Sunday, July 31, 2016

Trip to Nice (French Riviera), France (June 2016)

Riviera was originated from Italy. Literally it means a coastline in Italian. Riviera indicated Riviera Liguria which covered a region from Southern France and Tuscany. So, the Riviera without any adjective, it means Riviera Liguria.

However, the word Riviera has been adopted by many countries, starting from France, to indicate coastlines with mild climate. So the definition has been expanded to include the southern France coastlines from Canne to Tuscany in Italy. To differentiate, people often call the French part of the coastline French Riviera compared to Italian Riviera. Other nations are now calling such coastlines as Riviera with the country's name, such as Spanish Riviera, Slovenian Riviera, Mexican Riviera etc.

At any rate, the heart of French Riviera lies in Nice and Canne, another French beach city. We rode a bus from Pisa to Nice. The journey was very scenic since it was passing through the Italian Alps. Because of high mountains, they built a lot of tunnels. The route from Pisa to Nice was 381 km, approximately 3 and a half hour drive. This route, however, passed through 164 tunnels. Amazing. Throughout the journey, we had mountain views on the right hand side and substantially coastal view on the left hand side. We were fascinated by the view while we were awake.

"Nice is always nice."

A catch phrase for Nice. It may be so for the mild climate and beautiful surroundings, but the beach itself was not impressive at all. The beach is not sandy, but rocky with a lot of pebbles and rocks. A certain section has yellow sand, but the width of the beach is quite narrow. So I wonder how this place has become so popular. I suppose it is more fad than reality.

We heard that Canne is a lot more beautiful than Nice in terms of beach. But we did not have time to visit.

This visit to Nice was not the first time for me. I came to see the renowned city of Nice a few years ago from Turin where I was attending the Boulder Microfinance Insitutite at the U.N. International Labor Organization training center. At that time, I jumped on the hop-on hop-off bus to visit the city.

This time, we spent time walking on the promenade that represents a boardwalk that stretches all beaches in Nice. People stroll, speed-walk, jog, run, roller-blade, sun-bathe or just watch other people. We experienced French foods at a couple of restaurants and they were all delicious.

There are Museums that exhibit artworks of Matisse and Marc Chagall. But we could not find time to visit.

Nudity was common at the beach, but they look so natural. Perhaps it is a matter of perception.

In this city, specifically on the promenade where we walked, there was a mad attack by someone who drove a truck on the promenade crowded with people who came out to see the fireworks to celebrate the French Bastille Day. More than 80 people were killed and tens of people were injured. What a tragedy and what a shame on humanity! My condolences to those who perished and who lost their beloved.

Our visit to French Riviera included an excursion to Monaco and a visit to Fragonard, a fragrance factory on the way to Monaco. Please click here to go to the blog post.  - Jeffrey

Trip to Monaco (June 2016)

While we were in Nice, we took an excursion to Monaco, a sovereignty ruled by a prince.

Monaco is an independent microstate located at the French Riviera. Its population is a little over 35,000, but it attracts a lot of visitors for various reasons year round.

Monaco has a perpetual treaty with France in which France provides defense protection against any external threats in exchange for part of Monaco's land surrendered to France. Two countries continue to sign additional treaties to solidify and clarify various issues as they arise. Monaco has a small police force only.

Monaco is most famous for the Gran Prix that takes place on the streets of the city. This motor race has gained fame and the term Gran Prix is now being used for all other motor races done on formula around the world. Monaco's Gran Prix was the genesis and is now called Gran Prix of Monaco. I found a statue of a motor racer on a street.

Monaco drew the attention of the world when Grace Kelly, an American actress, married then Prince Ranier III and became the Princess of Monaco in 1956. We visited the cathedral where their wedding took place. Unfortunately, Grace died in a car accident due to a stroke that seized her while she was driving in 1982. She was buried also at the cathedral. To this day, she is loved by the citizens of Monaco and many movie fans of the world.

Monaco has several quarters one of which is Monte Carlo. It is a prestige area for super high class and wealthy people gathering primarily for the exotic casino, notably Monte Carlo Casino. At this casino, the valet parking attendants place the most exotic cars in front of the casino. Usually, Rolls Royce, Lamborghini, Ferrari and the like take the center of the parking row. People indulge themselves with photo shots standing before the cars for free. Vanity? Whatever...

The marine harbor is lined up with jazzy yachts and boats.

We also walked around and saw the Palace of Prince and a few statues established around the palace. One black color statue was of Francesco Grimaldi who disguised himself as a Franciscan monk and was well received. As soon as he entered the fortress, he and his followers captured the fortress. He is considered a hero in Monaco.

There are Marine Museum and a park that provides a wonderful trails to walk around.

On the way to Monaco, the bus was running on the roads on top of the cliffs, but the scenery was marvelous. Both were taking our breath away.

Before we reached Monaco, we stopped by Franogard, a famous French perfume company.

In Monaco, particularly Monte Carlo quarter, many people chose to eat at a pizza place due mainly to expensive prices at most of the places. We were no different. Ha! - Jeffrey

Trip to Florence and Pisa, Italy (June 2016)...

Italy is a charming country in many aspects.

It has a rich history including the Roman Empire and the Venetian Empire. Under Benito Mussolini's fascist rule, Italy was on the world stage again by participating in the World War II mainly because the Kingdom of Italy was a puppet state of the Nazi Germany.

It has tremendously precious architecture from the pre-historic times. It has religions. Vatican City is within Italy, the center of Roman Catholic. Italy is also infamous for mafia. Italy is famous for so many things and places: Venice, Milan, Amalfi Coast, Naples, Rome, Pompei, Sicily, Italian Alps etc.

More than anything else, however, I treasure Italy's foods and its diverse culture. Pizza is from Italy. Pasta is from Italy. Moreover, Italy was at the center of the Renaissance. It was Florence where the Renaissance started.

Kristin and I had an opportunity to visit Florence and Pisa, both of which are part of the Tuscany Region where slow-sloped hills and golden fields harmonize well with beautiful flowers and people. Wines are ample and all kinds of foods are everywhere.

Italy has a population of 60 million. Pretty sizable. Florence has a population of approximately 400,000 inhabitants. It is a small city, but is the capital for the Tuscany Region that covers a land area of 22,000 sq. km. Many people have been attracted to Tuscany for various reasons. We were lucky enough to visit two big cities of this region: Florence and Pisa.

Florence:     The river that runs through Florence is Arno River.  Ponte Vecchio or Old Bridge is the oldest bridge that is similar to Riato Bridge in Venice in that shops are positioned on both sides on the bridge. It was originally built in 1218 and rebuilt in 1345 after a flood. This bridge was the only bridge that the Nazi Germans did not destroy. It also survived another flood that caused a collapse in the embankments in 1966.

On the way into Florence, we passed by a fountain statue called Rain Man. It was cute.

We visited the Piazza de Michelangelo where his famous David's statue stands overlooking the city. The panoramic view was stunning and breathtaking.

We walked in the city visiting St. Mark Plaza, Library, Piazza Duomo, Baptism Place, Gate of Paradise, Basilica, St Lorenzo Basilica, Central Market, Piazza della Signoria, Tuscan Hills by the Arno River.

 Italy is well known for fine leather products. All over the places, merchants were selling their leather products. At one of small market in town, we found a statue of warthog or boar (Il Porcellino meaning the little pig). The story says that it could bring you good luck if you rub his snout and put a coin into his mouth. For fun or real, many tourists were crowding around the bronze statue.

Pisa:    Pisa has the world famous attraction: The Leaning Tower. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The tower is 56 meter high and 840 year old bell tower. It has a cathedral, baptistery and cemetery in the same compound. People try to make all kinds of photos that use the tower. We tried also, but the sun was not very much helpful. It was strange that the photo would not capture the degree of the leaning correctly. The tower looked quite leaning but the photo diminishes the degree of the leaning.

Other than the tower, there is nothing much to explore in Pisa, although I am sure there would be more to experience only if we had more time.

Anyway, we felt that we did not fully experience Tuscany and pledged to return to this region, Lord's willing. - Jeffrey