Rent A Bike In Nice

Good news for bike enthusiasts.

The city of Nice is offering bikes for rent at 90 different locations around town.  The Velo Bike System, first introduced in Paris, provides visitors with a fun, inexpensive way to see Nice.

The first half hour is free, the second 30min costs €1, and additional hours are €2 each.

Call 00 33 4 30 00 30 or go to http://www.velobleu.org for details.

A weekend in Turin, Italy

Turin is one of the great underrated cities of Europe.

Elegant and sophisticated, this northern Italian town on the Po River has much to offer.  Visitors can expect delicious food, substantive wines, ample shopping, and graceful architecture.

For those considering a long weekend in “The Capital of the Alps” I have two recommendations.

Where to stay:
Grand Hotel Sitea
Centrally located with large, modern rooms, the Grand Hotel Sitea is a solid choice for a weekend stay.  Enjoy a VERY generous breakfast buffet each morning before heading out to explore the town, and at the end of the day, the hotel bar is perfect for unwinding.
Via Carlo Alberto, 35
10123 Torino, Italy
+39 011 517 0171

Where to hang out:
Cafe Florio

Founded in 1870, Cafe Florio is
the place to stop in for a drink, pastries, chocolates, cakes, tea, or anything else under the sun you might have a craving for.  The service is friendly and the atmosphere is “molto” chic.
8 Via Po
Torino, Italy 10122
Tel: +39 011 817 0612

 

Travel Attitude: A Perspective

We all want to appear at least moderately competent as we go about our daily lives, but on the road that’s often not possible.  Travel to a foreign country on your own and you will undoubtedly face innumerable, potentially embarrassing situations.  Simple tasks like ordering coffee, shopping for groceries, or pumping gas can turn into cringeworthy affairs.

These uncomfortable situations often leave us searching for easy ways to explain and excuse our own limitations, which in turn, can lead to a defensive backlash of unfounded criticisms against the host country.

Developing and maintaining a negative “blanket” opinion about an unfamiliar country or culture is easy.  The real effort is in avoiding such thoughts. Continue reading

European Car Rental: The Bad News

It seems the recession is affecting everyone, even car rental companies.
A recent
BBC article reports that travelers are paying substantially higher fees for vehicles or, even worse, finding themselves with no car at all due to overbooking by the rental company.

Why?

Rental firms anticipated fewer travelers this year as a result of the recession and did not update their fleets (or could not update their fleets due to tighter financing restrictions).

The result?

During heavy travel periods demand is simply exceeding supply.
The countries hardest hit are
Spain, France, and Italy.  Prices are up 70% in some popular destinations.

My advice to avoid possible headaches?

As always, book early and do your homework.  Give yourself enough time to shop around and find the best deal. Also, it may be cheaper to book a larger vehicle instead of an economy car.  Smaller cars are much more in demand because everyone thinks they’ll be cheaper, so you may get a better deal if you upsize.

Shifting Gears

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Something to remember when booking your rental car

A good friend of mine was kind enough to travel to the south of France a couple of years ago to witness the wondrous moment when my wife and I told each other “I do”.
All of the arrangements for his rental car had been made well ahead of time and he was, understandably, quite pleased at the reasonable rate he received.
On the day of his arrival I met him at the airport in Nice.

Let’s pick up the action as we walk out of the terminal toward the rental car lot:

Scene 1:
The morning is sunny and warm and there is a slight hint of lavender in the air.  Well dressed, attractive mothers push cute babies in stylish strollers.  In the distance, visible over the skyline of Nice, snow glistens on jagged alpine peaks.

Me: So you got a really good deal on your car didn’t you?
Friend: Yeah, I was kind of surprised I got such a good price.
Me: Excellent.
Booked economy?
Friend: Yep.

(short pause)

Friend: Hey, do any of these economy cars ever come with manual transmissions?
Me: Uh…. well, yeah, they all pretty much do.  Why?
Friend: Gosh, I hadn’t thought about it until now, but the last time I drove a stick shift was about twenty five years ago.

(long pause)

Friend: You don’t think that will be a problem do you?

(even longer pause)

Me: So how was your flight?

Scene 2:
The paper work is complete.  Friend and I chat amiably as the car is pulled around front.  I barely notice that Friend has been edging subtly toward the only tree, and shade, on the lot.  Small beads of sweat begin to appear on his forehead.
The car is delivered and Friend throws his custom-machine-crafted Sears luggage into the trunk and slides behind the wheel with admirable aplomb.  Only then do I notice that his shirt is inside-out.  I choose not to mention it.

Friend: Are you gonna stand there and watch me while I start the car?
Me: Well, yeah that was my plan.

(uncomfortable silence)

Friend: So am I supposed to push the clutch in before I turn the key?
Me: That’s probably a good idea, assuming of course, you want it to start.

Friend:
Anything else you can think of that I might have forgotten?
Me: You mean in the twenty five years since you’ve driven a manual transmission?  Hmmm, other than actually how to drive it, I can’t think of anything you’ve missed.
Friend: Well, why don’t you go on and pull your car around and I’ll follow you to the hotel?
Me: Just for kicks I think I’ll stick around another minute or two.

Interlude:
15 increasingly uncomfortable minutes pass.  The car remains in the same location.  Not the same general location, but the same
exact location.

Scene 3:
Me:
You want me to hop in and move this baby real quick so the line of cars behind you can get out of the lot?
Friend: Nope, I got it now.  Just took me a second to get a good feel for this high strung little lady.
Me: Right….It’s a Toyota Yaris.
Friend: I think once I get her out on the open road I’ll feel a lot more comfortable with the shifter.
Me: That’s the hand brake.

Interlude:
Ten excruciatingly painful minutes pass.  It feels like a time frame within which Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” could easily be translated into Farsi …. by a German who doesn’t speak Farsi.

Friend now sits comfortably behind the wheel of a shiny BMW.

Scene 3:
Me:
So how do you like the Beemer?
Friend: Not bad.  I was actually kind of surprised they didn’t gouge me more than they did for the upgrade.
Me: You gonna be able to handle that automatic?
Friend: I think so…. you’re not gonna tell anybody about this are you?
Me: Not a chance.  Hey did I mention I was thinking about starting a blog?

French Riviera Road Trip: Essential tunes for navigating the upper corniche

Click here for information on the French Riviera Mini Cooper Driving Adventure!

1) Artist:
The Rolling Stones
Album:
Exile on Main Street
Why:
“Exile on Main Street” was actually cut at four different studios, one of which was in the basement of Keith Richard’s rental house, Villa Nellcote, in the south of France.  Recorded during the blistering summer of 1971 in Villefranche-sur-Mer, “Exile” is classic, down and dirty Stones.  Just listen to “Ventilator Blues” or “Casino Boogie” and you can practically feel the sweat dripping off the walls.  Today fans can find Villa Nellcote easily enough, but will have to settle for a photo by the front gate.  It’s not possible to enter the grounds.

2) Artist:
U2
Album:
Take your pick
Why:
Bono, lead singer of the mega-super-group U2, has quite a connection to the south of France.  He owns a house on a small strip of beach Continue reading

Movies to watch before traveling to the south of France….

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Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in “To Catch a Thief”

One surefire way to increase your excitement about an upcoming trip is to watch a movie set in or near your destination. Listed below are a few of my favorite flicks filmed in the south of France.

To Catch A Thief (1953)
Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, the French Riviera.  Need I say more?
A stylish, timeless classic directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
Great footage of Le Bar sur Loup, Tourrettes sur Loup, Gourdon, Monaco, Nice, Cannes, Eze, and more.

And God Created Woman (1956)
The one that put St Tropez and Brigitte Bardot on the map.  Watch it and you’ll understand why everyone was so gaga about Brigitte.  There is also great post war footage of St Tropez before it became an international tourist destination.

French Kiss (1995)
Kevin Kline and Meg Ryan star in this feel good chick flick shot in Paris and the south of France.  Plenty of scenes filmed on La Croisette and in The Hotel Carlton in Cannes.  The nearby village of Valbonne is also prominently featured.

Ronin (1999)
The ultimate European thriller starring Robert DeNiro as a bad-ass ex C.I.A. agent for hire.  Lots of footage shot in Cannes, the village of La Turbie, the old port in Nice, and in the hills behind Le Bar sur Loup.


Thoughts on travel

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I love to travel.

When I’m not traveling I’m fantasizing about trips I hope to take in the future.
I think my love of travel may border on the obsessive.

So be it.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve begun to realize how important travel has been in my life.  I’m absolutely certain it has made me a better person.  If you want to learn something about yourself, your friends, or even your hometown, then hop on a plane and go somewhere you’ve never been before.

If, upon returning, your perspective has not changed even a little bit, then maybe traveling really is not for you.

To quote one of my favorite lines, “An ass does not go traveling and come back a horse.”

Nice Flower Market

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If you love markets then this is the one not to miss.

Located on the pedestrian only Cours Saleya in the old town, the bustling Nice flower market is held every day of the week (except Monday) from 7 a.m. until around 1 p.m.  Arrive by mid-morning (at the latest) and shop for flowers, spices, fresh fish, produce, and much more.  This is as much a social event as it is a market, so save plenty of time for people watching and a glass of chilled rose’ at one of the cafes with outdoor seating.  Also, don’t miss the best socca in the south of France at Chez Theresa (located in the middle of the market).

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For a simple, delicious, and affordable lunch, try Continue reading

Three days to kill on the Cote d’Azur?

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Gourdon

For most of us, the Cote d’Azur evokes images of pure, unadulterated decadence, a place where the beautiful, multilingual, and staggeringly rich live the good life.  We imagine scenes right out of Lifestyles of The Rich and Famous, with endlessly flowing champagne and a nonstop array of rock stars and topless beauties, their perfect bodies glistening in the Mediterranean sun.  In some areas along the coast that fantasy may still exist, but travel a few miles inland and you’ll discover a charming, affordable region with beautiful medieval villages, friendly people and world class cuisine.
The next time you find yourself with a long weekend in the south of France, let the tourists have their rocky beaches and crowded motor ways, the real fun is due north, just beyond the French Riviera.

DAY ONE
Tourrettes sur Loup, located a few miles west of the town of Vence, and only thirty minutes from the Nice airport, is the perfect place to call home base.  Literally hanging off the side of a cliff, this stunning village is known for its arts and crafts, and for producing more violets than anywhere else in France.  Check into one of the six splendid rooms at the newly renovated Auberge de Tourettes at the edge of town.  The tastefully decorated  hotel is simple and comfortable with large, modern bathrooms and spectacular views.  Steps away, the town center is Continue reading