The French and Italian Rivieras

The French and Italian Rivieras

From Marseille, France to Genoa, Italy

          The six hour train ride from Marseille, France to Genoa, Italy took us through a series of stunningly beautiful settlements along the Mediterranean Coast, many with instantly recognizable names like Toulon, St. Tropez, Cannes, Antibes, Nice, Monte Carlo, San Remo and Savona. From the Cote d’Azur in Southeastern France we crossed the border into Italy and continued along the Ligurian Coast to the port city of Genoa. While not necessarily a tourist destination, Genoa was the boyhood home of Christopher Columbus and has many historic buildings worth a look, including several interesting churches and the palaces of some the noble families of earlier times. I enjoyed window shopping along the plazas and walking through the narrow streets, but one could easily get lost in the maze. Genoa was to be my jumping off place for the Cinque Terre, where I hoped to be the next day. If all went as planned I would catch the early morning train to Monterosso, quickly find a hotel there, and set out on the eight mile hike between the five seaside villages.

Genoa, Italy

Genoa, Italy

Sidewalk Cafe, Genoa, Italy

Sidewalk Cafe, Genoa, Italy

Colorful Buildings Along the Genoa Waterfront

Colorful Buildings Along the Genoa Waterfront

Hotel Hermes, Marseille, France

Hotel Hermes, Marseille, France

          It was by pure luck that I found this outstanding hotel in Marseille!  When traveling by train, I usually try the hotels near the station, making it easy to catch the early train the following morning.  More times than not, I find something available at a reasonable rate, but not this time.  After checking several hotels near the station and not finding any that met my standards for one reason or another, I decided to look farther into town.

The Hotel Hermes, Marseille, France

The Hotel Hermes, Marseille, France

Location, Location Location

          I took a wrong turn, though, and ended up down by the seaport docks in a ‘not so good’ part of the city and it was about 6 PM by this time!  Quickly retracing my steps, I was soon heading down into the heart of Marseille.  The first hotel I checked was the Hotel Hermes and they had a nice room with private bath for the equivalent of $70.00 (Fifty Euros).  Breakfast was a little extra, but well worth it.  The Hotel Hermes is right on the Vieux-Port, the main harbor of Marseille, and had a view across to Notre Dame de la Garde on the hill across the water.  The location could not have been better and it was within walking distance of most of the main sights.

Hotel Hermes, Marseille, France

Hotel Hermes, Marseille, France

An Awesome Accommodation

          The staff at the Hotel Hermes was friendly and helpful and I was able to use their computer to get on the internet and check my email at no additional charge.  There was a terrace on the rooftop which looked out over the entire area and I ended my day enjoying the breathtaking nighttime view from that vantage point.  If you are looking for a nice, reasonably priced hotel in Marseille with an excellent location, I recommend checking out the Hotel Hermes.

My Room at the Hotel Hermes, Marseille, France

My Room at the Hotel Hermes, Marseille, France

Dining Room at the Hotel Hermes, Marseille, France

Dining Room at the Hotel Hermes, Marseille, France

http://hotelmarseille.com/hermes/

Marseille, France

Marseille, On the Mediterranean Coast

          Marseille was not originally penciled in on my rough itinerary, but ended up being one of my favorite stops on the trip.  Located on the Mediterranean coast in the Provence region of France, it is truly a destination worthy of a visit by even the most discriminating tourist.  Surrounded by rocky hills typical of the Mediterranean coast, Marseille is the largest commercial seaport in France.  As the second most populous city in France, its international flavor will immediately resonate with visitors.  With its elegant hotels, incredible yachts and well-heeled citizens, one would be hard pressed to find any remnant of its former life as a bastion of French communism.

Notre-Dame de la Garde from Vieux Port

Notre-Dame de la Garde as Seen from Vieux Port

History and Culture

          Steeped in history and loaded with interesting sights, Marseille has enough to keep you busy for several days and, when you consider what’s available in the surrounding area, a week might be more like it.  But even with only one day, I was able to take in many of the sights, including Notre Dame de la Garde, the beautiful cathedral overlooking the city; Vieux-Port, the harbor filled with yachts and guarded on each side at its entrance by Fort Saint-Jean and Fort Saint-Nicolas; La Corniche, the road and walkway along the coast; the Palais du Pharo, residence of Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III; and the wide boulevard of La Canebiere.  My Awesome Accommodations at the Hotel Hermes right on the Vieux-Port will be featured in my next posting, so be sure to check back.

Marseille, France at Night

Marseille, France at Night

Marseille, France

The Mediterranean Coast of France

Barcelona, Spain to Marseille, France on the Mediterranean Coast

          For the next five days of my circuit around Western Europe by train I would see some of the most famous landmarks and most beautiful scenery in the world.  It would take me along the Mediterranean coast from Spain to Italy, with stops in Montpellier, Marseille, Genoa, the Cinque Terre, Rome and finally Naples and the Amalfi Coast.  I had seen this region once before looking ashore from the decks of a U.S. Navy ship, but this excursion would give me a whole new perspective looking from shore out to the blue sea from the window of a first class train.


 

Stopover in Montpellier

          We left Barcelona around 9 AM on June 1 and followed the northeastern coast of Spain along the Med for the short distance before crossing the border into France.  The train passed through the coastal towns of Perpignan and Narbonne before making a stop around 1:30 PM in Montpellier where I had to change trains.  The two hour stopover gave me time to get out and enjoy the main square of this lively city, which was bustling with activity and filled with music.

Montpellier, France

Montpellier, France

On to Marseille

          Back on the train we passed through Nimes and Arles, getting frequent glimpses of the water and the seemingly endless number of picturesque little seaside villages.  It was the perfect time of year for a visit…incredibly beautiful weather without the summer crowds.  I didn’t want the trip to end as we arrived in Marseille around 5:30 PM.  Now I would have to hustle, as it was getting a bit late to start looking for a hotel.  I needn’t have worried, since within an hour I was relaxing in what turned out to be one of my Awesome Accommodations, ready to head out to explore another city.

Bound for Bordeaux

Bordeaux, France

          There’s nothing like the prospect of exploring new territory to get a weary traveler up early in the morning.  The eight hour train ride from Paris to Bordeaux started at the Montparnasse station within walking distance of my hotel.  I had purchased a reservation for about $6 the day before which included a 2 hour stopover in Nantes.  The beautiful ride through the Loire Valley took us through LeMans and Angers before we arrived in Nantes around 9 AM.  It was a gorgeous day and I walked around the central part of the city with its wide boulevards and classic edifices.  Of particular note was the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne protected by a water-filled moat and surrounded by beautiful gardens.  Once back on the train we headed south down the Atlantic coast of France, getting an occasional glimpse of the water along the way.

Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne, Nantes, France

Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne, Nantes, France

Hotel Regina

          Arriving at Bordeaux at around 2 PM I immediately found a hotel near the train station.  While nothing fancy, the Hotel Regina easily met my minimum criteria for lodging, including convenient location, safety, and cleanliness.  In addition, it had a friendly staff and I was allowed to go into breakfast before serving time the next morning so that I could make the early train to San Sebastian, Spain.

Hotel Regina, Bordeaux, France

Hotel Regina, Bordeaux, France

A Walking Tour

          Located in Aquitaine on the Gironde estuary, Bordeaux is much more than just a city in the heart of wine country.  My walking tour took me through narrow streets filled with visitors, young and old, enjoying the elegant shops and sidewalk cafes.  In short order I was able to locate the Cathedrale St-Andre, the flea market, the bell tower of Eglise St-Michel, the Great Bell of Bordeaux (Grosse Cloche) and the Monument aux Girondins, which commemorates the leaders from the area who were guillotined during the Revolution.

Great Bell of Bordeaux

Great Bell of Bordeaux, France

The Water Mirror

          Even with all these interesting landmarks, I would have to say that my favorite spot in Bordeaux was the Water Park known as the Miroir d’eau or Water Mirror.  It is located between the river bank and the Place de la Bourse and consists of a large square filled with water only 2 cm deep and accompanied by beautifully manicured gardens.  Here throngs of people hang out alone or in small groups, some to play and others just to cool their heels.  I must have spent several hours just watching everyone enjoy this unique water feature on a warm spring afternoon.  Bordeaux is definitely on my list of places to see again and next time the surrounding countryside will be a top priority.


 

I Love Paris in the Springtime!

A One Day Whirlwind Walking Tour of Paris

          A first time visitor to Paris will certainly need several days or more to do justice to this fabulous city, but as a returning visitor my plan was only to hit some of the highlights before heading deeper into France.  After all, I was on my way to the Atlantic coast area which I had never seen before.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

Getting There

          I left Mannheim in Southern Germany in the late morning of May 28 for the three hour train ride through the beautiful Alsace-Lorraine region of France.  On arrival in the early afternoon I found an office at the Paris train station where I could make a hotel reservation and since time was limited I secured a room on the Left Bank and was soon on the subway heading for Montparnasse.  I was quickly reminded that Paris is one city where you will not find many bargains when it comes to lodging.  With little trouble I found my hotel near the train station from which I would be leaving the next morning and checked in to a very nice room that had a window opening out to the wide, tree lined Boulevard du Montparnasse.  Taking advantage of the conveniences of my backpack, I unzipped the day pack from the main pack, which I could then leave at the hotel.  Armed with a map, my camera, plenty of water and the Let’s Go Europe travel book I headed out to conquer Paris on foot once again.

The Moulin Rouge in Paris, France

The Moulin Rouge in Paris, France

The Left Bank

          My walking tour lasted from about 2 PM until I returned to the hotel around 9 PM and took me essentially in a large circle around the city, encompassing some of the most famous sights and certainly many of my favorites.  Walking past the Invalides it was not long before the Eiffel Tower came into view.  It reminded me of my first visit to Paris some time ago, when rounding a corner after emerging from a subway I spotted this famous landmark off in the distance for the first time.  It is a stunning sight and truly an exciting moment for anyone who enjoys seeing the wonders of the world.  This time I had to pace myself so that I didn’t spend too much time milling around the beautiful park-like area surrounding the tower and pressed on across the Seine River to the Right Bank to see the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Elysees and the entrance to the Elysee Palace, home of the French president.

Montmartre in Paris, France

Montmartre in Paris, France

The Right Bank

          The next leg of my walking tour was the most difficult, as I struggled with the map to find my way to Montmartre where artists put their famous Parisian scenes on canvas.  Passing the Moulin Rouge on the way, I slowly climbed the hilly streets of Montmartre and continued on to the beautiful Sacre-Coeur Basilica at the top, with its breathtaking view of the city.  It wasn’t until I spotted the Maine-Montparnasse Tower standing out alone near my hotel way off in the distance below that I realized how far I had come.  Thankful for my good pair of walking shoes, I slowly made my way back down into the city center area.  Crossing back over the Seine this time at the Ile de la Cite, an island in the river where the Notre Dame Cathedral is located, I was able to get in just before closing to see once again the fabulous rose windows.  Back on the Left Bank again I rounded out my whirlwind tour by visiting the Luxembourg Gardens, the famous university, La Sorbonne, and the Pantheon before dragging myself back to the hotel.

Sacre-Coeur Basilica, Paris

Sacre-Coeur Basilica, Paris

An Excuse to Return to Paris

          Veteran Francophiles will notice right away that I missed some of the most notable sights located in the center of my walking circle around Paris and elsewhere.  To name just a few, the Place de la Concorde of ‘Reign of Terror’ fame during the French Revolution, the Bastille, the Louvre Museum, Versailles with its Petit Trianon, and of course the sidewalk cafes of Paris.  These will have to be at the top of my list on my next visit to the City of Light and make for a convenient excuse to return.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris