Monday, December 7, 2015

Planes, Trains and Automobiles: A European Diary, Part Three

In which Pedi and I check out the Italian and French Rivieras, including Ventimiglia, Italy; Monte Carlo, Monaco; and Nice, France in one day

Ventimiglia in the morning light

10:49 AM
22 November 2015
Somewhere near Menton Garavan, France

We’re on the train to Nice from Ventimiglia. Pedi’s singing Adele’s “Hello.”  It’s sort of become the unofficial theme song of this trip. He plays it on his phone and brings the phone with him in the shower. Freaking hilarious.

Ventimiglia is a charming small town. It was freezing this morning though. The cold cut through my paltry gloves and crawled into my fingers. That didn’t stop Pedi and I from staging an impromptu photo shoot on a bridge near the train station though. 

A bridge in Ventimiglia
Next stop: France
It was Pedi’s suggestion we go to Nice and then to Monte Carlo in Monaco. I would have never even thought about going to these places if he hadn’t mentioned them. Now I’m kind of excited to find out what’s going on there. 

Wait, I see lots of policemen outside my window. I think this is the first town in France, which means we just crossed the border from Italy. 

Some cops came onboard and sort of swept through the train. They didn’t ask for our passports though.

I see more towns perched on cliffs overlooking the sea. This must be the French Riviera. Cöte D’Azur? The late morning sun is exactly in the right angle, bouncing off of the houses and then back out onto the sea. Filtered through the grimy glass windows of the train, it’s like an otherworldly glow. It just looks so…rich, in the literal, money-in-their-pockets, diamond-chokers-on-their-throats kind of rich.

The French Riviera through grimy train windows

8:46 AM
23 November 2015
Hotel Flandres in Nice, France

I will make this quick as I have to catch a flight in a couple of hours back to Rome. On this leg of the trip, Pedi and I went to Monte Carlo in Monaco and spent a day here in Nice.

Is there such a thing as “beauty fatigue?” Monte Carlo was stunning. When your only previous encounter with places is through song lyrics (“I’ve been to Nice, and the isle of Greece…I moved like Harlow in Monte Carlo…”), actually being there is pretty surreal.

Hello from Monte Carlo
Safe harbor
Port Hercule, Monte Carlo, Monaco
Tourist shot going up the Prince's palace
It wasn't that cold yet 
The weather finally cooperated. The sun was out, and coupled with a nice balmy breeze, it was actually the textbook definition of a pleasant day. All throughout our walk through Monaco, I wondered what native Monagesque people do. I read somewhere that something like 30% of residents are millionaires. (I saw a few convertible sportscars on the road). Are they dreaming of making more millions? When they imagine escaping to faraway lands, do they dream of the tropical islands of the Far East or the Caribbean, onboard their luxury yachts piloted by staff named Jeeves or Raoul?

The Prince's Palace

You'd be smiling, too
Mirror selfie
I liked the old town of Nice. The new part's easy on the eyes, too, but the old town has so much more character. We had time for a glass of wine at an outdoor café (freezing!) and for dinner, we had rice and ulam from a Vietnamese/Cambodian restaurant. Sacrilege, I know. But I was hungry, and the sauteed chicken with cashew looked delicious (and it was), so, there you go.

Lots of waiting for the train
Nice day in Nice
Place de Massena
There are seven of those humanoid figures, representing the seven continents conversing with one another
Lots of restaurants offered "Fruits of the Sea" specials
Warming up 
I love old alleys like this one

Basilique Notre-Dame de l"Assomption à Nice
This morning I had just enough time to wander off and walk along the beach by myself as Pedi had to abandon me go back to Milan. It is Monday morning, after all. Temperature was just above single digits, I reckon, but people had on jogging pants and trainers and were having a go at it along the boardwalk. The beach was nothing like what we have back in the tropics, but then, I suppose people make do with what they have. Although one can argue that at least they don’t have to deal with floating garbage and a septic tank-y smell.

Nice morning

Jogger along promenade

Bicycles by the Mediterranean

I like how calm the sea is here, compared to how rough it was back in Cinque Terre
See you at the Lido
France has been great, and I wish I could stay just a bit longer, but I suppose wanting more of something is better than getting sick of it. Kind of like steak. Or sex.

To be continued...

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Planes Trains and Automobiles: A European Diary, Part Two

Covering Pisa, La Spezia, three towns in Cinque Terre, Levanto, and Genova. Part one can be found here

With Pedi, giving Pisa a chance
3:04 PM
21 November 2015

Pisa was a surprise. I was so sure I was going to find nothing special about it. There’s a tower that’s leaning. So what? But childhood memories are a powerful thing. I remember reading about it and seeing pictures and wondering what it would be like to stand there and see it for myself. And there I was, and there it was before me: an architectural wonder that went wrong, which caused it to be celebrated more than it should have been.

The town itself is charming and laidback. It was unexpectedly enjoyable.

Walking the streets of Pisa

More coffee

Pedi insisted on taking this shot. Came out pretty well, methinks

My joke was there was't anything special about this Piazza in Pisa. "Parang Liliw, Laguna lang," I said.

Light rain started to fall while we were walking around
I’m with Pedi on this leg of the trip. He’s an old friend who’s been living and working in Europe for about nine years now. I gotta say, I so appreciate him taking me around to see the sights, although a big part of the reason why I'm in this part of the world in the first place is precisely because there’s somebody to show me around. Traveling solo is fun sometimes (I’ve done it on more than a few occasions), but having someone else there to talk to, walk around and share these experiences with (not to mention take your picture), it’s pretty cool, too. I think it helps that we get along so well, too.

The full complex at Pisa

Chocolates overload
We’re in this tiny ristorante in Vernazza, which is one of the towns of Cinque Terre. I’m having risotto ai funghi (mushrooms). Maybe it’s the fact that I’m in Italy, but it’s one of the best versions of risotto I've ever tasted.

5:38 PM
21 November 2015
Levanto train station
Outside the La Spezia train station

Quick see-through of La Spezia

Just outside the train station at Riomaggiore
Pedi and I are sitting in a near-empty train station in the town of Levanto. Delays wreaked havoc in our schedule, but strangely I’m quite chill about it. He’s the one getting all stressed out. When a country’s transport system goes haywire, there’s really not much you can do about it. But overall, today has been a series of breathtaking moments, one after the other. 

Riomaggiore. The stormy weather helped make things a bit more, er, dramatic
The approach to Riomaggiore

There I am admiring the view
 The plan was to see all five towns of Cinque Terre, but because of the train delays, we ended up seeing just three, which is plenty. Riomaggiore’s colorful houses are perched on a cliff overlooking a wild, restless sea. I’ve seen countless coastlines and waves stubbornly slamming into rock or sandy beach, but there was something poetic about the eternal dynamic between sea and land in this corner of the world. The Mediterranean seemed to be hellbent claiming the land for her own.

We had time to check out Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare.

Near the beach in Monterosso

A street in Monterosso

Rest stop in Monterosso

Photo op in Vernazza

Guy taking a selfie in Vernazza

Afterwards we caught a train to Levanto, where we'll catch another train to Genova, and then on to Ventimiglia, which is our jump-off point to our ultimate destination: Nice, France.

A memorial to Christopher Columbus outside the Genova train station

We had dinner in Eataly, where else?

Genova is in the Liguria region, which is famous for its pesto sauce. This one was pretty good.

Stomach full, all smiles

Building in Genova

I couldn't deny being exhausted. It was a looong day.

To be continued...