May 8, 2014 Another of my favorite days on tour – this day was all about luxury.
This morning, Jon Snow granted us a reprieve from 7:00 a.m. wake-up calls. They would resume the next day, but today was a free day. We had no scheduled activities until our snazzy dinner in Monaco that evening.
Since Wayne’s Bar hit us pretty hard, we milked the sleep-in day for all we could. I woke up around 10:00 a.m., and I spent some time re-organizing my things. You’d be surprised how quickly your suitcase can turn into a disaster zone when you’re packing and re-packing nearly every day.
After my OCD moment, Pat and I walked downstairs and out into the bright Riviera sunshine. It was around 80 degrees Fahrenheit that day, and was an absolutely perfect day to explore Nice on foot. We walked down the Avenue Jean Médecin and past the Fontaine du Soleil, on our way to the beach. Then we walked along the shore for a while. The beaches in Nice are rock, not sand, so we stuck to the boardwalk. Finally, we made our way up Castle Hill to Montee du Chateau.
The views were insane. I couldn’t believe that I had been standing atop a snowy mountain in Lucerne only two days before, and now I was basking in the sun, looking over the beaches of the French Riviera.
After exploring on Castle Hill a bit, we wandered back down the boardwalk and went off to find a few of our friends, who were meeting for lunch and beaching. We all walked to a restaurant in the middle of town to try two classic French delicacies: frog legs and escargot.
The Canadians with us (Shandi and Gabe) were thrilled to learn that poutine was also on the menu, and made us all order it. They had been raving about this Canadian-favorite all week. It basically consists of french fries, doused in gravy, cheese and chicken. It sounded disgusting to me, but I have to say, it was delicious! My neighbors to the North sure know where it’s at, eh.
I was much less excited about the frog legs and snails, but I tried them anyway. The frog legs lacked flavor and just tasted fishy. They were fine, but not something I’d order again. On the other hand, the escargot were surprisingly good! Put enough butter and garlic on anything, and it will be awesome.
After this indulgence, we parked it on the beach for a while, and I dipped my toes into the Mediterranean. Then, the girls split off so that we could do some shopping before our fancy dinner later in the evening. Shandi, Betty (from Mexico) and I wandered into the shops and didn’t find too much. The prices were a little high, and the stores catered to a resort clientele.
We returned to the hotel and got all glammed-up for dinner in Monaco, then made the drive along the Riviera into the extremely wealthy principality of Monaco, the second-smallest country in the world, and home to the Grand Prix and the late Princess Grace Kelly.
Dinner was atop a hill overlooking the entire country (literally), and we settled in for wine, and our choice of one of three entrees. This dinner was our first “Optional Extra” meal, meaning that you had to pay extra to go, at a cost of 35.50€, or about $50 USD. My chicken dish was good, but the experience and atmosphere is what we really paid for. Plus, the wine was unlimited. I’m sure you can imagine how our group took advantage of that. Overall, I thought this extra was worth it, and I would pay for it again.
Monte Carlo Casino
After dinner, Kev drove us to the Fairmont Monte Carlo, home of the famous Monte Carlo casino (one of James Bond’s haunts). There was a 10€ fee ($14 USD) to enter, so many people went downstairs to another casino with no cover. But fee or no fee, I didn’t come to Monaco to bail on the Monte Carlo, so I anted up and walked in.
It was one of the most beautiful rooms I’ve ever seen. Everything in sight was so ornate, with gold paneling, sprawling chandeliers, and people all around us dressed to the nines. What a fun sight! The casino was much smaller than I had pictured though, after experiencing the massive Vegas casinos.
Tom and I formulated our gameplan: We’d get a drink on the rocks, just like James would, and spend exactly 20€ on the slots. Then, fold ’em. Long story short, I got a 16€ whiskey, and won an additional 30€ on the slots before cashing out. Success! Tom wasn’t so lucky. We wandered over to a couch in the casino to watch our fellow Contiki-ers wrap up their games, and finish our very expensive drinks.
The night ended with a moonlit bus ride back to Nice, with Dicky leading the group in a karaoke session. I’ll never hear Wonderwall by Oasis without thinking of that amazing day in the French Riviera, and the feeling of pure and complete happiness that I felt with a belly warm with whiskey, 30 extra Euro in my pocket, Pat beside me, and the best people I’ve ever met surrounding me. Definitely a day of luxuries.