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Trip Report Un Coup de Foudre - Falling in Love with France in 8 Days

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I decided to do a trip report on my first visit to France (Nice, Cannes, and Paris) in fall 2014. Since so many trip reports have assisted me, hopefully this will be helpful for first time travelers, and bring some enjoyable nostalgia for long time visitors who know the myriad charms and appeal of this country.

Let me start by setting the scene of my first few minutes in Paris:

After a TGV from Cannes, and arrival at Gare de Lyon, I figure out what metro line I need to get to Pyramides. I'll pick up my museum pass first before meeting the apartment owner. I climb the stairs to Rue des Pyramides, and surface for my first true views of Paris, filled with blue skies and bold (Haussmann?) architecture. I breathe in; nothing comes out. Grandeur. Beauty. Stately. Strong lines. Windows. Sunlight on warm, light stone. I'm reduced to simple adjectives and nouns, fragments of ideas since I am so overwhelmed by it all. I exhale and it's a laugh. Not a belly laugh, but a laugh of amazement, excitement with maybe a hint of hysteria. This is Paris, I am here, finally. But because this is Paris, I bring my laugh to a low pitch out of politeness. (As a native New Yorker, if I wanted to laugh like a hyena I would have no compunctions about doing so in the street, and most wouldn't look twice: we've all seen and heard stranger). I'm not prepared for this. I've been to cities and towns gorgeously situated (Cape Town, San Francisco, Positano) and cities with beauty woven throughout the area (Kyoto, London, Damascus), but I've never been so smacked in the face by urban beauty, and for the first time when I returned to New York, I was disappointed by our own cityscape, and really missing the aesthetics of Parisian architecture.

By the time I was getting my proverbial socks knocked off in Paris, I had spent 6 nights in Nice and Cannes already. I had liked, admired, and enjoyed much in the Côte d'Azur, and was feeling very fondly about France. But coming out of the subway in Paris, I was struck by that legendary coup de foudre. If it wasn't truly love, just all of symptoms, I swore that I'd forsake all other travel destinations and gladly spend all my time in the future getting to know Paris and France better, get past her pretty facade and get to know her personality, quirks, idiosyncratic behavior. (Granted, I clearly lied to myself as I heard the call of Iceland and am heading there in March, so much for monogamy). But the infatuation with Paris was immediate and powerful, something I could barely mentally process in the moment, and all the emotions and thoughts were compressed into a laugh of disbelief and wonder.

PLANNING - HOW DID I GET HERE

In an ideal world, I might have spent these days in late September early October all in Paris with a few day trips. But instead, I had a work conference in Cannes Monday through Wednesday. I knew I had to be back in the office the following Monday to follow up with work generated from the conference, so I was limited to adding on a bit of time ahead of the event, and a bit of time after. Approaching things logically based on flight availability, I decided on:

-fly overnight from JFK to Nice on Delta nonstop
-2 nights in Nice
-train to Cannes for the conference
-4 nights in Cannes
-TGV to Paris, arrive in Paris at 1:30 PM
-3 nights in Paris
-fly CDG to JFK on Sunday, land evening JFK

I'd get a taste of the Côte d'Azur before time in Paris. I was hopeful that by giving my French language abilities a strenuous workout in the south (plus some reminder lessons for a month before the trip at home), by the time I made it to Paris, my skills would not be muscular, but perhaps be mildly capable and eager for the exercise.

I planned very little Nice: I gave myself a decent sense of what was located where in the city and how far away other towns were by train, but had nothing concretely lined up outside of a Saturday lunch in Menton at Mirazur. I knew I wanted one great fine dining experience, and the combined effect of its ranking as the #11 restaurant in the world according to some random list (The World's 50 Best Restaurants), and a Relais & Chateaux gift card, I made reservations two months in advance.

Paris I knew that with limited time and unlimited beauty and sights, I'd have to focus and edit. Since I wouldn't arrive until 1:30 PM, I planned to pick up my Museum Pass, which I ordered more for convenience than cost saving (though I did wind up saving more than I thought), and head to my apartment on Rue de Grenelle in the 7th. I'm big on having an idea of what is where, so I signed up for a night bike tour of the city for my first night, and trusted that my inherent sense of direction could retain location information for the next few days of discovery.

Museums were easy. I had been enamored with the idea of Paris as a small child, reading "Linnea in Monet's Garden", a children's book that is beautifully illustrated and completely excited my mind about art, Impressionism, Monet, and Paris, and stuck with me 20+ years later. For parents planning visits to Paris with kids, I would highly recommend the book as a gateway, to get your children interested in or intrigued by art in advance. So with Monet as the focal point, I honed in on Musée Marmottan, Musée d'Orsay, and of course Musée de l'Orangerie. (I clearly must make a return visit in summer for the sole purpose of a day trip to Giverny to see the waterlilies in bloom). No Louvre - too big with too little time to do its wonders justice, and many of the other museums I had interest in would also hold until next time.

Other than that, in Paris I was planning to embrace my inner flâneuse and wander around, which I did, and then some. My feet were usually aching by end of day, but it was almost always worth the pain.

So with the plans set, it was time to fly. Allons-y!

Coming up - Nice - I underrated the city in advance, shame on me (but future Nice goers, I'll tell you why I was so delighted with Nice, and hopefully you will plan better than I did.)

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    Thanks everyone for signing on! It definitely encourages me to continue on, and deliver on some decent reporting and writing.

    cigalechanta - while it burned my fingers, socca was entirely worth the pain.

    And now we arrive in Nice...

    Arriving on the overnight flight, I woke up slightly groggy but managed to look out the window on the descent. I'm taken by surprise to see the boldly jutting crags of the Maritime Alps, the brown masses providing a backdrop for, cities, towns and light blue coves of Mediterranean. I knew about the Southern Alps, but couldn't picture the landscape in advance, and flying over the folded hills sloping into the sea awakened my excitement and imagination while landing.

    Not being quite ready to use public transportation, I opted for a taxi to take me to Hotel Massena, a smaller, four star property that seemed well located to the train station, the promenade, and Vieux Nice. The driver, Niçois born and raised, and I engaged in some light conversation in French, and to my growing pleasure and lessening unease, I found I could understand most of the things he was saying and had command enough to reply in some grammatically acceptable way. If I could avoid a need for le subjonctif, which is incredibly useful but I can never really remember how to conjugate, I would be set!

    We drove slowly from airport to hotel, taking about 25 minutes, but being ensconced in the back of the cab made it hard for me to observe and absorb specific sights or get a sense of direction. What I did absorb was the warming sun of the Côte d'Azur, the blue skies and heat of late September, the palms flanking the roads on either side. A smile tugged at my face. I had no preconceived notions of Nice, no strong expectation of love/admiration prior to arrival, I had reserved all of my presumptions for Paris. Caught off guard and open, the weather would be the city's first tool of seduction: I would fall victim to others as the day wore on.

    Deposited at my hotel, I was efficiently checked in by reception and plopped my bags down in a deluxe room. Hotel Massena is a bit Spartan in appearance, but there was a relatively comfortable bed, a spacious bathroom, and some besides tables for stacking my books: I'd do just fine here.

    Giving myself no time to think about jetlag, I struck out to explore the city at once. The merits of my hotel's location were made clear as I walked a block to Place Massena, a square that showed off examples of Nice's most gorgeous qualities, which she has in spades. The buildings were a riot of color, red ochre, cowslip yellow, salmon-terracotta, typically trimmed with creams and mint green window shutters. The colors contrasted the chessboard sidewalks, and the blue skies overhead were punctuated by odd poles with molds of men at the top. The tram ran through the square, along with bikers, businessmen, families, and fellow tourists.

    Walking out of Place Massena, I intended to head to Vieux Nice first. Instead I was drawn in for a bit to the park on Promenade du Paillon. On either side of Place Massena, this particular public area was home to metal, modern sculptures that resembled thin watermelon rinds balancing. It also featured some truly fantastic fountains: in the heat and light the water created a mist effect that delighted most passers by, and encouraged children to play and engage (and me to take quite a few photos).

    I then decided to wander aimlessly through la Vieille Ville, and I do: the labyrinth of yellowed buildings and homes interspersed with more bright colors of buildings, windows, shutters, flowers was easy to get lost in. Nice has only been part of France since 1860, and the alleyways and construction of old town do speak of significant Italian influence. I scoped out storefronts and restaurants, and fully intend to return to one promising smelling place for dinner. I'm also the type to completely fall for a view, so as soon as I hit a steep staircase, I climbed without knowing exactly what I'd find other than some kind of vantage point. The result was to arrive in Nice's Cimitière du Chateau, which housed its deceased in splendid fashion. Marble mausoleums and tombs with stone statues of angels and saints all came with a prime hilltop view of the city below it, inspiring solemn reflection and appreciation from the living that wandered the rows of graves. Looking more closely, the Italian-French connection becomes even more clear: every third or fourth surname on the headstones seems to originate from Italy.

    I retreated from the Cimitière in a new direction, taking the slow path that cars and the scenic sightseeing train use, and meet the sea at the bottom. A stroll to Nice's protected harbor leads to my mini adventure at the lighthouse. In fact, upon reflection the adventure aspect was physically low, but high mentally and emotionally, as the minimal people, weathered, sun-kissed stone and a clear day push me into a reverie. I see Mercedes, scanning the horizon for the sighting of sails, of Edmond Dantes. And though I know I will not make it to Marseille this trip, I feel spiritually connected with one of my favorite books, looking out over the Mediterranean.

    I glided back towards the center of town along the Promenade d'Anglais, taking my first stab at being a true flâneuse and succeeding fairly well. The beaches are not packed like high season, but there are plenty of people basking in the sun and enjoying the cool water today. I walked down the Promenade, past the beachfront restaurants and clubs and grand dame hotels like Hotel Negresco, and the sunny atmosphere seemed infectious, with most everyone smiling and laughing and at play.

    I walked for about three to four hours at this point, definitely creating some blisters (should have broken these shoes in first!) so I return to the hotel, shower and change, and again make my way to the Vieille Ville for dinner. I wound up at Le Bistrot d'Antoine, which made for excellent people watching and a delicious early-ish dinner (was so hungry from all the walking) of risotto and and a glass of rosé from Provence (bien sur!). I'd typically not indulge on dessert, but in a littly cranny between Place Halle Aux Herbs and Rue Masconait, I became enthralled by the vision of the Fenocchio Glacier. With Italian influences all around me, there's no harm in sampling some gelato, is there? Salted caramel butter sounds both familiar and French, and it is as decadent and delicious as I could have asked for. I strolled back to the Promenade, sat on a bench, and people watched and enjoyed the gelato immensely.

    I took the long way back to Place Massena, again climbing the slopes to Cimitière du Chateau, rewarded with a fantastic sunset over the city. Then it's back to the Place Massena area, where I watch the little men on poles glow neon green, blue, red and purple in the night. It's a quirky ending to a fabulous day. Nice has a wonderful big city feel combined with resort town and quaint, charming Vieille Ville chock full of Italian influence. I didn't even penetrate the culture offerings, I was so taken by absorbing the atmosphere through some kind of walking osmosis. Nice had put a spell upon me, and I went to sleep content and eager for sunrise, for there was so much more to feel and explore ahead.

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    I am enthralled by your excellent narrative skills - love your reference to one of my favorite books - it evoked the sadness that I felt then when I was reading the book.. Your trip report is such a joy to read, thank you!! I am taking copious notes for our (first) trip to France in June which will commence in Nice for a couple of days.

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    I too had absolutely no expectations for Nice; like you, I was absolutely enchanted with this city!
    One of my favourite pass times was sitting on the promenade and watching the sunset and passing parade of interesting people and activities. Di

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    milaedg - In my mind, I've designed a "Comte de Monte Cristo" highlights itinerary, which would take in Rome (where the Count makes his appearance and meets Albert), Venice (since the Carnival at Rome no longer exists, get in the spirit with the Venetian counterpart), Marseille with of course a daytrip to the Château d'If, and end in Paris. And in an ideal world, be part of a scientific expedition that gets you onto Monte Cristo island as well! Even if you don't make it to Marseille, you'll be stirred by seeing these characters' beginnings on the Med. Have a wonderful first trip!

    di2315 - I ended up on the promenade multiple times to people watch (and eat more gelato). The city is so relaxing, and yet so very diverse and dynamic, it's a very cool combination.

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    My first day in Nice ended, and day two on the Côte d'Azur would see me make daytrips to two other Mediterranean resort cities, Monaco and Menton...

    Saturday morning arrived, and I was a bit late to stir (it had been hard to get to sleep at a reasonable hour because of the jetlag, and waking up was a bit more difficult than I anticipated). I managed to get a nice buffet breakfast at the hotel, the offerings at Hotel Massena were nothing special, but provided all the necessary things (eggs, fruit, cheese, croissants, tea) that I required to get me through a morning.

    I walked northwest on Avenue Jean Médecin to the Gare de Nice Ville, the main train station, and prepared to get on the next train to Monaco at 9:56 AM. Here is a piece of advice for anyone planning daytrips on Saturdays between September and April: research the football matches of the day in the area you are in, and what time they kick off. Because I was completely unprepared for the very interesting experience of riding the rails with rowdy football fans. OGC Nice was to play AS Monaco at Monaco, so we'd be sharing the train together the whole way. I'm not unprepared for crowded trains in general - repeated 7:45 AM commutes on New York City's 2 train will make you mentally numb to the sardines in a can feeling. While I've visited Europe before, I've never been to a football match or commuted with any fans, and I know that in general, football fandom is said to rival the most dedicated fans of US college and professional sports. The fans of OGC Nice - whom I got to know by virtue of being crushed together with standing on the packed 25 minute long ride - were everything I thought they'd be, and perhaps more. They were all seemingly between the ages of 14 and 30, they are overwhelmingly male, with a few female fans dotting the trains, and they were highly enthusiastic (and in most cases already inebriated). They had enough songs for their beloved club to fill an entire CD, so they never ran out of material during the entire journey. The lack of coordination meant that I heard varying groups begin different songs at the same time, leading to a disjointed but spirited polyphony. I could only pick up certain words, but either the opposing team or someone else was habitually referred to as une salope, which did not faze me as I've heard considerably worse from Eagles fans at Giants games before, and the Nice-Monaco rivalry is apparently quite fierce in football, this game being part of the Derby de la Côte d'Azur.

    When we disembarked, the fans proved their devotion and insanity By proceeding to leap upon the seats on the platform and redouble their efforts to sing their fight songs as loudly and obnoxiously as possible. It bordered on a scene from a musical, and I giggled slightly thinking that newsboy caps would be broken out and coordinated dance moves would follow. Instead, fans set off sparklers and small fireworks in the crimson colors of OGC Nice. Monacan (is that the demonym for Monaco? It looks all sorts of wrong and sounds worse) riot police gathered in groups and walked purposefully towards the largest pack of fans with the fireworks. I didn't stick around to see what the confrontation looked like, but I'm oddly happy to have been part of such an experience. And it was certainly the most exciting part of my visit to Monaco.

    Monaco... It was kind of a letdown to be honest, though part of my feelings for the country are due to my lack of planning and limited time. Superficially, it has the trappings of the rest of the Côte d'Azur, but in my admittedly cursory visit, it lacked palpable charm and beauty, and felt like a rich people's sterile version of a French resort city. The most noticeable point of differentiation was the reduced amount of dog excrement on the sidewalk, which while welcome to spend more time looking up and around and not sharing with looking down, somehow underlined the odd sterility of the country.

    I didn't get to the casino (not particularly interested) nor to the Oceanographic museum (too little time), but I did spend some time walking the harbor, where the Monaco Yacht Show was taking place, which provided some nice photo opportunities, and strolling through the various little gardens sprinkled through the city. If I had arrived earlier, perhaps I would have liked the city more with time to engage in more of its main sights, but I felt no call or pull to the place. And while I chose to go to Monaco mainly because it was a logical stop to then resume travel to Menton, I might have been better served by opting to take the bus to Èze instead, which I did have interest in.

    I did not read the fine print in my guidebook that said that there were trains running from Monaco to Menton every 20 minutes, except on Saturdays and Sundays. So I arrived at the Monaco train station at exactly 11:25, and a train did not come until 12:43. I called Mirazur and let them know I was delayed, which they said would be no problem and they'd be happy to accommodate me at 1:15 PM. The train ride was quiet and sparsely populated, and after a quick taxi ride from Menton station into the hills east and north of the main city, I had arrived at my fine dining experience of the trip.

    Mirazur had a fine, modern looking dining room, which was perfect because most tables were perched at floor to ceiling windows, so all of the emphasis was on the spectacular views of the hills, the Mediterranean, and the ruddy city of Menton in the distance. Service was uniformly excellent and accommodating, and heard waiters speaking Italian, French, German and Spanish to various other tables in the dining room to make things as easy as possible for their guests. The view and exemplary service were just extras: I had come for a fantastic meal, and was not to be disappointed. (Note that what follows is some rhapsodizing about food, which not everyone is into.)

    I began with three amuse bouche, followed quickly by a succulent, fresh oyster in apple juice dressed with crema, tapioca, and fresh green apple slices. It goes perfectly with my two glasses of white wine, and I cannot remember the varietal or whether it was Italian or French, but it was light and refreshing with some minerality, and paired nicely throughout the meal.

    A loaf of bread followed, accompanied by a Pablo Neruda poem that was exceedingly apt once I'd tried it and felt instantly contented, it was so warm and rich. I also tried the a la carte piece of raisin and anise bread, a dark black slice that tasted like a fresh shot of ouzo and woke me up out of my contentment, eager for more flavors.

    The mini salad followed: hidden, juicy pieces of lobster, gigantic raspberries, beetroot and capers and a light little sauce I barely noticed but worked overtime to tie all of the flavors together.

    I moved firmly into seafood with calamari strips lightly grilled in a Piedmontese sauce, followed by monkfish and caramelized Jerusalem artichokes. The fish was very well prepared, the Jerusalem artichokes creamy and smooth, and the accompanying succotash and toasted shells provided an earthy, nutty compliment, so that when I ate a bit all of the elements at once, I felt as though I was eating the sea and the mountains in a single bite.

    Throughout the meal, I was charmed by the blue of the sea, and the yellow dragonflies as large as hummingbirds flirting and diving outside the window. Between my meal and dessert, I opted for a cheese course, which made it easy to spread on bread, eat, and observe the natural beauty. Dining at Mirazur is a calming, most immersive experience, and while I typically do prefer sharing a meal and some conversation with another person, to be solo at Mirazur is a special treat.

    Dessert arrived, featuring saffron cream and an orange custard base, sprinkled with carmelized orange rind and almond. A box of lemony petit madeleines followed, along with an arrangement of chocolate as sticks, leaves, rocks, a beautiful plate of edible nature. It was a four hour celebration of gastronomy, and with my Relais & Chateaux gift card, I needed only cover my glass of wine and cheese plate.

    I was swollen with happiness, contentment, and well, food, but managed to walk it off down the sloping hillside to the Promenade du Soleil, where I watched Menton zoom in as I walked towards the city, fully enjoying the September sunshine beating on my face. The beaches here were slightly more crowded than Nice, and there was a large play area and trampoline on the sand, making it very family friendly. Of course, it was Saturday, so more tourists and locals would likely be enjoying outdoor pleasures today. The Italian influences entwine tightly with the French and Provençal ones here, the lemon products like limoncello and lemon imagery taking beyond its connection to Liguria to my time spent in Positano in May 2013. Menton's inner labyrinth of streets is smaller and slightly more claustrophobic than Nice's, and I found it slightly less charming due to a heavy inundation of tourists groups navigating the alleys at the same time I did. But I did find it beautiful, scenic, and appreciated the locally sourced products and storefronts.

    Back on the train to Nice, and a few stragglers from the OGC Nice - AS Monaco game embarked back to Nice as well (Nice had won the match, so everyone seemed happy, subdued, and slightly hungover, which made for a quieter return trip).

    I knew after my meal at Mirazur, I would not be especially hungry for dinner. But I did take the opportunity to try some socca, and that plus gelato and another stroll down the Promenade d'Anglais capped off a fairly excellent day, even with the dead down time in Monaco. Tomorrow, I would have some early morning time for Nice again, but then needed to make my way to Cannes, where I'd have one free day ahead of my work conference.

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    I have Mirazur planned for a trip in September so I was more than happy to read your rhapsody! Sounds like a perfect length of time for a lunch on vacation. Thanks for the detail.

    Keep it coming...

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    YankyGal - it was a sublime experience, you will very much enjoy it!

    Dee_Dee - I'm still working on building some kind of Tumblr with words type blog/website, it's in progress but I haven't quite worked out if it has the message and look I want exactly. But I do have some select photos from Nice and Monaco/Menton up. I'll never be a person who posts all of my photos because I take oodles and then narrow down to the best of the batch.

    http://inspiredexplorer.com/nice-med-charming-city/
    http://inspiredexplorer.com/nice-mini-trip-to-menton-monaco/

    A compressed version of my time in Cannes is next, which I'll finish later today, and then onto Paris!

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    My DH and I made Nice and Menton bases for area exploration so I'm very much enjoying your trips. We, however, missed Mirazur--it sounded miraculous. Kindly clarify: "A loaf of bread followed, accompanied by a Pablo Neruda poem..."!

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    Hi TDudette - they actually bring out the loaf of bread on its own wooden board, along with a small dish of oil, and a little, almost wax paper printout of Pablo Neruda's "Bread" poem. I thought it was mildly odd at first, until I ate the bread, which is absolutely ode worthy.

    Mirazur send you home with the poem, the menu you selected for the day, and a large Madeleine, so now I have the bread poem scrapbooked with photos from Menton.

    There's a visual of the bread in that bottom link if I'm still not making it very clear.

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    I am enjoying your trip report very much. We have spent time in Nice, Monaco and Menton in prior years. We didn't get to Mirazur opting instead for lunch in Eze at the Chateau d'Or.

    I can't wait to read about your experiences in Paris as we are returning for six nights in March.

    Thanks!

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    TDudette - thank you, and glad you enjoyed the photos!

    AGM - I waffled for awhile between Eze and the Chateau d'Or or Menton and Mirazur. How was your lunch? It's on my list. And spring in Paris sounds wonderful, anytime in Paris sounds wonderful. I am trying to see if I can go back in late April (tacked on from work conference for three nights again), but my boyfriend may come with me, and he's pushing hard for Venice over Paris, so we'll see. Neither of us have been to Venice yet.

    What a day to transport back to Cannes... a wet, icy hail pelted New York for a fine start to the week. Let's look at some sunnier days in Cannes...

    After a final morning stroll of the areas immediately surrounding Place Massena, taking lots of pictures of the architecture I admired so much in Nice, I had a solid hotel breakfast (assembled open face sandwiches with egg and Emmental cheese) and by 9 AM, I had checked out of Hotel Massena and was dragging my bag to the train station to take a quick regional train to Cannes. After travels to Monaco and Menton, buying a ticket was old hat at this point, and it was very easy to head over to platform b and wait for the train heading west stopping in Cannes. My fear of taking up too much space and inconveniencing others kicked in briefly (my boxy suitcase!) but perhaps because it was Sunday morning, the majority of people disembarked at Nice, and very few embarked on subsequent stops.

    The train deposited me in Cannes at 10:30. It was an easy walk from the station to Hotel Gray d'Albion on Rue des Serbes, hampered only slightly by my injured, non-rolling rolling suitcase that required a good deal of control to pull without making infernal screeching noises on the pavement. I had called reception from Nice to let them know that I would be arriving early, and confirm that they could hold my bags ahead of the room being ready. Quelle (bonne) surprise: when I checked in, reception confirmed that a room would be ready in 15 minutes. I waited in Hotel Gray d'Albion's rather high style lobby - the red and purple colors and lights reminded me of the funky vibe of a W (which in general I do not care for), but it was all very tastefully done, and the corner banquettes were extremely comfortable. The rooms at Hotel Gray d'Albion were quite nice, a definite step up from the massena in nice (and double the price as well, though work would reimburse me since it was for the business conference). Clad in light cream and gold colors, my room was very large for one and felt open and soothing, with a very spacious closet and small desk and sitting area.

    Settled in for the next four nights, I got outside immediately: I would have one free day to see Cannes before the conference took over. I started with a familiar stroll, walking the length of Promenade de la Croisette. Cannes is extremely appealing as a coastal retreat: the sandy beaches beckoned even better than those pebble beaches of Nice, and the sand was correspondingly more full of well bronzed families, friends, couples, and solo visitors and locals. I strolled past the grand dame hotels, now all affiliated with a larger corporate entity (Carlton-InterCon, Martinez-Grand Hyatt) but still lovely to look at. Then as I approached the Club Nautique, my end of the line, I made my way back, passing the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès where the film festival is held, and where our conference would take place. There was more beach area to the west past le Vieux Port, and looming over this stretch of sand was Le Suquet, Cannes' old town built high on the hill. My appreciation for Nice's Vieille Ville and my magnetic attraction to anywhere with some height for a view meant that I would assuredly explore the winding roads of Le Suquet at some point that day. But first, I'm famished and thirsty, the sun having increased in strength since my time in Nice. All I wanted was a simple crepe with butter and sugar, and a large bottle of water: easily obtained at a small cafe aptly named Aux Délices Sucrés along Boulevard du Midi.

    After a very satisfying lunch (and purchasing another large bottle of water to ward off future dehydration plus a few take away snacks), I was seeking a place to swim, stroll and hide a bit from the sun. Île Sainte-Marguerite fit the bill nicely, and I found myself on the ferry across Golfe de la Napoule. Like Nice, I had very few previous expectations for Cannes and its offerings, so Île Sainte-Marguerite was an extremely pleasant surprise, and a half daytrip out of Cannes proper I would heartily recommend to any visitors.

    The island has a museum housing the cell of the famous Man in the Iron Mask, but I skipped it, Dumas' ignoble ending for the famous three musketeers and their dear friend in the guards being too sad and ponderous to take hold of my imagination the way "Le Comte de Monte Cristo" or "Les Trois Mousquetaires" did. Instead, I was wooed by the nature of the island and active pursuits. Despite being well on the tourist trail, there's a feeling of wild space on the island: tall pine trees and fragrant eucalyptus flank walking paths and create haphazard groves. I chose to circumnavigate the island on foot, slowly and leisurely, taking time to periodically sunbathe, swim in the Mediterranean, and observe families at play, groups of adult males friends engaged in jovial games of pétanque, and travelers on yachts drink and party just offshore. The terrain was easy going, but the heat made it necessary for frequent water breaks. Running the island would be a great form of trail running exercise - it indeed seemed like some kind of charity challenge event had wrapped up when I was departing - but I loved my idyllic stroll, seeking quiet corners to bask in the sun and then reflect and write in the shade.

    The ferry back brought beautiful views of the beaches and the Vieux Port of Cannes. Heading up to Le Suquet was the next order of business, and while not as colorful as the town of Nice, it had similar charm to that of Menton, and the steep street of Rue Sainte-Antoine housed numerous Provençal restaurants, two of which I'd eat at (one just fine whose name I cannot recall, two very solid [Auberge Provençale and Restaurant Mantel]) during the course of my stay. Views from Eglise Notre-Dame de l'Espérance that crowned Le Suquet were picturesque, though perhaps unfairly contrasted to the panoramic views of Nice. Wandering through the backstreets, I got a little bit lost and disoriented, but some very friendly locals were able to send me back on my way with some basic French directions, and getting lost meant discovering more beautiful, old architecture that I had grown to love so much.

    I had a few hours here and there to myself over the next three days, which I'd often spend taking a power nap (the conference days ran long, and then there were drinks and dinner following each night). I did wander into Le Suquet for another pass, while the streets parallel to Boulevard de la Croisette were a mixed bag of teen oriented street fashion shops, big box stores and smaller boutique stores (and I really do not travel to shop). So though I spent four nights in Cannes, I was acquainted with it about as much as Nice, and it did not grab me the way Nice did overall. I enjoyed my time in the city, especially on Île Sainte-Marguerite, but would return to Nice first for sure, and would seek out other destinations on the Riviera and inland on future trips before planning a second stay in Cannes.

    I have just a couple of pictures from Cannes here:

    http://inspiredexplorer.com/cannes-less-glam-beauty/

    Paris is next, where the stout feelings of "like" turn into "love" very, very quickly.

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    Even with only three nights for Paris, I was extremely glad in hindsight to extend my trip after the conference. Three nights is of course, better than none. So now, I am finally taking this trip report out of the sunny south and into Paris...

    Thursday morning of October 2, I woke up early in Cannes, checked out of the hotel after quickly stuffing du croissant et du Brie in my mouth, and rolled my luggage up Rue des Serbes to the train station for the morning train to Paris. The TGV first made its way to Marseille: cutting across the Côte d'Azur, I couldn't use my camera fast enough to capture everything. We crossed the cliffsides on windy tracks and through tunnels, and caught glimpses of beautiful slices of beach nestled among small resort or fishing or both communities. It was a gorgeous morning of blue sky and sun, and seeing it, I can understand why people would prefer night trains. It's almost a shame to miss these sights and this weather by being stuck inside a train car. But I'm a mass transportation gal: I do enjoy the experience of a train, whether Amtrak or Shinkansen, and the TGV is comfortable and quick.

    We rolled through Toulon and Cassis: both bits I can see from the car are stunning. The areas of Marseille we passed through hint at grit, calling to mind a less elegant version of Nice. (I must return so I can visit Marseille, to wander about and eat bouillabaisse in its birthplace, step through le Chateau d'If and recreate Dantes captivity, experience the local culture and explore the newer museums.) We moved suddenly into gray, overcast weather, and the brown, rocky cliffs I’d become so used fell away into what looked like farmland. After the mist cleared a bit, it was evident that we were rolling through vineyards and the hills of the Alps-Maritimes in Provence. We arrive at the Aix-en-Provence TGV station and I become newly excited, although the area we've just rolled through is flat and scrubby. But still, it's Aix-en-Provence: a gateway to what I think of as the heart of Provence: from here, a rental car gets me to St. Remy and the Luberon. Future trips flashed through my mind, but the train was pulling away from the south and moving with great speed to Paris.

    Arrival and first views and impressions I’ve told you about in the intro, so we’ll skip ahead a bit. I collected my two day Museum Pass, and then headed back on the metro across the Seine, changing once to reach the stop La Tour-Maubourg. I had a quick walk down Rue de Grenelle to my apartment for the next three nights: I had decided on this particular place in the 7th arrondissement for its very low price ($400 for three nights) and its somewhat quirky furnishings (boxing bag hanging from the ceiling! chalkboard style wall with purple cursive writing all over it!). The apartment owner’s friend met me in the vestibule to take me up to the flat, and we had a mildly fumbling conversation in French with some sprinkles of English to talk about WiFi, how to lock the doors downstairs and upstairs, and the nuances of the elevator. I got my things settled, and immediately opened the windows to see that the apartment had an Eiffel Tower view, just peeking over the gorgeous building facades and roofs that seemed like my idea of Paris: the stone in rich browns and creams, pink flowers in boxes on wrought iron balconets, charcoal and slate roof tops with chimneys popping off the top. I had seen nothing besides this view and the buildings surrounding Rue des Pyramides, and I was already delighted, excited, and found my previous expectations both satisfied and completely blown away.

    The night bike tour I scheduled with Fat Tire (this was the tour I took: http://paris.fattirebiketours.com/tours/paris-night-bike-tour) was meeting at the Dupleix Metro station, so I had a few hours to myself before meeting up that I used to wander through the 7th arrondissement, and become a little familiar with the street names, locations of promising boulangeries, cafes and restauarants, and take in multiple angles of the Eiffel Tower, never far from sight. My apartment’s proximity to Rue Cler – just a few steps away – seemed ideal: and indeed, in three short nights I would be sampling various cheeses and having enthusiastic conversations with the cheesemongers of La Fromagerie Cler. A circuit around Les Invalides, some criss crossing on Rue Saint-Dominique and Avenue Bosquet, and another circuit around Champs du Mars, I was in the Left Bank reverie of my dreams, not to mention hungry. I sat at Place Dupleix, which was a very lovely neighborhood square, and listened to the church bells toll out the hour as children ran through the playground and streets, safely at play in a more residential part of the city. I devoured a small, takeaway quiche végétarienne, and put a large bottle of water and pain au chocolat in my purse for mid-ride snacking and drinking.

    All the tour participants met at Dupleix and then headed to the offices, where we picked up our bright red bicycles and loud, reflecting neon vests and we were off into the Parisian evening. If Paris by day was jaw dropping, Paris by night set my heart racing. The stately, forbidding grandeur partially melts into the shadows, but the elegance moves to the forefront, draped in increasingly inky black night and illuminated by streetlight and the moon. Riding the bikes on the streets was just fine for me, who is used to the insanity that can be biking in New York City, so I was pedaling and watching the city unfold before my eyes with a delighted grin. One of the first of the group to ride into the courtyard of the Louvre, I gazed upward at the facades of the former palace and all around at the deserted Pyramid, and felt as though I had been thrown into a movie– not any particular movie, but something older, with a feeling of nostalgia, featuring exclusive access to top sights and pure pleasure on every frame of film. It was completely delightful to ride in circles at a leisurely place around the Louvre, and watch the shadows of the few couples and photographers out fall upon the beautifully lit exteriors of the museum.

    We rode to Notre-Dame and stopped for ice cream at Berthillon (I got fraise, which was pretty wonderful and satisfying), then looped back round towards the Pont Alexandre III and embarked on a Seine cruise, which started with Paris’ virtual fireworks of the Eiffel Tower’s light show shimmy spectacular. It was a beautiful evening and trip on the river, the illuminated attractions catching the eye, but the throngs of young Parisians hanging out along the banks of the Seine kept my gaze. It seemed like such a wonderful way to spend idle time, chatting and relaxing with friends by the river at night.

    We returned to the Fat Tire office around midnight, and I had an easy walk back to the apartment, where I stopped at the south end of Champ du Mars, and admired again the golden Eiffel Tower cutting through the darkness. I knew that with 4 hours of riding and a late night sleep, I would likely not wake up in time for sunrise the next day, but experiencing the streets and sights of Paris in such an intimate way was entirely worth it, and my heart had been completely taken over by the city. I returned to the flat, showered, and fell into a blissful, hard sleep, with dreams set to a lush musical score and random French words of happiness or love (or at least, my self-conscious mind claimed to mean those things, it could have been jibberish) floated and were felt all around.

    I took a ton of night photos; as a very amateur photographer, especially with night settings, very few were good, but I posted a few of them here if you’d like some images to accompany this post:

    http://inspiredexplorer.com/paris-city-by-night/

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    I was completely caught up with work the past week, but have finally been able to complete my trip report. Thank you all for your very kind words, and glad you are enjoying the photos!

    This represents about half of my first day in Paris, one that I would wind up referring to as “A Day with Monet”…

    While I hadn’t initially planned to get my Monet fix in one fell swoop, it ended up working out quite well. I’m definitely a museum person in general: at home, a day spent at the Met or Natural History is a day of happiness. I don’t bore easily, and nearly always find something new to learn, absorb, see, even in exhibits I’ve interacted with for years. And as indicated in my opening, I am most definitely a Monet person. So while editing down my list of must do major sights in Paris, I knew I could not miss the big three for Monet and Impressionism: Musée d'Orsay, Musée de l'Orangerie and Musée Marmottan.

    I woke on Friday morning a bit later than I had intended, and just slightly sore from the bike seat. I had a small bowl of cereal in the apartment and struck out for Musée de l'Orangerie first. Crossing the Pont Alexandre III by light of the morning was nearly as nice as passing under it by boat at night. I took the standard path along Cours la Reine, a gorgeous walk with the rising sun hitting the turning leaves of the trees, making for an illuminated brown and gold atmosphere. There were a few other pedestrians and some joggers, but things were otherwise very serene. I marveled at the Place de la Concorde, for its restrained traffic chaos and beautiful fountains, and tried to peer through time to see the jeering crowds of the Revolution and the execution of so many important figures in French history. Then it was a quick walk through a small part of the Jardin des Tuileries to the entrance of Musée de l'Orangerie, and with absolutely no line at 9:15 AM and my Museum Pass in hand, I was swiftly en route to the waterlily rooms.

    A brief piece of hindsight for fans of Monet: the series of Nymphéas contained in l’Orangerie is fantastic. So fantastic, that if you start your day off with them, you will continue to think about them all day as you see other works by Monet in the other museums. If I were to plot my route again, I would likely find a way to loop back just ahead of closing, and see them with the afternoon sun coming through the skylight, so the Nymphéas would be the last pieces of art I’d see in the day. Even though I knew what to expect and had seen well-presented waterlily paintings by Monet before at the Met, I spent nearly a full hour and a half in the Nymphéas rooms, which even then is not that much, only 15 minutes per individual canvas. I was completely bowled over by their beauty. The colors and movements captured in each canvas are on the one hand, variations on a theme but on the other, full of intricate depth and extreme difference. Just as the eye becomes familiar with some of the elements, the light changes outside and instantly changes the mood and highlights of the work. While calmly moving from bench to bench to standing to bench, my inner most thoughts were excitable, having my own personal Eureka moment each time a cloud passed over the skylight. With the sleek, curved white walls and stretch canvases, while I was not exactly alone with the Nymphéas, the space never felt overly crowded, and private moments were popping up often. (I have a longer post here on how we experience art, which hints at my annoyance with the flouters of the photo ban in the waterlily rooms, and this post clearly contains no photos of the art, since I did respected the ban and did not take any: http://inspiredexplorer.com/paris-museums-experiencing-art/).

    The rest of the collection in the l’Orangerie I gave cursory attention to, and my heart and mind were proving difficult to be moved after my emotional experience with the Nymphéas. The permanent collection was just fine, some nice pieces by Cezanne and Matisse, some less special Renoirs. A limited time exhibition for Emile Bernard I found to be boring in the first few rooms, until turning the corner chronologically and entering his Egyptophilia phase, which found the artist embracing forms and perspective previously forgotten or abandoned in order to capture his enthusiasm for the place. I of course went the long way out of the museum: up the stairs, back into the rooms of the Nymphéas so those images would be my last, and then out into Jardin des Tuileries.

    I did spend a bit of time roaming the gardens and taking photos: the pathways and turning leaves contrasted nicely against the bright, blue sky, and I barely thought, just felt. With limited time in the city, I was only seeing small sides of Paris, but there was something novel and familiar about taking in evocative art and pausing for simple contentedness. “Life should always be like this” and then the unbidden idea was zooming through my brain. I kicked it out swiftly, I felt the fantasy and did not want to think of its duration or eventual end. Reflection and appreciation would come and be welcomed later, when I was winging my way home and feeling the loss and the need for more.

    So roused, I crossed Pont Royal and headed to stop two on my mini Monet pilgrimage of Paris, the Musée d'Orsay. Here, you must share with the other tourists around you, and while sometimes they might disappear while lost in a Nymphéas painting in the Musée de l'Orangerie, no one ever disappears in d’Orsay. I had hoped that, arriving just before noon, people would begin to leave in search of lunch. There was no line coming in and my pass made things even easier, but the gallery was still very crowded. The building at first feels light, airy, grand: it is well-known to be formerly a train station, and the high ceilings of gold and glass, Beaux-Arts style lead to an initial impression of openness. But the wild popularity (d’Orsay is the 5th or 6th most visited museum/monument in Paris) means that there are always people around, jostling for position and perspective, and the space was a bit tight in the main Impressionist gallery. But is it worth it? Oh yes, if you are fan of Impressionism, it is most certainly worth it. So many colorful and evocative works, from the pre-eminent Impressionists like Sisley, Pissarro and Renoir, to complimentary (but not always Impressionist) pieces by painters like Delacroix, Millet and Tissot (whose collection I found particularly fun to regard, the sense of time, place, and society so evident). I loved the specific focus of the paintings, the chronological experience of a vastly exciting time in art and adoption of new styles and ideas. One call out: d’Orsay was missing some of their standouts in their collection, including many of my favorite paintings by Monet, which were on loan to Musée Marmottan for a special Impressionism exhibition. It reinforced my decision to see all three museums, and ensure the most comprehensive immersion into Impressionism and Monet possible. Renovations were happening on multiple floors and wings, including the ground floor of statues, so it was hard to appreciate Musée d'Orsay in full. I stayed until I felt I had seen enough (and my stomach was rumbling from lack of food plus walking/standing of the last five house) and headed back into the sunshine.

    To relax and calm my raging gut, I had a nice al fresco lunch at Le Recrutement Café. I did not care much at that point if it was touristy or not, or overpriced or not: I was hungry, tired and wanted to people watch, and both my hunger and feet were assuaged while my eyes and mind were kept busy. Facing Boulevard de la Tour-Maubourg, I admired outfits and watched interactions, while relishing every satisfying bite of my spareribs and frites. The meal was a bit of a mini splurge (18 Euros) but well worth the indulgence for the front row seat to the 7th arrondissement lunch hour. Feeling extremely full, I opted to walk back across the Seine, this time along Pont des Invalides to the Franklin D. Roosevelt metro station, and get the #9 line to La Muette, which would situate me perfectly for Musée Marmottan.

    Let me say that I absolutely LOVED my time in the Musée Marmottan, but I may not have been as enthusiastic about the museum had the special exhibition “Impression, Soleil Levant” not been occurring. Don’t get me wrong, the highly curated Monet collection downstairs feels very different; each piece has a maximum emotional impact, which makes sense considering the works were all personally owned by Monet’s son. You feel immersed in Monet’s vision and creative And domestic life: paintings of the boats at Giverny, the early strokes of a nympheas painting, a more full rendition of the waterlilies, the Japanese bridge in spring and in fall. Perhaps my favorite of the permanent Monet collection in the Marmottan are the series of Roses, specifically The Rose Bush painted near the end of his life. In contrast to the very dark, violently blue Nymphéas painted around this time, The Rose Bush is bright, periwinkle and cornflower sky with wispy brown stems, a mass of leaves and pink and purple petals bursting in air. There’s an impression of shading, as though the sun is hitting one part of the petals and branches but not the other, and there is real movement, light but full of feeling. It was spring in a painting, and I found it extremely arresting and regarded it for quite some time, as I had done in l’Orangerie with the Nymphéas.

    The special exhibition elicited even more feelings of excitement, as it pulled together some of Monet’s most famous or memorable paintings, along with those of his chief influencers who nudged him into the Impressionist style. His Rue Montorgueil was loaned by Musée d'Orsay, and it was so nice to spend more time with this painting than would have been experienced in the crowded galleries of its home museum. The riot of the tricolor dotting the canvas makes you want to shout with great enthusiasm “Vive la France!” (which I refrained from doing though I let the sentiment it swell up happily inside), it’s an incredibly fun, joyous painting, the implied movement of the flags reflecting the celebration in the streets below. Le Boulevard des Capucines was on loan from Russia or Kansas City (didn’t record which version was featured), and if ever you needed a painting to push you into a visit to Paris in winter, here it hung in wait. The cold weather flâneurs, the bare and bold trees, muted but warm stone of Parisian architecture, the little pops of color between the neutrals. Paris was beautiful and dignified dressed up for winter according to Monet, and this painting resonated as there was always a small crowd studying the canvas.

    The upstairs collection was not quite to the equal to the wonders of Monet and the special exhibit, although I loved the presentation of Morisot’s watercolors, and Canaletto’s Venetian paintings vaulted that city onto my shortlist yet again. The area dedicated to the art of the Middle Ages felt like a very strange fit with the rest of the museum.

    It was most of a day dedicated to Monet, and I finished the afternoon with a fantastic stroll through the Bois de Boulogne, getting just a bit lost but stumbling on some picture perfect ponds and grassy banks. Had I a canvas… well, I would have done nothing with it since I have very little talent for drawing or painting. But I could not help but be inspired after my art ode to Impressionism.

    Here are a few exterior shots of the Tuileries, the museums and (my favorite) Bois de Boulogne. I'll finish up with how I finished the day in just a bit.

    http://inspiredexplorer.com/paris-day-monet/

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    It's going to be hard to top the beginning of that day! Thanks for sharing. When I lived in NYC, I worked across the street from the MOMA. When I was having a particularly bad day, I would go there during lunch and sit in front of the water lilies for an hour. Very calming, to say the least.

    Looking forward to the rest.

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    Ahhhh.... another installment! So wonderfully written I felt I was with you joyously intoxicated with the art of Monet. I am so glad you were able to visit all three museums. What a feast for the eyes and senses. I look forward to your next installment.

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    Your vivid and evocative description of the Nympheas at the l'Orangerie flashed a memorable scene from Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, my all-time favorite WA movie! - I just love Monet too! Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience, you are such a gifted writer.

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