THE WANDERLOST JOURNALS: A Nice Change

  Nice: Day 4
(22.8.2014)

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When you make a plan, it’s always vital to have a backup plan just in case your initial plan backfires.

Our plan for the day was to board the train to Monaco, explore Monaco, and then make our way to Nice in the evening. Gloria had even looked up the amenities at the train station in Monaco, which stated that lockers would be available.

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When the train chugged into the station, we jumped in. Alas, it was packed to the brim. We had our cumbersome backpacks strapped to our backs, and in our hands were other smaller bags — a camera bag, a bag for food, another bag for food, a bag with miscellaneous stuff — and yet we tried our best to hang on to the metal pole in the moving train so that we wouldn’t collapse into other passengers. That was a skill I perfected over the next few weeks.

We got off at Monaco, and to our shock, saw that at least a hundred other people were desperately trying to squeeze into the train even as the doors were closing. Traffic was crazy there, and we were not even out of the station yet.

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There was no way we could explore Monaco carrying all that stuff. But we couldn’t find the locker room as stated on the website, so we spoke to a girl at the information counter, and all she could do was shake her head apologetically and say, “I’m sorry, we don’t have lockers installed yet for people to leave their luggage behind.”

“But your website said that you do!” Gloria and I chimed in together.

“I know, but there’s been some technical error, and I apologize for that,” was all the girl could manage.

She told us we could try asking one of the hotels around the block if they’d let us park our bags there for a few hours. We didn’t have much of a choice, so we took her advice. She gave us the address and a map, and with Gloria’s good navigational skills, we were able to locate the hotel in 20 minutes.

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It was a fancy number, featuring a posh lobby, at least five bellboys at the entrance, staff clad in head-to-toe black, and sparkling marble flooring. We arrived the same time a sexy black convertible rolled up. One of the staff rushed to get the doors for them. The driver stepped out, a balding man in his sixties with fine grey hair and reflective sunglasses. The passenger’s door was opened and a set of caramel, coltish-like legs dressed in sexy white stilettos padded delicately on the gritty tarmac. Seconds later, the woman rose from the car, clipping a miniature chihuahua in one arm and an oversize black tote in the other. Her straight, beach-blond hair cascaded past caramel-colored shoulders and her knee-length white bandage dress hugged her skinny figure tightly.

Motioning toward the remaining bags at the back of the car, she flashed a megawatt smile at one of the bellboys and reached up to remove her sunglasses. She looked at least 25.

We watched in silence as the 60-year-old man moved over to his stunning lady to wrap an arm around her waist. And then they strolled into the lobby.

“Is she actually dating him?” Gloria gasped beside me. It sure seemed like it.

Anyway, the hotel wouldn’t let us park our bags there as it was against their policy. Frustrated and exhausted, we decided to just go straight to Nice and return to Monaco another day. We looked completely out of place among all the bronzed gods and goddess of Monaco who cruised around in expensive cars — you name it, they have it — and designer everything.

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After an hour-long bus ride, we were finally in Nice. It didn’t take us too long to find Hotel Antares, one of Trip Advisor’s best-rated budget hostels for backpackers.  The lobby itself was promising enough. It was pleasant, complete with a front desk and a friendly French receptionist who spoke great English. She checked us in and informed us about “Spaghetti Party,” which has become a tradition at the hostel. Every two nights, the hostel hosts a big Spaghetti Party for its guests. It’s a great way for backpackers to mingle with other travelers from all over the world.

“For €3, you get a big plate of pasta and free wine,” the receptionist said. “Feel free to join. It starts at 7PM.”

I looked at Gloria excitedly (OMG, European pasta’s probably the bomb!), who forced a tight smile (Carissa, I really don’t care). Well, it turned out that she’s not a big fan of pasta.

Our room was cute. Blue walls, blue and yellow duvet on each twin bed, matching blue and yellow pillows, and a clean bathroom complete with a shower cubicle and a sink. It was lovely.

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We rested for a while, debated on whether we should or shouldn’t go for Spaghetti Party, and went downstairs to use the kitchen. I’m telling you — Hotel Antares is a really great place if you’re on a budget. It features a sizable kitchen with multiple stoves, microwaves, two refrigerators and free kitchen utensils! There’s also a small area for computers if you need to use them (yes, free of charge). Everything’s so conveniently catered to suit the budget backpacker. We filled our tummies with ramen and set off with our cameras to explore the lovely town of Nice.

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The first thing that popped into mind when we stepped out of the hostel was: “This looks like Melbourne.”

The stretch of shops on both sides of the main road boasted fashion labels like H&M, Zara, Desigual and other international brands that have glossed at least a thousand magazines. The trams that ran in the middle of the street resembled Japanese bullet trains with their sleek, rounded edges and flawless metallic finishes, a modern contrast against Nice’s understated rustic charm.

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I got hungry an hour later and decided to snack on a white chocolate macadamia cookie from Subway. Gloria frowned as I stood in line in the tiny sandwich shack, mended only by two bored French girls who probably hated their job more than anything else in the world.

“We come all the way to France… and you’re getting a Subway cookie?”

“Yes, because they’re guaranteed to be awesome. You want to try some of this?”

She declined.

Okay, she’s probably not a fan of sugar either, I thought. Looks like I’m going to be the only one getting fat on this trip.

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We walked to the Promenade, which is the best thing one can possibly do in Nice. The ocean breeze was refreshing. We sat there for a good hour, talking and reminiscing about our day’s adventures. Then we started our 20-minute walk back to the hostel.

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We ended up going to the Spaghetti Party just to snack on some pasta and meet other backpackers. The whole dining area was packed with backpackers (lots of Australians and Americans and a good measure of Koreans too) and I was way too tired to do anything but snack on my pasta and make small chat with the Aussies at our table. They were really nice people and huge adventure enthusiasts — only 17 years old and they had already seen half the world. Very nice.

When Gloria and I returned to our room, we were so ready to crash on our twin beds.

“We’re going to be exhausted every single day if we travel like this,” she joked.

Waking up early, walking all day, traveling between towns, crashing late, and then waking up early again. The good thing was that we were going to be staying at the hostel for a couple more days, so until our next flight, we didn’t have to pack up and leave anytime soon. And that in itself, was a huge relief.

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