Mighty Monaco

It was time to say bonjour聽(hello in French) to Monaco, the world’s second smallest country! Vatican City is the smallest country – I had written about it earlier.

Monaco is made up of mere 490 acres of land, but it’s inhabited by around 36,000 people, thus making it the most densely populated country in the world!

HistoricGrandPrixofMonaco

Infoboard

As we entered the country, we were met by the cacophony of screaming engines and racing sound. Well, the Historic Grand Prix of Monaco was being held in Monte Carlo. We decided to watch it live! We were at the ticket counter ready to buy tickets when a couple approached us and offered us theirs. They said they had purchased the tickets not knowing that they were entitled to watch the race for free. They looked like diplomats. We offered to pay for the tickets, they refused to accept. Yeah, lucky we were! 馃檪

Displayboard&skyscrapers

We gained entry into the spectators’ area. We sat and watched the race for a couple of hours notwithstanding the blazing sunshine. A friend from Nice had joined us. The race cars belonging to different constructors zoomed off in front of us with striking sound and at lightening speed. The drivers were professionals showcasing a wide range of cars from the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s.

Interestingly, Monaco is the only country in the world that hosts a F1 race within the streets of a city! No wonder the racetrack is narrow, curvy and the circuit area is comparatively the shortest. It was on the same track that one of the doyens of F1,聽Michael Schumacher聽had won the Monaco Grand Prix race five times between 1994 and 2001.

Private yachts, MonacoMonaco-cityMonaco-railwaystation

Later we walked uphill and reached a modern railway station, Gare de Monaco. 聽As we continued walking along the lanes of the city, we realized it was another hep place with attractive skyscrapers, flashy cars and stylish聽people. We were told many film stars maintained a holiday home there. Why not? Besides the natural beauty of the French聽Riviera聽and the frills it offers, there’s also a glitzy casino a la Las Vegas. We spent a few minutes at this famous Monte Carlo Casino observing the interiors and gamblers. (Yes, we chose to merely observe.)

Apparently, Monaco has the lowest poverty level and the most expensive real estate market in the world. A mighty little country indeed!

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Marvellous Marseille

After our enjoyable trip to Cannes, it was Marseille next.

Marseille is the oldest city in France; it’s the second biggest city after Paris in terms of population. It is the capital of the Provence-Alpes-C么te d’Azur region.

ViewfromNotreDame-1聽 聽聽ViewfromNotreDame-2

Marseille is a very popular trading port destination. It enjoys bright sunshine during most part of the year. It’s been designated as the European Capital of Culture for 2013. Importantly, we observed many people speaking English as well!

Upon reaching the city centre, we went to the tourist information centre. We got a map for ourselves and started to venture into the city. Along with the guidebook we already had, the map proved to be handy. The map deserved some appreciation for its neatly presented information.

The Vieux Port (old port)聽near the city centre was pretty vibrant. Fresh catches from the sea were sold in the mornings. We went on a boat ride. You could rent a yacht for pleasure. Btw, you could also arrange to have your birthday or wedding celebrated on a cruise. Restaurants were in plenty in this area; we treated ourselves to some veggie food. Of course, not to forget the souvenir shops. Handmade soaps (savon de Marseille), miniature yachts, perfumes, embroidered/lace hand towels, etc seemed quite popular. As usual, yours truly did buy some souvenirs.

A commercial building near La JolietteTo get a glimpse of the commerce and industry side of the city, I went to La Joliette Docks. These docks were a symbol of the thriving maritime trade of the 19th century. The area now houses commercial聽buildings and complexes, besides a few restaurants and a local market. I was thrilled to see a local market where I ended up buying a few household articles.

We passed by Stade Velodrome, a popular football stadium in Marseille, which had hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1998 and Rugby World Cup in 2007. There was some renovation work going on. Hence, unfortunately, we couldn’t enter the stadium.

Basilica (interior)

Marseille offered some of the best seaside views. A stroll by the vast and clean beaches towards evening was a scintillating experience. The glory of nightfall could be described best in this marvellous Marseille setting!

It was time to visit the聽Notre-Dame de la Garde. It was an ornamental basilica situated atop the city’s highest hill, La Garde. 聽Built in the Romano-Byzantine聽style between 1853 and 1864, the Basilica (made up of the lower church or crypt and upper church) was a wonder in itself. Wow, it also offered us a breathtaking, inviting, panoramic view of the beautiful city! 馃檪

Filmy, Charming Cannes

It's Cannes!The likes of Brad Pitt, Ben Kingsley, Tom Cruise, Aishwarya Rai, Sophia Loren, Sylvester Stallone, Angelina Jolie, (late) Akira Kurosawa, Mel Gibson, Cameron Diaz, Meryl Streep and so on have walked the red carpet there. An International Film Festival takes place there every year. Mind you, the Festival is prestigious, large-scale and attracts a lot of global media attention. It happens in France.

Yeah, this time I’m talking about Cannes! Situated in the French Riviera, Cannes does set you thinking for a moment as to what’s so uncanny about it! Well, hang around for a while in La Croisette and you will find answers! The place seemed to be adorned with shops selling the most compelling brands in the world. The attractive bungalows around did deserve a second glance.

HandprintBenKingsleyHandprintSylvesterStalloneHandprintMerylStreepHandprintSophiaLoren

It was interesting to see (bronze) hand prints of most of the celebrities on a coveted pathway, Allee des Stars.聽It was somewhat like the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the US. We also saw Palais des Festivals where movies are screened for the film stars.

Yachts galoreNotice the cone-shaped tents

Cannes obviously was quite cannily built to attract the wealthy film stars and film makers. With huge聽yachts being docked right across the French Riviera, Cannes was nothing short of being an exquisite extravagant beauty spot for a fashion-conscious holidayer.

Preparations for the film festival were on with gusto around the time we visited Cannes. We walked along the聽main road and seaside promenade to get a feel of this little city. Glitzy cars whizzed past us. A few souvenir shops were seen, of course selling classy souvenirs. We chose to buy a cup. Cone-shaped tents (white in colour) around the聽riviera stood out charmingly.

Cannes, pathwayWe treated ourselves to some pakoras, naans, dal tadka and masala chai earlier as we reached Cannes. Yeah, we felt excited about having such food in Cannes! The chai聽especially was聽refreshing! 聽A Sri Lankan couple was running the eatery. Both the husband and wife were pleased to share their experiences of living in a hot spot like Cannes. They exclaimed that if only we had visited a week later (during the Festival), we would have surely bumped into at least a couple of the film dons. Perhaps they were right! 馃檪

Nice la Belle

It seemed to be hip, hep and happening there. The place was buzzing with excitement and was mostly filled with lads and lasses – students and tourists alike!

Mediterranean sea

Possessing one of the best promenades in the world, this place was simply Nice.聽Well, the place itself is called Nice, aka聽Nice la Belle聽in French! It is the second biggest and the聽wealthiest聽city in the聽Provence-Alpes-C么te d’Azur region of France. It enjoys good Mediterranean聽weather –聽no extreme temperatures as such to bother you!

There is always an exodus to Nice, apparently next only to Paris! So, you know what to expect from this French riviera!

Flower market, NiceWe spent a couple of days in Nice on our way to Marseilles. We went around exploring the city mostly on foot and some areas by tram. Nice did have some pretty lanes that hosted a number of touristy shops and eateries in the old town (Vieux Nice). The market selling flowers, fruits, vegetables, spices, soaps, etc in the cours Saleya聽area was in itself a major attraction thanks to the neat stalls.聽We had聽cappuccino聽and croissant in this area by paying absurd prices!

Herbs of the ProvenceHandmade soaps!

Handmade soaps and herbs – in a variety of flavours – are quite popular in this region. They could serve as souvenirs.

Socca聽is a popular local dish made out of chickpea (besan) flour and olive oil. We so much wanted to taste it, but we realized we had to be in long queues for this! We were short of time and hungry too, we quickly had a burger each and French fries. They just about managed to satiate our hunger! On another occasion, we tried onion rings and they didn’t disappoint us!

We noticed that Nice was indeed pedestrian friendly. After having experienced severe winter in our present home turf, walking under the mild rays of the sun was an absolute delight. The scenery around was聽bewitching to boot!

Promenade

The promenade (known as Promenade des Anglais or Promenade of the English) along the Baie des Anges (Bay of the Angels), a bay of the Mediterranean sea, was surely a beauty. Cyclists,聽pedestrians, joggers and skaters alike adorned the area.聽Wow – a couple of them skated rhythmically! What an elegant way to keep fit, I thought to myself!

Ah, of course, the sea was a cynosure of all eyes what with its聽resplendent blue colour in all its shades that could numb you for a while!

We stayed at a nice hotel in Nice. We were invited by one of our friends over dinner at his home. He cooked some delicious聽vegetarian聽food for us! Could we have gotten luckier than this?! 馃檪