Hotel Acapulco http://www.hostalacapulco.com/ €51 for a single
    Best Western Carlos V http://www.hotelcarlosv.com/ €68 for a single
    Both are conveniently located and have WiFi

    I really liked Javier, the manager at Hotel Acapulco. His e-mails were very helpful, and the price was reasonable.
    But it was very noisy. Of course, I prefer quiet so much that my daughter has joked that I should live next to a cemetary. I guess I shouldn't expect too much for €51 in Madrid but I ended up switching to the Best Western
    Carlos V for the night before leaving for home. It was only €10 to take a different shuttle offered by this hotel to the airport. I don't know if the Carlos V is quiet in the winter, but in the summer the air conditioner drowned out any other noises so I was satisfied.

    THE PRADO
    How to describe the Prado? I could use a couple of those words that drive some Fodorites bonkers such as awesome and amazing. But it is awesome and amazing. I liked it so much that I visited twice. Once during the afternoon and once in the evening when it's free.

    Some posters have recommended against going during the evening because it's more crowded. However, during this time of year (end of May), I'd recommend going in the evening. There's definitely more adults in the evening - but there are no school groups. This is a major advantage. It seemed as though half of all the elementary through high school classes were on field trips when I was in Madrid. I think I ran into the entire student body of a middle school while visiting the Royal Palace.

    How did I find time to visit twice? Sigh. I landed in Madrid at 8 am and felt great. I congratulated myself on having no problem adjusting after such a long flight. I spent the whole day walking around and visiting the basilica and the Prado and then crashed early that evening.

    I had reserved a train ticket for Toledo the next day. I thought I might be a bit fatigued from jet lag so I reserved the 10:20 train.

    I woke up at 11:36. So much for the train and having no problem adjusting after a long flight. I briefly considered taking a later train. But I decided my body was trying to tell me something - like don't be a damn fool and do too much when you first arrive in Europe.

    So now I have to go back some day and visit Toledo :-)


    BASILICA DE SAN FRANCISCO EL GRANDE
    The guided tour is in Spanish but that's ok. I didn't need a translation to appreciate the choir stalls, ironwork, and art.

    During one part of the tour, the guide encouraged us to sit in some choir stalls while he talked. These choir stalls date back to about 1600. And tourists are allowed to sit in them? Most of the other people on the tour were Spanish and they didn't act like they thought it was unusual to sit in centuries old choir stalls. Maybe it's because I live in a country that doesn't have many things that were built around 1600, but I really think you ought to take better care of antiques.

    Of course, this was before I got to the Vatican Museums and had to walk on 1900 year old mosaic floors - but I'll rant about that in a later post.

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    Very much looking forward to more details! I was looking at the BW Carlos V for my trip to Madrid next May...did you find it conveniently located for everything you wanted to do? Any negatives at all? thanks!

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    Thanks for all the kind words.

    yk - your solo trip report was a big help to me for my trip. I hope this trip report ends up helping others just as much.

    dee0307 - I liked the BW Carlos V's location. Take 3 lefts and you're at Chocolateria Valor :-)
    It's also an easy walk to other, less fattening, places like the Prado. The rooms are large enough for 2 people. I might have found it too noisy without the air conditioning but I'm finicky that way. The staff was helpful.


    NICE
    I am trying to think of words to describe Nice. It's definitely nice. It's also lovely, beautiful, enchanting.

    I hadn't expected to like Nice as much as I did. I live in California and occasionally make it out to the beach. I love
    the northern California coast and especially appreciate it because it's largely undeveloped. So while I thought I'd enjoy Nice, I also thought that I would view its coast as being overdeveloped and not that attractive. I was wrong. I was enchanted the moment I first saw the Mediterranean.

    Nice is also a budget travelers dream. Apartments aren't expensive and public transportation is extensive and cheap. I know, I know, there are many locations that can't be reached by public transportation. But I was only there for 6 days and I had to spend some of that time at the conference, so I didn't begin to visit all of the places I could have reached via public transportation.

    I would love to go back.


    AIRPORT/AIRPORT TRANSPORTATION
    Small and easy to get around. Just walk to the left, go out the door, and there's the bus to Nice. Only €4 and it dropped me off right around the corner from my apartment. I was all settled in by early afternoon so I had plenty of time to go to the Franciscan monastery and the Matisse museum and then buy some groceries.

    MY APARTMENT
    http://www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/France/Cote-dAzur--Riviera/holiday-apartment-Nice/p69300.htm

    The apartment cost only 265 pounds for a week or 45 pounds/night - plus a cleaning fee of €50. The owner is English so usually is paid in pounds (but was willing to take a check in dollars from me). It's more expensive later in the summer.

    I liked the apartment but it did have two drawbacks. 1) There's no internet access which I didn't think would be a problem because I'd have computer access at the conference, which turned out to be 7 laptops to be shared by the 4,000
    people who attended the conference. So much for easy internet access, which would have made trip planning vastly easier. 2) No one met me at the apartment - the keys were mailed to me before I left. They do have a local person who is available - but only if there's a problem. I had always had someone meet me when I've rented apartments in Europe and usually the owners live nearby so I can ask questions. I now realize that I like having someone meet me at the door, show me around, and answer questions. That being said, I managed ok and eventually figured out how to get around the apartment and around Nice on my own.

    Some people wouldn't like the location as it's a bit west of Vieux Nice. I liked it. It's just around the corner from the beach and the beach here is less crowded than further east. It's a gorgeous walk to Vieux Nice or a quick bus ride.

    The studio was large enough for 2 people (a nice contrast to the small hotel room in Madrid) and in a quiet area, the bed was comfy, there was a nice, deep tub for soaking after a full day of walking around Nice, and grocery stores and patisseries were nearby.


    MUSEUMS (http://www.musee-matisse-nice.org/) (http://www.musee-chagall.fr/)
    I had just been to the Prado and would be going to the Vatican Museums, so museums weren't a high priority to me while in Nice. Still, I visited the Matisse and Chagall museums and highly recommend them. They're small, but that's part of their charm. I enjoyed the Prado and the Vatican Museums, but they are huge and there's only so much I can absorb in one visit. The Matisse and Chagall museums, however, are just the right size for one visit. And since
    each is devoted to one artist's work, I felt that I got a good "feel" for the artwork.

    They're also uncrowded - I was the only person around in some of the rooms in the Matisse museum, and could walk right up to a Chagall painting and leisurely view it, without being crowded by other people.

    These two museums also felt like they belonged in
    Nice. A lot of museums, even though they have excellent art, feel like they could be located in any city. Not these two museums. Partly they felt like they belonged in Nice because Matisse and Chagall were "locals," plus the buildings themselves - their architecture and colors - fit into the landscape.

    WALKING
    Nice is a wonderful place to walk. There are so many beautiful places to walk - Promenade des Anglais, Cours Saleya, Vieux Nice, Colline du Chateau, the port, Cimiez neighborhood. I would happily go back to any of these places for a return visit. And the weather was perfect for walking. Good thing I had that nice, deep bathtub to soak in at the end of the day. Not to mention ibuprofen and bandaids for my blisters :-)

    It also would be a great place for bike riding. Unfortunately, I didn't know of any nearby place to rent bikes, not that I had much time to look for one, but I would like to find a rental place when I go back.

    FOOD
    I'm definitely not a foodie and won't be talking much about food but in Nice the food was wonderful (except for the conference - even in France, conference food leaves a lot to be desired). Even the local grocery store provided delicious
    treats - butter from Brittany and, I don't know why, even the milk was so delicious. Happy cows? And how I miss the patisseries and boulangeries, although it's probably better for my waistline that I live thousands of miles from these places.

    I actually did go to a fancy restaurant in Nice. I'm vegetarian so I decided to have lunch at La Zucca Magica (http://www.lazuccamagica.com/index.php?option=com_search&Itemid=2&lang=en). The restaurant was empty and I've heard
    that you need reservations for dinner so lunch probably is a
    good time to go. Just plan on taking a nap afterwards.

    I hadn't eaten much the previous few days - throwing together some pasta for dinner and eating lunch at the conference, something from a patisserie for breakfast. So I thought I had enough of an appetite for lunch at La Zucca Magica and, heck, one meal shouldn't be too bad for my cholesterol level.

    OMG, what a ridiculous amount of food. I have never been served so much food at one meal. Bread, soup, salad, pasta - I thought this was the entree but no, there was yet another course which was the entree, then dessert. And a glass of wine. All this for €17. Well, I paid an extra €2 for an espresso since I needed to be able to get up from my stupor and walk. I was going to Colline du Chateau and then to Eze later that afternoon if I could somehow manage to move.

    The food was very, very good but I don't think I'd go back because I just can't eat that much food at one time. Which is something I never, ever thought I would write.


    EZE
    I arrived at Eze around 4:30 in the afternoon. This is a great time to visit and a little later would be even better.
    Although it wasn't empty, it wasn't at all crowded except for a bit when a tour group of Americans arrived. I don't
    understand why anyone would take a tour of Eze. It costs a little over a euro each way to get to Eze from Nice - why spend all that money to go there via a tour bus?

    Plan A was to have a bite to eat at Chateau Eza to enjoy the views as recommended by Iris1745. After lunch at La Zucca
    Magica, however, this just wasn't going to be happening. I didn't even want to look at food. So I just walked around the village and enjoyed the views.

    CAP FERRAT
    I had one more day in Nice before leaving for Rome and I was torn on where to go. I kept changing my mind - Antibes, Vence, St. Paul de Vence? But on the bus ride back from Eze to Nice, I saw Cap Ferrat and knew I had to go there.

    Again, it's an easy (and incredibly scenic) bus ride from Nice to Cap Ferrat. I ended up going to Villa Ephrussi de
    Rothschild (http://www.villa-ephrussi.com/en/ephrussi/). There's also a trail around the coastline which sounds gorgeous, but as I noted above, my feet were already sore from all the walking - so I had to save that walk for next time and go with a shorter walk at the villa.

    The house itself is ok - nothing that I would visit if it weren't in such a gorgeous location. The gardens were nicer but, again, it was the views that made it into a spectacular visit.

    The views from the villa are - how to describe them without driving certain readers crazy with words like awesome and amazing?

    Well, I now understand why people pay humungous amounts of money to buy estates on Cap Ferrat. If I had that amount of
    money, I'd probably buy one myself. And just sit on my front porch (do estates have front porches?) and enjoy the view. It's not just that it's a beautiful view, although it
    certainly is gorgeous - it's inherently relaxing. There's something about this area - I couldn't help but feel relaxed and at peace when I looked at the Mediterranean.

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    Hi Shanti, do you speak French? Just curious how easy or difficult for non-French speakers to visit the places you went (esp using public transport)? Having read thursdaysd's recent France trip report, and now yours on Nice, I need to move it a bit higher up on my list.

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    Shanti - great report! I also stayed in the Hostal Acapulco in Madrid but I didn't have noise issues - it was February though. Also went to Nice (on another trip)! I enjoyed visiting the Villa Ephrussi as well as the museums you mentioned in Nice.

    yk, I spent about five days at the French Riviera based in Nice and traveled around a bit - all on public transport - I speak a little French but don't think it was that necessary...

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    Mara - I'm glad it went well for you - and wasn't that hotel elevator something? I wonder when it was made, must have been a long time ago.

    yk - I speak basic French. But I was surprised at how easy it was to get by with English in many of the places I visited during this trip. Overall, I found more English speakers in the touristy parts of Nice than I did in the Loire Valley, Burgundy, or even parts of Paris. The only exception was the area around my apartment. As far as I know, none of the people I talked to in this area spoke English.

    Here's a link for the bus system: http://www.lignedazur.com/index.asp.

    You can buy a ticket when you get on the bus, but if you take the tram you have to buy a ticket from a machine at the tram stop before you get on. (I learned this after I got on a tram and there was no place to buy a ticket.) You don't need to pay the exact fare, they'll give you change back. You'll be given a ticket which you then validate in
    a machine which is usually next to or just behind the bus driver or in front of you when you get on the tram

    Better yet - I wish I had thought of this - buy a bus pass instead of a ticket at the airport bus station. You then validate it whenever you board a bus or tram - but you keep
    using the same pass until it expires.

    Bus schedules are available on the web site. Buses don't always follow the schedule - twice I had to wait 40 minutes for a bus (buses run much less frequently on Sundays) - but
    usually they run approximately on time and the wait isn't too long the other days of the week.

    I adore this section of Europe - southeastern France and northwestern Italy are beautiful. Now I understand why so many artists have lived in southern France.
    .

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    ROME

    AIRPORT/SHUTTLE
    www.airportshuttle.it

    I had received an e-mail stating that someone would be waiting for me, holding a sign reading "airport shuttle." Sounds straightforward, except 1) about 100 people were waiting there holding all sorts of different signs and
    2) the person waiting for me was holding a list with about 6 different names, with "airport shuttle" being at the very bottom, down around her knee. I totally missed the sign. Fortunately, she recognized the confirmation paper I was holding as I walked by her. She pointed in a general direction and told me to have a seat while she waited for a
    couple more passengers.

    This was fine with me. I was pretty disoriented by FCO, I had a lot of difficulty finding the correct conveyor to get my luggage, and felt like a lost duckling who would gladly follow mama duck if only she would please lead the way out of here. I was so glad that I had reserved a shuttle
    and not attempted to take public transportation into Rome.

    After a 15-20 minute wait, the other passengers arrived and we set off in the shuttle. The return trip was much better - the driver showed up 15 minutes early (fortunately, I also showed up 15 minutes early) and I was the only passenger.

    THE CONVENT
    I originally planned on staying only 2 nights in Rome. With such a short stay, I decided to concentrate on the Vatican, visiting the museums and St. Peter's. So I decided to stay
    at Piccole Suore della Sacra Famiglia, a convent just down the street from the entrance to the Vatican Museums. I later decided to add another night to Rome. If I had known I'd be staying longer, I'd probably have picked a location closer to central Rome.

    On the other hand, I liked the convent. The nuns were friendly - they would smile and wave whenever they saw me - and were extremely good at communicating even though I don't
    understand Italian and the only word of English they seemed to know was "ok." The room was only €35 for a single. It was a basic room, but then I wasn't expecting anything fancy in a convent or for €35.


    FOOD
    Rome is a great place to eat for solo, low-budget travelers. I liked the pizza rusticas - which had a variety of already cooked pizzas and side dishes. You told them how much you wanted and then you could either eat it there or get it to go.

    Old Bridge Gelato was a short walk from the convent, on the walk between St. Peter's and the entrance to the Vatican Museums. I probably should have tried some other places but the gelato at Old Bridge was so delicious, I just couldn't resist going back again. And again. And again.


    VATICAN MUSEUMS
    First visit
    I arrived at the convent around 3pm and was settled in by 3:30. I had originally planned on just visiting St. Peter's
    that day, but had to pass by the entrance to the Vatican Museums to get there - and noticed that there wasn't any line to get in. I had already reserved a tour for two days later but figured that I could easily spend two visits at the museums. I was right. I barely scratched the surface during my two visits.

    The initial portions of the museums were practically empty during my first visit. I spent quite a bit of time exploring
    the Egyptian museum and then rather rushed through the next few sections to make sure I had enough time in the Sistine Chapel. There were about a couple hundred people in the Sistine Chapel so it wasn't at all crowded.

    Once again, I really don't know how to adequately describe my experience. Not only is the artwork breathtaking but it has had such an influence on Western culture. I have seen photos of the artwork in the Sistine Chapel so many times in so many situations that it seemed almost unreal to be able to see the original version with my own eyes. So I just sat and stared at the ceiling and appreciated how lucky I am to be able to travel.

    Second Visit:
    Ironically, I had reserved the 8am tour with www.italywithus.com with the hope that I would be visiting before the museums became too crowded. I was now wondering if I should have paid €50 eurofor a tour after having such an excellent (and uncrowded) solo trip to the museums. While I don't think the 8 am visit would usually be worth the money, I was fortunate in that the trip I booked was worth it.

    I don't think the 8am tour is worth the money because
    1) there's quite a few other tours starting at 8am so it was more crowded than my afternoon solo visit and 2) the tour guide spent the first 30 minutes explaining what we would be seeing. By the time we entered the exhibits, it was a lot more crowded than my afternoon visit.

    So why do I think it was worth it? 1) Italywithus just recently started offering the 8am tour and I'm guessing that is the reason why only two other people were booked on the tour. It was like having a private guide. 2) Our guide, Mia, knew a lot about art and she was passionate about the topic. She was knowledgeable and enthusiastic - a perfect combination in a guide. For example, while we were in the hall of tapestries, she caught another tourist trying to touch one the tapestries and Mia just about bit that woman's head off. You just don't go touching 500 year old tapestries - at least not when Mia is nearby.

    The guided tour was a good match to my solo trip. Mia skipped the Egyptian museum and concentrated on other
    sections which I had raced through. I probably would have thought that she rushed a bit too much if this had been my first visit, but it seemed like the right amount of time for a repeat visit to the museums. And even though I had read about the Sistine Chapel to be prepared for my visit, she explained so much more and gave so much more detail that my second visit to the chapel deepened my appreciation for it.


    ST PETER'S
    Um, I don't mean to sound like a heretic - but with one exception, I didn't care for St. Peter's. I was disappointed. It was just too big. My philosophy is that churchs should inspire the people who visit them, but St. Peter's seemed to have been built to impress and intimidate people.

    The one exception was during the 5pm service. Light was streaming in through Bernini's window, a wonderful choir was
    singing, and churchgoers were lining up for Communion. That one small section of St. Peter's felt like a church instead
    of a vast monument to power.


    SCAVI TOUR
    The Scavi tour, however, was about the coolest thing I did during the entire trip. I was fascinated by the necropolis
    and St. Peter's burial site. Definitely go if you can get a ticket.

    If you go, keep in mind that it's rather stuffy down there - bring water and dress appropriately. I wore a short sleeved shirt over a sleeveless shirt. The short sleeved shirt allowed me to get pass the entrance guards and then I took it off once we started the underground portion of the tour so I wasn't too warm.


    COLOSSEUM/FORUM/PALATINE HILL
    I also opted for a guided tour for ancient Rome. I didn't think I'd understand and appreciate what I was seeing without one. I booked the Roma Antica tour with Context (http://www.contexttravel.com/rome/tours/roma-antica/PTR204/?linked-tours=yes). It cost €75 plus €14 for admission to the sites so it wasn't low-budget but it was definitely worth it. I didn't know that I'd have the attention span for a four hour tour but the time flew by. Instead of just seeing the ruins, I was able to imagine what these
    areas must have looked like in their prime.


    ROME - MY OVERALL IMPRESSION
    I'd like to go back to Rome because I didn't have time to see certain places I want to see - such as the Galleria Borghese and quite a few churches. Yet I really don't have any interest in going back to Rome for Rome's sake. I just want to see some sites that happen to be located in Rome.

    I don't know why I didn't feel strongly about Rome. It wasn't that I disliked it, but I didn't particularly care for it either.

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    > Nice ... public transportation is extensive and cheap.

    I completely agree with above. I have been returning to Nice about 2 times a year last 3 or 4 years and most places I have visited I have done by bus (cheaper and bette view than trai). 1€ for any lengh of a ride even for quite far destinations outside the city. You cannot find any cheaper. Or the 4€ ticket is actually a day pass so when I arrive in early am in Nice, I often use the same ticket for afternoon side trip on the same day to Eze, one of the beach towns, etc. Since it is a day pass, you can get on and off as you please and as often as you want.

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    Nice is one of my favorite places to visit in Europe. I go there 2-3 times every year. The 4€ all day bus-tram pass is a major bargain. The only drawback is I don't walk much anymore because of the trams. I may think about eliminating one eclair per day due to less exercise. Not really. I can sit for hours and just stare at the water and watch the planes take off. Wish I was there at this minute.

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    Shanti,

    I'm so enjoying your report, especially Nice, as I also rented an apartment for a week last year and had a wonderful time. I know too well what you felt when you first saw the Mediterranean. I also "don't understand why anyone would take a tour of Eze". While in Nice, I took the bus, train and tram everywhere such as Antibes, Menton, Villefranche-sur-Mer, Monte Carlo, Monaco (no tour guides needed). Did not make it to Cap Ferrat, but from your description it is a must see on my next visit.

    Glad you enjoyed the food at La Zucca Magica (even if it way too much food). I did not get a chance to eat there because the day I decided to go, they were already closed and did not get a chance to return.

    I'm also one of those that didn't get the Rome thing. Liked it well enough, but is not one of my favorite European cities. Most do and that's okay. As they say, "different strokes for different folks".

    Thanks again,
    jdc

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    Shanti & Mara - thanks. I've always imagined a car is needed to visit S of France, so I never considered going there by myself. Now you guys have convinced me that I can do this solo!

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    Visiting Nice 2-3 times a year? Scatcat & Kappa1, I am trying not to be jealous, but I'm failing. And thanks for pointing out that the 4€ ticket is a daily pass.

    jdc, I think Nice and Rome are two different environments with Nice being laid back and full of natural beauty while Rome has a lot to offer but it's definitely not laid back. I just happen to prefer Nice to Rome but I've met people who absolutely love Rome. Like you said, "different strokes for different folks."

    yk, you could easily visit Nice and other areas around the Cote D'Azur solo and without a car. Go for it!

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    I think many people take a tour of Eze because most of the tours include stopping at the Fragonard Perfume Factory.

    Keith and I am leaving for Germany and Rome in 7 weeks. Yippee!

    I have been to Rome once before and whilst really liking the city, I didn't care for any of the Romans I encountered.

    Thin

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    Thin, this may be a good year to go to Rome. Both tour guides told me that there were a lot fewer tourists in Rome, at least in June. The only place that I went which was crowded was the Pantheon. (Well, St. Peter's Square was crowded one time, but that was right after the Pope talked from his apartment.)

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    BACK TO SPAIN FOR CORPUS CHRISTI

    Before I started planning for this trip, I had never heard of the holiday of Corpus Christi so ending up in two cities - Sevilla (on Corpus Christi) and Granada (the following Sunday) - where Corpus Christi is a HUGE holiday was pure coincidence.

    Corpus Christi always occurs on a Thursday but the celebration can last several days. In Seville, for example, there's a concert by Banda Sinfonica Municipal de Sevilla,
    accompanied by singers, on Wednesday evening. In Granada, there's a carnival just outside of town that lasts for about a week or so. During the week I was there, I saw a lot of little girls & toddlers dressdc up in flamenco costumes - they were so cute.

    The procession area is also dressed up. Balconies are decorated with banners and sprigs of rosemary carpet the ground.

    CORPUS CHRISTI IN SEVILLE
    On the day of Corpus Christi there's a service in the cathedral, then a traditional dance by a group of boys, and a procession of floats (I'm not sure that is the correct word, but it describes them) that starts at the cathedral and follows a set route thru the center of Seville.

    The first float carries the monstrance, The other floats typically carry statues of saints and are carried by a
    group of men who are underneath the float. It's considered a great honor to be one of these men and some people have waited years to be able to do this.

    The cathedral in Seville is huge. According to a tour guide it's the third largest after St. Peter's in Rome and St. Paul's in London - but he added that St. Peter's is a basilica not a cathedral and St. Paul's isn't Catholic so you could that Seville's cathedral is the largest :-)

    In addition to being huge, the choir is situated in the center of the cathedral, and both of these factors limit
    the view for many who attend services. The tour guide said that his grandmother would say that she was going to the cathedral to "hear" mass - because she often couldn't see it.
    That certainly was true on Corpus Christi.

    All of the closest seats were reserved for either priests and other members of the clergy (I have never seen so many priests at one time in my life - and that includes St. Peter's Square immediately after the pope spoke from his apartment.) and VIPS - from the looks of them and the fact that they were almost all male, I'd guess they were politicians.

    Regular people (including me) were in the back. There were movie screens set up throughout the cathedral so we could watch the proceedings, although I could see a bit from my pew. A group of us moved closer (to just behind the roped off area in the front) to see the seises dance.

    After the service, a group of boys - the Seises - perform a traditional dance at the front of the cathedral. They're dressed in traditional costumes and they reminded me of figures from a cuckoo clock - they stand up and down on their tiptoes and move at right angles.

    Before the dance ended, I noticed some of the VIPs were leaving. I wondered why they weren't waiting for the end of the dance. They knew something I didn't know. If you don't leave before the procession starts, you can't leave until it's finished. They close off all of the other exits,
    and nobody leaves until the procession and all the priests and all of the people from the front of the church have left.

    By the time I was able to leave the cathedral, the military marching band, the very last section of the procession, was passing by. After it ended, I saw a gypsy women, holding
    a sprig of rosemary in her hand, with a befuddled look on her face. How could she offer the rosemary to passers-by when the ground was carpeted with rosemary?

    Sorry for the rather rushed description but I've got to get ready for work. I'll post about Corpus Christi in Granada later.

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    A FEW MORE SEVILLE RECOMMENDATIONS

    REALES ALCAZARES
    Wow! Absolutely stunning. An excellent companion to visiting the Alhambra. If you're staying in Seville for
    a few days (which I highly recommend) save this for the end of your visit and spend a few hours both in the buildings
    and in the gardens. I went here before visiting Casa
    de Pilatos and Hospital de la Caridad. When I visited the later two, I couldn't help but think "This is nice -
    but the Reales Alcazares was so much better."

    I don't mean to imply that these two places aren't worth visiting, (Well, I'd recommend skipping the second floor at
    Casa de Pilatos. There wasn't much to see and the tour guide regurgitated his memorized presentation.) but they do pale in comparison to the Reales Alcazares. So see them and then visit the Reales Alcazares.


    SEVILLA WALKING TOURS
    http://www.sevillawalkingtours.com/ingles.html
    22€ for all three
    I went on three tours - the Alcazares, the cathedral, and a general walking tour. While they weren't as comprehensive
    as the tours in Rome, they didn't cost remotely as much as the tours in Rome and they provided a useful introduction to
    all three sites.


    GARDENS/PUBLIC SPACES
    I love Spanish style gardens - not only the plants but also garden structures such as fountains, benches, and arches decorated with elaborate tilework. So I enjoyed visiting Jardins de Murillo, Parque Maria Luisa, and Plaza de Espana. They're beautiful & free.


    THE WHITE VILLAGES ITINERARY
    http://theotherspain.galeon.com/
    53€
    There's another thread here where someone posted that visitors really should stay overnight in this area - and that poster has a good point. But I didn't have much time and I didn't want to drive so this tour worked for me. I wish I could have spent more time in this area, but was happy with having a chance to visit here, even if only for one day.


    One more thing. Well, two or three. Seville is a wonderful place to visit and I could have easily spent more than 4 days there during spring or fall - but it's very, very hot in summer. It was unseasonably cool when I first arrived, but by Corpus Christi it was so hot that I decided to leave a day early for Granada. And I say that as someone who currently lives in Sacramento County and used to live in Tucson. Seville gets even hotter than those areas.

    If you do visit in summer, pack some shorts. I read some threads before I left on vacation where posters recommended wearing lightweight pants (e.g. linen) and not to wear shorts because you'll look like a tourist.

    Well, if you want to look like a sweat-drenched local, wear pants. Personally, I'd rather be comfortable. Andalucia can be hotter than hell.

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    ALHAMBRA

    Based on recommendations here, I wanted to get a reservation for entering the Nasrid Palace at 8:30 am. The web site for buying tickets doesn't make this easy. It only gives you a choice of morning or afternoon ticket. If you select morning, it will randomly give you a half hour time slot. So I kept selecting morning and getting later time slots. Eventually, I was offered the 8:30 am option and grabbed it. I am so glad that I did.

    I tried to pick up the ticket the evening before. I read that the grounds close at 8pm but missed the part about the ticket office closing at 7 and arrived there a few minutes after 7. I'm not sure why they close the ticket office, they still had a couple employees working, mostly explaining to people that the ticket office was closed. Why they couldn't have been working in the ticket office is beyond me. But one of the employees showed me the location of the machines where I could pick up my ticket the next morning.

    I woke up early the next day and I was so excited that I walked all the way. It wasn't a big deal to walk down from the Albaicin where I was staying, but then it's uphill to the Alhambra. It's a lovely walk, surrounded by trees. Feels like a walk through a park, albeit an uphill park.

    At 8am, a security guard opened the entrance to the ticket machines. Then we had to wait at the entrance gate which didn't open until 8:15. While waiting for it to open, I picked up an audio guide which turned out to be pretty hokey. The entrance to the Nasrid Palace opened promptly at 8:30.

    I forced myself to walk through the Mexuar, past all the people staring open-jawed at the first couple rooms, and proceeded to the Comares Palace. I reached the Courtyard of the Myrtles and had it almost entirely to myself. Only a couple and their infant were also there. It was like that for about 45 minutes. I kept walking, staying ahead of the crowd. Sometimes, I was the only person there and in a couple places it was just me and the cleaning crew.

    About 9:15 I started moving backwards to spend more time in various rooms and courtyards, listening to the audio guide (not worth it IMO) and reading from my guide book. In a way, this was disappointing because by this time it was not only crowded, but soon there were a bunch of noisy tour groups to navigate around.

    But for about 45 minutes it was (excuse the term) magical. It felt almost as though I was in the Nasrid Palace when it really was a palace, and had woken up early and was walking through the palace while the rest of the Palace's residents were still asleep.

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    I agree with skipping Casa Pilatos' second floor. Besides, it has its own ticket.
    I rec. wearing pants instead of shorts because of legs getting sunburnt. I've seen it. I wear linen pants, and it's ok, really.

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