France/Monaco

It’s my visits to France that really make me wish I had kept up with my French Immersion schooling. At one stage in my life I was pretty darn close to being bilingual – my mom said when I would talk in my sleep it was in French – but now I am lucky to carry on the most basic of basic conversations. Je m’appelle Brittney. Comme si comme sa.

While on my Contiki tour around Europe I had the opportunity of seeing a lot of the country, and a lot of which I did not appreciate at the time. We took the ferry from the Cliffs of Dover over to France, spent a few days oogling at the beautifulness that is Paris, headed south to the Beaujolais wine region and Fontainebleau, and then finished up by cruising along the French Riviera. It was a dream.

 

When I think back to my first trip to France I remember being in awe of the size of the cars and parking spaces. Teeny tiny. I also remember thinking there was dog shit everywhere, but now realise that is just all of Europe. Ditto for the cars. And I did think that despite all of the bad flack they get, the French really aren’t the arrogant assholes everyone makes them out to be. Sure, they’re proud and protective of their culture, but so what? As they should be.

My subsequent visits to France have been even more dreamy than the first, though.

In May 2014, my babe friend Gina and I decided we wanted to go to the South of France. Because, why the heck not. She had never been, so we picked a bank holiday weekend to go. It wasn’t until after we booked that we realised that weekend was the Monaco Grand Prix and the end of the Cannes Film Festival. What luck! As exciting as this revelation was, it also meant that accommodation was very very very hard to come by. At one stage I was looking at a bed in an 8 person dorm, in a dingy hostel, that was working out to be €350+ pp for the three nights. Non merci.

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This was when Airbnb was relatively new to the scene, so after chatting to some friends about it, we decided to give it a go and booked a studio apartment right in the smack dab middle of Nice. It worked out WAY cheaper than the sweaty hostel, and we had our own pad. This was my first Airbnb experience and could not have sang its praises more.

I really get nostalgic when I look back at that weekend. As far as quick holidays go, this one is up there with the greats. We met up with a mate of mine who I had met in New Zealand, who was now working as a yachtie on the boats in Antibes, and let him and his friends show us around their stomping grounds.

We arrived late on the Friday night, quickly dropped our shit off at our apartment, and made our way down to Wayne’s Bar in Nice. After a few quiets there, we grabbed a couple bottles of vino and drank in the streets, as you do. Gina even drove one of those rickshaws around. All in all, great decisions made.

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You know the term ‘liquid diet’? Well, for four days all I ate was a croissant, a McDonald’s hamburger, and a slice of pizza. Hand on heart, that’s the truth. We consumed the most rosé I have ever seen at Moorea Beach Club in Juans-Les-Pins, had bubbly on my friend Lee’s yacht that was docked in Cannes, and drank my body weight in wine at the Monaco Grand Prix final. I am convinced I became 75% wine that day.

You can mathematically measure the amount of fun I have on a night out by the amount of personal belongings I lose. It is like a line graph; the more fun I have the more shit I lose. We had tickets to go to the last day of the Grand Prix, and even though the tickets were the worst ‘seats’ in the house and only really gave us access to a road for viewing, it still was one for the books.

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I lost my entire purse that day. My whole fucking purse. I could not tell you where I left it, or why, but assume I got real excitable, started dancing, and threw my bag on a wall somewhere. Luckily we were in Monaco, where no one has any need for a €25 pleather handbag, so some rock star human turned it in. It took me roughly 2 hours before I actually realised I didn’t have a purse, and then even when I did my care levels were pretty low. I was having way too much fun. Gina and I managed to finagle our way into the Red Bull After Party that was in the pits, made new friends, and danced the night away.

We left the party around 3am, realised we had missed the last train back to Nice, and then true reality sunk in. I still had no purse, Gina had €20 to her name, and we were looking at spending the night in Monaco. To be fair, there are worst places to spend the night, but passing out in a train station isn’t classy no matter what way you cut it.

As I said before, I’m a problem solver. The way we solved this problem is I started walking around saying ‘help me, I’m poor’ (a la Bridesmaids movie). Some lovely men overheard our distress calls, and as they were headed to Nice to catch a flight they offered us a lift in their corporate car. We were zero craic on the ride – we got in, fell asleep, started snoring, and woke up when we were outside our building. We apologised that we couldn’t contribute to the fare, but they insisted to just ‘pay it forward’. What humans.

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Reality started being really real the Monday morning. How did I manage to lose a whole bag?? Honestly. After running through a mental list of all the items I had in the bag, and going through all of Kübler-Ross’ stages of grieving (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), I decided to chance my arm and give the Monaco Police Department a ring. They had the bag. Down to the last cent that was in it. So…back on the train I got to Monaco to collect it.

Karma is real. It really is. Good things come to nice people, and I felt I owed the world a few favours after a few favours were gifted my way that weekend. Being nice isn’t only good for the soul, it’s also good for getting your belongings back.

My second trip to Paris last May (2015) also saw me lose a wallet. This was not due to my intoxication, but rather due to the ridiculously talented pickpockets on the train. Like my time in Monaco, I refused to let lost personal belongings ruin my holiday. I shrugged my shoulders, said ‘Fuck, Brittney!!’, and then carried on with my day.

Despite constantly going on holidays, moving away from home, and having to endure goodbyes more often than I would like, I still have not mastered them. I tear up, make a scene, and ruin any makeup I had put on. But, on my last trip to Paris what I realised is that ‘goodbyes’ can actually be alright, because they inevitably mean there will be an amazing ‘hello’ in the future.

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I was meeting up with my old Kiwi pal Lauren there; we became close when I lived in Wellington, New Zealand, and I hadn’t seen her in nearly four years. What more romantic of a place for a reunion than Paris?

Our first day together was spent drinking wine in the park under the Eiffel Tower and having drinks in any cute café we could find. That night we made our way out to find a place to dance, and although we struggled for the first while, we ended up in a local underground spot which unfortunately I cannot remember the name. We thought we looked the part rocking up there – we had our best outfits on, I had been living in Europe so have a somewhat European style-sense, but we stuck out like sore thumbs. Lauren, to be fair, is a six-foot blonde bombshell (former Miss Wellington), so the lads were flocking to her.

It must be the French smoothness, but one guy got his friend to come ask me (yes, me) permission to speak to Lauren. After I gave him the squinty judgmental eyes, I ok’d the situation. Turns out the suitor was some famous French boxer. He wanted to wine and dine Lauren, and me by default. We left that joint and went with boxer man and his mates to the Tarantino-inspired Titty Twister club. We spotted a few famous French faces there, danced to some rap and RnB (wasn’t expecting that kind of music in Paris to be honest), and then called it a night.

Our second day was similar to the first – we strolled the beautiful streets, saw some sights, bought some art, and drank some wine. We wanted another night out, so knowing we had fun we went back to that first underground bar. This time we got chatting to a group of Swedes, who told us the best and most exclusive club in town is Chez Raspoutine.  We were sold. But, they warned, it was debatable whether we would even get in, and we definitely wouldn’t be getting in with a group of lads.

So, we ditched them. The two of us hopped in a taxi and optimistically headed towards the club. When we arrived there was not a soul insight and from the outside it wasn’t very impressive; a stocky bouncer stood at the door, and that was about it. We walked up, and were instantly told ‘Non’. I can imagine that is what Berghain in Berlin would be like. Disheartening. We kind of stood there, lingering, not really knowing how to take the rejection, and like a knight in shining armor up walked a group of Argentinian business men. They asked us what we were doing, and we told them nothing because they weren’t letting us in. After a few phone calls made, and a reluctant looking bouncer, we were allowed to join the party.

What a party it was.

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The whole ambiance of the place exudes Parisian luxury. Red velvet curtains, velvet booths, and a very small and exclusive atmosphere. And did I mention pumping tunes? I was in heaven. We drank  Dom Pérignon all night, danced, and just really could not believe our luck. The Argentinian guys were real into rugby, so with Lauren being from New Zealand and me having lived there, we had good and surprisingly un-creepy chats with them. They ended up jetting off, but not before leaving a bottle of vodka for us. We didn’t let it go to waste and partied until the sun woke up.

I left Paris that weekend even more in love with it than the first time I had visited. Some people think it is overrated. Not me.

The Tips:

  1. Really try and learn some French! People think the French are smug, but you’re the actual prick when you go to a foreign country and expect them to speak English.
  2. The pastries and wine really ARE that good, so indulge. I am super confused as to how French women are painstakingly stunning though…
  3. Taxis in the South of France are outrageously priced. For us to get from my mates yacht in Cannes to Nice it cost a cool €200. That night in Monaco when we were trying to get back to Nice…try €300. You would be getting lifts in Mercedes and the like, but be forewarned they are expensive!
  4. The trains, however, are very affordable and convenient. We took the train heaps, from Nice -> Antibes -> Juans-Les-Pins-> Nice -> Monaco. And the route is *stunnin*.
  5. Normally I shy away from crowds, but if you can get to Monaco for the Grand Prix, do it. It was never a ‘Bucket List’ item for me before going, but for many it is, and I now know why. The energy there is amazing, and pair that with the most luxurious and aesthetically pleasing place in the world. Times.
  6. The beaches in Nice are stones, not sand. Just FYI.
  7. If looking for accommodation in Paris I would recommend the  8th Arrondissement (Champs-Élysées area), or the 1st (which it connects with). We stayed in the 7th, near the Eiffel Tower, and although not a massive inconvenience, we spent most of our time in the 8th and 1st.
  8. WATCH YOUR SHIT ON THE TRAINS!!! Have a handbag that closes with a zip, don’t keep valuables in your pockets. They are pros. It’s actually incredibly impressive.
  9. If you can somehow sweet talk your way in, go to Raspoutine! But you will need luck/connections on your side! If you need an idea of the level of toughness to get in, have a peek at this video where they refused Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black): https://youtu.be/GaSPbpBd8ac

 

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