Three belated reports down, one to go!
In April 2014 I spent four nights in Nice, four in Avignon, and three in Lyon. I was coming off of an art and museum packed week in Florence; my pace in France was significantly slower and more relaxed.
I stayed in places I found on Airbnb and Ebab, which was the only way I was going to be able to afford the Riviera and Provence.
They look so close on a map, but the full trip from Florence to Nice took from 8 am to around 5 pm. This included a brief stop over in Genoa for lunch. It was mostly a relaxing series of rides, though the train was packed after Monaco, mostly (I think) with people returning from work.
First day I walked to CIMIEZ and back. I love walking and getting the feel for a place, and this was a pleasant intro to Nice. It's all uphill .. I would take a bus if you wanted a shorter day. I was in no hurry, so enjoyed the meander. The two sites I wanted to see were the MUSEE CHAGALL (nice) and the MUSEE MATISSE (fantastic).
An unexpected highlight was the flower garden at the CIMIEZ MONASTERY. The monastery and church were fine ... but the roses. Oh the roses. My grandmother and mother used to grow old-fashioned roses that had a wonderful aroma. I never smell roses like that anymore. They are so pretty and bland. The roses at Cimiez were super aromatic. And all so different. I think I stuck my nose in every flower in the garden.
Otherwise, I wasted some time drinking rose and watching the old men play petanque in the park. I think it was the Frenchiest thing I have ever seen.
The second day I wandered Nice proper. It was still too cold to swim, and the season hadn't really kicked in yet. There were still plenty of beautiful people about, and paparazzi were roaming the Promenade des Anglais looking for celebs. I woke up to late to see the Cours Selaya, though it might have been an off-day also. I had an awful meal in the old town (my fault, not the restaurant's ... I ordered a main course of fried sardines, thinking that maybe sardines taste better in France. Which: they don't).
The highlight of the day was seeing the redone PROMENADE DU PAILLON. My field is urban planning, and this was an excellent example of taking an old space and converting it to something wonderful.
Day three I walked the SENTIER NIETZSCHE to EZE village. It was blue skies and moderately warm and absolutely beautiful. And I liked approaching the village from below; I felt a bit like I had earned it. It was a bit jarring to suddenly be surrounded by package tourists, and even more jarring to see how some of the Beautiful People behaved up close, but I still liked Eze a lot.
After three days of being solo, I was ready to be social, and checked out some of the gay bars. Which were awful. I'm not a bar person in general, but the people in these places were just cold. In general I found the people in Nice to be a little more formal than in other places, but always very gentile and polite, Not at night. I'm not sure if these were tourists or locals at the bars and clubs, but the night left a bad taste in my mouth.
Day four was just more wandering, and up to the Parc de la Colline du Château for sunset. I was feeling a bit lazy: my original plan was to take a bus to explore Antibes.
Overall: four days was enough for me in Nice. If I went back I would focus on more long walks in the countryside, and visits to the more remote villages.
I didn't want to rent a car, and Avignon seemed like the best base for independent travelers. Though I had been on the road for ten days already, and my inherent laziness was kicking in. And Avignon is a charming town to be lazy in. I loved staying in the old city walls and just wandering, or just sitting in the outdoor cafe near the Palais des Papes and watching the world go by.
Warning: Do not eat at any of the outdoor cafes at the PLACE DE L'HORLOGE. I had one of the most shockingly bad meals ever there: a charcuterie plate that was three slices of cheap ham and three slices of store-bought cheese. "C'est une honte" said my airbnb host. The restaurants on the other squares, though were uniformly good.
I did a wine tour to the CHATEAUNEUF DES PAPE region through Avignon Wine Tours. It was a full day of big wines. I actually learned a lot about how to taste wine like the pros. I go to wine tastings at home a fair amount, and I have to hold back from constantly saying "this is what I learned in France ... "
My last day was May Day. I had had great plans to do a day trip to Arles, or maybe the Pont du Gard, but everybody was uncertain about transport availability, and I ended up just chilling in Avignon another day.
Overall: Four days was good, though I could have used extra days for day trips. I've read a few comments suggesting that it's not worth visiting Provence if you don't have a car. This was not true for me; I had a perfectly fine visit. I was also surprised at how little impact tourism had outside the main streets - it was easy to immerse myself in day to day life.
I picked Lyon at random; I wanted to end the trip in a non-touristy city. And I scored. I loved Lyon. And I like to think that Lyon loved me, maybe a little bit. I was pretty much solo in Nice and Avignon; for whatever reason I met a lot of cool people in Lyon. I had two offers to go on walking tours with guys I met; people were proud of their city, and liked showing it off. And it's the only place in France where I've actually been invited to people's apartments. It was a great place to end a long trip.
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