Summer Vacation: Nice for What

We headed down south of France for our summer vacation to sunny Nice. We were excited to visit our dear friends from LA who moved there a few months after we did for a year-long job. I was also excited to find that our friends Louise and Florent (our house swappers) were also there for the summer. We discovered that no one stays in Paris during August due to the extreme heat (and lack of air conditioning) and the flood of tourists. Instead of taking the train, we flew because it’s less than two hours flight and I found tickets on Air France for about €60 each. I couldn’t find any available house swaps that were located close to the beach so I found an Airbnb one block from the beach. I would have preferred to do a house exchange but Airbnb was the least expensive option I could find. There were insane mansion rentals with private pools that were driving distance to the beach that were up to €1,000 per day! Our Airbnb was a studio apartment that was clean, compact and most importantly, it had a pool and air conditioning (Liv and Antz must-haves).

Our flight from Paris was super easy and quick. Our rental was only a fifteen minute Uber ride from the airport.

 

We had to wait ages for our host to let us into the apartment and we were dripping with sweat, so as soon as we dropped our bags off, Liv and I changed into our bathing suits and jumped right into the pool. Antz had to start work but he was in heaven with the freezing cold air conditioning.

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After a few hours of Liv jumping into the pool like a mad woman and me getting sunbaked, Liv and I showered and we all decided to find a place for dinner. The neighborhood we were in barely had any restaurants nearby and everything I saw was closed. It was around 6:30 pm so we were starving. I found an Italian restaurant on Yelp so we took the bus to Old Town Nice.
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We got off the bus at the wrong stop so we walked for several blocks and found Old Town a little after 7 pm so we had a wait awhile to be seated. Did I mention it was blazing hot?
At first glance, I wasn’t impressed by the menu and the staff seemed to ignore us. All was forgiven when they finally brought out our food.
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This was my first authentic Mediterranean meal and it was DELICIOUS! I am not exaggerating when I say it was the best pasta meal I ever had. I loved it so much, we ended up eating at this restaurant several times during our stay. I even ordered it to go a few times. I don’t know how they made such a simple plate of shrimp alfredo so perfect but I wish I could have some right now. Antz had spaghetti and Liv had pizza as always. They weren’t blown away as much as I was.
By the time we finished our meal, Liv and I had to go to the bathroom. By now, we have gotten used to sharing a tiny European bathroom stall so I asked Liv to hold my iPhone for me. Well, my clumsy self ended up accidentally knocking Liv’s hand and she dropped my iPhone in the toilet! Before I could react Liv screamed like someone got shot. I was so worried about calming her down I just stuck my hand in the toilet and grabbed it. Luckily it was before we used the bathroom. It was half funny and half traumatic. Antz was quick to point out that I had an iPhone 8 (which was brand new) so it’s water toilet proof.
We went to wait for the bus however we noticed no one was waiting with us and it was close to 9 pm so we agreed the buses stopping running by then so we decided to walk back to our rental. It was a beautiful and breezy walk back along the Promenade des Anglais next to the beach. We didn’t realize it was over an hour walk but it was so nice out, we didn’t mind.
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Our first day in Nice was chill. I honestly didn’t think it was that pretty of a city as I expected but I later found out we were staying on the wrong part of town closer to the airport in a more tourist area.
Day two is when we found the true beauty Nice had to offer.
I used the hashtag #niceforwhat for our trip on my Instagram. If you are old and lame like me this is what the kids were listening to last summer! Apparently, it’s a bop.
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Day trip to Reims, France

I sometimes freak myself out at how much I OVER-plan things for us to do. We were pretty tired from our trip to Cherbourg but I couldn’t resist getting tickets for the magnificent Marie Antoinette fireworks show. Since I still had the rental car for one more day, I decided it would be worth going since we could drive there from Paris. It was on a Friday evening so we surprised Liv after picking her up from school. The event was held in the beautiful Jardin Orangerie at Versailles. Of course, Liv wore her Marie Antoinette dress.

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Although it was entirely in French, we were able to follow the story of Marie Antoinette’s life in Versailles. It was a whimsical show mixed with classical music and the most insane fireworks ever. Even the character’s costumes had fireworks. As tired as we were, the show was definitely worth it. We all agreed that it was the most spectacular fireworks show we have ever seen!

However, it was painful to get up at 5am the next morning to catch our 6am train to Reims. The good news was the trip was only 90 minutes long which felt like an instant on the high speed train. We were able to take a quick nap on the train.

Traveling from Gare l’est is the best. It’s only a ten minute bus ride away and it’s one of my favorite stations as far as cleanliness, food kiosks and because I use the SNCF app, I just scan a QR code on my phone to board the train.

Reims is in the Champagne region of eastern France and as much as you may want to pronounce it was Rey-ims…for some weird reason it’s pronounced Rance, like rhymes with France.

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We hopped on the tram as soon as we arrived. Hooray for easy, accessible public transportation! This was a rare occasion that I didn’t have an itinerary scheduled for a trip. I always check out the Atlas Obscura website when we visit a new place. I usually visit the local church first, then see a landmark the area is known for and find somewhere off the beaten path. Liv and I also use our MAPS book as a guide to learn about the location we are seeing. It’s super informative and we adore the illustrations. I knew we wanted to go to the local champagne tasting rooms but since Liv was with us, I didn’t make a reservation. I wanted to check out the school named after President Roosevelt where the Germans signed the unconditional surrender of WWII. Liv got May 7th off from school in Paris for Victory Day. I never heard much about WWII when I was in school in America other than Pearl Harbor and Memorial day (which is pretty much celebrated with douchey spring break partying rather than reflection on the horror of war). My Mom always tells me that the reason why Europe is so forward thinking, and provides universal healthcare for their citizens is because they survived a war, so they know how to come together as a nation. Americans are a mess, PLEASE VOTE IN NOVEMBER!

Proud history nerd! Next we went to see Our Lady of Reims cathedral. It was built in 1211 and it is where all the kings of France were crowned. The church has been destroyed by fire but rebuilt many times. In 2011, the city of Reims celebrated her 800th anniversary! The French really know how to build a church.

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Of course Liv lit a candle and we bought a souvenir coin to add to her collection.

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Our next stop was to find a place for lunch. We walked around town but most places were closed since it was too early. We stopped in Flying Tiger because Liv loves that store.

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I wish I bought this cute hand-crank fan because it was the hottest day ever! We couldn’t resist to pick up a bag of chocolates to snack on while we searched for a place to eat.

It was during World Cup fever so we got soccer themed white chocolate. We stopped by Maison Fossier, Liv loves their rose biscuits but we didn’t want to carry around the huge box all day and they sell them at Monoprix.

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We encountered this awesome farmers market and sampled the fruit but they didn’t have any restaurants so we continued our search. We always seem to be too early or too late for lunch!

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We noticed brasseries began to put out champagne bottles while we were walking by but we couldn’t start drinking before eating something. Liv and I got a ice cream cone to cool us down since it was like 100 degrees.

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As tempting as those lovely avocado tarts looked, we continued walking around town to find a place to sit down and eat. We kept getting unlucky because I wanted to visit the town hall but of course it was closed for repairs.

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We finally found an interesting place that was opening for lunch in a few minutes wait.

We were so happy to order fish n’ chips!

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We enjoyed being able to lounge and get out of the sun. Of course as soon as we started eating the crowds arrived and everyone started smoking, cough!

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So I knew it was time for a glass of champagne. We walked to this cool looking place.

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When we inquired about a tasting they informed us they were closing early so no walk-ins. Merde! I called to see if we could make a reservation for the Perching bar which was outside of Reims.

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I saw it on Pinterest and it looked very cool however they didn’t allow anyone under 18 inside so if we went, Liv would have to stay outside of the bar area. There was also a 40 minute drive to get there and Reims didn’t have Uber. The owner gave me a phone number of a car service but the driver wanted €45 each way in cash. We decided to decline because it would have taken too long to drive out there, plus the fare seemed excessive. We ended up walking back to the place we went to for lunch because I couldn’t leave without having some champagne.

To be honest, the champagne was just meh. Antz likes it more than I do. I think it’s too expensive (a bottle started at €75!) We noticed the Veuve Clicquot tasting room was closed while we were walking to the train station.

If you want to go champagne tasting in Reims, make an advance reservation!

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We walked past a medieval church and a plaque dedicated to Joan d’Arc. It was too hot to really enjoy a walk around town so we headed for the train station a few hours early and waited in their air conditioned lobby.

Au revior Reims! Antz and I will have to return without the kid to share a bottle of bubbly.

Road Trip: Cherbourg & Beaches of Normandy

June is always a busy but special month for me. Liv’s birthday is at the beginning of the month, then Father’s Day and ends with Antz birthday. I rented a car and we drove to Cherbourg for a weekend trip for Antz birthday. I have wanted to visit Cherbourg ever since I saw the French musical “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” Since Cherbourg is near the beaches of Normandy, we spent the day visiting Sainte-Mère-Église village, the Omaha Beach Memorial and the American Cemetery. The drive was over five hours and even though I normally would be able to drive longer than that in LA (I drove for eleven hours for our road trip to Portland) something about the French highways seems to lull me to sleep. I drove the first three hours and then Antz took over for the last two.

 

There were many tolls heading west towards Cherbourg. We also noticed livestock on the sides of the highway. At first we thought we were looking at sheep but with a closer look, they were golden cows! They were so pretty we pulled over and tried to snap a photo with some of the cows. The countryside is insanely pretty.

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I was surprised at how small Cherbourg was. Our hotel was just across the street from the harbor.

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We went for a walk around the town looking for a place to eat for lunch. Of course it was after 3 so we missed lunch and nothing was open until after 7pm.

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We found this gorgeous fish market but they didn’t cook the food. Liv bought a bag of apricots, Antz and I got crepes to tide us over.

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Les parapluies were everywhere. I only recently saw the French musical in the last few years although I have always been a big Catherine Deneuve fan. I also discovered that the guy who directed The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is one of Liv’s friend’s from school grandfather! How rad is that?!!

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We walked around for an hour then hung out in our hotel room. By 7pm, we were starving so we went to the first restaurant we found that was open. We ordered a plateau de fruits de mer for Antz birthday dinner. To our surprise, shellfish is served cold and there’s no melted butter to dip. Sadly, no matter how many times we have tried, we don’t like oysters. As fancy as the meal looked, we really missed our annual seafood meal from Duke’s in Malibu.

We drove around town looking for the Cherbourg sign. Oddly, we could find it’s location on Google Maps so I relied on photos from Pinterest and my intuition. Finally, just as I was about to give up I drove right past it on a steep hill! Since the sign was so big, one of us had to run into the street to get a photo. We waited forever for someone to get a photo of all of us but it’s an isolated area. This selfie has made me want to travel with a reliable tripod. I just don’t see where we could have set one up since there were cars passing in the street.

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The next day we grabbed breakfast at our hotel and headed out early.

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I had to take a photo with my umbrella by the harbor before we left. Our first stop was Sainte-Mere-Eglise. We learned the heroic story of Private John Marvin Steele. As the 82nd Airborne soldiers parachuted into the village, they were under heavy attack by Germans. John survived the jump but his parachute got caught in the spinnet of the church. He hung there limp, playing dead for two hours before he was taken prisoner. He later escaped and captured 30 Germans. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his valor. He is featured in the classic film The Longest Day.

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Miraculously, it didn’t rain. The sun actually came out as we headed towards the American cemetery. I spent hours explaining the D-day invasion to Liv and she listened intently. I was surprised to see how interested in history an eight year old was. I think it hit her the most when I told her how many men were drafted into the war and how her Dad would have most likely been sent to fight if we were alive during that time. During the summer of 1944 over 100,000 total men died.

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This was the most incredible experience for our family. France has always been a romantic place for us but visiting these sites where close to 10,000 people lost their lives felt very somber. We visited the memorial and watched a short film about World War II.
Below is Omaha beach.

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Our last stop wasn’t planned but Liv was asking what happened to the German soldiers so we stopped at La Cambe German war cemetery. It definitely had a different vibe to it. There were very few people there. Over 21,000 German soldiers are buried there. The cemetery has 1,200 maple trees as a gift of peace.

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If you are a history buff, I strongly recommend making this trip. Normandy Discovery Tours offers a tour by French locals. We saw a group of school children at the Omaha beach memorial. I really think that the difference between American children and European is our approach to the past. I feel like Americans shield their kids from the dark side of history but I believe that is doing them a disservice. They lack empathy and may grow up to make the same mistakes of bigotry and complacency. I talk to Olivia about everything, not to frighten her but to open her eyes to the world she lives in. She is a multiracial child so she doesn’t have the privilege to ignore the past suffering of her ancestors. Every accomplishment she makes in her life, she has many generations of proud Mexican and Black people cheering her on.

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Day trip to Nantes, France

Before arriving in France I had a long list of places to travel and things to see. Antz, Liv and I all agreed that one of them was seeing the Les Machines de l’île in Nantes.  I purchased annual SNCF passes because they were on mega sale (they are usually €75 each but I got them for €29!) These passes give us discounts on train fares for trips on the weekends and a special child fare. We plan to take so many train trips, I think it’s a wise investment. So I’m sure you have never heard of Les Machines de l’île or le Grand Élephant so pop over to their website to see what I’m talking about.

We have watched several videos about these magical creatures so I booked a day trip to Nantes to surprise the kid a week before her birthday!

The train ride to Nantes was our longest to date. Just over 4 hours but we sat in a Club Four which is a set of four chairs facing each other with a table. This configuration is rare to book so we really enjoyed it. We departed from Gare Austerlitz.

 

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We did everything you could during the four hour ride. We played video games on our phones, ate snacks, napped, read books, colored in Liv’s coloring book and played an intense game of Uno. I taught Liv how to play the card game Speed (my favorite game when I was in high school). We arrived after noon and it took awhile to figure out how to navigate the part of town where the machines were. I would think it is such a popular attraction, the tram would take us directly there. However, we took a tram for about 20 minutes and then had to walk over a long bridge before we found the site.

We were shocked to be sitting next to this cutie on the tram! Our cat Lola would never sit so obediently let alone let us put a harness on her.

We walked past the Château des ducs de Bretagne but it was closed and there was a protest happening nearby.

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During the long walk across the bridge I was wondering if we would end up having to climb that ladder to get to the Le Carrousel Mondes des Marins. It’s hidden in plain sight!

We had no idea what this gentleman was selling when we first saw him riding past. I was hoping for some cotton candy but it turned out to be marshmallow squares in very unique flavors.

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It’s hard to describe the Marine Worlds Carousel. It’s part steampunk, part nautical. There are three levels. The lower (Ocean floor) levels don’t have a floor, so you board via a moveable gangplank which Liv and I felt too apprehensive to ride. So we climbed to the top. I was so captivated by the sea creatures I kept forgetting to take pictures. It’s so huge I couldn’t get a shot of everything to fit!

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As you can see it’s a very surreal experience. I was explaining to Liv how the characters reminded me of the films of Terry Gilliam. The only one she has seen is Doctor Parnassus but she got the idea.

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When we reached the top, we were happy to find a floor and the raddest set of creatures. Each one has a moving element that you control like a marionette. Some by steering and some by pedals or pumps. It was very cool but also odd. I couldn’t capture the entire carousel in photos due to the sheer size of it. I loved the music they were playing too. It reminded me of one of my favorite singers Tom Waits.

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Next we walked over to the mechanical elephant. I was surprised to see a sign saying that the elephant ride was sold out. It was close to 1pm, and they weren’t due to close until 7pm that evening. When I found someone who spoke English she said they had to close early due to thunderstorms. What a bummer! So we took some photos and marveled at the giant wooden elephant. The gracefulness in it’s movement and agility was remarkable. I wish we could have experienced riding it but seeing it up close was rad.

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I’m so glad I brought my wide lens for my camera because our iPhones couldn’t fit it in one frame in photos. Antz took this amazing video with his iPhone X.

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Liv and Antz went inside the Gallery and Liv was chosen to steer the giant Ant!

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She loved it! We had lunch at the restaurant on the site. It was just about to close so the menu was limited. I got the last Caesar salad they had and Antz and Liv had a chicken sandwich.

The last thing we did was check out the smaller carousel. This one was similar to the large one and the creatures were interactive too. Absolutely enchanting.

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The elephant returned from his walk and Liv got a surprise!

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She dried off with an ice cream cone and we browsed the gift shop. I bought Liv a Nantes souviner gold coin for her collection and I bought a coffee table book about the Royal Deluxe Company. It was heavy in my backpack but I knew they didn’t have it on Amazon and it’s such a beautiful photography book, I couldn’t pass it up. I hope to one day see them perform in person since I have watched every single youtube video of their amazing giant puppets. The work they do is incredible but they don’t announce their shows until a few days in advance so it’s hard to catch them.

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After spending the entire afternoon at Les Machines de l’île, we decided to take the tram back to the train station a little early because Antz had a headache and Liv was tired. To our surprise when we arrived at the tram, it was closed by the local police for some unknown reason. I tried to order an Uber but the app wasn’t working (no wifi) so we had to walk over an hour back to the train station.

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Lucky for us we left early or we would have arrived there late. We sat patiently waiting for our train arrival. Poor Antz headache got so bad we had to go to the pharmacy and buy him some medication. Just when our train was 15 minutes from boarding we saw this on the train schedule display.

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I asked Liv what en retard meant in French and she said LATE! It took forever to find an English speaking staff person and they told me that due to lightening striking the train tracks, all trains going to Paris were delayed for an indeterminate amount of time. So we ended up stranded at the train station for FOUR HOURS! The staff brought out little snack boxes and bottled water for everyone but it felt like the apocalypse. People were grabbing the boxes like a riot and Antz headache was worsening. Liv didn’t feel great either and it was too hot to wait inside the station so we sat outside at the tracks which meant we couldn’t hear any updates. The announcements were all in French anyway. We started to panic and worry that we would have to book a hotel for overnight. Then finally around the time we were scheduled to arrive back in Paris, we saw everyone getting up and heading towards the tracks downstairs. We pushed through like cartoon super heros and jumped on the train and sat at the first club four seats we saw. Since all the trains to Paris were late, the staff didn’t check our tickets and we didn’t bother to find our original seats. An English speaking couple sat down across from us and told us we were in their seats but I guess I gave the guy a look like Reagan from the Exorcist and he nicely said, No worries, we’ll sit here. The train ride was supposed to be 4 hours but they put the pedal to the metal and got us into Paris by 1 am. I have never seen more exhausted and frustrated people from all over the world collectively sleep like we did. We were all happy to be out of Nantes.

I scheduled an Uber before the train stopped in Paris before all the other passengers but I still got hit with double the fare surcharge. Merde! I told our French friends about enduring this trip and they laughed and said Welcome to France!

So despite being disappointed about the elephant ride and the long train delay, we had a good time. I didn’t think the town of Nantes was particularly awesome. As Antz put it, if you seen one town in France you’ve seen them all.

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Tant pis!

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