Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wednesday, April 13, 2016 – Nice, France – Sunny - 75F

Travel Day

Another quiet night so we are well rested for our long travel day.  Our flight today (BA343) is at 11:55 AM so there is no rush this morning.  After another good breakfast at the hotel, we spent some time resting in our room until we needed to check out. 

Our pre-arranged transport was there right on time and the short ride (just over 8 km) took only about 20 minutes.  The fare was 25 Euros.  The car was nice and clean and the driver spoke very good English.

The Nice-Cote D’Azur Airport is small but comfy (I heard that the airport used to be sub par but it looks like it had a facelift sometime in the near past).  It had a nice sitting area and a Starbuck’s – so what else would you want?

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The flights were being called in French but we were able to make out the numbers.  When the flight departure time started to approach, I asked the agent (not a BA person, I figured) at the gate when we would be boarding and she said not for a little while.  I became suspicious when I saw passengers lining up at the gate (our flight had not been called) so we walked over only to find that the boarding process was well under way.  We still managed to get an overhead compartment but it was a little annoying.

BA343 was an A-319 and we were sitting aisle across.  The flight left on time and the sequence is shown below – the flight was smooth.  Just like in Chicago, planes leaving Nice have to make a big turn away from the city for noise control.  BA also has some kind of snack on its short flights – they had a veggie option for this flight (a sandwich of some kind and pretty tasty).  Oh, and by the way, the Cokes are getting even smaller – soon they will only be one swigs worth.

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Ready to Roll

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On Our Way

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The Big Turn

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The Coast of France

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The Coast of England

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In a Short Holding Pattern

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LHR Final Approach

We went through the checkpoints for on-going flights and found a comfortable place to hang out (with a charging station) until they posted our gate for our next flight.  This location also had a Starbucks with a space age look to it.

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Starbucks Rocket?

The last few times through Heathrow, we have been pretty lucky in that the gate we needed was in the same terminal section.  This time, our gate, was a train ride away.  It was not that big an issue – a short walk to the train and a short and quick ride to our gate.  When we got there, BA297 (an old friend) was waiting at what might have been one of the longer jetways around.


BA297 Getting Ready

BA297 is a B-777-400.  I reserved seats 35J and 35K, which are the only two seats in regular coach that are not in the three across configuration (so only an aisle and a window).  There is another set of two seats on the other side of the plane.  The legroom wasn’t premium quality but it was OK.  This is important information for any upcoming BA flights on this type of plane.

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Queuing Up

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In the Air

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Climb Out

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Above the Clouds

The flight was smooth pretty much the whole way.  The seats were comfortable enough and the bathrooms were close.  Best of all, the Kosher meals were excellent – some kind of meatballs and rice (good size portions and tasty).  The rest of the meal was also good (none of that crazy cabbage slaw).  I had some wine with the meal – very good as well.

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Ice Floes off Coast of Canada

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Over Newfoundland

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36,000 Feet over Newfoundland

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Over Canada

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Final Approach ORD

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Glide Path ORD

I won’t even recount what we went through with Immigration (I guess a lot of planes got here at the same time). 

We caught our cab and soon we were home.

It was a fantastic cruise and trip.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016 – Nice, France – Sunny - 75F

Another nice breakfast – for some reason, I am not tiring of the cereal (a European version of Special K), banana, and milk (maybe because the milk is cold). 

The weather continues to be absolutely wonderful – it looks like the rain will hold off for our entire stay in Nice.

We’ve regained feeling in the bottom of our feet (from yesterday’s walk) so we are once again hitting the road.  Our plan today is to visit two religious sites – the St. Nicholas Cathedral and the La Grande Synagogue of Nice.  The two sites are located at opposite ends of the city so we will get plenty of steps in.

We started out heading North from the hotel – back toward the Train Station – to our first destination – the Russian Orthodox Cathedral.  It is located, appropriately, at the junction of the Boulevard du Tzarewitch (very interesting spelling) and Avenue Nicolas II


It is located in a nice neighborhood of condos and trees and set back from the street.  We walked around the structure to take in all of the architectural features of this very impressive building.



Front View – with and without Ellen


View of the Rear of the Cathedral and Grounds

The cathedral was opened in 1912, thanks to funds provided by Tsar Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia.  There is a plaque on the side of the Cathedral to commemorate Nicholas’ role.


A little about the history of the Cathedral:  In the early 19th Century, Nice became a go to destination for upper class English society – a place to get away from the drab and dreary climate of Britain.  Some decades later, Russian nobility also discovered Nice including Tsar Alexander II.  The Tsar took advantage of the new railroad stop at Nice to visit in 1864.  Again, the Russian winters drove upscale Russians to the Mediterranean climate of Southern France.

Among those visiting Russians was Tsarevich Nicholas, son of Tsar Alexander II and older brother of future Tsar Alexander III. Tragically, The Tsarevich died at the Villa Bermont in Nice in 1865 of spinal meningitis that some thought was related to a wrestling injury.  Alexander III then became the Tsarevich and married the fiancé of his deceased brother (at his brother’s behest).  This marriage eventually produced Tsarevich Nicholas II.

In 1867, Tsar Alexander II demolished the villa and built a chapel, which is still there, in his son’s memory on the grounds.  


Chapel of Tsarevich Nicolas Alexandrovich

In front of the chapel, there is a statue of the Tsarevich.


Tsarevich Nicolas Alexandrovich

I was getting a little hungry so we bought a small baguette – “Pain Ficelle” - from a bakery on Tsarewitch Boulevard (75 Euro cents) – fresh and delicious.  From there, we headed South – past the train station and our hotel, to find the Synagogue of Nice. 

The streets were a little confusing but we eventually found the building which was located near the intersection of Avenue Jean Medecin and Rue du Marichal Joffre.

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Grande Synagogue Nice

The building was squeezed between two other buildings and not very remarkable.  It looked closed and dark.  Quite a stark difference from the St. Nicholas Cathedral.

From the synagogue, we went back for our last look at the beach at Nice.  Another wonderful view – this time, I was able to catch an MD-80 taking off from the airport and banking away from the city.

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MD80 Departing Nice Airport

We were both hungry so we went to the pedestrian walkway to find another pizza restaurant.  We found a nice one, with OK service, and smoke free on the inside.  We decided to treat ourselves to a fancy pizza – one with salmon on it.  As it turned out, the combination of mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, and salmon was not a winning one – the salmon overpowered all of the other flavors.  We ate the pizza but it was an acquired taste that we had not yet acquired.

From there, it was back to the hotel to rest up for our trip home tomorrow.  All in all, another 16,000 steps and a wonderful day in Nice.

We spoke to the hotel desk clerk and arranged transport to the airport for tomorrow morning. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Monday, April 11, 2016 – Nice, France – Sunny - 75F

Another quiet night – another beautiful day in Nice.

I’ve figured out how to make American style coffee using the fancy coffee machine – a major victory.  Breakfast is still dry cereal with milk and bananas (actually very good) and rolls and jam or butter.  Not fancy but good.

The plan today is to walk to the main shopping street of Nice – Avenue Jean Medecin.  The walk took us past the Notre Dame Basilica, near to where our original Mercure Hotel is located.  It’s a very busy street so I think we made the right call with the Ibis Styles Hotel.


Notre Dame Basilica

We proceed down the Avenue toward the Place Massena, passing hundreds of shops, coffee shops, and some very large department stores.  When we got to the Place, I checked out a Salad Bar Restaurant.  The clerk spoke English and explained how things were weighed per ingredient (they make the salads per your instructions).  I calculated, based on the weight and price, that my kind of salad would run past 9 Euros – a little much for lunch.

Place Massena also contains seven statues sitting on poles.  The installation is called “Conversation à Nice” and they represent the seven continents and the communication between the World’s communities. The statues are illuminated every night with changing colors.


Place Massena Glowing Man

From the Place Massena, we proceeded to the beach area again (it never gets old especially on a cloudless, beautiful day).


Beach at Nice


Checking Out the Beach

We walked to the end of the Promenade and almost decided to go as far as the Old Port of Nice.  Instead we stopped at the overlook.  There we found what looked to be a Solar Calendar of some type.


Solar Calendar (Maybe)

From this vantage point, I got a fantastic panorama shot of the entire Nice beachfront – stretching all the way to the airport.  By the way, the Nice Bay is called the Bay of Angels.


Nice Panorama - Baie des Anges ("Bay of the Angels")

We went back toward the main city on the Promenade with a goal in mind – grabbing lunch to go at the Subway (our go to place around the world – all about the gloves).  We picked up a Tuna Sub (the fixins were not quite the same as they are in the states) and took it back to the hotel for lunch.  They did not take charge cards so we scrounged up all the Euros we could find to pay for the meal.  When we left the Subway, a huge line had formed – timing, again, is everything.

The sandwich was good – there were chips and a soda as well.  We ate out on the hotel patio – there were some smokers but separated by some distance. 

After resting a while, we headed back out again.

Our destination again was the beach area but this time, I wanted to get a good look at Nice’s most iconic hotel, the Hotel Negresco.  The multi-star hotel was built in 1913 and is a popular sight on the Beachfront.


Hotel Negresco

The hotel uses hedges as privacy barriers but I managed to sneak a picture of the hotel patio.


Hotel Negresco Patio


Hotel Negresco Installation

From the Hotel Negresco, we proceed along the main street to the Musee Massena.  We didn’t go in but we did walk through the lush gardens.


Musee Massena Grounds

The “Centennial Monument”, a statue of Winged Victory – “Nike” – was inaugurated in 1896 and commemorates the 100 years of association of Nice with France.  The city’s name is thought to be a French version of Nike.  This was our next stop.


Centennial Monument

At this point, we decided to get an ice cream cone at the McDonalds on the beachfront.  The place was packed and it was hot inside.  The system here (at least at this facility) is different than in the States.  A person with a WiFi tablet walks through the lines of people taking their orders.  She then hands them a slip of paper with a number on it and you hand it to the server behind the counter to get your stuff.  Even though I kept saying “Cone” in as many versions as I could, we would up with some kind of ice cream sundae.  It was so tiny – maybe half the size of what we are used to.  The ice cream was OK but we had to eat it in the McDs.  This place was very atypical compared to the many McDonalds we have visited around the planet.


Carousel in Park Near Boardwalk

Dinner tonight was in a pizza restaurant near the hotel (in the Middle Eastern neighborhood).  We ate inside to avoid the smokers.  The service was non-existent but the food – a Salad Mixte (I know, I’m being brave) and Pizza Margherita was OK.  Tip was included (a good thing since I wasn’t going to tip the waiter anyhow).  The restaurant did have facilities – always a good thing in Europe.

After dinner, it was back to the hotel (no more walking – we had logged about 15,000 steps on our pedometers) to plan out tomorrow’s adventure.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Saturday, Sunday - April 9-10, 2016 – Monte Carlo, Monaco–70s

Distance from Le Seyne Sur Mer, France to Monte Carlo, Monaco: 115 Nautical Miles

Pilot Distance: 198 Miles

Total Voyage: 4,904 Nautical Miles; 5,639 Statute Miles

Like many recent itineraries, Crystal Symphony will spend a day in Monte Carlo before completing this cruise.  I am just going to include some of the sights of this interesting area.

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Sunrise in Monte Carlo

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Getting the City Ready for the Monaco Grand Prix

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Expensive Real Estate in Monaco

The plaque signifying the tragic car accident that killed Princess Grace is not actually located at the crash site.

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Roadside Memorial to Grace Kelly

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The Hilltop City of Eze

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Nice (France) Harbor

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Elton John Lives on the Top of the Hill in Nice

The Palace of Monaco sits on a hill overlooking the Bay of Monaco.  Locals calls the location “The Rock”.  The Rock contains a number of interesting buildings and attractions.

The Oceanography Museum contains an iconic object (right out of a Beatle’s tune).

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Jacques Cousteau’s Yellow Submarine

The St. Nicholas Cathedral of Monaco contains the graves of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace.

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Prince Rainier Tomb

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Princess Grace Tomb

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The Palace

A monument, installed in 1914, from Monaco’s foreign residents to Prince Albert I on the occasion of the 25th year of his reign, sits on a patio with a great view of the Monaco Harbor.

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Monaco Harbor from the Rock

From the Symphony’s Open Deck, you can also see just about all of Monaco.

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Croc Cam – Monaco

After dinner, we went out on the warm open deck – perfect for some evening pictures of Monaco and the harbor.

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Showtime tonight was a variety show involving “Cell Block Tango” from “Chicago” (almost all the ships do this number).

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We went to the Avenue Saloon to hear Mark Farris’ farewell session – we requested “Hallelujah” but Mark got so involved with the audience that he didn’t get to the song.  Maybe next time.

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Disembarkation Day

The dreariness of yesterday has given way to a wonderful sunny and bright day today.  I took the opportunity to take some final pictures of the beautiful country of Monaco.

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Panoramic Shot of Monaco and the Harbor

Ellen and I had breakfast together for the first time on this cruise.  The first and last breakfasts were equally delicious and it was not as crowded as I thought it might be.  We have a late exit time so we don’t have to rush.  There is no walk-off on Crystal at this port.  There is also no Passport Control here, as well, so disembarkation is pretty smooth.

Our plan today is to take the train from Monaco to Nice, where we are going to spend a few days.  We were told that the walk from the ship to the nearest train station was short – only about 10 minutes.  Turns out that the walk was a bit longer and involved some stairs (not easy when you are pulling three heavy wheelies).  While most of the pier area was pretty blah, there was one interesting bar called “Grab the Bull By the Horns” complete with a ceramic bull.

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We were a bit whipped when we got to the train station – fortunately then had escalators to get us to the correct level to catch our train.  The fair was an incredible 3 Euros per person.  Working together to decipher the schedules (and getting a little help from a local), we made our way to the tracks and caught our train to Nice.  We could not make out what the electronic station announcer was saying but we knew when we heard Nice-Centre Ville, it would be time to get off.

The train ride was short – 25 or so minutes – and we were in Nice, the Capitol of the French Riviera.  I did notice something very interesting on the sidewalk next to the tracks.  Now that’s a good idea (below).

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Not the Tracks of My Tears

At the last minute, I changed our reservations from the Mercure Hotel-Notre Dame to the Ibis Styles Hotel on Avenue Durante (to get the credit toward a free night).  We stopped in the Tourist office at the Train Station to get directions – the street was right there and the walk to the hotel took just about 10 minutes (and was downhill). 

The Hotel was just renovated last July and was in super spiffy condition.  It had a quirky, playful, décor and the staff was very young and super friendly.  Everyone spoke perfect English. 

Our room, 416, was very quiet even though there were families with small children on either side of us.  Don’t understand how that worked out.  We had a comfortable bed, a spacious bathroom, a HUGE shower, and an effective and quiet air conditioner.  Bottled water is supplied by the hotel.  It was a terrific deal.

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Room 416


Indoor Dining Area


Outdoor Dining Area

The change in hotels turned out to be a good call since the Ibis Styles Hotel is an easy walk to anywhere in Nice.  Since it was early in the day, we headed out to see the town and the beach area.  We were fueled by sweet rolls we found in the lobby.  That would have to do until dinner.

Our first stop was “La Place Massena”, the main square in the city.  Named after a military leader, the square is the jump point for nearby parks and monuments.  It also has a train running right along the main street.

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Place Messina


Statue of Andre Messina (1869)


Multiple Water Fountains

The centerpiece of Place Messina is the 23 foot tall statue of Apollo in the “Fontaine du Soleil".  Apollo, wearing a funky crown of four horses, is surrounded by five bronze statues representing Earth, Mars, Mercury, Venus and Saturn.  A center of controversy when first installed (too much Apollo for the locals) in 1956, the statue has undergone corrective surgery a few times and then finally removed from the fountain.  He was restored to his spot in 2011. 

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Apollo and the Fountain du Soleil

We spotted a Subway near the fountain (for future reference).  Looking away from the statue, you can see the Mediterranean Sea.

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The Rusty Monument “Gracing” the Beach Area

It was a warm enough day that people were out at the beach.  There is little sand – mostly pebbles – but residents have figured out how to deal with the beach.  The blue of the sky and the sea were almost the same shade. 

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The Beautiful Beach at Nice

There are benches further up the beach but we sat on the end of the promenade overhanging the sand and surf.

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Ellen Looks Comfy

In the mid to late 1800s, Nice was very popular with the English.  The English visitors decided to build a wide walkway along the beachfront – to see the water and sand and still enjoy ease of strolling.  It became the “Promenade des Anglais”.

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The Famed Promenade des Anglais

From the beach, we headed back toward the statue of Apollo.  Along the way, we came across a prairie like garden area.

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A building adjacent to the garden had the most amazing mural on the wall facing the promenade.  It was so real that I climbed to the side of the building to make sure the windows were actually painted.  They were.  Check out the masterpiece below. 

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As we made our way to Place Messina, we came across another fountain.  This one emitted steam and was quite spectacular.

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We were now on the lookout for a place for dinner so we turned onto the pedestrian walkway.  This street, which ran from Place Messina to our street, was filled primarily with Pizza restaurants.  Marguerite Pizzas ran about 9 Euros.  The problem was not the price but the smokers.  We wanted to eat outside and people watch but the only place without smokers was inside the restaurants.  We kept looking.

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Pedestrian Walkway – In Search of Dinner

Not being able to find a suitable place on the Walkway, we continued into a different neighborhood – mostly Middle Eastern.  We settled on sharing a falafel plate at the Istanbul Falafel Restaurant.  The food was not what we were used to but it was OK – the biggest expense, as it is in all restaurants, is the drinks (3-4 Euros).  It’s that or the water so the choice was easy.


Having Falafel in Nice

Then it was back to the hotel to wind down – quite a day in Nice.

We are hoping that the room will be quiet.