Nice to Monaco

Street scene between Monaco train station and the conference

Street scene between Monaco train station and the conference

One of the challenges of having a conference in Monaco is getting there.  While the conference was relatively small–less than 2000 people–there wasn’t sufficient housing (at least not within most corporate budgets) for everyone to stay in Monaco.  As a result, those of us who booked late had hotels in Nice.

The solution was to send large tour buses to the hotels in Nice to pick up those who were staying there and then drive everyone over to Monaco.  In the morning rush hour traffic, the drive took a good hour and a half.  The bus had little A/C and most of us were feeling like we needed a second shower by the time we arrived at the conference site.

Lovely view while stuck in traffic on the bus

Lovely view while stuck in traffic on the bus

The really sad part of the bus ride was that we didn’t take the coastal road, so we didn’t get to see some of the best views.  At one point, we were stuck in traffic for a good 15 minutes while overlooking a lot that looked like it was used for industrial waste.  Not exactly the kind of thing you hope to get to see when you go to the French Riviera.

We did get an occasional glimpse of the sea, but it was infrequent.

Looking for things to take pictures of through tinted bus windows resulted in creating some really strong vignetting in the images.  I don’t know how much more pronounced this effect was due to the camera being an iPhone vs using a DSLR, but all of the images through the bus windows were the same.

A quick glimpse of the sea from the bus

A quick glimpse of the sea from the bus

When at long last we reached the conference site, we got to experience modern office buildings butted up against the rising hills of the landscape.  There is not much about Monaco that makes you think there should be office buildings there.  It created a surprise effect.

In the end, what i learned from the bus ride was to take the train.  The next day, I slept in instead of getting up extra early to catch the 7:15AM bus.  I caught a train much later–a 10 minute walk from my hotel.  I rode in comfort along the coastal tracks, enjoying views of the sea the entire way (except when we went through the many tunnels).  It cost 3.70 Euro to ride the train.  The entire train trip took 20 minutes.  And, I happened to sit next to 2 other people attending the same conference who knew how to get there from the train station, so I made it there on time without getting lost.

Office buildings in Monaco

Office buildings in Monaco

Nice Dinner

Almost a view of the beach from a cafe in the afternoon

Almost a view of the beach from a cafe in the afternoon

Are you tired of my Nice-as-in-pleasant vs Nice-as-in-France puns yet?  I’ve got a few more up my sleeve . . . 🙂

My first day in Nice, the name of the game was to stay awake.  Unfortunately, on my walk around town in the afternoon sun, I got hot.  This led to stopping in a sea-side cafe and having a beer.  Even more unfortunately, the only food I could get mid-afternoon was a bowl of olives.  While beer and olives are actually tasty together, olives are not very filling.

City street - lots of pedestrians

City street – lots of pedestrians

I sipped my no-longer-cold-beer for nearly an hour as I slumped gradually lower and lower in my cafe-style chair.  Eventually, I decided I needed to walk or I would be sound asleep on the cafe floor.  But once I started walking, I didn’t know where to go.  I decided it was a good time to return to my hotel room to check email now that the US was getting into work.

Courtyard on way back to hotel

Courtyard on way back to hotel

I sat down on my bed, logged in, and made it through the emails that had arrived.  The next thing I knew, I was startled awake by a sunbeam that had found its way through a crack in the curtains.  The sunbeam had managed to make its way into my eyes in part because the sun was now low in the sky.  I discovered I’d nodded off for a couple unexpected hours.

Views as the sun sets

Views as the sun sets

Concerned I wouldn’t be able to sleep through the night if I didn’t get up and get some dinner, I splashed some water on my face and made my way back down to the seaside.  With the wind blowing across the French Riviera, the evening called for outdoor dining.

Back at the seaside area, I stopped and read menus at each restaurant across from the beach, hoping to find something appealing, but even more, hoping to run into one of my colleagues so I wouldn’t have to eat dinner alone.

Courtyard at sunset

Courtyard at sunset

In the US, I don’t mind eating dinner alone.  If I want company, I sit at the bar and usually end up in conversations with interesting people before the meal is over.  If I want to be alone, I sit at a table.  In Spain, France, and Italy, there don’t seem to be restaurant bars to eat at.  Eating alone at a table seems to be the equivalent of painting a sign on your face that says something like, “I am lonely and desperate and will be amazingly receptive to even the tiniest bit of attention.”  (To put it in G-rated terms.)

Dramatic dinner preparation at a nearby table

Dramatic dinner preparation at a nearby table

On this evening, it was my waiter who was overly attentive.  He was actually quite sweet, but it got awkward when I wanted to leave and he kept delaying bringing me my check.  Once I was safely on my way, I was glad I’d made it out regardless–it was a lovely night to be out walking and I did sleep through the night.

Night lights.  Notice the purple glowing man on top of the pole

Night lights. Notice the purple glowing man on top of the pole

Nice Views

The lovely "beach" in Nice

The lovely “beach” in Nice

If yesterday I attempted to make you feel sorry for me for having to travel to Nice and Monaco, today I might make you jealous.

I arrived in Nice around 9AM on Monday morning.  When I arrived at my hotel, my room wasn’t ready yet, but after only a few minutes in the lobby, I was given a key and sent upstairs.  This was a good thing because having not slept a wink on the flight over, I was about to nod off in the lobby.

Interesting building on my round-about way to the shore.  Using HDR created ghost of a pedestrian in my shot.

Interesting building on my round-about way to the shore. Using HDR created ghost of a pedestrian in my shot.

I climbed into bed and set my alarm so that I’d get in a nice 2 hour nap.  Or should I say a Nice  2 hour nap?  In either case, I have found that it’s best not to sleep more than 2 hours when I arrive in a new time zone, especially when traveling in an Eastward direction.

I woke up before my alarm went off.  I jumped out of bed feeling panicked that perhaps I had missed a meeting.  I logged in immediately to see what emails I’d gotten since falling asleep.  Given that it was only 7AM back in the Eastern US, I hadn’t received much of anything.

The fake peninsula (created by shooting panoramic with iPhone default camera app)

The fake peninsula (created by shooting panoramic with iPhone default camera app)

After convincing myself I hadn’t missed anything, I jumped in the shower to discover it was one of those weird adaptations of a tub with a curtain on hooks shooting out from the post the shower head was installed on like a star.  I pulled the curtain around me, but it only went about ½ way around.  I did my best not to spray the entire bathroom.  This might explain why the toilet (and toilet paper) were in another room–it could be the only way they stay dry when someone showers.

Fake inlet (also created by shooting panoramic with default iPhone camera app)

Fake inlet (also created by shooting panoramic with default iPhone camera app)

Feeling wide awake and fresh, I threw on some casual clothes and went out to take a walk along the shore.  Unfortunately, I was somewhat disoriented and walked the wrong direction.  By the time I found the shore, I wasn’t feeling so fresh anymore.

But, the beach was lovely.  The wind was blowing and the air was fresh.  What more could an American on a business trip ask for?

A plaza along the way to the beach

A plaza along the way to the beach

I experimented with panoramic shots on the shore with my iPhone.  I ended up creating a peninsula out of the rocks I was standing on and turning the shoreline into an inlet because of the effect of shooting panoramic.  It was kind of fun.

A more realistic view of the beach

A more realistic view of the beach

Nice Hotel

My view

My view

My recent business trip took me to Nice, France and Monte Carlo, Monaco.  I know it’s hard to feel bad for someone who just went to the French Riviera, but I’d like to point out a few facts that make me sympathy worthy:

  1. I arrived Monday morning and departed Thursday morning after 2 hard days of work,
  2. I stayed in Nice, but the conference was in Monaco, resulting in a 1 ½ hour bus ride from hell during rush hour traffic on Tuesday morning,
  3. Pat couldn’t come with me
  4. Tisen couldn’t come with me
  5. I spent 40 hours traveling in exchange for 72 hours on the French Riviera.
OK, so it's a King-sized bed, but check out the carpet

OK, so it’s a King-sized bed, but check out the carpet

If that’s not enough, let’s talk about my hotel room.  First, I had a sense of deja-vu when I arrived at my hotel.  I didn’t remember where I stayed the last time I was in Nice (in May of 2006), but when I walked into the lobby, I was pretty sure it was the same hotel with an updated decor.

These chairs were "updated" with orange slip covers looking like they're in desperate need of a cleaning

These chairs were “updated” with orange slip covers looking like they’re in desperate need of a cleaning

Unfortunately, the updated decor stopped at the lobby.  I had to chuckle at the orange shag carpet and matching accessories in my room.  I did not, however, chuckle at the tiny little room with a toilet, and only a toilet, in it.  Fortunately, I discovered a bath tub and sink in a separate room opposite the toilet room.

I tried hard to remember whether the toilet was separate from the bath and sink the last time I was in France.  I never did manage to come up with that memory, but everyone I talked to had the same arrangement no matter what hotel they were in, so I guess it’s a French thing.

Now I understand why some people call it a "water closet"

Now I understand why some people call it a “water closet”

The view from my room left something to be desired.  From the window, I could see the back of 3 surrounding buildings and the shed for the trash bins for my hotel.  This is not the kind of view one hopes for when staying on the French Riviera.  Especially not when one read that the hotel in question was a 4-star hotel.  I suspect the person who awarded the 4 stars was the owner’s mother.

I don’t mean to complain.  After all, it was a trip to the French Riviera that I didn’t have to pay for.  But no matter how glamorous it sounds to say “I’m going to the French Riviera,” the reality was far from glamorous.

One last look at the view from my window

One last look at the view from my window

Plane Food

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I suspect I am drunk. I am on a plane. I arrived late for my connection, meaning I didn’t have time to eat. I had skipped breakfast. So, at 30,000 feet or so, I had a glass of wine on a stomach with nothing but a tiny, quarter handful of peanuts in it. Between the altitude and the empty stomach, it’s possible my judgement is impaired.

Evidence in favor is that I discovered my salad had a clear plastic lid over it when I dispensed salad dressing on top of said lid.

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Further evidence includes that I ate every morsel of my plane food thinking it was one of the finer meals I’ve had. I chowed down on the plastic-wrapped roll (I did remove the plastic wrap first, thank-you-very-much) with what butter I could scrape out of the plastics container thinking it tasted fantastic. I even ate the iceberg lettuce salad without feeling like someone should take some nutrition classes.

What’s most alarming is that when they came back around with the drink cart, I asked for a second glass of wine!

Fortunately for me, I am sitting next to a sweet, older lady who doesn’t seem to suspect a thing. Although, I think I caught her casting a glance when half of my cracker fell into my lap due to a mis-timed bite.

Speaking of cracker, I was eating the aforementioned cracker with cheese. Not fancy, aged, unpasteurized cheese from France (as one might reasonably expect on a flight to Paris) but rather smooth, slightly plasticine Tilamook cheese from good old Oregon, USA.

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I enjoy Tillamook Cheese–I’ve even been there in person and done the factory tour–but let’s face it. Americans really have little patience when it comes to producing things that require time to ripen and age. We don’t even let our fruits and vegetables ripen before we load them on the truck and ship them off to market.

But what’s remarkable about this is that I really enjoyed the Tillamook cheese. Maybe not so remarkable–I’m an American; I can even enjoy eating Kraft American Cheese. But it’s the degree to which I’m enjoying it that’s so surprising. It tastes like something rare and remarkable.

Oh dear, I’ve forgotten all about my fireworks theme! Perhaps I’ll have some of that second glass of wine . . .

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Over Googled

Distant Arch

Distant Arch

Madrid is full of arches.  Sometimes in surprising places.  Buildings converge and converge again and just where it seems there should be a dead-end, there is an open arch leading into a square.

Sometimes a really big square.

Places that, if they existed in the US, would have 4-lane roads, lots of traffic, and would be surrounded by parking garages suddenly appear through a discrete arch in the midst of narrow pedestrian passageways.  It gives the feeling of stumbling upon a well-kept secret.

This particular arch led to an extraordinary square that once again made me wish I’d looked up some kind of information about Madrid.  Since I have the luxury of google to assist me now, I discovered it was the Plaza Mayor, one of the more famous plazas in Madrid that was originally constructed in the early 1600’s.

Discovering the arch opens into a huge plaza

Discovering the arch opens into a huge plaza

It’s kind of interesting to have wandered around just seeing what we saw without knowing what it was we were looking at.  I’m sure someone knew.  They probably even told me.  But, it’s nice to know that I made it to the Plaza Mayor while I was in Madrid.  Kind of a second surprise to find out where I was!  🙂

The main sculpture in Plaza Mayor

The main sculpture in Plaza Mayor

That said, I find myself googling a bit too much to see if I can identify any of the other sites we walked by.  Over-googling leads to regrets.  It starts innocently enough.  You wonder what that cool statue was you saw.  You google something vague like “Madrid Square with Horse.”  Along with the photos of the place you actually were, you see photos of places like Plaza Puerta del Sol, Plaza del Callao, and Plaza Espana.  The list goes on.  You look at the images and think, “Really??  I was  minutes away from this incredible place and I didn’t get to see it!??  Really??!!  I spent 18 hours getting from my house to the hotel in Madrid and I didn’t get to see any of this stuff!!??!”

I was perfectly content that I got to spend one afternoon wandering around Madrid taking in whatever was in front of me.  Then, I over-googled and now I wish I would have done a little more research before the trip and made some sort of plan on how I was going to get to at least a few more of the incredible sites in the city’s center.

Sadly, it’s been nearly 15 years since I was last in Madrid.  There’s no telling if I will ever be there again or not.  You’d think I would think about these things before I went on a trip instead of after.

Another arch leads away from the plaza

Another arch leads away from the plaza

When I was much younger, I wanted to take a summer off and backpack around Europe.  There were rumors that people used to do that in college.  I never took a summer off to do anything like that.  Maybe I’ll take a summer off some day and make it to all the plazas in Madrid.

Archway towards the market

Archway towards the market

 

Market and outdoor diners through the arch

Market and outdoor diners through the arch

Mickey Mouse Valentine

Courtyard in Madrid

Small church in Madrid

Here it is, Valentine’s Day, and I’m still working my way through photos from Madrid that have nothing to do with the holiday.  To top it off, I’m fighting a sinus infection and not feeling either romantic or like writing.

But, since when has that stopped me?

So, let’s start with Mickey in Madrid and see if we can end up at Valentine’s Day, shall we?

My last several posts have been from a meandering afternoon through the center of Madrid.  Here, we found yet another square but with the rather inexplicable surprise that Mickey Mouse was standing in the middle of it.

Mickey surprised us

Mickey surprised us

Clearly, this is not Disney World.  I suspect it was some sort of Disney recruitment program.  Perhaps for a Disney training program targeting people who might not be qualified for jobs that require them to speak or perform duties, providing them with gainful employment after receiving their Disney Character Certification.  I wonder if they offer classes online?

The final photo I will share today is of tables and chairs in yet another square.  You might think these tables and chairs are just being stored here, waiting for the spring before they will be used again.  However, on this sunny Sunday when it was about 45 degrees Fahrenheit, we witnessed many occupied tables in open squares.  Granted, the ones that were occupied were mostly under tents and had outdoor heaters around the tables.  But eating al fresco remains a priority in Madrid this time of year.

Outdoor eating

Outdoor eating

If I were in a more romantic mood, I would imagine a table in the corner of one of the more secluded squares.  I see a big white tent, filled with flowering vines of one form or another.  The heaters are on high, filling the tent with an enveloping warmth while the wind keeps the air moving through fast enough to keep it fresh.

There are candles.  Many candles.  And perhaps a young couple cozying up, sitting side-by-side at that corner table.  Holding hands, kissing.  Looking like the entire world is at their table.

Romance is for people who can forget about bills, jobs, dishes, laundry, and all the other realities of life.  It requires the ability to suspend disbelief.  The willingness to ignore our imperfections, our limitations, sometimes even outright lies.  There was a time when I knew how to do that.  But, somehow the suspension of disbelief seemed to also mean eliminating good judgment for me.

I’m sure there are people in this world who have found a way to combine romance with healthy relationships.  In fact, I know there are books out there about how important romance is to healthy relationships.  But, for me, I’ll take the guy who will walk the dog for me in the morning because I’m staying in bed with a sinus infection over the guy who takes me out for an expensive dinner in a romantic courtyard (even if it were in Madrid).