The French Riviera

Our route from Amsterdam to Nice took us over the Alps, so it was great to see the mountain peaks through the clouds as we made our way south. Equally enjoyable was seeing the Mediterranean coast as the plane first went out over the water and turned to make its approach to the airport located right on the coast just a bit west of Nice. With that approach we could see Cannes off in the distance as we flew back north towards the coast then once closer we could see the town of Antibes as the plane turned east to follow the coast. We got a good view of the beach and harbour area of Villeneuve-Lobert on the final approach. It was looking warm and sunny. Nice feeling, indeed.

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  • Wednesday May 25, 2011

    Arrival in Nice, first walking tour and dinner at Nexus Caffe

    The airport didn’t feel too big, so there wasn’t far to walk once the plane landed to collect our luggage, so it seemed a fast exit from the building to make our way to the taxi stand. Our driver didn’t speak too much english, but we were able to communicate where we needed to go and we were off. Was funny that our driver approved of our hotel choice in Nice - “very nice hotel” with the expressive facial gestures to accentuate the point.

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      The access into the city seemed convoluted - with many one way roads and unusual angles on some of the intersections. Arrival at the hotel came a little unexpectedly. We really liked the look of the hotel on first glance and the expansive lobby being quite stylish. Upon check in we found out that Shaun & Nona’s room was ready but ours wasn’t quite ready, so we all made our way to Shaun & Nona’s room first. The first most noticeable element of their room was the shower located almost centrally in the room with glass on all side. Exhibitionist shower, to say the least. The room was well appointed and looked attractive with almost the entire room decorated in white. Shortly after we received a call that our room was ready, so we made our way first to the lobby to collect the key cards then back up to our room. Our hotel room was a different configuration to Shan & Nona’s - with the shower secluded off to one side. It did have an interesting and prominently located sink that had the appearance of an infant baptismal font. The room faced Boulevard Victor Hugo and had a small balcony that gave a nice view. We had plenty of space and really liked our room at Boscolo Exedra Nice. We got ourselves sorted out a bit in the room then met back up with Shaun & Nona to take in a bit of Nice.

      The sky was blue and it was lovely and warm as we left the hotel on our way towards the Mediterranean. Our first destination was to stroll along the famous Promenade des Anglais. Along our walking route we got our first real look at this part of the city. The streets and and buildings looked dirty. Most buildings were clearly old and the proximity to the roads made them susceptible to the buildup that originated from years of vehicular fumes. Traffic was heavy, with most of the roads being quite congested. Green areas that we passed were lovely - with the palm trees dominating the trees we could see. Before reaching the ocean we stopped at Jardin Albert 1er; a very nice public garden area anchored on the south by the pretty open air Théâtre de Verdure with nearby and tall Statue de la ville de Nice. The whole garden area was wonderfully full of trees and pretty flowers as well as other smaller statues and even a wonderful vintage carousel called “Carrousel Palace” dated at 1900.

      As we crossed the busy road Quai des Etats-Unis and approached the sea it was a wonderful view - first a line of palm trees, then the Promenade de Anglais, then the beach and lastly the beautiful and unmistakable blue/green of the Mediterranean Sea. Getting closer, the fresh aroma of the sea completed the great sensory moment. We strolled along the Promenade de Anglais heading east, passing named beaches that made up the long arced beach in Nice. From where we started on the promenade, we passed Plage Beau Rivage Nice, Opera Plage and Castel Plage as we made our way to base of Château de Nice. We knew we’d get a terrific view of Nice from the top of the Château, so we all agreed to head up - with Linda & Shaun opting to take the elevator up while Nona & Gary went for taking the 213 steps up the Ascenseur du Château. The walk up provided a great changing angle of the view of Nice from a number of look out points along the way. What we could have done better was figuring a place to meet up at the top of the high hill - the stair and elevator exits weren’t near each other at the top and it took a while for us to meet back up once Nona & Gary had made it up the 92 metres to the top. We did eventually regroup and spent a fair bit of time enjoying the views from what was originally a military fortification in one form or another dating back as far as the 11th century. The more elaborate fortifications were built in the 16th century. Today, the area at the top is known as Parc du Château and is a pleasant place to spend some time relaxing. The hill top area has been a public garden since the 19th century. From the east side of Parc du Château we were able to overlook Lympia Port (Port of Nice) - where we’d be heading tomorrow to board our cruise ship. As we looked, the location or ship would be docked was occupied by two masted ships - one was a ship we had seen before on some of our other cruises - Silver Cloud II, the other was a smaller ship that we didn’t recognize.

      All four of us made our way down the Ascenseur du Château and once at the bottom we decided to make our way to Cours Saleya - a pedestrian area in Old Town just north of Quai des Etats-Unis that during the day is full of vendors selling flowers, produce and such. By the time we had arrived here, some of the stalls were being closed down and the area being taken over by restaurants that bordered the open market area. By this point we had gotten quite hot and thirsty, so we looked around to find a spot to get something refreshing to drink and then set off through this part of Vieux Nice (Old Town) generally intending to head back towards our hotel.

      The route we selected back to the hotel took us past Place Masséna; the main city square. The outer buildings on the north part of the square had a very Italian look to them - making the square look quite reminiscent of Piazza San Marco in Venice. The city’s very efficient looking tram system runs right through the square, and most of the area is pedestrian only. We spotted a Nespresso Boutique on one side of the square, so of course we had to give it a quick view before moving on. Dotted around the square are seven white resin statues of seated figures elevated on 12 metre tall stainless steel poles. The collection of statues is called “Conversation à Nice” by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa in 2007. Each of the statues represents one of the seven continents. From the square we meandered our way through more of Nice, and along the way saw one of the better street performers on any of our travels. It was a fellow with a marionette “playing” a violin to classical music. He was quite good, especially with the movement of the marionette in the times when there wasn’t violin music. He was very entertaining. Venturing from the pedestrian only zones to the streets with vehicular traffic highlighted something we were learning in Nice - if you as a pedestrian hesitated even slightly on a cross walk the drivers would not stop. A times a certain amount of faith in French drivers was required to cross streets even if you think or know you have the right of way. We picked a different way back to the hotel than we had travelled earlier to see as much of the city as possible. Some of the architecture and colouring of the buildings was quite interesting to us. Eventually we did make it back to Boscolo Exedra for a bit of relaxation and refreshment prior to dinner. Having enjoyed the time there earlier, we all agreed on returning to Cours Saleya in search of a spot to have dinner this evening, so suitably refreshed we set off back towards Vieux Nice. The scene and atmosphere was considerable different at Cour Saleya now that the transformation to restaurant area was complete. We took a tour around all of the restaurants, each one with at least one person trying to tempt passers by in both French and English. By the time we had finished our lap we agreed on Nexus Caffe and settled in there for dinner.

      Our selection was a good one, with the experience being very pleasant. When we were ordering our meals, we had selected a wine for dinner, but Gary had noticed Sancerre Rouge listed on the wine list and asked the server about it. For us in Canada, the only Sancerre available is a white wine - being Sauvignon Blanc. We had never looked up information on Sancerre to find out that they did indeed make a red wine in that region as well. The server offered and then brought Gary a glass of the Sancerre Rouge to try. The wine was chilled and lovely - and a grape varietal that we love - Pinot Noir. We were sold, and changed our wine selection for the evening. Looking it up later we found out that Pinot Noir makes up about 20% of the wine production in the region. The bottle was brought to our table in an ice bag - something else we were learning about the serving of Pinot Noir in this part of France. It was terrific. So, too, were our dinners. We had a great time sitting outside in the wonderful and warm evening in Nice. When we left Nexus Caffe we strolled back to the hotel via Place Masséna. In the night sky, the seven statues were now illuminated with LED lights that gradually changed colour. A sign in the square explained ìAt night, soft variations in colour symbolize dialogue between the communities making up our society. They invite passers-by to look up and rediscover the sky of Nice. We, of course, took up the invitation - as well as enjoying the festive feel of the square with the customary street performers and the simple but interesting art under the evening sky. From there we walked back to Boscolo Exedra, which looked very cool lit up in the evening sky as we approached it from the east. We made plans for the morning and then called it a night. Before bed, though, was a need to back up the day’s bevy of photos from our most enjoyable day and evening in Nice. We could easily see ourselves spending more time here, but we had other plans...tomorrow we’d enjoy a morning in Nice and then head to our cruise ship early in the afternoon; our Grand Prix cruise was waiting.

  • Thursday May 26, 2011

    Morning tour of Nice and on to Azamara Journey for the start of the cruise

    To make the most of the morning, we met reasonably early in the lobby with Shaun & Nona and made our way to the restaurant in the hotel to have breakfast. The day was beautiful - sunny and warm so we decided on sitting outside. Even though we were shaded, it didn’t take long to find out the day was turning out to be warmer than it had been yesterday. When we considered the time, there was not doubt it would be a warmer day. The breakfast was nice, although we were a bit confused at the end - not realizing that the breakfast was included with our room. We waited a while for a bill that would never arrive. The staff on duty for breakfast in the restaurant spoke about as much English as we did French so the communication wasn’t so good, but eventually we got clued in and simply left the restaurant.

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      We needed to check out of the hotel by noon, so we set off to tour around a different part of Nice for the morning before checking out. We started heading east, then north. Our first stop was at Basilique Notre-Dame de Nice. The building looked so very new - which, perhaps for Europe, it really was being built between 1864 and 1868. The Gothic styled church happens to be the largest church in Nice with two dominating 65 metre tall towers on the facade of the building. From there we ventured further east on our walking tour until we had figured it was time to head back to the hotel to check out. Along the way we saw a wide range of properties and styles of architecture. We also got to see how space was such a premium here - parking spaces were hard to come by so people had to be very inventive on how to park and businesses had to struggle with how to accept deliveries on congested streets. The sight of a small auto garage using every available scrap of space inside and outside to work on cars is one that to us epitomizes the space problem in Nice. After the morning tour it was a quick clean up at the hotel and then down to the lobby to check out.

      We weren’t quite ready to head to the cruise ship so we had our luggage stored at the hotel and we went back put - this time heading a direct a route as we could find to get us to the Mediterranean Sea...well, the land next to the sea at least. We started our stroll along the Promenade de Anglais near the iconic Hotel Le Negresco which has graced this Mediterranean sea front since 1912. The day was indeed beautiful, so the walk along the promenade was wonderful. We did make a few stops to drink in the atmosphere and enjoy the view of the sea and the long arcing beachfront. It would have been so easy to spend a lot of time here. We stayed until we figured it was time to head to the cruise ship.

      At about 1:30pm it was just a quick pit stop back at the hotel to collect our luggage and arrange a taxi to take us to Lympia Port (Port of Nice) where Azamara Journey was waiting. It was a short ride to the port and as we exited the taxi we were greeted by some of the Azamara ground staff, who quickly dispatched our luggage and pointed us in the right direction to check in. As we had seen at other cruise ship terminals on the Mediterranean, this one was a pre-fabricated structure with a tent-like covering. Inside we were greeted by another person who gave us some small medical forms to complete before we could head to one of the check in counters. During the check in we found out that they wanted us to select a small card indicating a time for the first evening’s dinner to ease potential congestion. We were told this was only in affect for this evening. The times available were limited to whatever the particular check in agent had on hand. Shaun and Nona were checking in at the same time with the agent next to ours with a set of completely different times from which to select. That was a bit strange, but in the end we went with one that Shaun and Nona had to select from and ours was written over to match the time. We noticed on the counter that there was a list of the nationalities of the passengers on board for this cruise - of the approximately 600 people, the vast majority were British at approximately 450 people. The next largest group were American at approximately 90 people, but what was fascinating to us was that there were only 4 Canadians listed on the cruise - we were the total Canadian contingent!

      The embarkation process was very quick, so within a few minutes we had checked in, avoided the ship’s photographer and made the very short walk to the ship. As alway, the very first use of the all encompassing sea-pass card upon entry required a slight pause so a photograph could be taken for reference for all subsequent entries to the ship. Once through the airport-like security screening we were truly welcomed on board Azamara Journey with a glass of champagne. We had entered the ship on Deck 4, so we lingered around the open area by guest relations as long as the champagne lasted and then made our way to the elevators to head to our rooms. The rooms we had booked were located side by side on Deck 7 - 7095 & 7097, slightly aft of the aft elevators on the starboard side of the ship. Our room was the same deck, same side and same orientation as our previous cruise on Azamara Journey, so it had a very familiar feel as we entered the room. The only difference was that this room was just a bit further aft than the room we had on the Baltic cruise. It wasn’t long after arriving that we met our room attendant Ronald and assistant Melvin. While checking out the package of excursion tickets waiting for us in the room, we found out that Gary & Shaun had to go to Guest Relations on Deck 4 to collect their race tickets and we also got the bad news that two of our three selected excursions had been cancelled because of lack of participation. The first cancelled excursion was in Portofino that we were all planning to do and the second was the excursion in Monaco that Linda & Nona had planned to do while Gary & Shaun were at the race. The four of us conferred and agreed on an alternate excursion for Portofino, but there really wasn’t a viable option for Linda & Nona for the time in Monaco. That was disappointing.

      We went down to Guest Relations for Gary & Shaun to select and sign for their Monaco Grand Prix tickets and then we made the alternate booking for our time in Portofino. After securing the race ticket in back in the trusty room safe we set out to give Shaun & Nona a tour of Azamara Journey. Well, first we started at Mosaic Café on Deck 5 for some coffees and tasty treats before going anywhere else. It was indeed a good starting point and we enjoyed the moment. With that done, the tour of the ship officially began. It was fun to tour the ship once again for us and brand new for Shaun & Nona. When we reached the pair of signature restaurants on Deck 10 we attempted to make reservations for dinner at both. We were told, though, that because the ship was full and it was a short cruise we would be limited to only one reservation. Gary tried to apply the logic that we could make one reservation and then Shaun & Nona could make the other - and although they found the logic sound they still wouldn’t go for it. We made a reservation at Aqualina for Friday and we were told that on the other evenings we could check to see if there was any availability. It was likely, though, that such availability would either be early in the evening or quite late. It was about 4:30pm by the time we made it back to our room and we found that one bag was still awol, so we still couldn’t fully unpack.

      The mandatory “Emergency Lifeboat Drill” was scheduled for 5:00pm, so we didn’t have too long before we had to make our way down to our designated muster station of Discoveries Dining Room on Deck 5. For the second cruise in row we were not required to wear or even carry our life jackets to the drill, which was nice. We sat and listened to a few instructions, watched a demonstration of how to put on a life jacket and with that the passenger portion of the drill was done to comply with S.O.L.A.S. (Safety of Life at Sea) regulations.

      As we entered and left the dining room we found a number of the crew that had recognized us and welcomed us back on board. We also noticed while sitting during the drill that this appeared to be a very different crowd on board to any of our previous cruises. It had the look to us that most of the people were cruising for the first time, selecting this cruise strictly for a way to see the Monaco Grand Prix. That may have explained why the cruise excursions were under subscribed.

      Azamara Journey was scheduled to set sail from Nice at 6:00pm, so we made a quick stop back at our room before heading up to the open deck for the sail away. On reaching the room we were pleased to find our last piece of luggage waiting for us so that we could completely settle in for this cruise.

      The weather was beautiful in Nice as we ventured to the open portion of Deck 10 just prior to 6:00pm. Music Duo Ray & Carla were performing one deck below for the sail away, and it was looking/sounding to us that the style and calibre of acts was unfortunately about the same as our previous Azamara cruise. Not our cup of tea, we’d say. 6:00pm came and went and yet the ship showed no sign of leaving port. An announcement shortly after informed us that some passengers had been delayed in their arrival to Aéroport Nice Côte d'Azur but were now on their way to the ship via taxi. Our departure would be held until they arrived. The atmosphere on the open deck was festive and the weather was perfect, so we decided to stay and wait. It was enjoyable and the time passed quickly. We were standing on the port side, so we saw the speeding taxi pull up beside the ship and watched two passengers exit the vehicle to a scurry of ground staff activity to get them on board. The gangway was immediately retracted and the ropes released.

      It was about 7:00pm when Azamara Journey began to pull away from the dock. We had planned to have dinner at 8:00pm, so once the ship cleared land we made our way back to our room to get freshened up for dinner. With the ship at capacity and the issues with the first evening dinner time we experienced at check in we expected the main dining room Discoveries to be much busier than on our previous cruise. When we arrived we found a few people ahead of us waiting to be seated by the Maître d’, but there was no hold up. The restaurant had plenty of free tables and we led to a table immediately as we reached the Maître d’. We were seated at a nicely placed table for four. The experience at Discoveries was at the same good level as we had come to now expect with Azamara so it was an enjoyable evening with the conversation ranging from fond memories of the time in Nice to the expectation of things to come on the cruise. Oh, yeah...and the race (of, course). Our servers were friendly and competent and we enjoyed our meals. One thing we did notice between the experience between Discoveries on Deck 5 and the Signature dining rooms on Deck 10 was the quality of the post dinner espresso. Here at Discoveries the espresso came from the nearby Mosaic Café and was considerably better than the espresso served on Deck 10. We aren’t sure how or where it is prepared for the restaurants on Deck 10 - but it is definitely not the same calibre as the espresso that comes from Mosaic Café.

      Following dinner decided to see what the show on at the Cabaret Lounge was like. It had started at 9:45pm, so was likely nearing the end but we decided to check it out anyway. To get there we walked across Deck 5 passing Casino Luxe before reaching the show venue. Another indication of the difference in the crowd on this voyage was that the casino was virtually empty. The staff on duty were congregated and chatting around the roulette table to pass the time. Maybe it was first night tiredness, but it seemed odd to see the casino empty. We could measure our time in the Cabaret Lounge in seconds. The act was billed as the Singing Impersonations of Paul Tanner, and after a few bars of whatever song he was signing we turned tail and ran...well, walked...but you get the idea.

      One of the perks we had received as Azamara Le Club Voyage members was access to free internet access onboard the ship. It was done in the form of coupons that we needed to take to the eConnections Computer Center. We had been told earlier that we needed to set up the connection from our laptop and then take one of the coupons to eConnections on Deck 9. After our brief encounter at the Cabaret Lounge we returned to our room to set up the internet account and then set off to drop off the coupon to get the access for free. The facility was open 24 hours, but was not staffed all the time and it was late enough that this was one of those non-staffed times. There was, however, a drop box for coupons. We had wondered if this really would get processed properly. With the shortness of this cruise we expected only to use one of the coupons, but the way the coupons worked we were unable to give the other to Shaun & Nona for them to use on any account that they set up. With that done, it was time to head back to our room. It had been a good day, starting in the beautiful city of Nice and ending as we sailed the Mediterranean. Tomorrow we’d be in Portofino with a tour start time of 8:15am, so we agreed to meet with Shaun & Nona at 7:00am for breakfast at Windows Café and then we bid bon soir before retiring for the night.

Nice Image Gallery (both pre & post cruise)

View from our hotel balcony - looking east
View from our hotel balcony - looking west
Strelitzia (Bird of Paradise/Crane Flower)
Looking along the Nice beach towards Castel Plage
The way up to Château de Nice
View from the base of Château de Nice along the Nice beach
View from Château de Nice
Overlooking the Lympia Port (Port of Nice) from Château de Nice
Palm tree against the Mediterranean Sea
Cours Saleya
Gary & Linda at dinner in Cours Saleya
Basilique Notre-Dame de Nice
Along the side of Basilique Notre-Dame de Nice
Typical street scene in Nice
Parking, Nice-style
The iconic Hotel Le Negresco
First view of Nice in the morning at the end of the cruise
Lympia Port viewed from Azamara Journey
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WHITEonline is the digital home of Gary & Linda White. We’ve been married since 1980 and live just outside Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Linda was born and raised in Toronto while Gary was born in London, England and moved to Canada at the age of 11. We enjoy travelling and taking photos while we travel. WHITEonline provides the opportunity to share some of our photos & experiences.

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