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Trip Report The honest Italian tale of the laughs, the panics and the awe

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What feels so long ago now, I started researching my trip to Italy. Like every traveller wanting to get the most out of the 2 week squeeze in between the job that's paying for all the trips, I felt the need to go everywhere I had ever heard of in Italy. The research began and the list grew and grew... oh the food and wine I dreamt of consuming, the country side I imagined I would walk through, the cities I would relax in with a coffee and the classes I would take. It went on and on and the dream grew bigger and bigger.

Then realism hit. I wouldn't be able to do it all and enjoy it - not to mention my bank balance wouldn't be able to afford it. I narrowed the list down (albeit some would still consider it jam-packed) to a perfect trip for us. I had a bit of everything I wanted, it would last 18 days including all travel and it fit the budget - just about!

I used Fodors considerably - mainly reading through dozens of trip reports, as well as a bunch of other travel books and review sites. So that's why I'm writing the report - to pay back for all of the trip reports I read, as well as to relive the memories.

As the title suggests, it wasn't all blue skies and smiles - there were definitely some panic-stricken moments (which I now fall over laughing about) and times that simply delivered disappointment.

I'll take you through how I chose which places to visit and which one's I chose not to and why, as well as my top recommendations on the places we visited.

I'll warn you now that I'm no Italian expert, just someone who took a fantastic trip to Italy.

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    It all started in 2012 when wooed by the twilight pictures of the glittering Grand Canal that I had decided to go to Venice. The trip was booked and came along very quickly and off I went with hardly any planning. The Bridge of Sighs? The Doge’s Palace? Munch on Cicchetti? Nope, as soon as I arrived I made a beeline straight for the Rialto Bridge. Premature? Possibly. Worth it? Most definitely. It was here (albeit a couple of days later) that I had fallen in love with Venice and knew that I had to return, not just to Venice, but to discover many other places in Italy too.

    ‘The’ moment was finding a mini spot of silence – which is easily doable even during the height of the tourist season (just avoid the route between the Rialto bridge and St Mark’s Square). However, I found my mini spot of silence at the Rialto bridge.

    I was catching a Vaporetto from the Rialto stop to Piazzale Roma at 5am for an early flight to Rome. After lugging my bags through the poorly lit alleyways and tight passages, I ended up stood at the Rialto Bridge, all alone. Not another person in sight. I had spent the previous 3 days muscling through the crowds on and around the bridge – I wasn’t used to this stillness.

    I boarded the vaporetto and as I motored away, I captured the moment with a picture of the deserted bridge in the darkness that holds far more memories than I could ever write on a page. It was that memory – eerie but blissful, that made me return this year.

    ~

    So that’s how it all began - Venice.

    The big 2014 trip planning started in 2013 and honestly, there wasn’t a week where I didn’t do even just 10 minutes. Crazy I know - there were even spreadsheets and not just one!

    I travel most places with my OH and as we both work full time, we agreed 18 days was the most we could take so this was locked in and we decided on June as we wanted sunny weather but not too hot, however our plans were flawed when it ended up being over 40 degrees Celsius at times!

    So where to go? I’ll take you through the reasons why when I get to each place, but the plan started out with everywhere I could think of - around 25 locations (I kid you not!) and narrowed down to the following:

    Nice, Cinque Terre, Tuscany (including Florence), Venice and Lake Como.

    I can hear cries of why not Rome, the Almalfi Coast, Naples etc. and many other places that I “should have visited” and “shouldn’t have missed”, but this trip was perfect for us and I can guarantee that we’ll be back.

    It was worth every minute of planning and every penny spent.

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    This report is off to a great start and I'll be following along. Yes, the hardest part of any trip is deciding where NOT to visit. No matter how much time you have to travel, a weekend or a year, you can never fit it "all" in. Looking forward to reading about your experiences!

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    Waiting for the rest of your report.
    your comment "‘The’ moment was finding a mini spot of silence " resonates with me. I found that moment walking along the Path of the Gods in the Amalfi Coast and standing in a chock-a-block packed Pantheon in Rome.

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    msteacher - it really is the hardest part. I think this is why it took so long to plan. So glad you're looking forward to hearing about it all.

    Ozgirl07 - lovely feeling isn't it. It's just something you never expect. How was the Amalfi Coast?

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    Suitcase disasters and dodgy hotels

    So the trip started the day before any travels - I had vowed to stick to a smallish suitcase (carry-on size) however I attempted, quite hilariously may I add, to try and pack the same amount of stuff in. Obviously this didn’t add up and whilst yanking the zip closed, I heard a loud rip and found myself staring at a broken suitcase…

    Now where can you get a new suitcase from at 10pm at night? Nowhere near me that’s for sure. I think my OH thought I was going crazy when I tried to convince him the local supermarket may possibly sell them. He didn’t agree. So we were not yet fully into the trip and I already had a problem. Determined to illustrate perfect composure (hmm), I decided I would wrap my suitcase in plastic at the airport and “just deal with it” on our train journeys.

    One unforeseen issue down, many more to come.

    ~

    The next day we trained our way to London and arrived at the Chiswick Moran Hotel (http://www.chiswickmoranhotel.com/) for a night for just under £80. We got the deal from Secret Escapes a couple of weeks previous. It was an odd hotel with a wonderful room but downstairs hosted a dodgy loutish bar and poor room service. However we were out early in the morning so it wasn’t going to put a dampener on our trip.

    A couple of fish & chips later, it was about time for another hiccup. My tablet, full of all my guidebooks and travel notes, broke. Chock-a-block with most of my maps, tips from people I had found, a couple of unreserved restaurant reservations - a whole lot of info. Luckily, I had written a few key things down but there was going to be a lot of winging it for the rest of the trip.

    I couldn’t help but laugh.

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    Death by bus and the enormous fish

    The next day was our first glimpse of Nice so I thought I’d take you through some of the reasons why we chose to visit here.

    - Many of our friends and family had visited Nice before and have raved about the laid-back lifestyle and the ambience of a city that thrives on a wonderful social culture. Being so close to Italy, we thought it could be a good add on.

    - I had read whilst looking into train journeys in Italy that a wonderful trip along the coast was between the French and Italian Riviera’s. Being a sucker for beautiful scenery, I imagined a falling back into my seat watching the gorgeous scenery race by an absolute must.

    - Both myself and my OH were going leaving work and getting straight into the trip so we wanted somewhere that we could relax on the (pebbled) beach with its clear blue waters and a drink in hand to unwind before the rest of the trip. We didn’t actually end up doing this in the end, but it was still a pull to go originally.

    - The day trips from Nice are endless – there are so many places close by but we both wanted to see Monaco. This was mainly for the iconic Formula One track as we’re both big fans, but we thought we could squeeze a couple of other sights in too. Nice is within close proximity to Monaco so it seemed like a great idea.

    ~

    So back to the trip - we took a pricey Gatwick Express (£20 – I believe it’s cheaper if you book it in advance) and had a pretty uneventful journey until we reached the bus stop at Nice Airport.

    Well for starters, we knew we had to get on #23, but other than that we were a bit clueless due to my technology disaster the day before. We tried to pay the bus driver but he ushered us along awkwardly so we had a free journey, to this day I’m still not sure whether he took pity on our confused faces or whether the trip was actually meant to free!

    The bus was a bendy bus and my experience of these (mainly in airports) is that they drive pretty slow. Oh I couldn’t have been more wrong, the driver was manic! Weaving in and out of the traffic, hard breaking, shouting at other drivers – I didn’t know whether to laugh or fear for my life! We still look back on the episode and giggle. Thanks to a well-timed traffic light, we spotted our hotel, hit the stop button and were on our way off the bus.

    Ever so slightly relieved to feel the floor beneath me (!), we entered our hotel. It was a budget “simply do the job” kind of hotel. It was the Nice Californie Lenval (http://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-2075-ibis-budget-nice-californie-lenval) which we had for about £40 a night. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it unless you just want an inexpensive, clean place to stay, close to the promenade and within walking distance to the old town. We didn’t find it too much of an issue, but if you want to be right in the middle of the action you probably wouldn’t want to stay here.

    After noting that the weather reports displayed a downpour of rain for the weeks previous, we were surprised to be greeted with glorious sunshine and were up and out of our room within an hour. Walking up the promenade, we realised really how much of a social town Nice really is. On the promenade we passed a private jazz music event and a rock festival within about 200m of each other. The promenade was also littered with groups of “Velo Bleu”, which I understand in my limited French to be “Blue Bike”. You’ll find out later how limited my French really is. These blue bikes are much the same as the ‘Boris bikes’ in London.

    We spent the afternoon happily wandering and spend some time in Jardin Albert in the sun – a really lovely afternoon. There is a sculpture in the Jardin Albert called Arc of 115.5 degrees which seemed to be being used (inappropriately) as a climbing frame for small children. If anyone has any further information on the sculpture, I would love to learn.

    Dinner time approached and as we hadn’t made any reservations we just simply chose a place that looked busy in the hope it was good. We ended up in Atmosphere Café (http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g187234-d1731152-Reviews-Atmosphere_Cafe-Nice_French_Riviera_Cote_d_Azur_Provence.html) which seems to have the most appalling Trip Advisor reviews. However most of these reviewers seemed to be complaining about pizza so take from that what you will. I’m not saying what we had was spectacular meal but we had simple dishes of white truffle pasta and sea bass which turned out lovely. Now onto this fish, it was huge. I don’t mean a large fish, I mean huge – it didn’t really fit on the plate. Delicious as it was though with its salt baked crust, it was simply too big to finish. The meal, washed down with a delicious Cotes de Provence was around £60.

    The night finished with Brazilian street performers lining the streets with their genuinely impressive fire acrobatics before we headed back to the hotel, excited for the next day.

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    "If anyone has any further information on the sculpture,"

    Made by Bernard Venet in 2010 to commemorate the centenary of the appellation "Côte d'Azur". It is "Jardin Albert 1er" and not "Jardin Albert" - Albert the First, King of Belgium.

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    Hi rilelja,

    just found your TR and reading with interest, as we have yet to make it to Nice, and like you, could conceivably do it by train from here in Cornwall by using Eurostar and the TGV. How did you find the train journey?

    anyway, great start, and I'll be following along too.

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    Looking forward to the rest of your report. As far as Roma? Well, I visied Florence four times and Venice twice before my first visit to the Eternal City. I felt I really wanted to be prepared for Rome with some in depth history a lots of study of loctions and sites. My research paid off and I've now been twice to Rome (including a 2011 solo trip for a week). I head back to Florence (5 nights) and Rome (8 nights) next month...and I can hardly wait! Rome is truly the Eternal City and its bounty heard to envision.

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    Hi annhig – we spent most of the travelling on trains and I loved it! Would definitely recommend as even though it can be somewhat uncomfortable at times due to the length of the journeys, you get to see some of the most beautiful countryside that you would have missed on by flying.

    Hi Margaretlb – sounds great. Would love to hear about your experience, especially in Florence.

    Apologies all! Am busy writing so will be posting more soon!

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    Serenity on the promenade and all things green

    We awoke from a relatively comfy sleep and opened the blind to clear blue skies. Thank goodness! All the weather reports prior to the trip illustrated the first few days to be an absolute downpour. Now whilst glorious sunshine isn’t everything, let’s be honest – it’s always a highlight of any Mediterranean trip.

    We nipped downstairs to have what was a relatively poor breakfast – almost stale croissants, hard fruit and cheese and jams in packets. However, at £40 a night we can’t really complain that the breakfast wasn’t up to standard.

    We crossed 2 roads outside of the hotel and we were on the promenade. Walking down towards the Old Town we were surrounded by joggers, cyclists and rollerbladers at every turn. I couldn’t work out whether these people were healthy locals or tourists having a bit of a laugh but either way, we’d be joining them on the bikes later on.

    Spotting a free bench looking out to the sea, we quickly glided over to sit down and watch the world go by. It was absolutely stunning – the sun was shining, a light breeze was in the air and there was a serene calmness about listening to the lapping waves despite all of the commotion that was behind us. If there were only a couple of moments that I could relive again in Nice, that would be one of them. I smile every time I look back and think about it.

    A good hour later, the waft of truffles caught our attention and we walked further down the promenade to be greeted by an Italian food market just sat there next to the beach. Initially a bit odd I thought considering all the wonderful French produce around, but I guess not in retrospect considering Nice is really not that far at all from Italy. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to do the whole Italian thing in France but in the end we gave it a go if nothing but to whet our appetite for the next couple of weeks.

    Stalls were bursting full of sauces, salsas, oils, breads, cheese and so many variations of truffle in so many forms. To be honest, as much as I love truffle (I’m a big white truffle fan), I felt the smell was just too overwhelming and could probably put people off them. A great place for those truffle-adorers out there however.

    We didn’t buy anything from the market but noted it down so we could come back the next day to pick up some lunch. As we were coming out the other end, I spotted a ‘Gelato Festival’ sign and after consuming what felt like a gallon the previous year in Venice because it was just SO delicious, I couldn’t resist. Lavender was our choice as I was trying to avoid my usual favourite (Tiramisu) to try something new. I thought it was delicious but my OH thought it tasted like the smell of one of those stuffed animals you put in the microwave!

    Quick tip – if you manage to visit sometime, the paying system is all very confusing to a first timer. To avoid the good 5 long minutes of confusion and conversations in broken French – pay first, get a ticket and then choose your flavour. Anything that deviates from that process will get you nowhere but gelato-less!

    We had a quick wander around the Old Town once we reached the top of the promenade and walked through the most beautiful area - Promenade du Paillon. It was just so green with wonderfully manicured lawns, flower beds and full of people sitting on benches chatting about their day and others with their families having picnics. In all likelihood they were probably all tourists like myself but it was nice to imagine (however brief) the romantic notion that these were locals just milling around on a normal day.

    Wandering further down we noticed that the beauty of the area though was not just the immediate surroundings; we looked up and saw lots of ornately decorated buildings and an especially beautiful building (the name escapes me) with what looked like a small turret with a clock face. It felt like we’d been transported straight to Geneva. What was also wonderful (and we discovered in many parts of Nice) is that the city is surrounded by green hills which make for a striking backdrop, especially around that particular area. Nice has so many picturesque scenes around every corner.

    After finishing our walk, we arrived at Garibaldi Square where we spotted the bus we wanted to catch as today was the day we were visiting Monaco…

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    Simjay - Sounds great, where are you planning on visiting?

    TDudette - We didn't take a train from the UK to Nice, we flew there from Gatwick. I really recommend travelling through Europe by train though, it's wonderful.

    bilboburgler - Really? How interesting!

    KTtravel - Thank you very much, I'm glad you're enjoying it :)

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    The biggest downpour I have ever witnessed and the most expensive sandwich I have ever purchased…

    Around mid-morning we hopped on the number 100 bus to Monaco along with what felt like the rest of Nice. The bus was jam packed but luckily we managed to get a seat and for €1.50 it was an absolute bargain. On a side note, European public transport is wonderfully cheap compared to the UK – it shocked us just how much bang we could get for our buck!

    The number 100 bus was due to take around 40 minutes from Nice to Monaco, I believe there is a number 100x (or something similar) which cuts down the travel time. However 40 minutes isn’t really that long at all so we were fine.

    The bus you will need to catch is on the Nice to Menton line – timetable here for future reference: https://www.cg06.fr/documents/A-votre-service/Deplacements/transports-en-commun/100.pdf

    On the way we passed through many beautiful little towns with stunning coastlines. People were getting off the bus all along the trip and we made a couple of (regrettable) mental notes to come back another time – unfortunately we didn’t make it this trip but it’s always an excuse to visit again. The mental notes were regrettable as 5 minutes later these notes were then banished to a part of my brain which I’d never remember. A couple of the towns the bus stopped on were on sort of a cliff edge with what looked like a bay with crystal blue sea and greenery everywhere, a really glorious Mediterranean view.

    There are several stops in Monaco and we hadn’t decided which one to get off at but a lot of people were getting off at the Monte Carlo Casino stop so we thought we’d follow the crowd. We took a short walk down a narrow path and we found ourselves in the casino gardens. My first impression was that it was much greener than expected – somewhat like a very neat miniature jungle. There were lots of tall green tress, bushes and immaculately crafted ‘green arrangements of leaves’ – I’m no Alan Titchmarsh! There was water flowing through the gardens and a couple of unusual water features if my memory serves me right.

    We walked to the bottom of the gardens (or what we considered the bottom), out to the other side and made our way to the vibrant blue sea view around the back of the casino. We took some (a lot of) mandatory camera shots and took home a whole album of pictures of the casino surroundings, all of which looked the same except 2 or 3… we all do it. One thing I remember vividly (and can also see when I look back through seventeen hundred photos of the same thing) is how the sky and the sea were just so beautiful – different shades of blue of the sea and sky all just merged into one.

    It had reached early afternoon and our stomachs began to grumble – time for food. Now don’t get me wrong, I knew I was going to have to pay over the odds for something to nibble on (especially since we spotted a front row seat of a restaurant built with the only purpose of cashing in on tourists with more money than sense) but I didn’t quite expect the hefty bill I was presented with at the end.
    The place was called Café de Paris – I can hear the disappointed sighs now – it’s all about location, location, location. We sat front row for well over an hour (getting our money’s worth) simply people watching and glaring at the £200k cars glide past with the token guy in shades at the wheel.

    Our food and drinks arrived shortly after one another – a glass of wine, another of coca cola and 2 club sandwiches. Now, I really need to hammer home just how much Café de Paris (in my opinion) is just for people watching and enjoying the atmosphere and really not at all for tucking into delicious cuisine. Our club sandwiches (only lunch on the outside lunch menu) managed to be soggy and stale at the same time and fell apart whilst I was eating it. Now I wasn’t expecting high-end cuisine but when you have to spend almost €20 on a sarnie, you expect it to be at least OK. These 2 sandwiches, the coke and the cheapest glass on wine on the menu (yes I was being particularly tight that day) costing €8, came to €55 including tip.

    Whilst I’ve spent almost a whole paragraph berating this poor sandwich, I can tell you now that I would still probably return. Not for the food or for the surprisingly good glass of ‘cheap’ wine, but for the experience. I’m a very much ‘sit and watch the world the world go by’ kind of person and that hour we spent there was definitely up there, especially for a busy town.

    The casino opened its doors at 2pm and the relatively scary men at the entrance starting letting the hordes of tourists in to catch a glimpse inside. It’s a strict no camera kind of place, so make sure you pop it into your bag before you queue as you’ll be in royal trouble (as we saw) if you’re caught taking a quick snap inside.
    We noticed the inside decoration of the building before we actually entered the main room was stunning. I really advise you to take a few minutes in what I guess is the foyer just to look up.

    At the main desk we handed over €10 each as a deposit along with our passports and in return were given a ticket with our name on – a lovely little souvenir. There are several rooms off the main section of the casino, some had black jack tables, others were restaurants which housed huge windows looking out to sea – a wonderful backdrop for a spot of sophisticated lunch. We also of course checked out the bathrooms (a must in my book) as we expected them to be pretty grand however to be honest they were a bit of a disappointment – no lovely hand washes or revolving loos! (but really how disappointed could you be with a bathroom!).

    We returned to the main room where all the slot machines were and fed €10 into the first machine we came across. At first we were gambling 10c here and there just for the fun of it – I can’t describe how amusing it was pulling at those levers and winning 25c! We quickly found our favourite machine called the Fox Hound (bizarre I know!) and were gambling at the dizzy heights of €1.50 a spin. Now I’m being 100% truthful when I say after 20 minutes or so we were probably done and just wanted to gamble away the rest of the money and cash out a euro with Monte Carlo casino on the slip – but it took us over an hour. We couldn’t get rid of the money – we kept winning! Any other situation I think we’d be flying but when you just want to get out an explore it was so irritating ha! We kept winning daft bonuses of €25 here and there and having special missions on the slot machines which kept giving us more and more money. There was no point cashing out a decent chunk as we were probably not going to return any time soon so after about an hour and an arm close to developing tennis elbow we were out!

    As an overall verdict of the casino, I’d have to say I was pretty disappointed. There was no grandeur and nothing felt particularly special about the place, but I guess I wasn’t in the secret section where all the millionaires play.

    Next on the list was going on a search for some of the sights of the famous Formula One track – the cones were still out and the stands still up as race was only the week before. We came across the hairpin bend first and the thing that struck me the most was how narrow the road was and the sheer amazement that cars overtook each other round there at top speed. The next piece of the track we came across was the tunnel – walking through it the noise of the Fiat car engines was deafening, goodness knows what it’s like with the F1 cars.

    Out of the other side of the tunnel we came across some yachts and on every other one, it seemed as if the owners were treating their guests to a lavish dinner party. The immaculate staff dressed all in white were serving the wine and dishes without fault - it really looked like something out of a film. I suppose it was a bit odd to stop for a couple of seconds to watch these people having their lunch on a weekday afternoon, they probably felt like they were in a goldfish bowl but on the other hand, you don’t park your yacht for lunch in Monte Carlo if you don’t want to be seen.

    After getting lost for what felt like hours (total exaggeration, it was around 20 minutes), we found a bus stop which would take us back to Nice. The return trip wasn’t as pleasant as we got stuck in the rush hour traffic – curious to think that Monaco functions the same way as other towns in some respects when it’s so different in others. I was so tired on the bus that even looking out of the window was too much of an effort so I missed all the beautiful towns on the way back.

    Garibaldi square was heaving when we arrived and after all the crowds of the day from early morning to early evening, we just wanted a peaceful hour back at the hotel. A short walk and an apricot pastry later we were snuggled up sleeping off our tiredness.

    We left the hotel for dinner around 8pm, deeming it a ‘trouser night’ (hilarious – does anyone else call it this?), as it had clouded over and was a bit cooler than earlier. Rebelliously (sort of) we jumped on a bus to Garibaldi with an expired ticket mainly because a) we forgot to bring any cash with us and b) we were too lazy to walk. We fancied some food that we could just walk around with but didn’t come across anything we fancied so we headed to the old town to find a restaurant.

    On our way we came across a wonderful little square which looked just like a little piazza in Venice – it had a gelateria, a little Italian restaurant, a church and elegantly decaying buildings. It was so peculiar to see but it really made me super excited for Venice in around 10 days’ time. We had dinner just around the corner at a relatively ordinary place – a couple of pizzas and drinks only cost us €30, very cheap for Nice!

    Just as I’d finished my last mouthful, the heavens opened. I can tell you now that I had never seen a rainstorm like it. We were outside but undercover and it still surprises me to this day that it didn’t cave in from the weight of the water. It was absolutely pouring it down and it came so fast no one knew what to do – our poor waiter was still ferrying food back and forth having to cover all the plates of food in what looked like meals on wheels covers and not only this, he looked fit to enter a white t-shirt competition with his white uniform soaked though.

    30 minutes later the rainforest-style deluge had downgraded itself to a light shower and we headed on foot back to the hotel. We tried to hunt down a taxi at every corner but they were full of all the other poor damp souls being transported to their warm, dry room. So, we ended up walking all the way back soaked through and dodging puddles. The night finished with me hair-drying my shoes at goodness knows what time in the morning and us chuckling about our amusing adventure.

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    The ties between Nice and Italy go back much, much further than the 1940s. Nice (Nizza in Italian) was part of the kingdom of Savoia from the middle ages to 1860. Nice was a thoroughly Italian city most of that time, and was considered part of the Italian region of Liguria, and was one of the cities of the League of Genova. As a border area, it was contested between by the French, and the population was partly of French and partly of Italian origin. Nice was actually conquered by Napoleon in the late 18th century, but it was returned to the Kingdom of Sardegna at some point, which was ruled by the Savoian king.

    The population of Savoy was always partly French and partly Italian. Giuseppe Garibaldi, the hero of the Italian wars of unification, was born in Nice.

    During the wars for the unification of Italy, the reign of Italy was offered by the Italian patriots to the Savoian King Vittorio Emanuele II. In return for the support of France (under Napoleon III) in the ongoing wars, the king offered to cede Savoy and Nice to France. There was a plebiscite to confirm this decision. I've read that Garibaldi was heartbroken to see his birthplace end up in France instead of Italy.

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    Hi Rileija - we were also in Nice this past June. No rain though. That cute little town with the bay on the road to Monaco was probably Villefranche sur Mer. We stayed in Villefranche three days. Very much enjoying your report. I'm especially reliving sitting on a bench the first day on the Promenade facing the Mediterranean.

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    bvlenci - really fascinating, i didn't realise it had such connections

    Micheline - I've just googled Villefranche sur Mer and it certainly looks like the area, thanks for this!

    johnnyomalley - thanks, i'm really glad you're enjoying

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    Bambi on a bike and a beautiful end to Nice

    We woke up quite early the next morning (and somewhat drier than when we went to sleep) and made our way down to the breakfast – as per our previous visits it was uneventful and not really that delicious. I have to reiterate again, if you want your hotel to have a good breakfast, it is not the place for you.

    If you remember from my previous posts I mentioned Velo Bleu (blue bikes) which we were looking forward to – well today was the day we were going to try them out. Today was also the day that I was going to learn a little something extra about my OH!

    For reference, the Velo Bleu site it’s: http://www.velobleu.org/

    There are several bike racks on the promenade (and many more around the streets of Nice) which we could choose from and luckily for us there was one quite close to the hotel. We made our way over and after a bit of confusion we realised we had to create an account via our phone (thoughts go to my precious minutes!), link our bank card and in theory we’d be on our way. But of course it was never going to be that simple…

    We phoned the number on the info stand and all we were hearing on the other end was a recorded message in French. Not being able to speak any more than 15 words between us we hadn’t a clue what this voice was telling us. Absolutely convinced my OH had called the wrong number, I had a bit of a moan (very cringe thinking back), grabbed the phone out of his hand and ‘accurately’ typed the number into the handset and pressed the little green dialling button. Waiting for the phone to connect I had a smug ‘I knew you were dialling it wrong’ look on my face. A couple more seconds passed and nothing – no voice or message. Then as luck would have it, the recorded message played for me and as my face dropped my OH’s face brightened – I guess I wasn’t right after all. A few more calls later we were still getting the same message and convinced there was something wrong with the Velo Bleu line we headed back to the hotel to find some French-speaking staff.

    Back at the hotel we explained our situation and checked the number in their tourism folder – it was definitely correct. We ended up handing our phone over to the hotel staff for them to translate. As the phone connected to the message they all roared with laughter – we had simply forgotten to include the French dialling code. Oh dear – I don’t think I’d felt that stupid in a while! We called the number again, this time with the dialling code and like magic, it worked! A little while later (actually considerably later than planned) we had created an account, jabbed our code in the bike lock and freed our fun transport for the day. But again, it was never going to be that simple…

    We had to try around 3 or 4 different bikes each to get one that worked properly – this is probably the biggest downfall of the Velo Blue. They don’t seem to maintained regularly so you do get a lot of broken bikes, in some cases we found it was the majority of bikes on the stand. Anyway, we found our bikes and set off, almost. Now I knew that my OH wasn’t the most competent at bike riding as he never learnt as a child, but never has a phrase “not the most competent” ever been such a wild understatement! He was so bad in fact that he didn’t realise his bike was broken when riding, hilarious! Oh the amusement it brought me across the next 30 minutes or so until he got the hang of it – gladly my OH took it all in good humour (thanks goodness!).

    The bikes brought us much joy riding up and down the promenade for a while – it’s a lot more fun than you realise, especially the crowd dodging – until we realised it was wine time! We parked our bikes near the old town and walked in to find a lovely little bar. I ordered my Côtes de Provence and I have to say I was getting quite the expert at my French accent for this little phrase considering how much I had ordered over the last couple of days, such a shame we were leaving the next day.

    Whilst having our drinks we noticed a sign pinned up on the wall illustrating the changing costs of coffee depending on which time of day you ordered it – a cappuccino being double the price if you ordered after 7. I’m familiar with this being common in Italy but didn’t know about this in France, maybe it’s the Italian connections in Nice.

    We strolled around in search for some lunch and in the end headed for a little sandwich shop inside a shopping centre (I know not very cosmopolitan but it was certainly delicious). On the way there I noticed how completely different the area looks in the day compared to night – the small dark alleyways I was familiar with in the night had transformed into bustling side streets packed with hungry diners, a really wonderful sight.

    For lunch we both had ham and emmental cheese brioche rolls and a raspberry tart and it came to no more than €15 for both of us including drinks. Very simple but such a delicious bite to eat – far better than any Subway you would get over here.

    On the way back to the bikes (as we were hungry for more) we passed lots of little gorgeous boutiques and nipped into a lovely bookshop for a snoop around – Nice really is more than you see in the pictures of blue sea and beach on the TV.

    This time on the bikes we decided we would cycle as far as we could go in a straight line without meeting any cars – I didn’t feel up to rescuing my OH from a roundabout as he still looked like Bambi on a bicycle! We cycled right to the end of the promenade and after some hardcore pedalling up quite a steep hill we made it to the area where people go to watch the sunset (not sure if it has an official name) and we knew this would be a beautiful place to watch the sunset so we promised ourselves we would be back later.

    A bit more cycling later (and feeling less guilty about the pastries I had for breakfast) we reached the harbour. It was a beautiful harbour (obviously not as spectacular as Monaco) but there wasn’t too many places for you to sit down, relax and people watch which was a shame. After around only 10 minutes we decided to head back – not least because the cycle path ended and I didn’t fancy the responsibility of guiding myself (and my OH) through unfamiliar territory surrounded by cars.

    On the way back we enjoyed complaining about our sore bums from the bikes before locking the bike up at the stand closest to our hotel. After a quick shower and change, we nipped to the nearest mini supermarket to pick up some snacks for the evening (including a Babybel the size of my face – no joke) and cycled (yes again – it was so much fun!) to the area we visited earlier to watch the sunset.

    Unfortunately when we arrived it was a little cloudy which dampened the view a bit but when the sky started turning orange, I was so excited for the next 15 minutes or so of stunning scenery. Before it began we played our own plane watching game as it’s truly amazing how many planes land at Nice airport in just 30 minutes – most of them actually matched the orange sky with their big Easyjet logo.

    And so it began, the fluorescent orange sun brightened the whole sky and everyone around us looked on in amazement. Below us on the beach there was a group people playing some sort musical tribute which in retrospect was a bit odd but at the time seemed to fit the mood. The sunset was over before we knew it and we headed back down to the town (this time on foot) as it was getting a bit chilly.

    I was really sad walking through the town as I had enjoyed my short time in Nice so much and was gutted that it was over in a flash – it was then and there that I told myself I had to return one day.

    Walking back to the hotel we had a quick play on the pebble beach in the dark as we hadn’t had a chance to until now but it wasn’t quite a romantic as it might seem as after one quick dip into the sea I thought my feet were going to fall off it was that cold!

    5am was the alarm we set ourselves before dropped off – we had a 6.25am train to Vernazza.

    Italy was calling.

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