Wednesday, October 3, 2012

October 3, 2012: Leigh Goes To France (Twice!)


First off, I would like to apologize for going MIA over the past few weeks. Life in Lausanne has been pretty hectic with all the traveling, classes, and homework I’ve had. I didn’t think it would be this crazy being abroad. On that note, let’s talk about traveling, Lausanne life, and my life.

My first weekend of travel outside of Switzerland was phenomenal. Like the first trip, I made plans at the last minute. Where did I go this time? Nice, France, with Kyle. We both wanted to travel there at one point during the year abroad, and we had no idea what we were going to do the weekend of September 21-23, so Kyle made the executive decision on Wednesday night that we were going to Nice. We hadn’t purchased Eurails yet, and the trains to Nice were already filled, so we ended up flying there – a round-trip cost of 80 CHF (Swiss Francs). Good deal, huh? So Friday the 21st, we woke up early to get to the train station before 6:15 (our train to Geneva airport left at 6:19) so we could get to the airport about two hours early. Which, in America, is a good idea. That is, there was absolutely nobody in security when we got there, and nobody even got to the gate until about twenty minutes before we boarded (lesson learned for next time). So we had a good few hours to get some reading done. We then boarded the plane, spent a short hour in the air, and landed in Côte d’Azur airport in Nice. From what I saw through the airplane window, the color of the Mediterranean was gorgeous. When we got to the promenade (about an hour later, since we had to buy a bus ticket into town, then wait for about the fifth bus that came, since so many people were getting on the buses), I could not believe what I was seeing: a beautiful gradient of blues stretching from the waves breaking on the rocks to the horizon. Not to mention, some of the blues I was seeing were my favorite colors. It was absolutely breathtaking, and I kept on taking pictures (none of which are even close to doing the Mediterranean any justice at all).

We weren’t able to check into our hotel until two o’clock, and it was about ten when we arrived at the Côte d’Azur, so Kyle and I walked along the promenade, gaping at the color of the water; watching the bikers, runners, and roller skaters; taking picture after picture; soaking up the warm and comforting sun. We stopped at a restaurant across the street from the promenade and ate lunch there (we had wanted to eat at one of the restaurants on the beach, but we decided to save a lot of money and go for the cheaper alternative – we are starving college students abroad, after all). We then walked down to the beach, laden with rocks instead of the sand we’re used to, and sat there for a while, soaking up the sun, as well as the panorama.

The next order of business: figuring out where in the world our hotel was. Luckily, we had remembered to print a map of the city; however, this map didn’t label any of the major streets, which was unhelpful, to say the very least. All we knew was that it was to the north, it was near the train station, and it was on some road that was not labeled on the map. So we decided to get a little lost. In the process of getting lost, we discovered the main road in Nice, the one that practically everyone walks along. It was kind of an accident. We decided to cross the road parallel to the promenade and search behind the buildings for a road that was labeled on the map when we came across a plaza with a large fountain and large, white figures seated on top of tall poles. The road behind the fountain looked pretty busy, so we walked along it, trying to find it on the map (strange how the most populated street wasn’t even on the map…). After a while, we started looking at the map less and less and looked at the shops more and more. Finally, we came across a sign indicating the direction of the train station. Knowing the hotel was in that direction, we took that road. Just one road down from there, I found our hotel. Almost by accident. I was just looking at the stores and restaurants to my left, and happened to see the small sign of our hotel on the side of a building down the street. We arrived precisely at two o’clock (and I had been nagging Kyle that we left too late…oops). We checked in, got our key, and settled in. Then changed into our swimsuits and went back out. We meandered along the main road (Jean-Medecin), this time paying more attention to the shops and restaurants around us. At the beach, we didn’t get in the water all the way, but just waded in, the water reaching our knees, at the deepest point. I had wanted to swim, but the water felt too cold. So we collected sea glass instead. The sound of the waves crashing on the rocks and of the water dragging the rocks back down into the water was relaxing. Collecting the glass was even more relaxing. Though the rocks were uncomfortable on my feet, once I reached the second layer of small pebbles, standing was much more manageable. I didn’t feel like I had an agenda (I didn’t have one to begin with…but still), but like I could spend all day collecting sea glass and admiring the rocks, most of which were marked with a singular straight line. The combination of sound and activity brought me into a peaceful state, and I was so happy to be spending my time in the salty water, grabbing for little winks of green sparkles before the waves came to hide my treasure again.

After we spent a good few hours at the beach, we headed back to the hotel to change for dinner. We had no idea where to go for dinner (there was a McDonald’s near the hotel, but as luxurious as that sounded to me, I decided to go for something a little less appetizing), so we walked along Jean-Medecin until we got to a more populated place. We found it at Old Town. For half a mile there was literally restaurant after restaurant after restaurant on both sides of the central aisle, which was filled with tables (which were packed with people) covered by large coverings. I wasn’t very hungry, and was craving calamari, so we found a restaurant that looked good and that had cheap-ish calamari and sat down there. Our waiter was so cool. Hands down. We started speaking in French, but then he started speaking in English to us (I found that frustrating, since I wanted to practice my French), but he was so entertaining! He told us about how he knew about five different languages, since so many people from around the world visit Nice. I can’t remember all five, but he knew French, English, Italian, German, and a little bit of Japanese. Cool! Kyle decided he wanted wine. I was going to get just water, but our waiter suggested the royal mojito, so I decided I’d try it since I know absolutely nothing about different drinks and, hey, I might as well try it (it’s so weird how we’re actually able to purchase alcohol here. I almost feel like it’s against the law!). I finally got my calamari and Kyle got some seafood dish (mine was better). We then returned to the hotel.

Commence Saturday: We woke up late and went out for brunch, stopping at a café on the main road. They had a plate of four pancakes for four euros, so we jumped on that. Ha. The pancakes were literally smaller than my fist. So that wasn’t too filling. We sat there for a little while before walking through the Old Town market, held under the coverings where there had been a million tables the night before. Vendors were selling flowers, vegetables, cheese, fruit, calzones. Everything. Then, we went up to the citadel at the end of the promenade and walked up 450 steps total (that’s my workout for the year!). The view of the Mediterranean was absolutely stunning! Again, pictures don’t do it justice. Since our breakfast was so small, we had to get an actual lunch to compensate for it. So we went back to Old Town to get some Focaccia. Which wasn’t too appetizing. Nevertheless, we returned to the hotel around four, changed into our swimsuits again, and decided we were actually swimming this time. The water was still cold and I didn’t want to go in at all, but then Kyle got in and I figured that I might as well get in too. It’s a once in a lifetime thing, anyways. So I got in, body freezing, and started swimming. Our goal was a wall of rock near the citadel about a quarter mile away, if not more. I didn’t think we’d make it, but we did! By the time we got there, my body was so cold and numb that the water actually started to feel warm at times, particularly when the waves were rising under me. Since we didn’t have the energy to swim back (hey, we’re not Olympic swimmers, guys), we waded in the shallow water, while also swimming to keep our feet from hurting. Again, we collected sea glass until we were pretty cold, and returned to the hotel to change for dinner.

Nice is only a twenty-two minute train away from Monte Carlo, so we decided we’d try to go over there. Unfortunately, the ticket vendors in the train station didn’t work – we had to have a special microchip in our credit cards. Additionally, the ticket station was closed, so there was no luck for us to make it to Monte Carlo. Admittedly, that put me in a bit of a bad mood, and the slightly disgusting pizza I had at dinner didn’t make it any better. So we went to sleep and woke up early in the morning again to make it to the airport.

Sunday: Our bus to the airport was late. Twenty minutes late. You’d never see that in Switzerland. So I was freaking out, and we were ready to somehow find a taxi on the street at 5:30 on a Sunday morning. Thankfully, the bus came just as we left to find a taxi. And thankfully we only had to pay two euros instead of the possible fifty for the taxi. And thankfully, we arrived at our gate five minutes before boarding. The flight home was nice, but Geneva was cold and cloudy, such a drastic change from sunny, warm Nice. I was so exhausted from the trip that I couldn’t do homework (okay, I could have, but when I tried, I just ended up passing out again), so I took a nap instead. And that was Nice.

Cannes & Monte Carlo

Before I’d left for Nice, I had planned on traveling to Paris with my two sorority sisters on the program with me, along with about eight other students. However, being the noncommittal girl that I am, I didn’t end up going. Instead, I made plans to travel to Cannes and Monte Carlo with three girls in my program: Madison, Sarah, and Richelle. At first, I wasn’t enthusiastic about the trip, since I’d been just forty minutes away from the city the previous weekend. Even as the week progressed, and the amount of reading I hadn’t done increased to an unmanageable amount, I still wasn’t sure. But I found myself walking out the door at eight o’clock on Friday morning to the Lausanne train station.

Our day of travel lasted a good ten and-a-half hours. When I first discovered this huge chunk of time, I wasn’t too happy, but given the 350 pages of reading I had to accomplish over the weekend, it turned out to work perfectly (I read about 290 in the eight hours we spent on the trains during the day!). We only had one stop that was longer than twenty minutes, which was in Lyon, France. There, we got some food before traveling on to Marseilles, having seven minutes to run to the other side of the station (there were at least fifteen sets of tracks, so that was a long way) to get onto the train that would take us to Cannes. However, the three-hour train ride to Marseilles was an interesting one. In Lyon, Richelle and I stopped to get some coffee outside the station while Madison and Sarah went inside to withdraw some euros, all of us agreeing to meet on the platform. Seven minutes before the departure, Richelle and I walked up to the platform and looked for our two companions, but we couldn’t find them. Thinking they might have found seats on the train, we went inside to look for them. To no prevail. The train was practically full and they were nowhere to be seen. Panicking, we went back out to the platform, hoping that they had appeared. No luck. Richelle and I went back in, and still couldn’t find them. Only when we had two minutes before the train left did we find Sarah and Madison, walking up to the train. We ran on and went up to the second story of the double-decked train. There, we saw a woman and a girl in a section with five seats. The woman had about four bags. Richelle asked her if we could sit there, and so the woman grudgingly moved her huge backpack and luggage out of the way. Richelle found another place to sit, so that the three of us could be together, and so that the woman could still keep her spot. However, the woman must have thought that we were all going to sit there, so she skulked on the stairs, even though there was a seat open next to me. At one of the proceeding stops, two Spanish women boarded the train. After examining their outfits and some of the conversation and gesticulations, the three of us came to the conclusion that they were gypsies. Once the gypsies, the woman, and the other girl got off the train, Richelle moved over to sit with us, and the rest of the train ride was much more comfortable than touching knees with a stranger playing Call Me Maybe and other music obnoxiously loud on her phone.

The train to Cannes wasn’t much better. Since we boarded it a little more than two minutes before its departure, there were literally no open seats on the train at all. So we spent one of the two hours standing. I had no issue with it, except for the fact that it was hard to read what with all of the swaying and keeping myself upright and not infringing on any of the other passengers’ personal bubbles. After the first half, though, we were all able to move to seats. After a long day of traveling and reading, we were in Cannes.

We then checked into our hotel, which was so gorgeous and nice. It was much better than the slightly sketchy hotel I’d stayed at in Nice. Starving, we headed out for dinner, meandering along the streets until we found the auditorium of the Cannes Film Festival! We marveled at the celebrities’ handprints and got pictures in front of the red carpet and with the festival’s symbol. Then crossed the street to get dinner at a pizzeria. After a long dinner filled with lots of laughs and pictures, we returned to the hotel to sleep.

Saturday: We woke up at 8:30 to gray skies, rain, and warm air, ready to get breakfast and explore the city. We planned on going to a crêpe place Sarah read about in a travel book, but couldn’t find it, so we perused a market across the street and went to a coffee café instead. After drinking some delicious rose and raspberry white tea, we went back to the auditorium to visit the tourism office and to purchase our souvenirs: a Film Festival symbol key chain and postcards for me. Hungry because the café didn’t have any food, we got burgers at a place near the Mediterranean, then set off to explore! On our way past the harbor, we stopped to take pictures of the boats displayed as part of a boat festival. At one point, I started laughing, and one of the men on one of the boats started to impersonate my laugh, at which point I stared at him, confused for a second, but realizing what he was doing. He added a thumbs-up, which I took to be a sign that he liked my laugh (I mean, who doesn’t? Although my friends always joked in high school that one day I’d meet a really cute guy and we’d hit it off, but then he would make me laugh and I would close my eyes. Then, when I opened them, he’d be gone since my laugh is so atrocious. However, to my credit, I did find a boy who doesn’t run away when I laugh!).

We explored. We found a street that had many little shops selling jewelry, hats, dressed, scarves, touristy accouterments. Then, since we wanted to spend half of the day in Monte Carlo, we went back to the hotel before going to the train station to change into dresses, since jeans and T-shirts are frowned upon at the ritzy casino. At the station, we tried buying our tickets, but like my experience with Kyle, the machine wouldn’t accept our credit cards. Thus, we had to buy them in person. The next train didn’t leave for an hour (one had just left two minutes before we had been able to buy the tickets, unfortunately), so we walked around town a little more, stopped at a super awesome store that had everything from iPhone cases to furniture, and got macaroons from a shop close to the hotel. We then returned to the station, where we bumped into some Japanese guys who had also had issues buying their tickets to Monaco, at which point they started asking us to take pictures with them. Which was slightly awkward. But an hour later, we were in Monaco! I could tell it was a rich place just by the train station: the floors and walls were immaculate and clean – nothing like the other stations we’d been to in France so far.

Because I was so paranoid about the Japanese guys following us, I suggested we take another way out, which took us to the top of a really high hill, which was not where we wanted to be. So we had to go all the way back to where we started and go out the exit we should have exited. Once we found the harbor, though, things got real. These Monacans were rich. All their boats were decked out with more boats and ski jets on them. I think one even had like two boats, along with two jet skis. Crazy. And then there were the yachts that were practically cruise ships. No big deal. They probably have soirees with their 500 closest friends every week. Anyways, we picked out the palace, and walked up about 150 stairs to get there. After we’d taken enough pictures, we walked along the small streets on the ridge and bought souvenirs (Yes, I bought I heart Monaco underwear…) before seeing the cathedral and oceanic museum and getting dinner back by the harbor. Our next goal: Monte Carlo.

We arrived at the casino, mouths gaping. It was so gorgeous. And we were going inside. After taking lots of pictures of its grandeur, we ascended the steps and handed the guards our passports. We were cleared. And inside of the Monte Carlo Casino. Unreal. The inside was gorgeous beyond belief! Marble and gold leaf ceilings and motifs and paintings. Sadly, we were unable to take pictures. But before leaving, Sarah and I got five one-euro chips. Which was scary, to say the least. We had no idea how to do it, but then finally found out how after about twenty minutes of stressing and asking questions. Then we left, having not gambled at all. But I don’t know how to play roulette, so it’s probably best that I didn’t try. Once outside, we took more pictures, and then went back to Cannes, where we got some ice cream from an ice cream parlor. Then bed time!

We woke up on Sunday and headed home, a twelve-hour day ahead of us. Two hours in, I finally finished Leo Africanus, so then I started to finish my American history text. We spent an hour and a half in Marseilles (the dirtiest city I have possibly ever seen. It was disgusting.), and two in Lyon again. By the time we got back to Lausanne, I was finally done with all my reading! Weekend two outside of Switzerland: completed.

I know I said I’d talk about Lausanne and stuff, but that’s going to have to wait. This took a lot longer than I expected, and I have a math test in about seven minutes. So…until next time!

Au revoir!


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