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Paris!

Ok – this is the final blog post of our holiday before we arrived in London… 2 months ago!! How time flies.

Thanks so much to everyone who has emailed/texted me along the way, I’m glad people are reading this and enjoying it – it’s been really fun to put it all down on paper and have a record of our holiday for us to look back at.

In more current news, we moved into our lovely flat on the weekend, and today our boxes that we packed up over four months ago were delivered! I was very happy to see some new clothes to wear, and Dan was very happy to be reunited with his playstation. I start work on Monday, and am feeling both excited about the new chapter beginning, and a bit sad to see the end of my life of leisure. It’s been an amazing four and a  half months.

But let’s finish this holiday blogging!! Paris! What a way to finish.

We drove from Il de Re to Paris, and managed to find our way to our hotel. It took us a couple of laps to find the entry to the hotel carpark, but eventually we were in. We met up with Dan and Suzi’s mate from Wellington, Andy, that afternoon at a cafe just near our hotel, and then spent the next few days sightseeing like the ultimate tourists.

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It was my third time in Paris, and yet again I didn’t make it to the Louvre. It just seems intimidatingly huge to me, and there are so many other amazing things to see. Like this!

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Of course, one of the first sights to see was the Eiffel tower. The line to get in wasn’t too bad, so up we went, although only halfway, as it was another hour to wait to go up to the very top. The view from the middle is beautiful anyway, and it was a lovely clear day.

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I loved seeing the Arc de Triomphe from the Eiffel tower – it really sticks out from the landscape and makes you appreciate how grand it really is, even more than seeing it up close I think.

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The views really were beautiful, and once done we walked down the stairs that snake around one of the sides of the tower. What an incredible structure, and so modern for its time.

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We walked from the Eiffel tower to the Arc de Triomphe, and couldn’t resist a few more pics with the tower in the background!

 

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It’s amazing to see the Arc de Triomphe being treated as a huge  roundabout with cars flying around it in no discernible pattern. It reminded me of Rome, where you poke your head out of the underground Metro and almost walk straight into the Colosseum.

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We then ambled down the Champs Elysee, went into a few of the more reasonably priced shops, had some lunch, and continued our walk towards the Louvre.

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As I said, we didn’t actually go in, but it’s always fun to see from the outside, and the gardens surrounding it are so beautiful.

That day we did a huge circuit of the city, and we were pretty exhausted by the end of it.

We found a little local restaurant to have some dinner and a few drinks and celebrate having made it all the way to Paris!

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The next day Notre Dame was on the agenda, that beautiful, huge church that sits on a little island in the middle of Paris. We wandered around and got lost in the history of the place – it really is amazing.

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We also indulged in a boat cruise, something Dan, Suzi and I had intended to do in almost every city we’d visited but never quite gotten around to. It was a really fun hour or so, and a great way to see Paris from a different perspective.

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And of course it was a good opportunity for Dan to show off his photography skills, with a classic Andy eating the Eiffel tower pic.

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One night (I’ll admit I’m struggling to remember the exact order of everything 2 months on!), Suzi organised tickets to a cabaret show down the road from the Moulin Rouge.

We chanced upon a lovely little bistro nearby for dinner, and enjoyed our last night with Suzi and Andy. The show was HILARIOUS, over the top cabaret dancing, magicians, acrobats and more. It was really fun and really funny.

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We went to two galleries in Paris, the D’Orsay and the Rodin museum.

The Rodin museum is set in a lovely old hotel and surrounding private gardens, and is filled with Rodin’s art and sculptures. It is beautifully set out, and there are so many beautiful and incredible pieces of art to look at.

Of course, the thinking man is the most famous.

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Inside there are some beautiful pieces, like this one – the kiss, and many others.

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The gardens are beautiful too.

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The Gates of Hell are really unbelievable, the amount of detail and mythology is incredible and throughout the museum are many statues that were essentially elements that made up the Gates.

One of these is this set of three men, who stand at the top of the gates. What amazed us was that the men are all identical, they are just positioned differently. It makes you appreciate perspective. It also reminded me of Beyonce’s all the single ladies dance moves… but that might just be me!

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The gates of hell are quite morbid and very sobering, but definitely an incredible piece of art.

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We weren’t allowed to take photos in the D’Orsay, but it is a wonderful art gallery inside a beautiful old train station. I loved wandering around, although it is quite large so we were pretty ready for lunch and a sit down at the end of it.

Of course, we had some incredible food in Paris – but one thing we had been talking about for weeks was trying to find a great french onion soup. We googled extensively and perhaps excessively, and eventually decided to try Au Pied de Cochon for dinner one night.

Here it is – and it was delicious!

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The rest of the food was lovely too, but we were all there for the french onion soup and it didn’t disappoint.

We indulged in these beautiful macaroons one afternoon, they were so pretty it was almost a shame to eat them. But they were really good, I particularly loved the salted caramel.

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And another day, we bought these gorgeous cakes – my cheesecake was unbelievable. I could have eaten the whole cake, it was lemony and creamy and rich and delicious.

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As you can see, we all enjoyed our cakes!

For the last day, Dan and I were alone again, and we wandered around basically eating our way around Paris. We went to Chez Janou, recommended by a friend of mine living in Paris who was unfortunately away that week. It was a great little french bistro that did a great three course meal at a really reasonable price. We had a lovely relaxed lunch in the sun.

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We also indulged in more than one Croque Monsieur, and as you can see from my smile, it was pretty delicious.

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I could go on about Paris, but I won’t. We had a wonderful time, saw some beautiful sights, ate some delicious food and drank some yummy wine.

Eventually it was time to drop the car off, and say goodbye to it. It had been wonderful over the two months, although I never did quite get around to learning how to drive manual, so Dan drove the entire way!

As you can see, the final drive was quite momentous, as our GPS took us up the Champs Elysee and almost up to the crazy Arc de Triomphe roundabout (you can see it in the distance). But we got there in one piece, and all was fine. So far, no fines or tickets have come through, so fingers crossed! I did nearly have a heart attack a couple of weeks later when Europcar Italy emailed me to enquire when I would be returning the car… but it turns out they just hadn’t thought of calling their  French colleagues to confirm that we had actually dropped it off on the day we said we would.

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And that, is the end of our huge and incredible holiday. It really was a trip of a lifetime, and we just had the best time. But it was time to head to London, which really was just the start of another new adventure!


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Il de Re

From Bordeaux we drove to Il de Re, a seaside island on the west coast of France. My last boss Penny had told me about it and it sounded lovely, so we’d booked ourselves into Hotel Galion for 3 nights.

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It cost us 16 euro’s just to get onto the island, but once we were past that we quickly drove into the town and found our hotel. It was a beautiful little hotel, really comfy and we had a lovely room. Poor Suzi had to sleep on a roll out bed, but otherwise it was a great place to stay.

This light house was just across the road from our hotel, looking out over the water. Very beautiful.

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Every day there were a group of donkeys with funny striped pajama pants on, who would quietly take children on rides around the park. I think they must have been pretty bored, but they were very sweet.

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We were staying in the main town, Saint Martin de Re, which was just lovely. There were about 10 towns on the island, and we visited four of them. They were all lovely in their own way.

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We had breakfast at this bakery one morning, everything was so delicious! It was a lovely start to the day.

 

 

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There was a Tin Tin shop in town, with a wonderful photo opportunity…

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Then we hired bicycles for a couple of days – this is how EVERYONE gets around the island.

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On our first day we cycled to La Flotte, which was only a few k’s away.

We spent a nice afternoon there wandering around the tiny little town, looking at the local market and having a drink next to the harbour. We attempted to sunbathe for a couple of hours, but it wasn’t very sunny!

The tide in Il de Re is unbelievable, I’ve never seen anything like it.

Here is the harbour at La Flotte when we arrived..

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And when we left…

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Amazing!! The beach had almost disappeared by the time we left as well.

The next day we ventured further afield, to Ars-en-Re. The route was beautiful, winding along the water, through vineyards, next to oyster farms and salt beds.

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Il de Re is famous for its salt,which is harvested by hand and sold in all the towns. As we cycled past one salt field, we came across a little stall that was self-serve, operating on an honesty approach. So lovely. I bought some salt to take with me from a wholesaler in Ars-en-Re.

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Oysters and seafood generally are another Il-de-Re trademark. One night Dan ordered half a dozen oysters, and I was brave enough to try one. And I kind of liked it!! Unbelievable. I’ve never come close to liking an oyster before.

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As you can hopefully see, Il de Re is a lovely, relaxed and pretty island. The pace of life is slower, there were lots of families around, it felt very safe and comfortable. With delicious seafood, easy flat bike paths around the entire island, beaches and beautiful views, I would definitely go back for a bit of time out.

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Bordeaux (and a little London update)

Well, we’ve been in London just over a month now and it feels increasingly weird to write up blog posts from our holiday, but I only have a few left and am determined to finish them so we have a full set of posts to remember our holiday! Sorry I’ve been a bit slack with them, but job hunting has been the priority 🙂

As a brief update though, we’re having a great time in London, the weather has been very kind to us so far although the last few days have definitely been a bit chillier. Dan started a short term contract last week as an Account Manager which is great. I’ve had a couple of promising interviews so hopefully more on that soon! Just quietly though, I can’t complain about being a lady of leisure while Dan brings home the bacon!! I’ve been volunteering with the Pilion Trust who are amazing people and I’m loving helping them out where I can. It’s keeping me out of trouble and they are lovely, wonderful people.

We’ve been catching up with friends and everyone has been very kind and lovely. Last week we moved from our dive of an apartment in Bayswater (more on that in another post) to Hoxton / Shoreditch, and stayed for a week in a converted church where one of Dan’s mates Johnny and his girlfriend Erin live. They were away for a week, and it was lovely of them to let us stay in their apartment while they were away. On the weekend we moved to Battersea, we’re in a lovely apartment just near Clapham Junction and so far are loving it here. We’ve booked for two weeks, but might try and extend it another week or two.

Ok, now back to business – Bordeaux!!

So, we drove from San Sebastian, over the border and into Bordeaux. It was a very easy trip, from memory only a few hours. We checked into our hotel which was about a ten minute walk out of the town centre, and went for a walk. And, immediately fell in love.

Bordeaux is majestic and French and grand in all the right ways. Big wide avenues, smaller cobblestoned paths, modern shops and beautiful old buildings. It’s very well maintained and we all felt right at home.

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There is an intriguing statue / piece of art in the main square that we all found fascinating – it’s basically a flat / 2D head that is designed to look 3D. Very well done.

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Of course we couldn’t go past the tourist train so on we jumped!

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After the tourist train we decided to do as the French do and have a glass of wine. We immediately realised we were no longer in Spain, wine was MUCH pricier. But hey, when in Bordeaux…

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One of the most amazing sights is the Monument Aux Girondins, a huge statue and water feature.

There are these crazy half horse half reptile creatures at the bottom, and the misted water all around gives the scene a very mythical and otherworldly feel.

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There are beautiful scenes out across the water, and of course some impressive churches!

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The next day we set off on a half day tour of the St Emilion region. We visited Chateau La Dominique, and tasted a few of their wines after a tour of their space age modern winery.

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The estate have recently renovated, and have a very impressive modern building sitting right next to the vineyards.

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On the roof,they’ve built a crazy red glass pit that is meant to make you feel like you are squashing grapes under your feet! A little bit cheesy,but I actually really liked it.

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The wine was nice, but it was all over quite quickly. The winery was not as majestic as the beautiful old port houses we’d visited in Porto, but it was still really interesting and for half an hour Dan had set his heart on becoming a winemaker and studying viticulture!

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After the winery,we were taken to the town of St Emilion, so named after a monk who apparently settled into a cave nearby years ago, but ended up being followed because of his ability to heal people. There are many monasteries and convents in the area, but no one has ever been able to confirm exactly which cave it was that Saint Emilion lived in.

The town itself is gorgeous, just a little piece of history for you to walk around. The town sits atop a bit of a hill, so there are beautiful views at the top.

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In the centre of town is this building, and underneath it a church has been built under the ground in a man-made cave. Only tour groups that have booked in can go inside, so we were the only ones in there. We weren’t allowed to take photo’s inside, but it’s a big cavern next to a crypt, it was very different to any other church I’ve been in and was great to see.

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And then we were on our way back to Bordeaux. On the way to our hotel the previous day we had discovered a little cafe that served leek quiche. We were ALL craving something halfway healthy with no meat or seafood in it, so after our winery tour we headed that way. The quiche was delicious and exactly what we all felt like.

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We then had crepes, and they were not so great! They were almost definitely pre-made and microwaved… ! But who cares, the quiche was delicious.

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One night we went to Chez Yuri, which reminded Dan and I of a friend we used to work with (whose name was Yuri)!

Dan had moules frites (mussels) that he was very happy with.

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We also spent a few hours in the Botanical gardens, which was really relaxing. Lots of families and couples and friends were doing the same thing as it was a lovely day.

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There was a little bridge over the lake, and people were throwing bits of bread in for the ducks. Dan and I were mesmerised by this, as the ducks were battling with HUGE fish (or they might have been eels) for the bits of bread. These were epic battles with ducks kicking the fish and the fish opening their huge mouths to suck the bread in. I’ve never seen anything like it. I tried to get a picture but failed dismally.

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In between our hotel and the main town was this little garden, which was also very pretty.

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And that was Bordeaux! We were all very sad to be leaving Bordeaux, and very nearly delayed our trip to stay an extra night, but we ended up moving on as planned, and headed to the Il de Re.

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Montpellier

We had two nights to make our way from Nice to Barcelona, so we looked at a map and Montpellier looked to be the most logical halfway point. None of us knew anything about it, although Pete and I googled it and found out it was a university town.

So we found a hotel (Kyriad Montpellier Centre Antigone), jumped in the car and made our way there, although to be honest we all had Barcelona on our brain, where we were headed to next.

We arrived, and went for a wander around the town. And fell in love. What a place.

Montpellier is indeed a university town, vibrant, young, arty and with great shops.

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There is also lots of street art around, including quite a few bicycles embedded into walls.. not sure what that is about but it makes for an interesting walk around town.

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It has a pulse at night that is friendly, fun and laid back. Everything was cheaper than in Nice, thanks to the many impoverished uni students who just wanted a beer.

The town winds around on itself like a little maze. but it’s small enough that you can quickly find your way around.

We went on the tourist train one afternoon, which winds around the streets with some very tight squeezes, it’ a really nice way to see the main sights and get your bearings.

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The main square is huge, one of the largest pedestrianised squares in Europe apparently. The opera house is a majestic old building that sits at one end of the square, and is beautiful.

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As you can see, it’s a beautiful town.

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As always, we were on the search for some great food. We waited so long to have dinner the first night that everything was closed by the time we started looking (about midnight!) – we got into the Spanish habit of eating late a little bit too eagerly! So we shamefully ended up at McDonalds that night!

We redeemed ourselves the next night though, eating at Cafe Leon, which was great. We were sitting out the back in a little sheltered courtyard, and had a lovely waiter and waitress.

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For starters the boys both had a goats cheese and fig gratin type of thing, which was really delicious, the figs offsetting the cheese really nicely.

I had a salmon tartare which was really fresh and simple.

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Dan and I shared two mains, and the first we won’t talk about because it wasn’t great (a seafood risotto). But the other main was a confit duck, and it was AMAZING. The best duck I’ve ever had.

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Desserts were delicious as well, Dan had a lemon meringue slice, and Pete and I had caramel tiramisu.

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We had a really fun time in Montpellier, it just has a great vibe about it, and we would love to go back.
But the next stop was Barcelona!!!

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Ciao to Italy, Bonjour to France!

We were very reluctant to leave the Cinque Terre, not only because it was so beautiful, but because it was our last stop in Italy. Too sad. We had an amazing time in Italy and will definitely be back sooner rather than later.

But we jumped in the car, and headed for the border. As we approached, we saw a sign saying France in 850m, and then a sign saying Bienvenue / Welcome! And that was it! No passport control, nothing other than a sign that if you blinked you missed! And suddenly everything was in French! So amazing.

Nice is very close to the Italian border, so we arrived shortly afterwards, and met up with Dan’s friend Pete who we were travelling with for about 10 days. This was the first time Dan or I had been anywhere in France except Paris, so we were both looking forward to seeing a different, more laid back side to the country.

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The seaside town of Nice is really lovely, with wide avenues, a long waterfront to walk along, pebble beaches (not my favourite to walk on but it looks pretty), nice gardens and some beautiful architecture.

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The old town is a maze of little streets winding this way and that, and even though it’s a bit of a tourist trap, it’s still really beautiful and where all the great restaurants etc seem to be.

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There were a couple of water features in the parks that you could walk/run through, they were a great way to cool off.

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Aside from the beautiful, classical architecture, there were also some more modern pieces in the city. Right near the apartment we were staying in was this building, which is a big box built on top of a person’s chin! Apparently it houses the library staff – I really liked it but not sure if everyone would.

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There were also a bunch of statues perched up high on platforms scattered in one of the main squares that were so high up that if you didn’t look up you might not even have noticed the statues on top.

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We spent a day at the beach, it is quite strange trying to get comfy sitting on pebbles and rocks! Getting in and out of the water for me is like torture, but I managed anyway and once in the water it was beautiful.

While lying on the beach a very drunk guy wandered past with his pants slung very low and no top on, singing into a red rose and dancing away like a maniac. I didn’t get a photo of him unfortunately, but it was very funny! He seemed to just be in his own world and having a great time.

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Just behind the waterfront, a couple of streets back was a farmers market we walked through one day. Beautiful breads, vegetables, fruit, flowers and more.

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We were staying at an apartment we found on airb&b, which was great, and Pascal our host was lovely and very helpful.

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The apartment is bizarrely in a school, and seeing as it was school holidays we were the only people in the building!! Was a bit eery at first, but we got used to it. The actual apartment was great, really spacious with a little balcony and our favourite feature – a switch next to the light switch that turned on the stereo set to a Jazz radio channel. We had that on pretty much non stop, it was great.

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We also met a very friendly pigeon that Pete named Hansel.

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Pascal our host recommended we try a restaurant called Acchiardo, in the old town. We went on our last night in Nice and had to wait an hour and a half to get a table, but it was worth it for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the food was really good and full of local specialties. Secondly, the waiter was ridiculously good looking. Pascal told us later on that there are two brothers who are the main waiters and they are famous in Nice because all the ladies love them!!

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Anyway, back to the food!! We tried quite a few things, but a fish carpaccio and stuffed vegetables (a Nice specialty) were both great starters, and the highlight of mains was a thick, rich beef stew called Daube, served with pasta. It was so rich I couldn’t eat a lot of it, but it was really delicious.

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And of course, we couldn’t go past a creme  brulee for dessert!

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Acchiardo was a lovely restaurant with great food.

We also did two day trips while we were in Nice, one to Antibes which is about halfway between Nice and Cannes, and one to Monaco.

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Antibes was an easy train ride away from Nice, and is a lovely town to visit for the afternoon. There are SO many mega yachts and other boats on the harbour, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t even begin to estimate how much money was sitting there!

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The beach was beautiful and sandy, which was heaven after the pebble beaches we’ve been frequenting.

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We didn’t see a lot of the town, but what we did see was really lovely, with a high old city wall around the edge of it.

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Monaco

We headed out to Monaco to make our millions at the casino one evening. The area in front of the casino is ridiculous – I’ve never seen so many super cars, rolls royces etc in one place.

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The waterfront is really beautiful and you just see rich looking people, cars and boats everywhere. Money money money.

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We had a really nice dinner at Le Bouchon, and while we were eating, a fireworks show suddenly started in the harbour. Apparently every Sunday night a different country puts on a display, and that night was Spain’s turn. I swear there were more fireworks than at new years eve in Melbourne or Sydney. It was unbelievable and probably went on for about 15 minutes.

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We had french onion soup that was really delicious, nice and rich with yummy caramelised onion and soggy, cheesy bread.

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For dessert, Dan ordered a crepe suzette, which they flambe in front of you.

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Finally we made it inside the casino. You pay 10 euro’s to get in and you can’t take any photos inside but it is a really beautiful building. We could only go to a few rooms, and there were only a few tables going that were packed, so we ended up at the pokies/slot machines!! haha. But, Dan managed to win 400 euros so it worked out very well in the end!!

Sadly, we didn’t make our millions, but we had a great night in Monaco.

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