Country 8 & 9: France & Monaco – May 2006

5 May – Paris
Accommodation: Camping Du Tremblay, Paris

So here we were all assembling just before 6am at the Royal National coffee shop. St Paul’s Tube station wasn’t open at 5:30am so I had to get a £6 taxi. Lame. It was cold and too early and 3 or 4 tours were waiting around. The only people not there were the tour managers and drivers, nor were any of the buses, but eventually they all turned up. We weighed our bags (mine was already half a kg over the 20kg limit but they said it was fine hehe yay!) and piled everything into our bus, then it was off to Dover with a bit of chatting and London sightseeing along the way. There were enough empty seats on the bus to allow me to have no-one next to me, so I got some stretching space.
It was only an hour or two and we were already at the Dover ferry terminal. We all had to get out and hand in our passports for stamping, and it took about 45 minutes from arriving at the terminal to getting on the ferry. I took this opportunity to get out some Euros at an ATM, as did several others. Seeing the chalk White Cliffs of Dover from the ferry was nice, and a fair few of us stood outside on the deck just taking in the scenery and chatting. There was hot breakfast on board but the lineup was huge! So I went to the bar and bought a sandwich. There was also a duty free shop there but I didn’t bother to go in. Damien bought a 12 pack of Stella in the shop for about 12 Euro. Nice work!
Back onto the bus, off the ferry, and on the freeway to Paris. Yay, first new country on tour! Tash took us through some France basics and Contiki basics and whatever else then by the evening we were in Paris getting a whirlwind tour of the city to help us choose where to go on our free day tomorrow. We quickly got out on both sides of the Eiffel Tower to take quick photos, then moved onto our campsite cabins for the night. They were small but clean and had everything you needed really.
We checked in and a lot of people went straight to the pub. I turned up and half our tour was already there. Then we were reluctantly called away to have dinner. It’s hard dragging a bunch of 20-something Contiki-ites away from a bar. We were introduced to our France Contiki reps (I didn’t really need to know who was serving me food but I let them have their moment), then we tucked into chicken, salads, some vegies and bread, and some random juice-type drink. It was pretty average but passable, and a standard we would never rise from for the whole tour. Well, I figured when you’re hungry you’ll eat anything, and it was reasonably healthy.
Then it was back to the bar for more drinks and a sit down for a chat to get to know everyone. Damien got in trouble for drinking his cans of Stella on licensed premises and was asked to leave. Typical. I didn’t get too drunk but I did get excited about being able to order a 1-litre stein of beer so I had 3 of those and turned in.

6 May: Paris
Accommodation: Camping Du Tremblay, Paris

Time for our free day in Paris, and the excitement of our first major European city to explore was high. A large group of us went straight for the Eiffel Tower. After seeing the long lineup on the ground for the lifts and seeing no lineup for the first flight of stairs we were happy to take the stairs and we still beat the people lining up on the ground. We took a few photos of each other with the top of the tower behind us, then we had a half-hour lineup for the only way to the very top i.e. another lift. The view in all four directions was breathtaking, although I was a bit surprised to see a bit of a haze across the city.
We got down and I was happy to tag along with whichever group I could find from that point, so I teamed up with Rick, Lana, Lindsay (the shorter blonde one, we also had a tall blonde Lindsay, and a brunette Lindsay, all very cute), and Kurt. We walked along the banks of the river and had a good chat and some good laughs, and I could see Rick was already making a few moves on Lana, the first tour hook-up I saw in the making. I had a go at ordering a bottle of water. I said “scuse moi, un Evian si vous plait” and the guy said “one bottle of water? Yes, 2 Euro”. Oh well, at least I had a go at your language and you didn’t ridicule me for it.
Next it was off to the Notre Dame Cathedral. There wasn’t a huge lineup and we were in after about 15 minutes. The ceiling was so high, hundreds of candles were lit all over the place, and the stained glass windows were so colourful and beautiful. It was worth the effort.
We then somehow made our way over to the Arc De Triomphe. We actually had to enter an underground tunnel to get to it because it was basically in the middle of a big roundabout and the traffic driving around it had to deal with no lanes, constant overtaking and swerving, and there was no end to the madness so we never would’ve made it across. I have heard people on other tours tried to cross it on a dare, but I would’ve had to had some adrenalin running before trying that! Then we wandered down the Champs De Elysses where the girls had a look a few shops, one I should mention was the Louis Vuitton store. Us guys lost them in there for a few minutes then they miraculously surfaced unscathed. Crazy girls.
We stopped for lunch at a nice café facing out onto a street. Lindsay ordered a spaghetti carbonara and seemed a bit shocked to find out it was served with a raw egg on top. I’d never seen it done before and thought it was unusual. I think she just mixed it in. Some 40-something-year-old guy on another table was taking photos of the girls for some reason and trying to do it without us noticing. It was creepy.
After a bit more wandering around and getting temporary lost we found ourselves at the Louvre on a mission to see the Mona Lisa and anything else along the way was a bonus. We got there about 3:30pm or 4pm or so and there was no lineup! Score! Then inside there was lots of room to move around. I saw the Venus De Milo, lots of great paintings and sculptures and a lot of works by Leonardo Da Vinci, then we finally came to the room where the Mona Lisa was held. It was strange to see such a large room with one small painting on a huge wall, but I guess they needed it to fit all the people at peak times and no-one would actually look at other paintings if they were displayed next to the Mona Lisa as people were only there for one thing.
So we left there after an hour or so and met up with the rest of the tour. We were due to get changed for dinner in the Louvre toilets but they were locked, so we had to do it in the bus. The girls went first with curtains drawn unfortunately, and a couple of the guys decided to give them applause as they exited the bus which was pretty funny, so eventually all of us guys gave every girl an applause as they got off, with most of them looking a bit embarrassed or confused or both. Then we went in to get changed and we were hit by a wave of perfume!
The meal was pretty good. Our snails were filled with so much garlic sauce that they might as well have been prawns but still tasted alright, then we got an assortment of dips or sauces or something but I wasn’t too mad on them, but the main was very nice with large servings of meat and a nice sauce. The wine seemed to keep coming as well, but not to our table because we were in the corner and we had to keep asking for it, so if you do this optional then sit near the door or in the middle to get drunk faster! Then we split up into groups of people going to Nouvelle Eve, and those going to the pub next door to Moulin Rouge, O’Sullivan’s, which is where I went. There was another Contiki group in there and we all had a good chat and a drink and a dance until the rest of the tour turned up and we had to get back on the bus, with most of us drunk. Emily was trying to dance with everyone and eventually got the attention of a local guy, Crystal brought a guy she just met onto the bus, and Nicole went missing so we had to leave her. Anyway, it was a pretty fun night.

7 May – Paris, Thieze (i.e. Beaujolais chateau)
Accommodation: Camping De Cruix, Theize

Time to say goodbye to Paris and hello to getting back on the bus. I woke up with no hangover so that was good, breakfast was average but was hot at least and we got eggs and unlimited coffee, and we were just about ready to go except Nicole still wasn’t back yet! Tash said we could only wait so long for her before we had to leave and eventually that’s what we did.
Another drive on freeways and through a few small towns and we were in the rather isolated Contiki-affiliated chateau. We got into our rooms and someone had found a soccer ball and a rugby ball so a few of us started kicking it around. Then someone said we should have a game so we got into having a full-on game of soccer, so that was pretty fun, full of running and random kicking and sweat and brutality (mostly from the girls!) and laughs all round. Then we went for our Beaujolais wine tasting, which was basically a guy in a Contiki shirt telling us a few things about the wine cellar we were standing in and giving us one glass of wine to drink i.e. not very authentic or historical at all and not exactly a wine tasting, but it was free wine so what the hey. After that it was time to relax and get ready for dinner. It was a bit similar to the Paris campsite dinner and nothing of note to remember, but it was a meal and that’s all that was needed. Then a few of us headed down to the bar for a few here and there before turning in.

8 May – Thieze (i.e. Beaujolais chateau)
Accommodation: Camping De Cruix, Theize

This was our relaxation day after the hectic pace of Paris, although I didn’t think it was that hectic. We got up reasonably late and all got ready to head up to a picnic spot with some packed lunches of baguettes, ham, tomato, and bottles of water. We had a few chats, got puffed out walking up some huge hills, and eventually got up there after not really having any clear directions on where to go, so it was a slow pace all round. Some people figured Contiki did this to us so it would get rid of us long ago for the staff to do what they needed to do back at the base, but it was still nice to get out in a quiet area and see some scenery. On the way back we passed through some vineyards and stumbled across some sort of war memorial ceremony. I didn’t know at the time what this was for, but Wikipedia says on that day in 1945 the Germans surrendered in World War II (Victory in Europe Day) and thousands of Algerian civilians were killed by French Army soldiers in the Sétif massacre. A few hundred people gathered at the war memorial, a guy said a few things in French (as you do in France), a military-style brass band played and walked down the main street and the gathering of people followed, so we figured we’d do the same even though we didn’t know what was going on. It was kinda fun.
We got back to the chateau and played cards for a while before it started to rain. As it started raining we saw another tour group coming back from their picnic walk looking soaked. Most of them went inside and had a sleep while waiting for their rooms to be prepared.
More cards, more dinner, and then it was dress-ups for a themed party, a pyjama party. I wasn’t in the mood to dress up nor did I wear pyjamas so I just didn’t bother. I had a few drinks with lots of other people, checked out the girls from a couple of tours in their PJs, celebrated Crystal’s birthday at midnight, and eventually went to bed.

9 May 9 – FRANCE – Thieze, Avignon, Antibes, MONACO – Monte Carlo
Accommodation: Le Mistral Camping, Biot

Another travelling day today which saw us making a lunch stop at a nice little town named Avignon. This place had a few little castles and stone buildings and cobbled streets and wasn’t overly spectacular but it was a nice place to walk through. It wasn’t completely overrun by tourists and souvenir shops but there were still a fair few around.
Onwards the bus took us to Antibes where we would be dumping our bags in another campsite with cabins. As we arrived there was a mass exodus to the washing machines. Tonight was another dress-up night because we were going to visit Monaco! So the bus took us along a windy road hugging the cliffs and coastline and we stopped at one point to all get out and have photos, and then Tash pulled out some plastic cups and some sparkling wine because it was time to wish Crystal a happy birthday, but even better there was booze for toasting! It may have been rosé and it tasted cheap but who cares? Off we went again and we checked out the Monte Carlo race track (we missed the Formula 1 race by a week. Damn!), saw the Royal residence which was apparently stolen from its original owners 700 years ago, then checked out a casino. A few people went in for a bet but most of us sat just outside in a classy bar and surveyed the drinks menu. I almost died at the prices! I figured I’d go classy though so I ordered a cognac. I went for the cheapest on the menu which was still about 10 Euro but at least it was smooth. People were getting a bit tired by this point.
It was still technically Crystal’s birthday tonight, so even though a lot of people went to bed a handful of us stuck around to get her drunk on B52 shots. I was having a few vodka and oranges while watching the fun unfold but it wasn’t doing much for me so I went to bed after a few of them.

10 May – Antibes, Cannes, Nice
Accommodation: Le Mistral Camping, Biot

Today was a day to explore and it promised so much. So as a large group of us got to the train station we found out that there was a train strike on that day and trains were only running once every hour or two, and we spent at least 1½ hours waiting for one to pick us up. We still got to Cannes about 10 or 11am though. We wandered up and down the beach, we saw a few of the concrete hand imprints on the ground from actors who have been part of the Cannes Film Festival in the past, I scored a crab baguette (it was sooo tasty), then we got bored and caught the train over to Nice. I fell asleep after not getting too much sleep the night before so Rick tried to put a Mentos mint in my open mouth but it rested on my bottom lip, then when I realised it was there it was too late because Gayle had already taken a photo of me. Bastards! haha.
So we got off at Nice and there were crowds and construction word to dodge and we accidentally broke up into a few groups. I was with a few of the girls so when we got to the pebbly beach we took a few photos and had lunch at a seaside café. After that they were in the mood to go shopping and I really wasn’t so I went wandering off. I came across a large flight of steps so I climbed them and up the top I found a really nice manmade waterfall and climbed a little bit further to a lookout point where I could see over the whole of the Nice town and beach and it was a great view, and I got some good exercise doing it too, and it was free! So then I was wandering back by myself and I met a fair few people from the tour at the train station and we all went back to Antibes. Three girls decided to go for a swim seeing the Antibes beach was right next to the train station but it was too cold for me and I just wasn’t in the mood.
So we had our standard Contiki meal and then it was time to move to the bar, and more people joined this time. To get a bit of social interaction going, Gayle offered to teach us a game of Kelly Pool, and basically one person was needed for each ball on the table so 15 of us were able to play. Gayle wrote up the numbers 1 to 15 on pieces of paper, she put them in a hat, everyone had to take one and remember it, then people took turns in having one shot to get as many balls in as possible. If your ball was pocketed you were out of the game. So gradually the balls became less and less, more people got knocked out, then it was down to two people and I was one of them! It came to my turn and I pocketed the other person’s ball, so I won. Yay! We had another game but I got knocked out early and then people lost interest. Still, it was good while it lasted.
I didn’t have too many drinks after this and I eventually gave up and went to bed.

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