Friday, April 15, 2011

France: Nice and Monaco!

One of the thing to do before leaving for Madrid... Blog about Nice... Check.

SO when the saga last left off Jordan and i were in the Dublin airport chillin till our flight to Nice was to depart. (Ryanair only flies to Nice from Dublin, hence the order of our travels) After the 3 hour plane ride, we disembarked and hopped a bus to try and find the hostel.  Now Jordan had been in Nice 4 years ago as a high school french student so i was leaning heavily on her for communication and navigation and basically everything...  We found the hostel with ease and started exploring.  We walked down to the 'old city', where the streets are to narrow for cars because it was built really long ago when the italians owned this part of France.  We enjoyed pizza for lunch and some gelato for dessert :).  Since Nice was once owned by Italy it has a pleasant mix of Italian and French culture.  Nice is also part of the French riviera, located at the base of the French Alps and the edge of the Mediterranean.  Many of the ridges of the Alps carry on down into the Mediterranean.  These ridges are great places to build castles and forts because they are high up and can see off into the distance.  Jordan and i's next stop on our aimless exploring was to find the base of a castle and hike up the steps to the top where we could see ALL of the city. (Pictures can be made bigger by clicking on them)

Find the French flag... aka subject of the photo
We spent a good amount of time just taking in the awe of the mountains, the sea and the city.  I would like to note that i do not speak a lick of French... thus far ordering and navigation has been difficult because of the language barrier.  I didnt believe those who told me before... but French is similar to Spanish when written, so i started to be able to recognize similar words from my stint in Spanish class.  After descending we continued to wander around a bit then headed back to the hostel for a nap.  After waking up we had dinner at a little cafe where the owner was really friendly and excited we wandered into his establishment.  Often in Nice we would be in a restaurant and people would walk in with a little dog on a leash and bring it right in to the restaurant where the dog would sit quietly under the table till they were done than quietly get up and walk out with them.  Tonight there was a slightly less well behaved dog who was really interested in either me or my food...  At times the dog was basically up on my lap until the owner yanked on its leash.  The owner completely encouraged this dogs antics in his very energetic french mannor...  Anyways... after dinner we walked down to the beach and caught the end of the sunset before calling it a night.  I sat in the lobby/reception/lounge area listening to peoples stories from backpacking across europe.  They were all so interesting.

The Sunset was absolutely brilliant!

Day 2 (4/6/11)

Today was planned to be a chill day for the weary US travelers.  What do you do in a warm beach town?  Go to the beach of course.  We were on the beach from about 11 to 4 or 5...  It's not much of a beach really... not in the sense that we on the east coast think of.... The beach is man made and uses large rocks as the main substrate of the beach.  Towards the water the smallish (1-3 foot) waves have broken many of the rocks into pebbles but definitely not sand... maybe in a few hundred years...  I'd also like to point out that France has topless beaches.  Unfortunately it was too early in the season for many people to be on the beach none the less topless :(... haha.

Proof of Swimming in the Mediterranean!

After being only slightly burnt, we headed back to shower up and chill a bit for dinner.  While checking in with the world on the internet i got a text saying "Hey!  I'm in Nice" from a random number.  Now who of the people that know im here could text me and me not have the number...  Lucky for said person i was on the computer and could get to the bottom of it via facebook (my phone can receive texts but not send them while abroad).  Turns out it was my American colleague Sam who, the last we heard, had hitch hiked to Portsmouth to try to get a free ferry to France.  She dazzled me and Jordan with the stories from her adventure through France trying to spend as little money as possible.  Sleeping in train stations, hitch hiking, hopping trains without buying a ticket... not below her on her endeavor.  We went to this pizza place where we all got a 12 inch bruchetta pizza for ourselves (very good btw) then we decided to share a bottle of wine on the beach and then go back to the hostel where Sam decided to spend the night in a proper bed.
Bruchetta Pizza with Salmon, Tuna and Olives (nom nom nom)
Sam and I in front of the fountain and mountains at sunset

Day 3 (4/7/11)

The plan for today was to go to Monaco which is its own principality just up the coast.  The bus there only cost 1 euro which is ridiculously cheap.  Some things about Monaco... It is the wealthiest principality in Europe, you cannot drive there unless you have a Monaco plate or a special French plate, they have their own Prince and the current Prince is into environmental conservation with his father being huge into Oceanography, it is home to Monte-Carlo which you might equate with Formula 1 racing.  On arrival one of the first things we saw was a statue of a old school formula 1 car and driver.

We continued up some steps, following signs that led us to the Palace.  We decided not to go to the palace yet but continue following signs leading to the Musée Océanographique.  As english oceanography students we felt drawn to this museum...  A giant papermache type octopus greeted us from the ceiling.  The first room we went in was filled with taxadermied animals and live jellies and and and... a display about the overfishing of tuna in the mediterranean! (a topic i feel strongly about) This in itself made my day and set my opinion of the museum.  (picuted below: me with a tuna at the exhibit and a cocolithophore (phytoplankton))

The next room was full of even more treasures!  Whale skeletons, Fish type specimens, fossils and artwork in various mediums of marine creatures!  These two rooms rival each other for my favorite room in the museum.

Another room was dedicated to the history of oceanography and the roof was accessible to the public and the view was absolutely stunning.  On the bottom two floors, there was an aquarium (as if i wasnt giddy enough).  There were two large tanks with reef fish an a large number of smaller tanks displaying a sample of just about every ecosystem i can think of (ok i can think of a few they missed but there were alot).  On our way out of the aquarium there was a diver cleaning the main tank and i was truely inspired and someday i'll live there and work at the museum.

After the museum we grabbed sandwiches from a local vendor.  The french thing to do in France is to eat French baguettes so basically everyday this was our lunch.  We enjoyed these at the a scenic overlook along the castle wall.  The view is absolutely amazing from every angle up on the palace plateau...

After lunch we toured the Palace which is still occupied by the Prince to this day so the number of rooms was severely limited by guards and stuff... so then we mozied on down the large set of steps that led down to where we were dropped off and we decided to walk up the hill to Monte-Carlo.  After wandering around there for a bit we found the really super posh casino.

Outside we sat and were car watching... we saw a couple Ferraris, a Rolls Royce, more bmw's, porches, and audi's than we could count...  after wandering around a bit we decided to catch the bus back to Nice.
We grabbed dinner at a nice italian place just down the street from the hostel, walked to old town to get gelato and then headed home to just chill after a long day.  I chatted up some of the travelers staying in the hostel as well and met this really cool Aussie who is traveling around europe doing seasonal jobs.

Day 4 (4/8/11)

This morning i decided to get up to see the sun rise!  I actually did and it was quite beautiful and peaceful.  The waves really calmed some of the inner turmoil that had been swirling around in my head since last week.  It was great :) (and i took some pics too)

 This day we had felt like we had tapped out things to do because our plans to go to the mountains had fell through.  So we went to the beach again for most of the day.  At night some of the kids in our hostel had planned to go out on the town and hit up some of the local watering holes.  By this day we had made pretty good friends with the night reception guy Ugo and he came out with us, but not before joining us for wine and tequilla during his shift.  We went out to our first club over in the old where we were told it was closed... at 12:30...?  Turns out we got refused because the bouncer has a prejudice against Italians (Ugo, the only french speaker, is clearly Italian).  One of the Aussies i was with talked to the guy the best he could and we all got in.  The place did close down at 1:30 and we went to another club that was legit closed.  Our large group was now down to about half because the other group of americans were tired and went back.  We had 3 Australians, a New Zealander, an Italian, 2 Danish High School Students and me the American.  We had a good time in the next club and eventually went home. It was on the walk home that i realized that i had lost my necklace with my Bahamian Grouper jawbone on it!  I was super bummed.  I really loved the bahamas and that was a constant reminder.

Day 5 (4/9/11)

Today was our last day in Nice.  We decided to do something outdoorsy since the weather was supposed to be less than beach weather.  We made our way to a park on the south side of town that went up the side of a ridge.  We hiked all the way to the top (I climbed part of the way up using tree roots just for fun)

At the top of the ridge it was a different view that we had been getting all week.  It was more of the mountains and the other direction into the city.  The wildflowers were in full bloom and it was just generally peaceful up there.  We then decended and chilled around the town for the next couple hours just doin our own thing.  We then hopped a bus to the airport for our evening flight to Dublin.  We spent the night in the Dublin airport waiting for our 630 am flight back to London.  It was really an amazing trip.  Back to the grind on Monday..

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ireland: Dublin, Glendaloch, Kilkenny

So finally a chance to write about my trip to the land of Eire.

I departed Southampton around 630 am on a bus to London after not getting any sleep because of drinking a whole 2 liter bottle of coke during my 4-5 hours of finishing my Shelf Seas paper.  After hoping a bus to Gatwick airport I was seperated from the other 3 of us americans because I failed to book my flight at the same airport...  The flight times were exactly the same!  After arriving on my Ryanair flight in Dublin I passed through passport control and customs with ease and sought out the information center to find where i was supposed to be picked up by the bus.  A bunch of stuff i couldnt understand..."It stops behind the church.."  What?  Wheres there a church near an airport??  But i thanked the lady and went off in search of this church.  I assumed she knew what she was talking about because she answered quite quickly.  Sure enough i crossed the car pick up lanes and there was a small outdoor chapel.  Soon after arriving, i was joined by Jordan, Ajeeth and Marissa, all who booked at the same airport...

The church
We had no idea what kind of bus we were looking for just that it was called the paddywagon... after much second guessing that we were in the right place it pulled up... Couldnt have missed that...
While aboard the Paddywagon we met these two other americans who we'd run into throughout the next couple days but really never truely spent alot of time with.  We immediately checked in and began wandering aimlessly through the city looking at anything that looked interesting.  We did pick up a map when checking into the hostel.  There was this giant needle in the middle of the road whose use was unapparent at the time (turns out it doesnt have one and locals hate it(they have many fruitful names for it like "The Erection in the Intersection"... i cant remember the rest).

After a long day of traveling we sought out a place for dinner and due to the indecision of the others i took it upon myself to walk into the first pub that had a sign out advertising food.  This pub was really cool and initially the waiter was not to keen on serving us (to be discussed later), but after joking around with us a bit he was quite friendly and even invited us behind the bar for a picture.
Jordan, Ajeeth, Myself, and Marissa behind the bar!
I got Bangers and Mash for dinner and it was excellent because it reminded me of a not quite as spectacular version of mom's mashed potatoes, roast beef and gravy.

After dinner we continued walking around aimlessly until we decided to aim for a pub that had real Irish music playing.   We finally found one, called The Stags Head... What are the odds...  It had 3 floors and a bar on each with the band due to play on the bottom floor.  We were there super early because we didnt feel like walking anymore but we got ourselves a nice booth in the corner and chilled and had a few Guinnesses.  When the band started the place was packed and we were already tired.  At midnight Ajeeth turned 21, so dispite our lethargy, we stayed till then and waited for him to buy his first drink as a legal US drinker... a Guinness... go figure.. its the cheapest thing here.  After downing that we all headed back to the hostel for a good nights sleep.

Day 2 (4/3/11)

The next morning we slept in a bit but awoke to catch the end of breakfast at Paddy's Palace and walked down to city hall where we planned to catch a free tour that left twice daily.  Our tour guide, Dave, was super animated and enthusiastic.  It was here i was made aware of my ignorance towards history... Dave told us about the strife the British had imposed on the Irish for hundreds of years, to which i was unaware...  This explains the waiter's persona when we first arrived because i was wearing a sweatshirt sporting the Union Jack... (see photo behind the bar).  We carried on through the city seeing tons of places including Dublin Castle, Christ Church Cathedral, The National Bank of Ireland, the Temple Bar area (not shown), Trinity College and a really nice park, where we concluded the tour. (in that order)


We learned so much history on the tour that I'd love to convey to you/ actually remember but this is such a small space and i should really be writing a paper instead of this anyways...  Dave really has a thing against Jack Black for his role in Guliver's Travels and Sam Stevenson's architecture (he designed the civic center of Dublin and Trinity College's library).  The general Dubliners consensus is that his architecture is hideous because of his use of concrete in an attempt at a modern style.

After the tour we ate a bit of lunch on a little hillock in the park we finished in and headed to the Guinness Storehouse before it closed.  The Gravity Bar was due to close soon when we arrived so we went straight to the top to get our free pint.  The bar has a near 360 degree view out over the entire city of Dublin and is really cool.  After enjoying the view and the Guinness we headed back down to work our way up through the beer making process.  We worked our way through the ingredients, the fermentation process, the barrel making process, transportation through the ages, and advertising through the ages.  There was a taster session half way which was kinda lost on us because we had already had our pints...  there was also an opportunity to pour our own pints but that was closed... oh well...  We hit up the gift shop then walked home with our new american friends.

We hit up a pub called O'Shea's for dinner and then went to a pub, that was promised by Dave to have good authentic Irish music, called O'Donehughes.  Since it was Sunday, our stay there was quite short but enough time to write our respective school names on a dollar bill and give it to the bar keep to stick up on the wall with hundreds of other bills that were there before us.  We did not see any other PSU or UNCW bills so we dedicated ours to our institutions.

Day 3 (4/4/11)

Today we arose early to go on a free bus day tour from our hostel for staying more than 2 nights there.  The trip was to Glendaloch and Kilkenny and i had no idea what to expect from either (to busy with shelf seas paper to do research).  First of all the Irish country side is full of beautiful rolling hills much like England.  We arrived at Glendaloch and the only part of the driver's speech i was awake for was when he explained that the name Glendaloch means the lake between two mountains (essentially).  We disembarked in the spitting rain and folllowed the path to the lake.  The whole area was really amazing the lake was immediately surrounded by wetlands and also surrounded by the afore mentioned two mountains.

 Ajeeth and I were enthralled with the prospect of exploring up the mountain and just kept climbing higher and higher until we reached a very nice, picturesque spot.  Also we wanted to be able to descend safely in time to get back to the bus so we didnt climb any higher.
Yes it was raining the whole time during the climb and initial exploring...  We headed back to the bus and were told that we had an extra hour to explore so we walked around the lake and on the path that led through the wetland.  The whole area was really amazing and the most nature i have seen since camping last fall.  After our time limit was up we boarded the Paddywagon and headed to a site that was a small stonehenge-esque grave of some king that was in a farmers field.  Then we continued on to Kilkenny which is a small town about an hour and a half from Dublin.  They have a very nice castle that doubles as the civic center so much of it cannot be explored.  We ate lunch and walked around the town for a bit and had a pint of Kilkenny's own microbrew, which after drinking Guinness for the last few days, tasted like water...pity... 

 The bus departed and headed back to Dublin.  We had dinner at a more artsy pub and went back to O'Donehughes to see if our dollar had been put up yet.  It haddent... we mosied back to the hostel and went to bed.  Jordan and I would leave early the next morning to catch our flight to Nice!