I’ve always heard that the French Riviera is a gorgeous place, but I’ve mostly only read about it in old British novels where people go there “on holiday” or in order to recuperate from a terminal illness. I never actually thought I would go myself, but, this past weekend, I visited one of my best friends who is currently studying abroad there. She lives in a city called Menton, which is the closest city to Nice but which no one has ever heard of, as it’s basically a place for retirement. No one speaks any English there, which was also somewhat strange—I haven’t really experienced a language barrier in any of the places I’ve been this semester. Thus, I probably would never have visited there if free lodging were not involved, and I will probably never go again unless I happen to become a multi-millionaire, so I’m so glad I got this experience now.
Of course, my view of Edinburgh Castle is beautiful, but the idea of seeing the beach on the way to class every day is amazing. There’s a reason it’s called the Cote d’Azur: the water is the bluest I think I’ve ever seen in my life. The sunny weather and not having to wear my knee-length down parka made it perhaps the most vacation-like experience I’ve had in a while.
To be completely honest, though, there’s not much to do in the French Riviera. Even though I only had to wear a cardigan, it is November, so it was still much too cold to go swimming or even lay on the beach. Thankfully, though, the rain waited until Sunday afternoon to start, so we mostly just walked around in different places—Nice, Monaco, and Menton—and enjoyed the scenery.
Our first day there, we took the bus to Monaco, so I can now say I’ve visited the second smallest country (technically, principality) in the world. It’s probably the strangest country I’ve ever been to, though, as it’s only one square mile and essentially only wealthy people live there. With the carnival that was set up along the beach, the numerous yachts in the harbor, and the abundance of fancy cars, it doesn’t even seem like a real place, but people do live, work, and go to school there. Apart from the coastline, the Monte Carlo casino was certainly the highlight, as I felt just a little like James Bond when we visited. Although it was much smaller than I was expecting, it was so gorgeous that it distracted us from the fact that, collectively, we won 88 cents on the 10 Euros we put into various gambling machines.
After a bit of an adventure on the way back—we couldn’t find the bus stop and got yelled at by the person we asked for directions because she wanted money—we made it back to Menton just in time to take the train to Italy for dinner. That’s right—Italy, and Ventimiglia in particular, is close enough to warrant going there just for gnocchi and rosé.
Nice, our day trip spot the next day, was incredibly beautiful, but there’s really not much else to say about it except it lived up to its name. We took a little train around the city to see all of the pretty touristy buildings, but otherwise we just enjoyed the view. Menton the next day was similar—the only tourist attraction is the basilica and graveyard, which provide great views of the city, in addition to the fact that you can walk to the Italian border in twenty minutes. I will almost certainly never have the opportunity to visit Menton again, though, so being able to do both of these things was an ideal end to my trip. That, and the delicious four-cheese pizza we had for dinner that night.
Clearly, the French Riviera is not nearly as touristy as Budapest or Paris, and is really more of a relaxing vacation spot. But, since the French Riviera was originally a British resort area, I guess it only makes sense that I visited there during my semester here. Even in this tiny, out-of-the-way place, though, my philosophy holds true. Traveling to a new place is always worth it, even if the trip home involves attempting to take a 5 am train, discovering it’s cancelled that day, and having to take a bus instead that arrives at the airport at the exact time the flight is supposed to board. I made it home, though, and the opportunity to see another culture that I might never get to see again, especially through the eyes of a local, was more than worth the trip.