A stellar month in southeastern France

Jul 17th, 2019, 06:54 AM
  #41  
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
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I think most of these things are on my list of least-liked things about our recent trip to France too, but agree that most liked things outweigh the least liked. So looking forward to your next installment.
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Jul 17th, 2019, 10:20 AM
  #42  
 
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GPS - we used a Garmin - which was up to date. However:
- The GPS pronounces roads & places that neither a French person nor an English person can understand.
- The DPS does not specify directions the way the roads are actually "marked" in France. The GPS would say "turn right on ray wintocurce" (really Rue Winston Churchill). There are no road "name" signs in the countryside, small villages, and most street corners in cities in France. Road signs in France typically specify "D12" or "Rouen".
- The GPS would take you on the shortest route between two locations - not the fastest or the most scenic. Often it took us through the middle of small cities going 30 K/hr - instead of the ring road around the city going at 110 K/hr.
- Often the GPS thought we were traveling on the small road next to the autoroute instead of the autoroute we were actually on.
- The GSP road detail was useless when we just wanted to drive along the coast & find access roads to beaches and scenic lookouts.

What we did:
- We rented a car which had a GPS built in to the dashboard. It had an excellent map & knew where we actually were all the time
- Ignored road names the Garmin GPS told us - and we just looked at the screen "images" when it was time to navigate a turn.
- Turned off the Garmin GPS when we went on a "scenic drive" .

Why we did not use the built in GPS.
- We have used only the built in GPS for about the past 10 trips to France. But about 15% of them have been terrible.
- There is a "learning curve" on any new (to us) GPS. We need to rely on it quite a bit for the first 1-5 days we are in France. Most of the time we are not familiar enough with it for the first 1-3 days we are in France. I wanted an OK GPS to use to get us from the car rental office to our first destination - so I purchased a Garmin months before our trip & learned to use it while at home.

Stu Dudley.
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Jul 17th, 2019, 10:36 AM
  #43  
 
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I use my iPhone or iPad for directing us around. I’m carefully to look at the route beforehand and sometimes compare to a paper map which I still love. I have very few problems. Occasionally it sends us down a goat path, but it sounds as if it works far better than what’s described above.

We took the boat from Cassis and there wasn’t any particular order for boarding. It wasn’t a large boat.

kja, I remain in awe that you drive all those crazy roads by yourself. Very impressive,
yestravel is offline  
Jul 17th, 2019, 10:48 AM
  #44  
 
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Loving your report. I had to chuckle at :
  • Missing my cats. (At least I know that my cats love my cat sitters, and my cat sitters -- quite understandably -- love my cats.)
We always feel the same way.
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Jul 17th, 2019, 05:36 PM
  #45  
kja
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@ gooster: Welcome! I'm surprised I included places that you haven't yet visited, and hope my comments prove useful as you plan your further adventures in the area. You can be certain that while in Nice, I experienced more than a few waves of gooster-envy -- what a lovely area to live part time!

@ Adelaidean: I'm glad to see that you're also reading along! FWIW, I'm not a believer in reincarnation, but I've often thought that if it does exist, coming back as a sloth would introduce at least some balance into my life.

@ Mimar: Welcome to you, too! Aren't those "Oh, there's a bridge" moments priceless? I can always count on my TomTom for a few laughs -- even if only afterwards.

@ TravelerKaren: I hope the balance of liked-most to liked-least elements on your trip was as astoundingly out-of-balance as mine! I managed, with some thought, to come up with a list of irksome elements, while the list of things I liked most just flowed from my fingers.

@ StuDudley: I'm delighted to know that you've checked in -- I'm indebted to your input on any number of issues! (I think you'll see another acknowledgement in my first post on Nice.) When using a GPS, I never pay attention to "road names;" I always study maps in advance (I love maps!) and give specify intermediate destinations if I know I want a particular route; and I agree that learning a new GPS's quirks improvements can be time-consuming -- and still, challenges abound. I also remember the days before GPS (and before internet maps), and will take an outdated TomTom over trying to navigate, solo, with only paper maps any day!

@ yestravel: I'm not sure that driving those crazy roads by myself was impressive. Crazy? Perhaps. Bullheadedly determined? Almost certainly. The makings of a good story -- given that I got where I was going -- well, that's TBD.

@ Kathie: Oh gosh, leaving my cats is most assuredly the hardest part of travel for me. In contrast, their purring, wrap-around-my-legs, pet-me-HERE welcomes are, for me, the very best parts of returning home.





Originally Posted by xyz99 View Post
The things you did not like ... the biggest surprise ... the wines. Definitely not what I think of when I think of France.
I know! Honestly, I had joked in advance of this trip that I was committed to doing my very best to try to find out whether there is a bad glass of wine to be had in France, no matter how much effort it took. Little did I realize that it would take exactly 2 glasses, and only one from a bottle I hadn't personally purchased! My guess -- and it's just that -- is that its a difference in preferences: I think I simply prefer wines that are a bit fuller, a bit more complex, a bit more flavorful than seems to be the preference in the region. Part of my reason for that inference is that I had a taste of wine at any number of restaurants that offered only one white or only one rose by the glass, a house wine -- and I can't imagine that so many places would intentionally choose a wine that was not considered pleasant, palatable, and worthy of their food.

Originally Posted by xyz99 View Post
Re: boat sitting. Was that the case for the La Ciotat boat?
I didn't have trouble getting a seat for a tour of the calanques from La Ciotat, for which I had a ticket for a specific time -- but at least when I was there, boats didn't depart every X minutes; instead, there was a limited number of optons with specific routes and departure times. In other words, my ticket for THAT boat guaranteed a seat -- or at least that's my understanding.


With some editing, I should soon post about the actual start of my trip....

Last edited by kja; Jul 17th, 2019 at 05:43 PM.
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Jul 17th, 2019, 07:51 PM
  #46  
kja
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Today's installment: Flight --> Nice and the beginning of my trip

And now -- for better or wose -- to the blow-by-blow account of my trip. I will generally avoid noting anything you can find in a decent guide book, instead commenting on my personal reactions and experiences. And I will undoubtedly provide way too much detail -- feel free to skim!

Day 0 to 1: Flight

After a sleepless night (work had kept me from completing my trip preparations in a timely way -- don't you hate the way work can interfere with life? ), I managed to just barely finish everything I needed to do before heading to Dulles for my flight. I got there, checked in, had a glass of wine, and soon boarded my first flight. We taxied into line, waited, waited, and were then told that thunderstorms in the area would delay our take-off. The delay wasn't too bad -- a bit over an hour and both staff and passengers were pleasant about it. But it was JUST long enough that I wasn't be able to make my connecting flight to Nice. One can do much worse than spend a few hours in Zurich's airport, so I really can't complain, but it did mean reaching Nice much later than I had planned. And I was tired!

.....Nice

My original plan had been to leave my luggage at my hotel and start exploring, have a quick bite to eat, and then turn in early. That plan was clearly out the window!

Fortunately, my room was already available. I was staying at the Hotel Solara (I think I learned about it from thursdaysd -- thank you!) and was very well satisfied with it. It isn't a full-service hotel, but it was very well located for my purposes; it was staffed by very nice and helpful people; and I had a lovely little balcony at the corner of the building -- so nice! I couldn't see the sea, but it was a very agreeable place to sit -- at least when it wasn't too cold. (I apparently hit Nice during the coldest early May on record, but it wasn't THAT cold from my perspective.) Sitting there, I could appreciate the typical style of buildings in the area -- shutters and little balconies and tiled roofs -- and I could see some forested hills in the distance, and if I stood, I could look down on a major pedestrian-only, cafe-lined avenue.

I walked around the neighborhood a bit to get oriented (something I almost always do), bought a bottle of wine, and sat down on my balcony to decide how to use the rest of my day. I was sore and tired and more than a bit grouchy by then, and I had little time before various museums would close for the day, and so I decided to begin with a nap. But then I would want dinner rather than turning in early, so I contacted a nearby restaurant, and yes, they could seat me!

So, after a nap, I walked to La Merenda, where I secured a reservation for later during my stay (YAY!), and in the process, fell in love with the area around the Place Massena -- particularly Plensa's Seven Sculptures (wow!), but also the deep rose arcaded and shuttered buildings lining that area, and its checkerboard pavement, and the Fontaine de Soleil, and the curved stairway and oval array of buildings around it. And that's when it really sank in: I am on vacation, and I am in a beautiful place, and my new journey has begun!

Taking a different path back to my hotel, it was just a few blocks to Keisuke Matsushima, which, despite the name, serves French cuisine. (Thank you, StuDudley, for your recommendation!) Starting with a delightful amuse-bouche, I had asparagus (violet, white, and green) with some delicious breads, a perfectly roasted lamb with vegetables, and finally a marvelous cheese plate. Everything was beautifully plated and service was gracious. Too, a couple had brought their son in to celebrate his third birthday, and what a festive (and delightfully discreet) occasion it proved to be -- so fun to watch! It was a perfect way to celebrate the start of my new adventure.


Day 2: Nice

After a night of much needed sleep, I enjoyed my breakfast, which was served on a tray and savored on my balcony, and then went to a nearby tourist information office to get information about various bus schedules and stops. I had researched some of these things in advance, but needed some additional information because of changes I needed to make to my plans after "losing" a day. The young man who responded to my inquiries was very helpful, clearly marking the bus stops and bus numbers on my map.

Armed with that information, I went back to Place Massena, where I found a bus stop along the tram lines, exactly where the young man had marked an X on my map. So easy! My first priority of the day was to visit the Chagall museum in Cimiez. Those of you who know Nice may realize the problem: The bus to Cimiez does not stop there, no matter how clear the X on my map. Growl. It took a while, but I finally realized that none of the bus stops in that area showed the right bus number, and with the help of some very kind people, I eventually found the stop a few blocks away.

The Musée National Marc Chagall is, IMO, glorious! The collection is small, but incredible. What a privilege to see it! One minor complaint -- people kept stepping in front of me as I was studying this or that piece. I go to a LOT of museums, and it isn't terribly unusual for that to happen -- I'm sure I've done it from time to time! -- but IME, people make a concerted effort to avoid doing so, and if they realize they've done it, they apologize profusely. But not here, and in general, not in any of the museums I visited in France. Different norms, I guess.

After a while, I pulled myself away from Chagall's glorious works and took the bus another few stops. I walked through the evocative ruins of a Roman arena to the Musée Archeologique de Nice-Cimiez, which I found well worth seeing, even if not an especially memorable collection (though there was a bronze head that I thought awesome).

And then the Musée Matisse, which was in a lovely building. It's another small collection; unfortunately, it was, from my perspective, a bit disappointing -- too small, too limited an overview of this magnificent artist's work. But there were a few delightful works by Matisse nonetheless (emphasis on FEW). A special exhibit of work by Frédérique Lucien, who is not my favorite, held some thought-provoking pieces.






A glass of wine under some of the ancient olive trees of the Jardin des Arenes de Cimiez provided a welcome break before I visited the Franciscan Church (aka Eglise Notre Dame de l’assumption (with traces of some very expressive paintings by Brea) and then...

I entered the Jardins du Monastere de Cimiez, where I was almost immediately immersed in the delightful aroma of a rose arbor in full bloom. With blooms in an array of colors and sizes, its was enchanting! And the gardens had much more to offer. I strolled around for quite a while, enjoying flowers and an arbored walkway and the herbal scents of some shrubs near a lovely pool. A number of people were lounging at an overlook, taking in the views over Nice.

I then went back through the olive grove, where many people were picnicking and playing on this lovely weekend afternoon, and by the ruins of an extensive Roman bath complex, and found a bus stop NEAR (not at) the X on my map. (At least I now knew not to think that X would mark the spot.) I got off near the impressive Lycée Masséna, walked by the dancing fountain of the Promenade du Paillon, and roamed around a bit before taking another bus (the stop wasn't too far from the X) to...

Nice's Musée des Beaux Arts. The mansion housing this museum must once have been truly magnificent, and traces of its glory remain (e.g., the staircases and grand salon), but it is rather sadly in need of some repairs. I especially enjoyed the room of works by Dufy. The museum also holds a small, eclectic collection of other works, some quite beautiful; a period room with a set of joyously painted panels; and a few impressive statues, including a lovely head of a veiled woman by Luigi Guglielmo.

Sunshine and a bit of a breeze (OK, at times a powerful wind ) combined to make a walk along the Promenade des Anglais a refreshing delight. A bit too chilly for sunbathing, there were still people enjoying the beach, and the sea birds seemed undaunted, swooping and soaring and diving for fish. I admired the architecture of this famous seafront, before returning to my hotel to shower and prepare for the evening.

My plans for the trip included three meals that would, for me, be a splurge, including this evening's dinner at Jan (which I thought would be my first actual dinner of the trip). I took another long walk through the Promenade du Paillon, where older couples and young lovers relaxed on benches and others sprawled on the grounds and children enjoyed all sorts of playground apparatus. I allowed myself to get briefly lost in the winding streets of Old Town and appreciated the wisdom of the many people enjoying the Place Garibaldi and many cafes and restaurants in nearby pedestrian zones before reaching the restaurant just on time.

I was welcomed at Jan very graciously and served with just the right combination of warmth and professionalism. I selected the four-course menu, preceded by an amuse-bouche that included something with tomatoes and spices and leeks and toasted radish that was absolutely delicious and accompanied by some wonderful breads. My first course was a mouthwatering soup of peas and haddock and chorizo and apple -- such a wonderfully, surprisingly, and beautiful combination of flavors! My main course was lamb, and honestly, it may have been the best lamb I have ever had. It was prepared with asparagus, morels, and onion and served with a rosemary mint sauce and was to die for! Next: a generous serving of curried lentils. And finally, a dessert of custard and pineapple and gelato, beautifully decorated with flowers and tiny bits of various fruits. Of course, everything was plated with pleasing attention to detail. OMG, that was a delicious meal! (Thanks, gooster, for recommending it.)

Later, I walked by the Vieux-Port, with its docks and pleasure craft, and by a pier, where waves crashed into rocks, and past the Monument Aux Morts, and around an overlook where couples lingered and teenagers jiggled in the way that only people that age can manage, and I lingered, too, to admire the views of Nice's seafront and the sound of the surf before returning to my room, happily exhausted and very glad to have had such a wonderful start to my journey.

I did mention that I like to fill every moment when on the road, didn't I?

to be continued....
Next up: More of my time in Nice

Last edited by kja; Jul 17th, 2019 at 08:29 PM.
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Jul 17th, 2019, 08:06 PM
  #47  
 
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Glad the Solara worked out (yes, I did suggest it). The balcony is a real bonus.
thursdaysd is offline  
Jul 18th, 2019, 04:00 AM
  #48  
 
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Headed to Nice beginning of Nov. so I carefully took notes of your experience. Sounds like you did make the most of every moment. Thanks for all the details.
TPAYT is offline  
Jul 18th, 2019, 04:34 AM
  #49  
 
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The principal thing that I have learned about navigation systems is that you should absolutely ignore them if they contradict the signs on the road. The signs know better.
kerouac is online now  
Jul 18th, 2019, 05:18 AM
  #50  
 
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I am enjoying your trip report! This is the first chance I’ve had to respond as I am in Provence right now visiting my grandchildren. Thank you for mentioning my name in your list of thank you’s! That is very thoughtful of you.

I appreciate the details about Nice. We hope to travel to Nice during the spring of 2020 with friends so your Nice report is very helpful.

It’s too bad that Gordes was so crowded that you weren’t able to stop there. We visited Gordes in May 2013, and it was crowded, but not unbearable at the time.

On our current visit to Provence, so far we have visited 3 new places. I wish I had visited them before your trip so I could Have recommended at least two of them for less crowded and less touristy places to visit. One is Ansouis in the south Luberon near Lourmarin. Ansouis is a lovely village that has been hardly changed in centuries. No tourist gift shops, no crowds, and we might have been the only tourists. We also like St Saturnin les Apt, near Gordes and Roussillon. It’s refreshingly ungentrified with the ruins of a chateau on a hill with spectacular views. A few more people were there than in Ansouis, but still quiet and far from the maddening crowds.

I will try to do a brief trip report of our 3 new places.

It looks like you missed Eygalieres???? One of our favorite places. But sounds like you discovered a great substitute!
KarenWoo is offline  
Jul 18th, 2019, 07:01 AM
  #51  
 
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great report. Waiting for your impressions on the musée des confluences. Will be going past in less than one hour but have never stopped.*
Today we drive with 7 cats so not an option 😸
You made me realise I am overdue for a visit to le monastère de la Verne. Very lovely.*
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Jul 18th, 2019, 07:44 AM
  #52  
 
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So enjoying following along. I feel like I'm reading a great book!! We really enjoyed the Chagall Museum on our last visit but did not make it to the Jardins du Monastere de Cimiez which we'll have to add to our list for next time.
Looking forward to your next installment.
TravelerKaren is offline  
Jul 18th, 2019, 08:34 AM
  #53  
 
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kja, I am enjoying your comprehensive report on this special part of the world.
We left our Garmin with a chip for European maps home last fall and used Google Maps on my iPhone which had a SIM card inserted. It worked so well in Sicily for us.
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Jul 18th, 2019, 05:08 PM
  #54  
kja
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@ thursdaysd: That balcony was definitely a real bonus! And the staff of the Solara were so nice.

@ TPAYT: You’re in for a treat -- Nice is a truly lovely place.

@ kerouac: Yep, trust the signs -- especially if the sign says “Do not enter.”

@ KarenWoo: Welcome! I envy your repeat visits to delightful Provence, and your ability to explore some of its quieter corners.

@ ahbonvraiment: I loved the Musee des Confluences! As for the Monastere de la Verne – I recommend that you pet all seven cats and make sure your will is in order before you take that drive.

@ TravelerKaren: Thanks for your kind words! That Chagall Museum is a treasure, isn’t it?

@ HappyTrvlr: I visited Sicily while still using paper maps. Fortunately, I only had a car for a few days while there.

Last edited by kja; Jul 18th, 2019 at 05:49 PM.
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Jul 18th, 2019, 05:31 PM
  #55  
kja
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Day 3: Nice


After another breakfast on my delightful little balcony, I headed out with the goal of enjoying Nice's Old Town market, but just steps from my hotel, the roads were closed for a half marathon. I stand in awe of people who choose to participate in such activities, and so joined the cheering crowds for a while before crossing the road when a gap in runners permitted, allowing security personnel to check my day bag, and walked on to the Old Town.

Once past a stand selling soaps, which exuded an odor that I found nearly overpowering and decidedly unpleasant, I thoroughly enjoyed a brief amble through the Cours Saleya market -- such gorgeous flowers and produce!


Reversing my steps of the previous night, I walked along the seafront to the Vieux Port, glad to see it in daylight. My goal for the day was to visit Villefranche, Cap Ferrat, and Beaulieu; I had selected this particular day because the Villa Ephrussi would be celebrating a Rose Festival. Not about to rely on those carefully marked Xs again, I had checked the internet to make sure I knew where I would find a bus stop. It was exactly where I expected it to be , at the inner edge of Vieux Port, but a hand lettered sign taped there seemed to indicate that the bus was not running that day. ? My French is very limited, so I'm not sure exactly what the sign said, but a passerby agreed that the bus was not coming and pointed further along the road. I followed signs for the bus block by block, finding a similar sign posted at each, until I reached a five-way intersection. I had no idea which direction to go, I was frustrated, and it started raining. Time to rethink!


Telling myself that the Villa Ephrussi would probably be jammed with weekend visitors, I decided to make this a day for Vieux Nice and so made my way to the spacious Place Garibaldi, with its leafy shaded edges and elegant arcaded and shuttered buildings.

The Musee d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain (MAMAC) was right there, and even if contemporary art is not my favorite, I found pieces to enjoy -- some works by Frank Stella, Nikki de Saint Phalle, and (new to me) Yves Klein. I also enjoyed the rooftop garden and some stunning views over the city.

Entering the narrow, twisting lanes of Vieux Nice, I spent a few minutes at a café, admired the fish market by the Fontaine aux Dauphins almost as much (I think) as the sea birds congregating as near as they could, and visited the Palais Lascaris, with its elegant architecture and rich furnishings and extensive collection of musical instruments, including some most notable for their truly exquisite craftsmanship and others notable as fascinating examples of instruments no longer in use. And if more ornate that is my preference, the Cathedrale Sainte-Réparate is certainly impressive.

I enjoyed the strains of flamenco guitar from a street musician as I made my way back through the still lively Cours Saleya market, found the elevator to the castle and -- after only a short wait -- emerged in the Parc du Chateau. Oh, the views! No matter the direction, I was in awe of the beauty surrounding this place. I must admit that I hadn't realized that one could see snow-capped Alps from Nice -- what a pleasant surprise! I joined the many people enjoying a gloriously sunny day (the rain had stopped while I was in MAMAC), admiring the views and the fountain. After a while, I explored the Jewish cemetery, and then the Christian one, before slowly walking back to Vieux Nice, stopping briefly in a pocket garden.

Revived by a glass of wine, sipped in front of the grand Palais de Justice, I found a bus I wanted, walked a few blocks, and turned into the rosebush-lined entrance to the Russian Cathédrale Orthodoxe Saint-Nicolas (I almost missed the tiny white flowers dotting the lawn!), with its onion domes and priceless icons and glorious iconostasis and frescoed ornamentation. Wonderful!

My return bus was actually right where the Tourist Office man had said it would be! Unfortunately, it didn't return me to where I wanted to go. I do wish I'd realized sooner. Instead, I had the unexpected "opportunity" to explore a bit more of Nice. I don't particularly mind being lost when there is no time pressure, but it was more than a mile, and I was tired. Very tired!

Glad to finally reach my hotel, I freshened up and sipped some wine on my balcony before walking by the Seven Sculptures, now shining in pastel hues against the darkening twilight, to Bistro Chaud Vin -- what a delightful and delicious place! (Thanks so much, mms!) I had deep fried basil and zucchini blossoms (so good!) and then duck breast with asparagus in an orange sauce. Perfect!

It was chilly by the time I ended my meal, so I didn't dally on my way back to my room and some much needed rest.

to be continued....
Next up: A wonderful day trip
kja is offline  
Jul 19th, 2019, 04:37 AM
  #56  
 
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I'm enjoying this part of France through your eyes, and will definitely save this for inspiration for when we get there. Keep it coming
xyz99 is offline  
Jul 19th, 2019, 04:46 AM
  #57  
 
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While I liked Nice enough after a couple of visits, I had no desire to return. Your descriptions are making me rethink that decision.
yestravel is offline  
Jul 19th, 2019, 11:24 AM
  #58  
 
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@kja -- I've been enjoying your report, as I see the city through new eyes (and busy, busy feet). I'm glad you enjoyed Jan, and when you were at Mastushima you were pretty close to my apartment. I didn't realize you were at the Solara or I could have provided even more specific tips. I was there in May (and in Western Provence) and it was so cold indeed. I'm back in a few weeks to enjoy the summer crowds It's too bad the rain and the transit changes conspired to mess with your plans to visit the Villa Ephrussi and Villefrance-sur-Mer. I feel much the same about the Matisse Musee, although I got more out of the exhibits and videos than of the works. Non French speakers/readers would even have a tougher time there.
gooster is offline  
Jul 19th, 2019, 11:54 AM
  #59  
 
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So enjoying see Nice again through your fabulous descriptions. Makes me want to come back again for a 4th visit
Looking forward to your next installment.
TravelerKaren is offline  
Jul 19th, 2019, 04:36 PM
  #60  
kja
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@ xyz99,
@ yestravel, and
@ TravelerKaren:
..... thank you for your kind words! Nice is, IMO, a lovely place to while away some time.

@ gooster: Neither a few sprinkles nor transportation challenges prevented me from enjoying myself in your wonderful neighborhood (color me green!) or the delightful and cosmopolitan city of Nice, nor did they preclude my day trip, which was simply deferred for a day. The sprinkles and bit of chill I experienced were nothing in comparison to the heat wave that hit the region recently -- that sounded awful, and so dangerous! I trust that you and yours were safe? The tips you provided were more than sufficient and much appreciated. Raise a glass to me next time you dine at Matsushima. Or Jan! or La Merenda! or anywhere really, no need to limit yourself.

A bit more soon....
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