If there is a vacation hotspot we have all heard of in Europe, it is the French Riviera. Nice and Monaco are head of the class with Cannes and the island of Corsica as honourable mentions. The glitz and glamour of this region has been endlessly captured in films and of course, the reality television stars of Made in Chelsea, can’t keep themselves away. Hundreds of celebrities flock to the South for the Cannes Film Festival each year. It’s safe to say that this was one of the stops on our tour that I was most looking forward to.
When our Topdeck group pulls up into Nice, we drive along the promenade to our accommodation, Hotel National. It is already late afternoon, yet the famous pebble beach is still packed from end to end with baked bodies. Despite being past 5, the sun is still blazing.
With a few hours to kill before dinner, we take a short walk up to the famous look-out point that provides a sweeping panorama of the Promenade. Time to add another postcard ready snapshot to our Facebook profiles. There is a wonderful ledge that I hoist myself onto and get comfortable. I am so relaxed up here that I could wait and watch the sunset, look at the people pick themselves up and make a bee-line for the ocean front restaurants.
However, I can’t hang out above the Promenade forever as our whole Topdeck group meets back together to head out for dinner. We are served French cuisine complimented by ridiculously strong cocktails that had me buzzing even before we get to Wayne’s bar. I will take a moment to discuss Wayne’s. If you’re reading this and are between the ages of 18 – 20something and planning a trip to Nice, I know you will find yourself in this same den of sin. It’s basically inevitable.
Wayne’s is not only the stomping ground for every Australian and English backpacker, but Contiki and Topdeck groups are also brought through on nearly a nightly basis. Sure, it is possible to have a lot of fun here, but in a town like Nice, you can take a stroll and find many other night life options. I’d say have a quick beer and get out of there. You will save yourself being drenched in a sweat cocktail. A friend of mine who spent a summer in Nice, recommended the bar just to the left of Wayne’s with one big tip – try speak as little as possible. The door man is unwelcoming to those who are blatantly fresh from Wayne’s. It is ideal if you can convincingly fake your way through basic French with an accurate accent.
One of my goals when travelling is to push myself out of my comfort zone and do things that my Auckland self would not do. This meant that the top of the agenda for Day Two on the beach in Nice would have to be – topless sunbathing. Rolling out of bed around mid-morning once the sun felt like it was screaming at us to get up and get out, Jess and I head down to experience our first true pebble beach.
Take a few more steps. God damn it, more pain.
The plus side is that this is probably good reflexology for free.
Once we’ve got our spot on the beach, I have to decide how to work up the nerve to take off my bikini top and lie there, with my boobs out in the open for any and all to see. The first priority was that Jess and I could not see any of our fellow TopDeckers in sight. We were not quite at that level of sharing with the group. Instead, it seemed far easier to us to share our boobs with strangers. I’m not sure if that makes sense or not, but it did to us at the time.
I purposefully find a section of the beach where I can see fellow women with their breasts on display. This was pure strategy. As the more girls with their tops off, then the more normal and less conspicuous it feels. In Europe, it isn’t a big deal to sunbathe topless as a woman, but coming from the conservative beach culture of New Zealand, I was definitely feeling nervous.
Easing myself into this experience, I lay on my tummy and undo the straps of my bikini. This is a familiar situation, then breathing in a quick, “Just stop being a wuss and do it”, I flip over to my back and make myself forget that dozens of strangers can now see my boobs.
It is funny how quickly you desensitise to it. Within a few minutes, I feel comfortable. I get up when the sun is burning too bright and take a dip in the ocean to cool off. All without putting my bikini top back on. Nobody pays attention to me and I am only paying attention to my freedom. I know I will sound dramatic, but it is a genuinely invigorating and liberating feeling not having to keep my breasts under wraps. I love it. Plus, getting to swim during the day time without a bikini top on is totally awesome. I highly recommend this.
After a long day on the beach, it is time to get dressed up to join the Topdeck group for an evening excursion to Monaco. The idea, in theory, is that we will get a few hours to goggle at how the rich other half live. Fast cars, high rollers, Louis Vuitton luggage piled outside the Hotel de Paris and over-priced martinis with people dressed to kill is how we are sold the idea of ‘MONACO’.
I have no doubt, that Monaco is all of these things and so much more. I’d both love and hate to know what happens inside the rooms of the Monte Carlo Casino up beyond the red roped off staircases. We, the tourists, only pretending to have cash and a hope of winning big, are instead escorted into one small main casino room. The room itself is exquisite in its décor and certainly exceedingly lux. Reflected back in the mirrors though, we can just see ourselves, all looking a tad out of place in this glamorous room.
Cutting our losses, some of our group decide to attend a dinner with the tour guide, while others find cocktail lounges to relax at and I, with a few friends on tour, move down to the Sun Casino – one that was promised to be a little more to our speed. Jess and I get into baby gambling at the Rapid Roulette table. We play 20 – 50 cent bets until we run out of the 10 Euros coughed up to spend. I’d say this certainly fits into the “high roller” category of Monte Carlo with that level of risk taking.
Truth be told, Monaco let me down. My romantic-nonsense addled brain had imagined some sweeping transformation story arc where somehow it ends with me being whisked away onto the yacht of a handsome billionaire. The man in my story is somehow charmed by this overly-excitable and awkward Kiwi girl. We sail away into the sunset.
Instead I was piling back onto the Topdeck pumpkin as the 10pm curfew bell rang out loud and clear, dashing all ridiculous notions that my exotic saviour would come crashing out of my dreams and into my reality.
For those wanting to make the most out of an evening in Monaco, I would suggest finding a way to afford at least one night in a hotel there. Not that I was around to see it, but I can guess how much more alive it would get later on as everybody comes out to play and the bottles of Cristal are popped and poured freely. If you think it is worth it, save up the cash to have one crazy night here. I believe that if Monaco is done right, it could quite possibly be, one of the most unforgettable experiences a person might have in their lives. Even in our short and uneventful three hours there, it is impossible to deny the excessive wealth that radiates all around you.
Perhaps one day I’ll find myself on a super yacht. Until then, I’m cool with the topless tanning in Nice. It’s a sweet life to be living.