Travel by Train

Something we have lost in the U.S. is the art of train travel. Sure we have Amtrak, but it doesn't hold a candle to the network of railways that crisscross Europe. In creating my itinerary, I opted for the unusual route of taking a train from Nice to Paris. My life for the past two years was filled with flights from city to city, so I decided to take it slow and see more along the way. The French countryside is alluring and in my opinion, best seen from the ground.

The train trip began in Nice, meandering along the coastline to Marseilles and making various stops along the Riviera. It was after leaving Marseille that the train accelerated to full TGV speed toward Paris. The trees, farms, and mountains whipped past my seat at what can only be describes as full steam ahead. The train ride took five hours in total, giving me plenty of time to get absorbed in my new book, The Bone Clocks. 

Every once in a while I would glance up from my reading to find a castle or chateau on a hill surrounded by a small village of red roofs and yellow stone or a pasture of sheep. The bucolic landscape was relaxing and the perfect change of pace. The only downside of the train ride? I forgot to pack enough snacks. 

Sunset on my last night in Nice

Sunset on my last night in Nice

Passing by red roofed houses

Passing by red roofed houses

One of the many pastures we passed

One of the many pastures we passed

To Monaco & Cannes

Nice is located on one end of the Cote d'Azur, making it a great spot to take a few day trips to other locations. The two places on my 'to see' list were Monaco and Cannes. From Nice, both were about a 45 minute journey, one by bus and the other by train. After spending a morning on the beach, it was a nice change of pace to travel down the coast for an afternoon of touristing.

My first day trip was to Monaco, the world's second smallest country. It is well known for the Grimaldi monarchy, Princess Grace Kelly, and the Grand Prix, a Formula 1 race. I took a 1.5 euro bus along the riviera coastline, admiring the neverending blue hues of the ocean and sandy beaches as we passed by. The country sits on a port with a plethora of shopping, hotels and casinos for tourists to enjoy. I arrive just a few days after the Grand Prix, but still see all of the staging and stadium seating left along the side of the roads. In total, the country is roughly one square mile in size, so walking around takes very little time. Upon a hill sits the monarchy's palace, public garden and oceanography museum. I purchase a ticket for a palace tour, but given that photos are prohibited, I have no documentation to show. The afternoon itself was lovely, but Monaco feels a bit like an extension of France; the official language is French, there is no visible denotation of the border, and the architecture is very similar. Still, I'm happy to have made the trip. 

Monaco from above, remnants of the Grand Prix stadium seating

Monaco from above, remnants of the Grand Prix stadium seating

exploring the gardens of Monaco that overlook the water

exploring the gardens of Monaco that overlook the water

The royal cathedral

The royal cathedral

The next day I spend the afternoon in Cannes, the beach city of stars and millionaires. Like Monaco, I've just missed the big event; the Cannes Film Festival was held from May 11-22. Despite being late to the show, I still get to see a few stars as I end up in the background as a team films Made in Chelsea. I had no idea what the show was before this, but I'll be on the look out for the episode where they head to Cannes; there may be a girl in the background wearing a blue bikini as the actors pretend to play volleyball with each other. The town itself is packed with people and buildings. As you walk down the main street you find hotels and luxury stores to your left and private beach clubs stretching the entire length of the sand on your right. It seems to me that much of Cannes revolves around money, who has it and where they want to spend it. 

A Cannes beach club preparing for a private event

A Cannes beach club preparing for a private event

Filming Made in Chelsea on the Cannes beach #15minutesoffame

Filming Made in Chelsea on the Cannes beach #15minutesoffame

I am happy to return to Nice after each jaunt, the city is welcoming and I already have a few favorite spots. Not to mention, the gelato guy and I are on a first name basis since I visit at least two times a day. Pro-tip, get the raspberry and lemon tart mix, its a winner. I head to Paris in the next few days and again I find myself torn, sad to leave a beautiful location, yet excited for the next adventure.

Nice to Meet You

The French Riviera is a romantic place for many people. It is the location of exceptional wealth and race cars, star spotting and endless tans. I'd wanted to travel to the south of France for some time, I even have a Rick Steves guide book sitting on a shelf at home (where it does me absolutely no good). The Côte d'Azur is also the setting of my favorite Fitzgerald novel, Tender is the Night. Pick it up if you get the chance, I read it as an 18 year old on the banks of the Seine, it's captivating, but regrettably overshadowed by Gatsby. 

My arrival in Nice did not disappoint. The water is fifty shades of blue and the stones on the beach completely smooth from years of crashing waves. The city itself is a mix of French and Mediterranean architecture and despite being a Mecca for tourists there is a leisurely, small city feel. I chose to spend my first few days on the beach, grabbing a towel from the concierge and snacks from the Monoprix. Thanks to my beach time in Thailand I have a bit of tan, so I look less like Snow White next to the topless, French tanners. 

Countless shades of blue 

Countless shades of blue 

I wandered up the hill to the old chateau to see a beautiful panorama of the city; red roofs, blue sea, grey beach. There are a million steps to get to the top which is a harsh reminder that I should be running more...but it's worth it! I take another hundred photos putting the count on my phone to 700. 

A Panorama of Nice

A Panorama of Nice

View of a Nice side-street from my window

View of a Nice side-street from my window

I end my nights with a glass of rosè de Provence and pizza blanche. I think in another life I could have been French. 

Girl in Transition

The idea of leaving Thailand put a pit in my stomach. I researched changing my departure flight and looked for available PR jobs in Bangkok; only when I was in the back of the cab on the way to Bangkok International Airport did I finally resign myself to the fact that I was leaving. Bangkok to Doha to Geneva. Though my itinerary was shorter than before, I didn't sleep as well and felt more haggard. Although part of this could be attributed to the free wine and my movie choice, The Big Short (the world is corrupt and probably ending soon).

Me on my last night in Thailand

Me on my last night in Thailand

When I booked my flights in January I'd chosen Geneva as my landing pad, it was a safe and familiar place from which to begin my European travels. Although not technically home, as the plane dipped over Lac Lèman I felt a sort of homecoming. I watched the towns pass by underneath; Lausaunne, Nyon, Versoix and finally Genève. Here they spoke a language I could at least pretend to understand, the trains were always reliable and most importantly, there was an abundance of cheese. I only had 12 hours in Geneva, but it was enough time to do laundry, repack my bags and indulge in brie and bread.  

By the end of the day I was ready for my 7 AM flight to Nice, France. So, the only cure for Thailand withdrawal? Getting excited about your next adventure.

Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva