Monday, June 30, 2014

Jour 4 Nice: TGV & Hotel Nice Excelsior

Onward to the next city! Nice (pronounced "neese") is another city I learned about in French class. We all kept calling it 'nice' (as in the opposite of naughty) until our teacher corrected us. Madame Foster wasn't exactly the strictest of instructors so I think several of us continued to call it 'nice' (again, as in the opposite of naughty) despite the reprimand.
In order to get to Nice from Annecy, we had to drive back to Lyon, return our rental car, hop on a direct train to Marseille and then hop on a second train to Nice. We probably threw five or six hours into travel that day, but it was a good kind of travel. The drive was leisurely and we chatted each other up pretty much the whole way. The only time we were silent was when we were stuffing our faces with leftover pain, jambon de pays, et fromage.

Oh! And I have a noteworthy anecdote about the rental car to share! Since we only had the car for one day and we only drove a total of maybe 300 km (at most), we'd only used up about 1/3 of the gas in our car. So, before returning the car, we had to fill'er up. We had a diesel fuel car and the gas station had several pumps, which is normal, but obviously they were all written in French. There was a green pump, a yellow pump, a blue pump, and we couldn't quite figure out which was was diesel. So, I went into the little shop and asked the man at the desk, "Bonjour, j'ai besoin de votre aide. Comment dit-on 'diesel' en français?" (Hello, I need your help. How do you say 'diesel' in French?" He responded, "La jaune pompe. C'est 'gazole.' Jaune." (The yellow pump. It's diesel. Yellow." I thanked him profusely (Merci! Merci beaucoup! Merci merci!) and walked out to fill the car. Then, we were off to return the rental and hop on a train.
The first train ride was pretty quick and like the train from Paris to Lyon, we had assigned seats. Similarly, we looked up where our car would be located along the station and situated ourselves appropriately. This time we had a seat in the upper level so we had to drag our luggage up the tiny set of stairs. Lucky for us, there was a little luggage rack adjacent to our seats, which was awesomely convenient.

So the train's route actually starts in Paris and goes all the way down to Marseille St. Charles (where it terminates) making several stops along the way (including Lyon). We got off at Marseille St. Charles where we had to transfer to a train that just makes its way along the French Riviera, making stops at Saint Tropez, Cannes, and even Monaco (and several other coast cities). By the way, the Cannes Film Festival was just starting up as we were heading down. If we could have even found a hotel, I doubt we could've afforded it. And as much as I love a good celebrity sighting, we were there on vacation and to expand our horizons; not to be fan girls.

There was a  gentleman playing the piano for us when we arrived. He was switching back and forth between Lykke Li's 'I Follow Rivers' to Celine Dion's 'My Heart Will Go On.' I commend him for his bravery to play in a semi-unrefined public space where people could judge and ridicule. For the most part, I think people barely noticed but I snapped a photo.
We had about an hour to kill so we thought it would be a great time to grab lunch. Like true Americans, we decided to grab our meal at McDonalds. I'm joking. It wasn't our first choice, honestly. We were all hoping that there would be a Paul because we encountered Paul locations everywhere (FYI, Paul is a chain with delicious baked goods - breads and pastries - and amazing sandwiches). But, there was no Paul and every other choice seemed quite lackluster so we decided to hit up an American classic.
We didn't encounter anything on the menu that was crazy different from what's offered in the States (I hear that McDonalds in India has a "Big Spicy" menu with something called a Big Spicy Paneer Wrap). However, they did offer Heineken, which was pretty awesome.
Oh, and pomme frite sauce (essentially kicked up mayo) and curry sauce were available too, which was kind of neat. Also, did you know McDonalds has macarons? Yeah, I didn't try them but they looked cute and I bet they taste pretty decent. I mean, better than most, I'm sure.
I stuck with a Big Mac and admired the French packaging. Oh, and there's iced tea in that cup and it turns out, it's peach! The menu just said "ice tea" so I had no idea it would be so delicious.
Marseille's train station is actually quite lovely. I had contemplated spending some time in the city but I'd read some unsavory things about increasing crime rates so I thought we should just skip it (for now at least).
We did catch a pretty lovely view of Notre-Dame de la Garde though. It was just sittin' up on a hill, lookin' purty. I'm pretty sure it's visible from almost everywhere, as that hill is the natural highest point in the city.
After our American-style snack, we grabbed our bags and rushed towards our train.
The train from Marseille St. Charles to Nice was a bit more slow-moving, compared to the train we'd just left. Both legs of our train ride were similar in duration but Lyon to Marseille is almost 400 km and Marseille to Nice is about 200 km. The ride was relatively uneventful except for when a loud Australian family of five or six came aboard, had to sit separately in random seats all over the car, and were yelling to each other. "Kiki! Want to come over here and sit with mummy?!" which really sounded like, "Kay-kay! Won' tuh' kem oh-vuh hee-uh en' sih' wiv' muh-may?!" I love that accent.

I tried to capture a shot of this baby vineyard but even when the trains are "slow" they're fast.
As soon as we hopped off our train, we headed to our hotel, Hôtel Nice Excelsior, which was just a short 3 minute walk from the train station. Honestly, we did such a good job picking hotels in convenient locations.

There's a ton of history in this hotel. Apparently, during World War II, some Nazi headquartered himself here. I don't really want to go into too much detail here but if I've gotten you good and curious and you're interested to find out more, just google it. By the way, do you see E waving 'hi' on the balcony? Ha!
The lobby is laid out a bit strangely. There's a seating area and then you go up a small flight of steps to the front desk. There's a little sitting room just off to the side, which is really cute as well. We paid around €105 per night, which was pretty good, considering how modern and clean the hotel was.
The wallpaper looks like ink drawings and the carpet looks like French postcards.
This lucite chair and table were in the hallway just outside our room.
This room was cramped, but not as cramped as Hotel Alexandra.
The redeeming factor though was the nice little tub. It was sort of tall, so it was kind of difficult to get in and out of, but it was great for taking baths.
Hello there!
One thing that was really awesome was that they provided L'Occitane products for our toiletries. Pretty flash, if you ask me.
Another awesome aspect was the French doors opening out onto a cute little balcony. If I smoked cigarettes, I'm sure I would've used it a lot more.
But the only time we used the balcony was to go out and say hi to E a few doors down. I mean, hey, if you are a smoker, it'll come in handy.
I would certainly recommend this hotel to anyone staying in Nice. It's close to the train station and it's maybe a 10 minute walk to the Vielle Ville (Old Town). It's clean and comfy and affordable. The only snafu we had was when we were checking out. S and E bought a bottle of water from the front desk and paid for it with cash. When they were checking out, that same bottle of water was on their bill again and they charged her card! The old man at the front desk was there when they bought the water but didn't recall and there was a little bit of debating back and forth. I don't think that's good customer service. In the end, it was settled and they gave her a refund but it still left a bit of a sour taste in our mouths.

But, other than little froof, everything was great.

All right, now that we're done with that boring stuff, my next post will be a bit more fun and eventful, I promise.

xoxo.

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