Our Airbnb Experience in Nice, France

An invitation to a friend’s wedding in Nice was just the incentive I needed to begin planning a fifteen-day trip to Europe. This time I would be traveling with my brother and sister-in-law. We hit a slight bump in the road when we began searching for accommodations in Nice; not a hotel room could be found! By chance, my brother was watching HGTV and happened to hear mention of Airbnb. I recalled one of my friends (an avid traveler) recommending it several years earlier, so we began doing some research. We settled on a two-bedroom apartment just steps from the Promenade des Anglais in the heart of Nice. From the Airbnb web site, we sent a request to book along with payment authorization. We received a prompt response and confirmation from our host, Laura, along with directions and helpful information about the apartment and the area. The entire experience was well organized and painless. We exchanged contact information (cell phone and email) with Laura and, upon our arrival, she met us at the apartment in person. In addition to handing over the key, she gave us a tour of the apartment and passed along pertinent information regarding it, the building, and the neighborhood. Fortunately, we had no problems and, thus, no further contact with Laura. The apartment was spacious and clean and offered us the opportunity to relax, spread out, and recover from a week of hotel life. Granted, this was our first and only Airbnb experience but, based on our level of satisfaction, I expect to enlist their services during future travels. The company’s Community Standards—Safety, Security, Fairness, Authenticity, and Reliability—reflect a belief that “you should feel at home no matter where you are in the world.” In this case, we certainly did! 24/7 Customer Support is available, so you never have to feel alone in a foreign land!

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If you find yourself in Nice, I highly recommend this Two Bedroom Listing in City Center. It is fully furnished and equipped with a double bed in each bedroom and separate baths—though that was a little different by American standards. One bedroom has a shower and sink; there is a separate bath with a tub and sink; the toilet is in a separate room with a sink. That’s right…only one toilet, but we managed! (The supply of toilet paper was rather meager, so we made a quick trip to the corner market.) The living, dining, and kitchen areas are spacious and there is also a small balcony with a side view of the sea. There is also a washing machine and a drying rack, so we were able to do laundry while we were there. The building is quiet and the location is ideally situated for sightseeing on foot. We walked an average of seven miles a day while in Nice and never used public transportation.

We found the whole Airbnb experience to be simple and straightforward. Just follow these easy steps if you are beginner:

  1. Set up an Airbnb profile
  2. Search for a place (be sure to include your dates and number of guests to get the most accurate pricing)
  3. Make a reservation (some hosts allow instant booking; others prefer to approve reservations before confirming)
  4. Communicate with the host when contacted

Here are a few things you will probably want to know:

  • You will be charged for the total cost of your reservation when it is confirmed.
  • Some hosts require a security deposit, cleaning fee, etc. so be sure to read the terms thoroughly before booking.
  • There are several ways to pay, depending on your country of origin, but case is not accepted at all. Click here for more details.
  • You may write a review for your host within the 14-day period following your visit.
  • Cancellations are subject to the Cancellation Policy indicated by your host.

We were delighted with our Airbnb experience but, as I said, we have only used the service once. I would love to hear about any Airbnb experiences you may have had. Happy travels!

When In London, Afternoon Tea at The Ritz…

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz

One thing we wanted to do for sure while in London was indulge in a traditional English Afternoon Tea. The big question was, where?? After doing our research we settled on Tea at The Ritz Hotel. I would have preferred a true “afternoon” Tea, but that was not possible for two reasons: 1) I made the reservation two weeks before our visit and all afternoon time slots were filled, and 2) it would have been difficult to pause our sightseeing mid-day, change clothes for Tea, and resume our sightseeing afterward without losing precious time.  (We were in London for only two full days). Sooo, we made reservations for 7:30 p.m. We took a fifteen minute cab ride from our South Kensington hotel to The Ritz, arriving a few minutes before our scheduled time, as instructed. While waiting, we enjoyed the music of a string quintet situated just outside The Palm Court. Once seated, we were attended by a rather haughty, but efficient, black-tailed server. The table was beautifully laid out with pristine linens, delicate china, and gleaming silver. We made our tea selections from an extensive array of loose leaf teas—18 to be precise—and were served an assortment of sandwiches with various fillings, freshly baked scones with strawberry preserve and clotted Devonshire cream (to die for), and a sumptuous variety of afternoon tea cakes and pastries. Honestly, I think the tea and scones were my favorite part of our London visit! [Access the full menu here.] Tea lasted one hour and forty-five minutes and was quite an elegant affair. Because of the hour, this served as our evening meal and there was more than enough food for that. The Palm Court itself is magnificent with its gilded ceiling, massive mirrors, amazing chandeliers, and towering fresh floral arrangement. This was such a fun cultural experience and I highly recommend adding it to your London itinerary!

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz

Here are a few pointers to help you plan for and schedule Tea at The Ritz:

  • Daily Tea times are: 11.30 a.m., 1.30 p.m., 3.30 p.m., 5.30 p.m., and 7.30 p.m..
  • There is a dress code: “Gentlemen are required to wear a jacket and tie (jeans and sportswear are not permitted for either ladies or gentlemen) for afternoon tea in The Palm Court.”
  • There are several Afternoon Tea options to choose from—Traditional, Epicurean, Celebration, Champagne, and Seasonal. For more information, click here.
  • The current prices start from £52 per adult and from £30 for children. Click here for up-to-date cost information.
  • You can book your reservation via the booking widget on the Ritz website.
  • Reservations require a credit card guarantee. If you fail to honor your reservation, cancel, amend or reduce the amount of guests within 48 hours, your card will be charged the full price per guest. Reservations for 6 and more guests require a full non-refundable pre-payment seven days in advance of your booking. Cancellations without charge can be made up to 7 days in advance only.

Incidentally, our hotel offered a scaled-down version of Afternoon Tea, but we wanted to experience the “real thing,” and the price difference between the two was not significant enough to deter us from booking at The Ritz.

Related Posts:

A Stroll in St. James’s Park

Big Ben…or whatever it’s called!

Paris vs. London…What say you? (Part 1)


Rue Cler…Paris’ Famous Market Street

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I was excited to discover Rue Cler right around the corner from our hotel in the 7th arrondissement! We arrived in Paris right at lunch time so decided to check out the cafes along this inviting market street. The smooth cobblestones, wrought iron balconies, and window boxes overflowing with brightly colored flowers provided the perfect backdrop for a midday stroll. Generally speaking, Rue Cler is limited to pedestrian traffic which makes it all the more appealing. Our schedule did not allow for the leisurely perusal of the patisseries, chocolatiers, fromageries, delicatessens, and other shops that I wished for, but we did grab a bite to eat at Cafe du Marche’, situated on the corner of Rue du champ du Mars and Rue Cler. I did not know at the time that this cafe is one of the most popular in the area…we chose it simply for its aesthetic appeal (it is the cutest sidewalk cafe with red chairs and delightful awnings) and because the food looked good! Daily specials were written on large chalkboards. Since our French is a bit rusty—code for nonexistent—we made an educated guess and ended up with a couple of delicious entrees. I couldn’t tell you the actual names of the dishes, but I had vegetarian quiche and a green salad while my niece had what appeared to be the French version of a Cobb salad. Our waitress was attentive and we managed to communicate even though she spoke not a word of English and we speak no French. Apparently gratuity is not customary—at least there was no space to add it on to the check—so I handed it to her in person. Those cultural differences can be a bit tricky, but the American in me insists that I tip for good service. After a full afternoon and evening of sightseeing, we returned to Rue Cler for supper and you know the old saying: When in Paris, eat Chinese. Okay, so that’s not exactly how it goes…but I gave my niece free choice and she chose Chinese. It was decent, and best of all…the service was quick and we were able to zip back to the hotel and fall into bed before heading out for another busy day of sightseeing!

Read more about Rue Cler…

Paris Sightseeing Tips: The Famous Rue Cler Open Market Street

Rue Cler – The Most Famous Market Street in Paris!

Rick Steves’ Paris Market 101

5 Reasons to Shop the Market Streets of Paris

Paris or London…What Say You? (Part 4)

(See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 for infographic and backstory.)

The Tower of London vs. Les Invalides

The Tower of London and Les Invalides, Paris

The Tower of London and Les Invalides, Paris

  • Palace, fortress, prison…tourist attraction.  The Tower of London, with its rich and bloody history, is one of the most intriguing landmarks in London.  Dating back to William the Conqueror and built in 1078, the Tower has figured largely in the city’s history.  Probably best known as the site where Anne Boleyn parted company with her head, it was also the temporary “home” of Queen (then Princess) Elizabeth I when she was imprisoned by her sister, Queen Mary I.  The list of names of those imprisoned in the Tower at one time or another is lengthy indeed—dating to as recently as World War II.  It is one of the most popular tourist spots in London and houses the crown jewels.  It is operated by an independent charity called Historic Royal Palaces and is not funded by the Government or the Royal Family.  Tours are given by Yeoman Warders—better known as “Beefeaters”—who live onsite with their families. These tours are informative as well as entertaining.  The Tower is a huge facility, so it is best to arrive early in the day and beat the crowd; there is much to see.  The crown jewels are housed in the Waterloo Barracks and the line tends to be very long, so either plan to arrive when the Tower opens and see the jewels before embarking on a Beefeater tour, or brace yourself and get ready to wait awhile.   888,246 ceramic red poppies have been installed in the moat to commemorate the centennial of the beginning of World War I.  The memorial is entitled, “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red,” with each flower representing a British or Colonial serviceman who was killed in the War.  It is a striking sight and quite impactful. We had a couple of hours to spend at the Tower, which was barely enough time to scratch the surface.  I hope to go back and explore the site more thoroughly in the near future.
  • Hospital and retirement home for war veterans, museum of weaponry and military history, final resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte.  Les Invalides is a sprawling complex in the 7th arrondissement of Paris that faces Esplande des Invalides and the gilded Pont Alexandre III (Bridge of Golden Statues).  It is an imposing, beautifully symmetrical structure that was commissioned by Louis XIV in 1670.  Everything about Les Invalides is impressive—from Bruant’s arched pediment on the north side of the building to Mansart’s gilded dome on the south side.  Its military museums contain artifacts dating from the Middle Ages through the Second World War—uniforms, maps, flags, scale models, weapons, armor, and such.  By far the most interesting thing to me was the Royal Chapel (Eglise duDôme des Invalides) where Napoleon is entombed.  His mammoth sarcophagus contains a nest of six coffins and stands directly under a dome emblazoned with De La Fosse’s allegories.  I was interested to learn that Napoleon actually visited wounded soldiers at Les Invalides during his time in Paris.  Outside the domed chapel is a lovely sculptured garden (Jardin de l’Intendant) with a fountain, flowers, and neatly trimmed hedges. Anyone interested in carefully perusing the Army Museum should allow several hours for a visit; we saw everything of interest to us in about an hour and a half.  Incidentally, we used our Museum Pass and walked right into Les Invalides for a self-guided tour.

My pick:  The Tower of London (Quite possibly my top pick for London, overall!)

Soooo… Paris-2, London-2.  As you can see, it is no easy task to choose a favorite between these two cities.  Each has its own unique personality and much to offer.  Personally, I love them both and hope to have more time to devote to each!

Feel free to share any thoughts you have about Paris, London, a comparison of the two, attractions/landmarks worth seeing—or not.  I always look forward to hearing the opinions and experiences of fellow travelers!  Thanks for tagging along on this four day “Paris vs. London” journey!  Happy Trails to you…

Paris vs. London…What Say You? (Part 3)

(See Part 1 and Part 2 for infographic and backstory.)

The Seine in Paris and the Thames in London

The Seine in Paris and the Thames in London

The Seine vs. The Thames…

  • Strolling along the banks of the Seine was one of my favorite experiences while in Paris.  The pedestrian walkways (quays) are fantastic and were surprisingly uncrowded—especially for summertime.  We easily transitioned from river level to street level (and back again) via staircases attached to the many bridges spanning the Seine.  There were a number of interesting activities and exhibits along the river including an outdoor art expo entitled Les Stars et La Seine, which showcased rare photos from the archives of Paris Match magazine. Among the famous personalities included in the black-and-white collection are Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Rudolf Noureev, Natalie Wood, Alain Delon and Romy Schneider—all photographed in close proximity to the Seine.  Another attraction along the famous waterway is “Paris Beach,” a half-mile stretch that is converted into a makeshift beach during the months of July and August.  Sand is hauled in and put in place—around 5,000 tons of it—accompanied by chaise lounges, umbrellas, live music, and sidewalk cafes.  Though there is no ocean to swim in, Parisians and tourists alike can bask in the sun and watch the river drift by.  I was expecting a lot more boat traffic on the Seine; there was actually very little, which adds to an overall sense of tranquility.  Several companies offer riverboat cruises on the Seine; we chose the evening “illumination” cruise that begins at dusk.  We traveled upriver as far as Île de la Cité before turning around, at which point the sun was setting and the buildings along the Seine were beautifully lit.  It was THE highlight of our time in Paris—primarily because the tour concluded in front of the Eiffel Tower, which was blazing in all of its nighttime splendor.  Add to that, the spectacular “twinkling” light show for five minutes at the top of the hour.  It was truly a memorable experience!
  • Mention of the Thames River evokes instant mental images of Queen Elizabeth I regally setting forth from Whitehall aboard her royal barge, gliding down the river, and imperiously disembarking at The Tower.  (I confess…I am a history buff and an avid reader of historical fiction.) Though we didn’t bump into the queen (past or present), we did acquaint ourselves with the river to some degree by walking along the South Bank.  It was quite crowded, however, and detracted from our enjoyment of the river itself.   The views from the Millenium Bridge and the Golden Jubliee Bridges were great and offered nice panoramic photo opportunities.  There was also a decent view from The Tower—although more interesting than the view of the Thames from there was the view of Tower Bridge.  We took a riverboat cruise from the London Eye to the Tower, but were not terribly impressed with the experience.  While the narration was interesting and entertaining, we were trapped at a table at dead center inside the boat and could see almost nothing.  Add to that the fact that the concession stand was out of basically all snacks and drinks, and it was a less-than-stellar experience.  There was a fair amount of boat traffic which steadily increased as we approached The Tower.  The Thames, with its imposing size and rich history, is impressive for sure…but it lacks the “personal” feel of the Seine.

My pick: The Seine  (Interesting fact: The stone walls along the quays have been declared world heritage sites by UNESCO.  To learn more about the River Seine, go to http://www.aparisguide.com/seine/ or http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24520146.)

Check back tomorrow for my comparison of The Tower of London and Les Invalides

Paris vs. London…What Say You? (Part 2)

(See Part 1 for infographic and backstory.)

St. Paul’s Cathedral vs. Notre Dame

St. Paul's Cathedral and Notre Dame

  • If, like me, you watched with wonder the fairy tale wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer all those years ago, you will want to visit the actual site of that notorious event—London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.  (Even if you didn’t watch the wedding, you will want to plan a visit!)  The magnificent 66,000-ton dome, designed and constructed by Christopher Wren in the late 1600’s, soars above the city at a height of 366 feet.  The cathedral’s interior boasts ceiling mosaics (commissioned by Queen Victoria), an ornate canopied altar, and a number of monuments.  The crypt, located in the bowels of the building, is the final resting place for some of Britain’s most notable heroes, including the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Horatio Nelson.  It also houses a nice gift shop and a small cafe, where we paused for a quick lunch.  The highlight of any visit to St. Paul’s (in my opinion) is the climb to the lantern situated atop the dome.  From ground level, there are 560 steps which pass through three galleries.  The first is the Whispering Gallery, famous for its acoustics…two people can stand on opposite sides of the dome, whisper something against the wall, and be heard by one another.  It is not quite as simple as it sounds, but with persistence—and a little guidance from the employees stationed around the gallery—you can do it. Next, is the Stone Gallery, an open-air space 174 feet up that affords wonderful panoramic views of the city.  The stairs end at the Golden Gallery, a narrow perch encircling the base of the lantern 279 feet up.  The view from there is quite incredible.  For more information or to plan your visit to St. Paul’s, go to https://www.stpauls.co.uk/visits/visits.  My only complaint, if you will, with my visit was the regulation against photography inside the cathedral.  That is always a disappointment.
  • Notre Dame was at the top of my sightseeing list while in Paris but, due to time limitations and its location, we were unable to actually go inside.  Unlike most of the famous landmarks in Paris, Notre Dame does not accept the Museum Pass and, thus, no one is allowed to by-pass the line.  We had walked from Les Invalides, stopping at various landmarks along the way, and arrived at Notre Dame around 5 o’clock.  The line was wrapped completely around the square (Place du Parvis) and the wait to enter was going to be several hours.  With precious little time remaining before flying to Ireland, we opted to admire the iconic church from outside and hope to return and go inside another time.  We were fortunate enough to hear the bells chime while we were there, so that was a small consolation of sorts.  The exterior facade of the church is quite amazing.  The rose window, Kings of Judah, gargoyle waterspouts, and flying buttresses are exquisite and worthy of close examination.  (The history behind these architectural features—especially the twenty-eight Kings of Judah—is intriguing and worth researching before your visit.)  I have been kicking myself since realizing that I completely forgot to look for Point Zero—the center of France—near the front entrance of the church.  I’m sure I walked right past it, but my attention was on the crowd rather than focused on the ground. While I would have loved to see the cathedral’s interior and make the 400-step tower climb, the view from the outside was impressive and will have to hold me over until my next visit to Paris.  For information on touring Notre Dame, go to http://www.notredamedeparis.fr/spip.php?rubrique70.
View from St. Paul's Cathedral, London

View from St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

My pick:  St. Paul’s Cathedral… This choice may seem skewed since I didn’t actually go inside Notre Dame, but I am sticking with St. Paul’s unless and until a return visit to Paris changes my mind. I am partial to domes, however.

Check in tomorrow as I weigh the Seine against the Thames

Paris vs. London…What say you? (Part 1)

I ran across an infographic entitled “Reasons Why Paris is Better Than London” and it set me to thinking about my own impressions of these two cities…

Paris or London…I would be hard pressed to definitively choose a favorite!  That is primarily because—in my humble opinion—these two magnificent cities are polar opposites and, as such, make any preference of one over the other completely impossible.  I visited Paris first…and immediately fell in love with its vibrance…its beauty…its charm.  It was almost like stepping into a movie—or an enthralling book.   A little over a week later I traveled to London and—you guessed it—fell in love all over again!  Though much more fast-paced than Paris, it retains an old-world, Dickens-esque charm that is offset by the very modern hustle and bustle.  So…rather than attempting to choose a “favorite” between two of the most captivating cities in Europe and setting myself up for instant, abysmal failure, I will instead compare a few of the famous landmarks.

Eiffel Tower and London Eye

The Eiffel Tower vs. The London Eye

Both are iconic attractions, instantly recognizable on their respective cityscapes.  The Eiffel Tower literally “towers” over most buildings in the world at 1,063 feet tall.  The London Eye—though imposing it its own right—seems rather short in comparison at a mere 443 feet high.

  • To me, the Eiffel Tower is the quintessential symbol of Paris!  When I dreamed of visiting Paris, it was a vision of climbing to the top of the tower that was uppermost in my mind.  The structure itself is grand, magnificent, awe-inspiring…whether viewed from the ground or experienced from within.   (Because it is so popular with tourists from around the globe, you should plan to book your tickets well in advance of your visit.)  There are three floors that comprise the visitor areas of the tower—not counting ground level.  On the first level you can step out onto a transparent deck and look down 187 feet to the ground; the second level offers a glassed-in, circular view over Paris.  You can reach these two levels via a glass-paneled lift (elevator, for you Americans), which offers incredible views, or you can choose to climb the stairs.  The third level is comprised of an open-air area as well as an enclosed area—both providing spectacular views of Paris. Definitely—in my opinion—a “must-see” in Paris!  (For more info, visit the official web site at http://www.toureiffel.paris/.)
  • I still consider The Eye to be London’s “new” attraction. Roughly 111 years “younger” than its Parisian counterpart, this colossal observation wheel is located on the South bank of the Thames River.  Also known as the Millennium Wheel, it makes one complete rotation every half hour, offering outstanding aerial views of London.  You can take a ride every day of the week—morning, afternoon, or night.  We chose an evening time slot and the only real downside was the setting sun, which created a glare in many of my photos as it reflected off of the glass capsule. For that reason alone, I would recommend choosing either midday or night if your interest is photographic.  The thirty-two passenger capsules can hold up to twenty-five people each.  While not crowded, per se, it makes for pretty close quarters.  For more info, visit the official web site at https://www.londoneye.com/Experience/.)
View from the Eiffel Tower (left) and the London Eye (right)

View from the Eiffel Tower (left) and the London Eye (right)

My pick:  The Eiffel Tower…hands down.

Check back tomorrow for my comparison of St. Paul’s Cathedral and Notre Dame

Charleston, SC…Hands down, my favorite U. S. city…

Rainbow Row

Historic Charleston’s Rainbow Row

When asked which U. S. city I most like to visit, my answer is immediate and decisive.  Charleston, South Carolina is at the tip-top of my favorites list!  We spent a full week there during the summer of 2012 and returned in 2013 following a trip to nearby Savannah, Georgia.  We stayed in a boutique hotel in the heart of the city’s historic district within easy walking distance of all of the main attractions.  We toured primarily on foot, but also took advantage of the awesome bike cab service and enjoyed a horse-drawn carriage ride.  Charleston is pristine and elegant—replete with stately mansions, lavish gardens, and an abundance of significant landmarks and structures reflecting its importance during both the Revolutionary War and the American Civil War.  We were impressed with the friendliness and charm of the residents, and admired the pride they so obviously exhibit for their city.  We were captivated by the numerous flower boxes that abound throughout the city—each one bursting with lush, vibrant blooms of every imaginable color!  We learned that these boxes are equipped with automatic sprinkler systems that keep the flowers looking gorgeous at all times…just breathtaking!  Charleston exceeded our expectations in every way.  We were sorry that we didn’t have more time to spend there, but certainly intend to return.