Saturday, March 30, 2013

Washout Day in Grasse, France

Apparently this is the wettest March in Nice on record. I am not surprised  its rained most days and on some i just haven't even bothered to leave my hostel. But i had to brave the wet at some point so i decided to visit the town of Grasse. I have visited Grasse once before, and loved it. Hence i was keen to go back. The photo below was from my first visit, last year.  This picture is what should have greeted me.

travel, perfume

Grasse is a old industrial town north of Cannes, its industry is very much centered on the perfume industry. The town itself is very run down, with many abandoned and neglected buildings. Most of the modern day perfumeries are build out of town in more modern industrial units. But it is the neglected look which gives Grasse its character and charm, and what bought me back here. 

Travel, perfume

Even in the heavy rain, as soon as i stepped of the bus i could smell the scented air. The Grasse that greeted me this time though was a very different experience to last time. Nearly all the streets were completely empty, as most tourist took the day to relax in their hotel lounges, and as at times i was sometimes wading ankle deep in water, i was thinking they had the right idea.

Perfume, travel

perfume, travel

perfume, travel

I could not quite work out why it was thought it was necessary to hose the streets down in heavy rain!?

perfume, travel

perfume, travel, Fragonard

The Notre Dame du Puy, Cathedral  was a welcome break from the wet. Its tower shrouded in mist, just to highlight how bad a day it was, there was going to be no panoramas of the surrounding countryside today. Inside the cathedral their are paintings by several famous painters including the local painter Fragonard.

perfume, travel, Fragonard

perfume, travel, Fragonard

I wandered the wet streets until my jeans were so wet that i was struggling to move and then headed into a couple of perfumeries to start sniff testing. My favorite has to be the Fragonard factory just on the edge of the old town. They have a small free museum and guided tours, when i visited this time around, the factory part was closed for refurbishment, and was due to open again in a couple of days. You can still sniff test all their products in the factory shop.

International perfume museum

I spend most of my time in the Musee International de la Perfumerie (5 euro), drying off. It was a good museum, filled with thousands of perfume bottle, both ancient and modern. There is plenty of opportunity to get your nose buds out, with smells from roses, jasmine, nutmeg to cocaine and marijuana. They do guided visits and also a free audio-guild. The audio-guild was not automatically given out and i only found out about it because of a sign in French. Usually i love audio-guilds, but would not recommend this one as i found it a bit, basic and also confusing, as to when i was supposed to press the buttons.

Fragonard

The journey back to Nice on the Bus was amazing. Once we were below the worst of the clouds, I got amazing glimpses of the surrounding countryside half enveloped in mist. Unfortunately the bus driver speed pass too quickly for me to get a decent shot on my camera.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Its the End of 1 Euro Bus Fares in Nice, France

Just as i was preparing a blog post about all the wonderful places that you can visit for just 1 euro, around Nice. I walked down the street this morning only to notice, somebody reading the Nice Matin (local paper) with the following headline.


I tried to get hold of my own paper, but the men and women who hand them out seem to have disappeared. So now i am back from my daily explore, i've logged on the the papers site to find out what its all about. Luckily google translate, is here to help me.

Nice and the surrounding area have had a flat rate of 1 euro bus and tram fares since 2007. A 1 euro bus ticket can get you from Nice to Eze, Monaco, Menton, Antibes, Cannes, Saint-Paul de Vance, Grasse, this list just goes on and on. They are amazing, and were one of the deciding factors for bringing me back to Nice. But like all good things with the current economic climate, they have to end. These bus fares are being funded by the local tax payers. 

The local council are due to vote on changes to the bus fares on the 29th and it is thought that the fares will go up to 1.50 euro in May. I'll be keeping my eyes open to see what they actually decide.

Update: This was passed and the fares will go up on the 3rd of May 2013.

1.50 euros is still a bargain, but its not the headline grabbing bargain, that they once were. So if you are planning a trip to Nice and you are looking for a bargain, i would head this way before May 2013.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Arriving in Nice, What a beautiful Sky!

On arriving in Nice, France on a very cold wet day in March. I put on my snow boots and ski jacket (hopefully for the last time this year) and went for a little explore. The rain stopped and the rest of the day was overcast and dull. However, once i had taken and checked a couple of photographs, i noticed just how beautiful the sky looked. Sometimes i have to hold a camera before i even notice these things. 

I walked down to the beach and then up on to Castle Hill. I tried to stay on Castle Hill until sunset but security closed up and i suddenly found myself being whistle blown and shouted at in French. It was time to leave.

France, Sky

France


Nice, France

France

Nice Port, France

Nice Port, France



Sky


Sky

Monday, March 18, 2013

Time to move on to...

So the ski season is coming to an end and i must leave Chamonix.

As bad as this might seem, and it does seem bad because i have caught the ski bug, badly. I am excited for my new adventures, places to discover and lessons to learn. There is always next year for skiing, and i am sure to find some exciting places to ski. But for now my head must turn to making future plans.


I want to live in the world and not just one country, but i have been trying to learn some french and still want to learn some more. So my immediate plans are to stay here in France.

I have decided to do a French course in Lyon in April. I have chosen Lyon purely because the courses there seemed a little cheaper than elsewhere, and i am really up for saving a bit of money right now. I was a bit uncertain about Lyon at first, purely because it is a completely land locked city and the mermaid in me is calling. But after googling it and reaching for my Lonely Planet it seems that Lyon should keep me entertained for at least a month, when i am not studying, that is.

Source

But before i go to Lyon i am stopping off in Nice on the way for 12 nights. OK, Nice is not on the way, but when the cheapest option is to fly, anywhere in Europe could be considered a stop over. I have been to Nice several times before in the last few years, but each time there are still places that i never get around to visiting, such as the Russian orthodox church and Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Nice is also a great base for exploring the southern end of the French Alps.


I have loved living in Chamonix and learning to ski, i will miss it so much. I definitely hope to return, possibly in the summer, when the snow will melt and everything turn to green and hiking can be my pastime of choice.

Thank you Chamonix for being so beautiful.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mer de Glace - Mountain Train

As a continuation on from my last post... I spent the afternoon making the most of my Mont-Blanc Unlimited Pass. I took the short walk across town, to the Montenvers - Mer de Glace train station, which is located just behind the main train station. And took the 20 minute train ride up to the hotel above the glacier. 

Chamonix, Things to do, sights

The train is an rack railway line, similar to that used on Snowdon, Wales. Even though i have seen it described as a funicular railway, my small amount of train knowledge knows that funicular railways use a rope and balancing system of two trains (i grow up near one). I am a bit picky, so i did my research.

Chamonix, Things to do, sights

From the train station you can take a cable car down to the top of the steps, which lead to the ice caves. The cost of the cable car is included in the price of the ticket. I found that most people chose not to make this journey as there are over 300 steps to get you to the ice caves and the cable car does not lead anywhere else.

Chamonix, Things to do, Sights

The Mer de Glace glacier has been in retreated science the Little Ice Age. This retreat is not steady, but an advancing and retreating cycle. However between 1994-2008 the glacier has lost 500m in length and 70m in height at the point of the Montenvers train station (see here). As you descend down the stairs there are plaques stating the height of the glacier in any particular year, which really brings home how much this glacier is currently shrinking.

Chamonix, Things to do, Sights, Grotto

The ice caves are re-carved carved out of the glacier every year and serve as a mini museum. They are full of colour changing lights, a few bits of memorabilia and some rather odd tacky mannequins.  It was nice to be able to walk under the glacier, but the attraction really could have been made better, by either taking the above away or by putting more effort into it, sorry. 

Chamonix, Things to do, Sights, Grotto

Once you have survived the climb back up the stairs. You can head to The Montenvers Hotel, were you can stop for coffee or food or head a little further along to the Glacier Museum. This is a very small but modern  museum, where you can learn about the cycle of glaciers, avalanches and watch the Chamonix valley change seasons.

Chamonix, Things to do, Sights, Mer de Glace

In the summer you can take walks from this point, but in the winter you have to take the train back down or join the skiers down the rest of the glacier.

Chamonix, Things to do, Sights

Chamonix, Things to do, Sights, Mer de Glace

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Aiguille du Midi

Sometimes, from my apartment i get the most wonderful views of the Aiguille du Midi, either at sunset or sometimes spectacular glimpses through the cloud. So one huge thing on my Chamonix bucket list is the Aiguille du Midi, of course.

Les Houches, Chamonix, France

I had promised my self that the first good day i got of work i would go up the Aiguille du Midi. Last week was perfect, so i jumped out of my bed early, and headed into Chamonix to take the cable car ride to the top. On my way i was lucky to see this sunrise, such a promise of a good day. (this photo is better)

Chamonix, France

The cable car ride up the Aiguille du Midi, costs 50€ return or 54€ for the Mont Blanc Unlimited pass which also gives you access to other ski areas and attractions. The cable car ride is in two sections the first to the Plan de l'Aiguille at 2317m, and then on to the Aiguille du Midi at 3777m.

Cable car, Chamonix, France

I am unlikely to attempt climbing Mont Blanc any time soon, so the Aiguille du Midi, is the closest i am likely to get. At 3777m you definitely feel the altitude, i was really struggling with the steps that get you to some the the best views.

Chamonix, France

Once on top of the Aiguille du Midi the views are amazing. It is from here that you get the best views of Mont-Blanc (highest peak in Western Europe), and also views across three countries, France, Switzerland and Italy. You really do feel like you are on top of the world.

Chamonix, France

In the Above picture you can see the Les Houches Ski area, where i lam staying (to the left). From the valley this seams massive, but from the Aiguille du Midi, it looks so low down and you can really appreciate the height.

Chamonix, France

Chamonix, France

Chamonix, France

Chamonix, France

Chamonix, France

Apart from a few tourists like me, just up there to look at the view, the majority were there to ski down the legendary black run. You need to be an experienced skier, take a guild, lots of specialized equipment and a good deal of nerve. Not something my one ski lesson covered in the UK, so i'll just stick to the blue runs for now.

Chamonix, France

Chamonix, France

This post just ran way to long to fit into it everything in i did that day so i am posting separately about the rest.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Ski Day at Domaine de Balme/Le Tour, Chamonix, France

I have been so busy recently with working, skiing and sightseeing that i have not have had chance to blog any of this, not to mention the computer issues that seam to dominate my life (4th computer in 2 years anybody!). 


Just over a week ago now i used up one of my tokens that i get free with my Les Houches season ski pass, to go up Le Tour. We chose Le Tour because, because the landscape is so different to that of Les Houches; more wide open spaces than the narrow tree lined runs of Les Houches. Now i have the day off i feel the desperate need to write all this down, before it joins the blur of the rest my travels.


Le Tour was perfect for me and my friend as it has loads of gentle blue runs. We needed it after months of skiing as we are both suffering from sore knees. The main blue run, Liaison Balme which runs into Les Esserts, runs for kilometers at such a gentle pace that you don't really have to ski, just take in the great views as you glide past.


Not all the blue runs were gentle though, some seemed to me to be a little on the extreme side for a easy blues. The Bechat slope for example really tested my nerve. It was a steep and long decent that just seemed to keep going. I had to take it pretty slowly and watched as my friend completely lost control and crashed at speed. Luckily she was OK. Bechat will forever more be known as The Death Slide.


For lunch we stopped off at Restaurant Alpage de Balme (altitude 1990). The restaurant is 'al la cart', serving traditional Alps style food, so lots more cheese then. We both chose a 'Croute' bread and goat cheese dish, which was delicious and very reasonably priced. I also went a bit greedy and had a chocolate fondant desert.



It was such a beautiful spot and a lovely restaurant that we spend a good hour or so there just smiling and appreciation the views.



The afternoon was spent taking in more beautiful views and just really appreciation how lucky we are to be living and working in such an amazing part of the world. I don't think either of us could imagine a year ago that all this could be ours.