The man next to me is folding a leopard print thong or It’s perfect, there’s an airplane…in the night sky! Or Oh KitKat Balls!

You may not be able to catch a train from Nice to Monaco on a Monday, but it is doable on a Tuesday. After a quick stop at the market to buy some snacks we were off. The train ride was really short (about 20 minutes) so even with our morning dawdling we were still there with plenty of time to take in all of the sights our 20th country has to offer. Within 30 seconds of getting off the train you could tell you were in a ritzy place…and we hadn’t even gotten out of the train station yet! Everything was done with marble & mood lighting so it felt more like an upscale hotel or shopping mall then the rail stop. Once we’d exited into the sunshine the city/country’s beauty was already evident. There was a large port with a wide variety of boats (all bigger and nicer than ours…although that’s not a hard thing to be). To the right is a large treed hill with grand buildings on it’s top. To the left is a hill jam packed with many-storied, balcony-lined, impressive-looking structures that give off an air of elegance.
Monaco is the 232nd largest country in the world. It has a total area of only 2.02 km2. Over 30,000 people live in this small area. To put this into perspective, let’s compare it with the population density of Canada…if Monaco’s density was the same as ours it would have a population of 5…not 50 or 500 or 5000, but 5! Monaco is the name of the country and it’s capital and only city. The area is famous for wealthy foreigners who make up 80% of the population. This small country is a constitutional monarchy and since 1297 has been ruled by the House of Grimaldi. The current monarch is Prince Albert II, who got married in the other royal wedding this summer.

We walked along the port and checked out the views from all angles. Then we climbed the tree covered hill. Along the way up we found this fun picture frame and couldn’t resist posing:
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At the top we headed for the Musée Océanographique. This wondrous place is both a museum and an aquarium. We started with the dead things… The display with the marine mammal skeletons was undergoing maintenance but Justine enjoyed trying to identify them. She wasn’t half bad at it. The other rooms had information on the museum’s construction, boats (including miniature models), ocean research through the ages and marine animals. There were also a lot of displays on the Prince’s wedding, as this museum is very important to Prince Albert II (Prince Albert I was the one who created it). We were able to see the bride’s wedding dress without any line (unlike the massive one to see the dress from the summers other royal wedding).
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The bottom floor was comprised of the aquariums. We have been to museums & seen lots of stuffed animals, but it was super exciting to finally see some animals that were still alive. This aquarium recreated natural habitats for it’s species and placed numerous fish and creatures in one tank to make everyone feel at home. This aquarium was different from the ones we’ve been to on the west coast. We got to see animals we had never seen before, just because they are found in the Mediterranean instead of the North Pacific.
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All of the tanks were filled with numerous different fish species but often Justine was more interested in everything else in the tank. It must be her time at Bamfield and her invertebrates courses that made her fascinated by sea anemones, corals, sea stars, and sea urchins. Kristin just liked making fish faces at the fishies and identifying the ones from Finding Nemo.
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Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, oh-o-o-o-o-o-o-oh!

The final thing we passed in the aquarium was the shark tank. It was really an everything tank. Not only were there 3 sharks but a mulitude of fish, a cool bottom dwelling dogfish, and a sea turtle! This was Kristin’s favorite part…she loves turtles! We sat in here for a long time just watching the sharks circle the top perimeter, the fish dart about and the turtle lazily float among them all.
The museum currently featured an exhibit on the dangers facing the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean Sea, which covers 2.5 million square kilometers, is facing many threats to it’s biodiversity. With school, Justine has learned lots about these issues and she was very pleased to see them addressed in an aquarium. Often aquariums and marine parks gloss over the threats many of these animals face in the wild. Some important issues presented were the overfishing of red tuna and many other fish species, increasing numbers of jelly fish as a result of warming temperatures and the harm we are causing worldwide to shark populations in our quest for shark fin soup.

We didn’t really want to leave the museum as the wind had picked up during our visit and the trees outside looked like they were seconds away from being uprooted & blown away. We found refuge in the garden that circled the hill’s point until the path lead us to the calm, sheltered side. Here we found the Palais Princier. It was very elegant, but also features one side that looks like a medieval castle. It’s an interesting mix that somehow works. Out front was a guard who marched one way, paused, turned, marched the other way, then repeated. What an exciting job! Justine didn’t really like his uniform, she said it didn’t match well. Kristin thought is was fine…at least he wasn’t wearing a Swiss guard uniform.
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After decending the right hill we proceeded to go under and up the hill other left. On our way we had lunch. It was a really classy one that consisted of grapes out of a plastic bag (which we’d bought at the morning market), a baguette which we just bit directly into and a jam cookie that Kristin dropped on the ground.
So far we had found Monaco nice, but not terrifically extravagant or expensive…we clearly just hadn’t found the right area yet. It was up atop this hill that we found a world of classic buildings with white-gloved doormen and expensive cars out front. You might wonder why the rich flock to this particular spot…the answer would be this building:
Yes, that is the world famous Monte Carlo Casino. The idea for a casino in Monaco was the idea of Princess Caroline. The revenues from the proposed casino were to save the House of Grimaldi from bankruptcy. The initial casino struggled and Monaco failed to bring in the tourists. During the 1850’s a new building was created and the casino was given a name to make it sound more attractive to visitors. The name Monte Carlo was chosen in Prince Charles’ honor. Interestingly, up until recently, the casino has been the primary source of income for the House of Grimaldi and the Monaco economy. We went into the lobby but you had to pay to actually enter the gambling room. We weren’t going to pay to not play so we just peered in to view the lavish decoration…all marble, gold and plush velvet seating.

And kitty-korner to the casino is this beauty:
You may recognize this gorgeous hotel as the one where Selena Gomez’s character gets to stay while being mistaken for an heiress in ‘Monte Carlo’. If you’re not up-to-date on your Selena Gomez movies, well shame on you, but you’ll still recognize it as a truly beautiful hotel…one much to rich for us to stay at!

We waited until we were back in Nice and had had a bit of a lay-down before we had supper. We actually returned to the place we had gone the first night as it had good food and cheap wine 😉 Justine had her signature spaghetti with clams and Kristin munched on an omlette.
We finished our night with a small McDonalds McFlurry while checking out the Nice Christmas decorations. Then we harassed our cousin via twitter 🙂

Love, Luck & Leopard Print,

It’ll be so weird, when we get home, not to be hit on in a different language every day.

Our big plan for the day was to head to Monaco…but the world didn’t seem to want to work with us today. Apparently you can’t catch a train from Nice to Monaco on a Monday…???… We knew we could catch a bus, but we hadn’t looked into when or where, so instead we rode 40 minutes in the other direction until we reached Cannes. The same Cannes famous for it’s International Film Festival every year. Upon leaving the train station we headed towards the water. It was clear as we headed towards the beach that this city was more high-end and ritzier than Nice. The coast is lined with huge, grand looking buildings painted bright colors with classy white trim. It makes for a great photo.

Right along the water we stumbled upon the Palais des Festivals. This conference & exhibition hall is a large structure built in a modern style (but a classy modern, not a weird modern) and looks a lot like a gigantic yacht. You could easily imagine celebrities spending their time in the area waiting for their movie to premiere. Walking around the building, we got a close up of some of the ginormous yachts anchored in the harbor. Sitting right next to the dock, it is easy to compare the Palais’s shape with actually gigantic boats. These ships are so big, so elegant and so expensive. Some are almost comically huge! It’s hard to believe people actually own these. We sent a good chunk of time wandering the rows, comparing the size & grandeur, reading the names and analyzing where they all come from.
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We walked along the promenade while enjoying the views of the nice sand beaches and small inlet beyond. Sun bathing and swimming would be far more enjoyable here than in Nice. The beaches wouldn’t hurt your feet & would be far softer for laying out and the inlet creates a calm swimming area, much easier to manage than the waves crashing onto the beaches in Nice. There were only a couple swimmers…it was a nice morning, but not exactly hot. They were all very old and in very little swimwear…definitely an interesting sight…

Scattered throughout the area were two types of interesting displays. The first were large fake candies whose wrappers were the flags of every country you could think of. We made a game out of naming the nations and were actually quite good at it. The ones we couldn’t get were easy to identify once Justine pulled out her “Flags of the World” app…what a nerd… We got very excited when we finally came upon the best flag ever:
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The second “statue” set was metal versions of cardboard cut outs. They were the kind of things you’d find at a movie theater to advertise upcoming features, but they had been permanently bolted to the street and had the faces cut out so you could pose in them. Kristin got to be one of Charlie’s Angels and Harry Potter. Justine had a theme of being a black man as she posed as Eddie Murphy with Donkey and Samuel Jackson in Star Wars.
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We found a nice looking restaurant for lunch. They had a great half pizza & salad deal so we both ordered that. The house mixed greens was an exciting array of veggies that our veggie-deprived selves thoroughly enjoyed. For pizzas Justine had one with ham & mushrooms and Kristin’s featured spicy sausage, onions & peppers. Now that we are out of Italy the pizza crusts have thickened up a bit. They are still thin crust, but they are a real pizza crust (for a North American) not a pita bread.

And here ends our time in Cannes…it was lovely! Next stop: Antibes, which was on the way back to Nice (about 10 minutes east of Cannes…30 minutes west of Nice…). When we got off the train in Antibes it was no longer nice and sunny. Instead the clouds had rolled in and it was now very windy. We took a quick glance at the docked boats and then headed towards the city center. We took a break in a little cafe and enjoyed some hot chocolate & cappuccino while catching up on blog posts. Yay!

We leisurely returned to the train station and to Nice. Here we took part in a wonderful event called the late-afternoon lay-down. Kristin had a headache & Justine was tired so we did nothing but lay in our beds for over an hour. It was marvelous. When we had mustered the energy to stand we went out for supper. We only had to travel a block and a half before we came on a worthy choice of a restaurant. Kristin had penne carbonara and Justine had spaghetti with salmon & cream sauce. It was huge and yummy 🙂

Love, Luck & Late-Afternoon Lay-downs,

Ra-Ra-Ahaha Ramama-Olala Ra-Ra-Rasputin, Lover of the Russian Queen, I want it bad…a bad romance…

This is the view we started our day with…
And that is the view we saw time & time again today. In other words, we had a great day 🙂 Basically it consisted of a lot of walking…

The first thing we accomplished was the Rick Steves walk of Nice…the “scratch & sniff” walk actually. Our tour began in Cours Saleya, Nice’s main market square. The first part of the square consists of the Riviera’s largest flower market. The rest of the square is dedicated to a lovely produce market, which we took full advantage of. These are always the most interesting places to people watch. You end up with a mix of tourists and locals all going about their own business, which makes for entertaining interactions and, occasionally, confusion. Then there are the stalls themselves, exploding with fresh veggies, local & exotic fruit and multitudes of nuts & dehydrated goodies.
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Along our tour route we passed a small church dedicated to St. Rita, the patron saint of desperate causes. This sacred center holds a special place in local’s hearts and this is the most popular church in Nice, despite it’s diminutive size.

Upon completing the walk we climbed to the top of Castle Hill. It was a good hike but we were rewarded with some great views of Nice, the Mediterranean, expensive boats and the Alps in the distance. The city of Nice was first settled here by the Greeks in 400 BC. In the Middle Ages, a massive castle stood atop it’s central hill. For some reason, Louis XIV leveled the castle in 1706 so today there isn’t much left on the hill other than great views.
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After looking into Nice’s attractions, we decided to visit the Chagall Museum. This is a modern art museum, which would definitely be something we haven’t done yet on this trip. The walk there was an experience enough. You had to keep going up random tiny staircases and take so many right turns that you feel as if you had to be walking in squares. But eventually we did arrive. The museum was built in honor of Marc Chagall, who painted 17 large murals designed for, and donated to, this museum. These paintings, inspired by the Old Testament, are done in a modern style, but still look like paintings. We liked this…it wasn’t one of those modern art places where you are staring at things that you don’t even know what they are. When we entered we were given free audio guides. These were awesome! They described each of the 17 biblical pieces; telling us both what was being portrayed and facts about the techniques used. It made everything so much more meaningful! Here’s pictures of a few of our favorite pieces from both the biblical wing and the special exhibit entitled Cirque!
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A million left turns later we had returned to the beach from our museum. Perched on some rocks we ate a snack lunch of baguette, strawberries and grapes from the morning’s market. It was great to be so close to the water and able to hear the waves splashing. Of course we couldn’t resist doing some splashing ourselves. We got our feet a little wet and did a little wave chasing like we were little children. The ocean (or Mediterranean) really is a novelty for people who live in a land-locked place like us.
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And one last photo for those of you who really know us and, considering we were at the beach, are expecting this:

The Promenade des Anglais is a four-mile-long paved walkway raised slightly above the rocky beaches. This pathway was full of casual strollers, runners, bikers and roller bladers. We couldn’t imagine how busy it would be in the middle of summer. This ‘walkway of the English’ was financed by wealthy English tourists who wanted a safe place to stroll and admire the view without walking on the rough rocks. We appreciated the solid ground as we strolled the majority of the stretch. While we walked & took intermittent “stop & enjoy the view” breaks we played the random facts game. In reality it’s not much of a game, but that’s what Kristin calls it. It involves thinking of the most random facts you possibly can about yourself…it’s a variation of the random question game (which is another non-game that Kristin finds incredibly entertaining). To help you understand the awesomeness of this activity, here are 3 of the random facts we could think of about ourselves:
1. I could once name all the mammals of Alberta by their scientific name and when I get home I may have to lock myself in a room & learn to identify all of Alberta’s birds by their calls.
2. I own a ukele and 8 pairs of Ugg boots.
3. I once dropped my cat from a tree and kamikaze rammed into my sister on a bike (have you heard these stories before??)
1. I once caught a clam with a fishing rod in the middle of a lake in Northern Alberta. It was possibly the most random moment of my summer.
2. I own more than one shade of purple nylons. I am certain this says something about me & my personality, I’m just not sure what.
3. I am a dodgeball All-Star…meaning I was actually on an All-Star team for dodgeball. It was one of my proudest moments of university.

We had picked a restaurant for supper during our Rick Steves walk so we returned there come evening. Unfortunately we returned before the restaurant was open (because Europeans don’t eat until the middle of the night) so we had to wander the streets for awhile before we could eat. Once we were finally seated we started our meal with mussels. The pot we shared was full to the brim with fresh sea life corvered in an incredibly delicious white wine & cream sauce. We followed this with crepes…oh how we love crepes! Justine’s was filled with cheese, mushrooms and chicken. Kristin’s was bacon, mushrooms, onions and cheese.
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The walk back to the hostel was filled with much hilarity. We were rather hyper (not drunk! We didn’t even have wine with dinner) and laughed at pretty much anything…including Kristin pretending to be an airplane.

Highlight of the Day:
When Justine payed our supper bill with all of the change in her wallet. She left if perfect to just get a €20 bill back for change…but instead received 2 fives and a multitude of €2, €1 and 50 cent coins. She was so excited to have her wallet lightened up, only to end up with more coins than she started with…and larger ones at that!

Love, Luck & Lots of Change!