DAY 1: Last night wasn’t as bad as the night before. I wasn’t so miserable, but I still didn’t sleep. Up at 430. Just laid in bed trying to rest. Got a shower about 7, packed, called a cab (no way I was going to walk with the pack), and headed for the airport. I’d been hearing a lot of stories online that it was taking people every bit of two hours at the airport. Took me 20 minutes, leaving me with another 2 hours to wait. Oh well, better early than having to rush. As the morning went on, I started feeling better. Coughing wasn’t so frequent and heinous sounding. Sinuses were working better. And, there was Diet Dr Pepper! Plane sat at the gate for an hour past departure time. Which was super fun, because apparently Air Lingus was having a kids under 5 fly free special or something, because the flight was PACKED with little kids. And they were getting restless… Finally we took off. As the plane started that initial acceleration down the runway, the flight erupted with the oooo’s and weeeeee’s and giggles of our wee passengers. 🙂 Remember that joy guys, hold on to it for the next 2.5 hours! 🙂 The good news? I only had a couple of coughing fits, and no one decided to eject me! Slán leat, Ireland!
2.5 hours later, I landed in Nice! Ah, France! I love you so! Other than Mexico, France is the country I’ve been to the most. Two trips to Paris and now down south. It will be nice to be here in the summer (both Paris trips were in December), and to see a different part of the country. Plus, I teach French history (the monarchy is my specialty), so it will be interesting to see if I can find anything related to my kings here! I had been feeling so awful those last couple of days in Ireland, but things changed when I got to passport control. The officer said, “Bon jour!” and I said it back. He then went flip, flip, flip, flip, flip….flip (that made me feel better already!!)…finally found a page to stamp, stamped me, said “Merci!” and I didn’t even say “Gracias!” back (which is what I normally do because I’m a weirdo who thinks I have to answer every foreign language in Spanish 🙄). I walked past that window and immediately felt lighter. Seriously, it was like a damn burden was lifted off of me. I don’t know if it was because deep down I was just not enjoying Ireland, or if there was pollen, etc… in the air that were causing my illness….all I knew was that I felt healthier and more relaxed immediately.
Went out of the airport, found the bus ticket office, bought a return ticket for 16.50 euros on the 250 bus to Antibes. And I was super proud of myself for knowing to say it An-teeb instead of An-tee-bees. If there’s an S in French, general rule is to knock the last two letters off the end as they are silent. Because the French like to see letters, not pronounce them. 🙂 The lady said the bus was leaving in 30 minutes. Ok, that kinda sucked, but no worries. I walked down toward the buses and saw one that said 250 on it. I asked the guy if it was going to Antibes. YES!! Woo-hoo!! Super lucky!! Got on the bus, opened my Trusted Housesitters account on my phone, and it wouldn’t let me in!!! What the hell?? Ok, whatever. I just looked at the email the homeowner had sent me. “Get off at Gare Antibes”. Sat on the bus for about 40 minutes. It was now down to me and one other person on the bus….I asked the driver where the stop for Gare Antibes was. I had missed it!!! UGH!! It wasn’t named the Gare Antibes stop… Now, instead of a 7 minute walk, I had a 20 minute one back to the house. In 87 degree weather. With a pack. But fortunately I was feeling better. I texted the homeowner, told her I was on my way, and headed in the right direction.
By the time I got to the Monoprix (grocery store) by her house where I was supposed to meet her, I was DRENCHED in sweat. The homeowner, Becki, was right down to meet me. Went up to her lovely apartment on the 6th floor that would be my home for the next 5 days. Met my charge- little Molly the ferret! OMG she is so tiny and cute!! Becki and I went out to walk around the neighborhood and to have dinner- we hit it off immediately! Seriously, it was really nice to have such a long conversation with someone. We have so much in common, and I haven’t talked to someone for over an hour straight since I left home 5 weeks ago (except for Mikey, and that was just one topic)! She so kindly took me out to dinner at an amazing restaurant. I had seared thun (tuna) and oh my god, it was soooooooooo good. This is also the first time I’ve cut meat with a knife instead of using one to spread peanut butter in over 5 weeks! Came back and went to sleep, loving France…
Molly- the cutest and sweetest ferret in the world!!
DAY 2: I slept for over 7 hours straight!!! This is the first time I’ve done that since I left home! The sun here wakes up and goes to sleep at a proper time! I feel so much better. The cough and sinuses are still not happy, but I don’t feel so drained and tired and flat out miserable. Things are looking up! But I knew that today had to be a day of rest. My body and mind needed a 100% down day, and so did my pocketbook. I really had a ton of work to catch up on. I have been traveling fast and hard every day for over 3 weeks straight. It takes a toll…. Becki left for her trip early in the morning, so Molly the ferret and I just hung out. I did wander down to Monoprix to get a few groceries, and they have Dr. Pepper (aka Mary’s wine- the finest 2018 vintage!)!! Yep, I could just live here. 🙂 I seriously worked for about 10 hours straight, catching up on everything and getting ready for the fall (already? 😫) semester. I’m sure that based on this journal, you’re ready to pack your bags for the excitement of the French Riviera!! Well, continue packing. Tomorrow I have an adventure planned…
(psst…poisson is French for fish) Today is a beautiful day for an adventure! My cold is SO much better. Still some coughing, still a snotty nose, but all in all, I’m a functioning human being again! I got up, ate a little breakfast, packed my bag, and put Gare Antibes into Google maps so I could figure out how to walk there. Because today, I was going to pop into a new country just to go to the aquarium. I love how posh that sounds!! But watch—I’ll make it even posher….I was going to pop into Monaco just to go to the aquarium! 🙃
Found the station, walked up to the ticket machine like the damn pro traveler I am, entered in my info, one ticket to Monaco, please… And it would only give me a ticket for 2pm! I was trying to get on the 9am train! Oy. Went to the information counter like the tourist I am, and asked. She said to go inside and buy my ticket at the desk. The line was long, I’d miss my 9am train, but they come every 30 minutes so no worries. Like 2 minutes after I got in line, alarms started going off, the ladies at the counter said a bunch of stuff in French, and everyone in line turned and left. I followed, because, well, I didn’t know what else to do! There was a young man in a train uniform by one of the machines. And oh lort, he was one of THOSE French guys…the kind that Brian worries about! #swoon I went up and explained what I needed. He helped me get my ticket, explained that the time didn’t matter, I just needed to have a ticket, he said, “bon jour!” and I, looking into those greenish French eyes replied breathily….Gracias. Jesus Christ kill me now! Why do I have to respond to EVERY foreign language with SPANISH?????!!!! 😖
Here’s a good spot to explain my language (or lack thereof) skills. I took 1 year of Spanish in high school my junior year. That was in 1987. Please, don’t do the math. For some reason, most of that beginner stuff has stuck with me through these last 10 years or so since graduation. I call my Spanish “toddler Spanish”. I can piece together pretty simple verbs and nouns and make reasonable sentences, but they’re all in the present tense. That said, I have always been able to communicate enough to get my point across and even have mini-conversations in Spanish. And if that fails, I just throw my self on the ground and scream until I get what I want. 😉 French, I took about 6 weeks of it a few years ago. And the instructor was so hot I barely got past “bon jour” (if you notice a theme here, yes, I have a serious penchant for French guys….). So while my Spanish is at the toddler stage, I’m at infant stage in French. I’ve got hi, bye, thank you, dog, cat, fish, a few colors, mama, dada, and goo-goo ga ga. That’s about it. And for whatever damn reason, my instinct is to speak in Spanish instead of French- which is a source of major embarrassment when I’m trying to be so smooooooooth and Frenchish. Oy.
Anyway…I went outside in the shade to wait 30 min for my train. Just standing there, blogging, when Mr Train Ticket Guy came outside to me. He walked up and told me not to worry about the alarms (they were still going off), everything was OK. I was blogging, not even paying attention to the alarms, so I definitely didn’t look “alarmed” (I’m so fucking punny!). I told him thank you, and managed to do it in French this time, and didn’t proceed through the emergency exit. Oh, Brian, you are so lucky that I love and respect you!!! Sigh…
Got on the train at 9:30 for the 40 minuteish trip to Monaco. Becki had told me to sit on the right side because the views were really nice, and man, was she right!! It seemed like the best stop if you wanted to do a beach thing was this one- Villefranche sur Mer. (Yes, there were a few topless women on the beach, but most weren’t. I would be. 🙂 )
Reached the Gare de Monaco and got off the train. Out the door and WOWZA!! What a VIEW!!!
I put my sole destination for today into Google Map- Musée Océanographique de Monaco. It was about a mile from the train station to the aquarium, and the streets were just lovely! Soon, I reached a long ramp that went up, up, up. Along the way, I ran into Prince Rainier of Monaco (well, at least his statue!). I remember all of the stories about him from when I was a kid- probably because he married Grace Kelly and that was a big deal. A bit of research revealed that he ruled Monaco for almost 56 years! Impressive. I love my foreign signs, and I wasn’t sure this one was good or bad…I guess it depends on the tourist! 😉
Up and up the ramp I went in the heat…but the view from the top was worth it! And behind me, the palace and a large open plaza. I wound through narrow cobblestone streets and headed toward the aquarium…
I’ve been to a lot of aquariums around the world. Let’s see, a few off the top of my head…Singapore, Malaysia, Cape Town, Medellin, lots in the US…but I was completely amazed by the building that housed the Monaco aquarium!! What the hell was this? The Louvre of aquariums??? It was MASSIVE!! And looked more like a palace than an aquarium! It was built in 1910 by Prince Albert, who was a lover of oceanography and marine biology. I like him already. And apparently he had a taste for fancy schmancy buildings as well. 🙂
I didn’t take this picture, but I want you to see just how massive this building is! It’s the one on the ocean…
So that was the outside. And then I stepped inside. Yes, this IS the Louvre of aquariums!! DAMN!!
To get to the aquarium from the entrance, you had to go downstairs. For those who don’t know me, I have a degree in marine biology, I teach marine zoology, and I was in the aquarium industry for over 25 years, specializing in corals. In other words, I know my way around an aquarium. This aquarium was 99% focused on marine life, which I LOVED!! There was only one freshwater exhibit of piranhas. The larger aquarium with the sharks and turtle really wasn’t large enough for the specimens that were in there, that was evidenced by some serious damage on the noses of some of the sharks from banging into things. And some of the other fish in that aquarium had signs of long term disease. However, the smaller aquariums were very well done with very healthy specimens!! There were several species of fish I had never seen before (that’s always fun), and they are breeding clownfish and Banggai cardinals here and had a large display tank with them.
This “flat” aquariums gave an interesting perspective of looking in from the top!
I was in LOVE with this fish!! I had never seen one quite like this species before. It’s a type of flying gurnard.
But the best part was the focus on CORAL!! I have literally never seen so much coral on display, so large and so healthy! Well done!! There was also a really cool tank at the very end that just had trash in it and talked about how trash is impacting the oceans. I thought it was very poignant and relevant.
I actually have enough French to read “Oui, je suis un animal”!! And I immediately knew what they were talking about!! Corals are not rocks, not plants, they are ANIMALS!!!!
So that was the aquarium part….but this isn’t just an aquarium!! It’s a museum of oceanography!! I went upstairs to the next level, and was met by a HUGE squid hanging from the ceiling over a gorgeous ocean themed mosaic floor. Seriously?? #heaven
I walked in that door behind the squid, and realized that, oui! I AM in the Louvre of aquariums!! There was this huge room with this amazingly magical glass display cabinet full of I don’t even know what, and in that room, another room to the right. I decided to go in there first. There were a bunch of whale and dolphin skeletons hanging from the ceiling in this MASSIVE room that had kind of a terrace or balcony or something (I’m not sophisticated enough to know the European word for it!) around it to make a second floor for displays.
Around the edges were all kinds of preserved specimens. Corals, fish, sharks, various invertebrates. Many of which were like 100 years old!!! In the middle of the room in the flat display cases were all kinds of oceanography memorabilia. Original drawings of specimens that had been collected on exhibitions that happened over 100 years ago. Pictures of the specimen rooms here at the museum back when it opened. And letters from Prince Albert of Monaco. I was literally in awe and had never seen anything like this in any aquarium! Oh, and did you know that Jacques Cousteau was the director from 1957 to 1988??? DAMN!
Then, all of the lights started shutting off one by one. What the hell?? I wasn’t finished looking in here yet! Was it closing or something? All of a sudden, music starts playing and the ceiling and skeletons are all lit up in an ever-changing, completely unexpected light show!! Dear Monaco, <slow clap>, Love, Mary.
I was reeling from the history that was in that room. I went out into the main room again to explore that huge display cabinet. This “Cabinet of Curiosities” is a display of some of the most unusual specimens and items that the museum has collected over the decades. And I was in whatever is the next step up from heaven!
That suit on the right is dive gear from 1797!!!!!!!!!!!
I picked my jaw up off the floor and looked to the left. There was another huge room (like the whale/dolphin room across from it), but it was CLOSED for a new exhibit installation! NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! I so have to come back…. I went up another flight of stairs to the top level, where there were gorgeous views and a little cafe.
And I was done. 🙁 I wanted this thing to go on FOREVER!! I wanted to bring a class here!! I wanted to kick everyone out and make my own exhibits and reopen them!! Ok, Musee Ocenographique de Monaco- where’s your gift shop? Because I’m about to give you ALL of my monies! Krona, pounds, euros, dollars, empty credit cards- it’s yours!! (If you know anything about me, you know that this is a rare, rare, RARE statement indeed!). The gift shop was down a couple of floors, on the other side of the exit turn style. I wanted books! I wanted shirts! I wanted art! I wanted it all!! Damn you Ryan Air, and your stingy 10kg carry on limit!! Argggggggggghhhh!! They had books on that cabinet of curiosities, and I really wanted that. But they were all in French. I found myself a t-shirt that I liked (although, the selection could have been better….). Then I was looking for art. I needed something for my wall at home. Something for my own little cabinet of curiosities that I have set up in my dining room. Nothing! No where! How is this possible?! I mean, I even had it all figured out in my head- some kind of super cool vintage poster kind of thing. I wondered around a few times and gave up. Sigh. Freaking fine. Went to the cashier with my tshirt in hand and WHAT WAS THIS??? It was in French AND it even had that one fish I really loved on it?! SOLD!! (That is literally 1/4 of what I would have paid. I’ll eat peanut butter and jelly for weeks on end to save money, but THIS is the kind of thing I save my money for!!)
This day seriously was TOPS, and there was no way it could get any better. I practically skipped out of the aquarium. Now, I asked Brian later what was the ONE thing that could have possibly made this adventure even more awesome. He immediately replied, “A botanical garden.” That’s because my baby knows me too well! And wa-la (that’s French for ta-da), there was one immediately outside of the aquarium and to the right of it!! I strolled down shady tree covered paths, with tons of gorgeous flowers in bloom, and a view of the Mediterranean….ahhhhhh…….
View of the aquarium from the garden.
Walked back to the train station via a different route. Monaco, you are beautiful, and thank you so much, Prince Albert, for being such an advocate for marine sciences. Your gorgeous Musee Oceanographic de Monaco is now my most favorite aquarium in the whole world. There are bigger ones. There are flashier ones. But none have ever put together such a collection of animals, science, and history all in one palace place. Well done!!!
In real time, I’m in Malta, starting Day 3 here. I’m playing a serious game of journaling catch up, so this one is going to be more of a “recap” than a detailed description!
Day 4: My cough is a bit better, but I’m still a snotty mess. Sigh… So in keeping with my “this portion of the trip is mainly for resting, and not adventuring” stance, I booked only one adventure for today- a free walking tour of Antibes so I could get to know the city a bit. I always love to do these free tours wherever I go, because the guides are a wealth of information! But remember, free doesn’t mean “free”! It means tip the guide accordingly at the end and don’t be a trashy cheap ass. (I’m a cheap ass, but not a trashy one!)
Generally there are at least 2 different companies offering free walking tours of a city, so I decide based on time (because they tend to go to the same places). Antibes just had one- the aptly named Antibes Free Walking Tours! I booked online for Saturday at 10:30. The meeting place was literally just outside the apartment door- in the park next to my beloved Dr. Pepper stocked Monoprix. 🙂 I arrived a bit early, and there was a market set up in the park. Mainly clothes and shoes and that sort of thing. I actually found a dress I really loved. Original price on the tag- $340 Euros. Market price $80 Euros. Still too pricey for my blood, though. 🙁
A little before 10:30, I wandered over to the meeting place and found my guide, Cedric. We talked a little bit before the tour. Cedric was born and raised in France, then lived in New Zealand with his wife, where he perfected his English! They have actually done a lot of housesitting as well, so it was fun to talk to someone who understands this lifestyle. They moved back to France, and Cedric was in IT work- and not really enjoying it. When his baby was born, he wanted more freedom. So he decided to go into business for himself (YAY ENTREPRENEURSHIP!!) and Antibes Free Walking Tours was born! He’s only been doing it for 2 months, and he’s the only game in town right now. We talked about marketing (which fortunately is one of my strong points and the reason why my businesses have always succeeded), and he is really on point with his marketing game- working on building and building the business through the proper connections and channels. I absolutely loved his story! We finished talking at about 10:33, and no one else was there. So for today, it would be a private tour! Awesome for me, sucks for Cedric (less tips). But such are the growing pains of a brand new business…
We headed off toward old town, and took a turn down a side street. There was a very nondescript looking church from the outside, called the Chapelle Saint Bernardin. Cedric told me to go inside and have a look around, and make sure I looked for the old doors with the date on them. WOW!! I couldn’t believe that the inside of this church was so bright and so ornate, considering the outside of it was rather plain (I didn’t even get a picture of the outside because it was so “eh”, and by the time I got back out I completely forgot!). The church was built in the 1500s over Roman ruins (One shovel, to go, please!). Doors were gifted to the church in 1587 by a parishioner who survived the plague. Now, an almost 500 year old door is pretty cool in and of itself…but the oooo-weeeee-oooo part of this door is that the church caught fire in the 1970s and was left in ruins, but this door- this WOODEN door- remained….hmmmm….yeah, still don’t believe! 😉 It lay in ruins for about 20 years, until restoration began in 1998. It took about 10 years to restore it. And I must say, they did a fantastic job!
Here you can see some of the paintings from the 1500s/1600s that survived the fire.
Next, we walked through old town and went to an area where there was an outdoor antique mall! I had every intention of coming back and wandering around here after the tour, but alas, my energy levels/cold did not allow it. 🙁 We wandered through old, narrow, beautiful streets and came to an Absinthe museum/bar. Cedric described the history of Absinthe (which is really quite interesting!). I declined to taste it. However, he did say that the oldest Roman ruins of the city are in the cellar of this place, which hosts a lively piano bar in the evenings! Right next to that was Le Marche Provencal. This is a major fruit/veggie/meat market during the morning, and an art market at night. This was one place I DEFINTELY wanted to come back to, because as we walked through there were all kinds of gorgeous produce I had never seen and I wanted pictures! But again, the cold ruined that return trip as well. 🙁
Then we got off the “beaten tourist path” and started wandering through some neighborhoods. Cedric asked me if I liked plants. Um, YES! And we turned into an area that was this insanely gorgeous combination of old European buildings and vibrant plants! Paradise, aka Safranier! We walked and talked about the neighborhood, and it was at this point that I could totally see myself living here! Then he showed me an ancient lavoir- basically a public washing trough where women used to gather to wash clothes and gossip! I think he said it was from the 1500s, but it might be 1600s- I can’t remember (which is why I have to keep up with my blogs and not get so far behind! Damn you, short term memory!!)
On the other side of the lavoir was a big rock wall. Ok, who cares. There are lots of rock walls in Europe. Well, look closely. See anything?
Ok, if Cedric hadn’t pointed it out to me, I guarantee I wouldn’t have seen! See, there is an artist in Antibes that has an extremely small studio. He ran out of room for his works, so he took to the streets! And he began installing faces and angels and such on the walls of the town- sometimes with the owner’s permission, and apparently sometimes without and they were promptly removed! And if you look around in this area, you will see them almost everywhere! Just on this one wall, you can see several faces, and a hand coming out in the lower left hand corner! There are also a lot of angels scattered around on various flatter walls around town. It’s kind of like a game of Where’s Waldo! Here are some closeups of the faces on this rock wall….
From here, we headed around toward the harbor area. Stunning. The fortification walls of the city were built from the stones of old Roman ruins!
We came out to a little square. This is where the Pablo Picasso museum is. The museum is a former chateau that was built in early 1600s, and became Picasso’s home in the 1940s. After that, it became the first museum dedicated to Picasso, housing about 250 of his works. I’m not a fan of modern art, so I skipped this. Next to it is the Antibes Cathedral, built on the ruins of a Roman temple in the 500s (wow!!). Of course, it has been restored often over the past 1500 years. Notably (anytime a French king is involved, I call that “notable”!), Louis XV (the one in between 2 of my 3 favorite kings!!) paid to have it restored in the 1740s after war kinda made a mess of it…
We kept heading around toward the harbor, passing a beautiful beach that is nicknamed “the toilet bowl” because of its shape (god, I hope that’s the reason!) and finally into the harbor. I was surprised to learn that Antibes is the largest harbor in the Mediterranean- with more boats moored here than anywhere else! And some of the largest. One Russian oligarch Cedric told me about has a 162m yacht that is here often! Cedric also explained a lot of the crazy features these ridiculously lavish yachts have. The one I liked best were the jellyfish barrier nets, that create a jellyfish free zone if you are out in the ocean and want to take a dip. I can get “on board” with that idea (me and the puns….). The rest of them are just stupid ways to spend money when you have too much of it and don’t know what else to do with it. Gross.
We entered back into the old part of the city through a gate in the wall. The last thing Cedric showed me was a fountain. Apparently a guy a long time ago (forgive my lack of details…they have escaped me in the 4 or 5 days since I took this tour! Hey, a LOT has happened since then!! 🙂 ) said he could find a water source for the city under the street. No one believed him- in fact, they kind of taunted him and made a joke out of him. Well, he ended up doing it, and when he built his fountain, the faces sculpted on it were those of the prominent people of the city who ridiculed him. His revenge? Give them donkey ears. 🙂
Cedric really did give a nice little tour, showing me things I definitely wouldn’t have stumbled upon on my own (especially that beautiful church, the lovely neighborhood of Safranier, and those hidden sculptures!). I wish I had been feeling better and had journaled this earlier so I remembered more of the details. I really do recommend that you support Cedric and his walking tour business! It’s so great to come across a “one man band” so to speak, who is really eager and excited about providing a super cool service.
Day 5: My last full day in Antibes. It had to be a down day. A complete and total down day. No adventures. Just working and hanging out with Molly. Because tomorrow I was flying to Malta to meet Brian and this cold had to be GONE. Luckily, hanging out with Molly is an adventure in and of itself, because that little rascal is like taking care of a super tiny toddler who is getting into everything constantly and loves to play (especially with her little Kong toy)! And ferret kisses always make you feel better!