Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts

My Trip to France: The French Riviera

Aug 21, 2021

If you follow me on Instagram you know we just got back from France a couple of weeks ago. It was an amazing trip! We took our 19 year old son along for his high school graduation present. I would have taken our younger two boys if they wanted to go as well, but they don't like to travel. I know, they are weird!

I promised a few of you that I would write about how to travel on a budget. It's not my first time in Paris so I had a little insight this trip on where to spend and where to save. We wanted a new experience and a little beach time so we decided to go to the south of France and then head up to Paris. This started to get a little long so I'm dividing this up into two parts, The French Riviera and Paris.

So our first leg of travel was the French Riviera! We decided to stay in Nice. I chose this location because it is in between Monaco and Cannes. It's also a larger city and I wanted to make sure there was enough to do. 

We semi-splurged on a hotel room here so we could have a balcony overlooking the ocean. The room was just okay, but the location and view were perfect. We were right on the Promenade, which is the main thoroughfare along the ocean.

My son wasn't happy when he saw our view and the size of the room compared to his. Sorry, dude!

Nice is very close to Italy so there is a heavy Italian influence. Almost all of the cafes served pizza and there is gelato everywhere. That's great if you have a picky eater like my son. 

TIP: Ask for a carafe of water, which is free of charge. When they ask you if you want sparkling or still water, they will bring you a bottle of water that can be pricey. You have to be clear that you want a carafe.

TIP: Waiters will not come by your table to take your order if you are still looking at the menu. Be prepared to order your wine and dinner all at once. This gives you time to pair your wine with dinner. That's so smart! Sometimes I regret ordering a glass of red when my dinner would pair better with a white.

We stayed just a block away from the fanciest hotel in Nice, Hotel Negresco. We walked by the bar area and decided to go in because it looked so nice. We were blown away! It's not cheap, but the wine is really good and they give you little extras to accompany your wine or champagne. I've never been much of a champagne fan because it's a little too rough on my stomach, but I discovered that's not the case with Moet & Chandon. 

We actually went here two nights it was so nice!

TIP: Don't stay at the fancy hotels, just have a drink or dinner there. I love a great hotel if I actually have time to enjoy it, but in Europe the goal is to just sleep there!

Nice is fun to walk around and there is a small shopping avenue with all of the high end stores. Most people are there to go to the beach, eat and walk around in the evening. The Ruhl Plage behind me is one of many beach clubs on the French Riviera. You can eat, go to the bar or rent a sun bed. They aren't cheap, but it's worth it. The biggest downside is the beach is rocky instead of sandy in Nice. 

We took two side trips from Nice. The first was to Cannes to eat lunch and rent a sunbed at a beach club since they have sandy beaches. The Carlton is the most famous. It's where Grace Kelly filmed To Catch a Thief. It's also extremely expensive so we went to what I thought was the second nicest beach club, Plage du Festival. Everyone else must have thought so too because they were booked for the next two days. We went next door to Long Beach and they said they might have sun beds after we finished lunch since people would be leaving. We had a long lunch with a bottle of rosé, which is what everyone drinks since we were in Provence. The waitress told us this wine was the most popular in France. We did continue to see it on menus throughout our trip and it was really good. 

TIP: Make reservations at the beach clubs.

My son asked me why everyone was so thin the first night we were in Nice. I started to pay attention to what everyone was eating at the cafes and it wasn't hard to figure out. 

TIP: The reason why French women are really thin is because they only eat salads. I'm okay with that if my salad looks like this!

Thankfully, after we had lunch there were sun beds available. My son had trouble adjusting to the time change and went right to sleep. My husband and I enjoyed the turquoise water, people watching and the beach service. I vowed to only eat salads sitting on that beach. Update: I've had only a few salads since being home. 

Cannes or Nice? Cannes is more upscale, has better shopping and sandy beaches. It's also a lot quieter. Nice has more restaurants and is more lively, particularly at night. I prefer Cannes and knew that would be the case going on this trip, but I still chose Nice because it is in the middle of Monaco and Cannes. Another factor is that the closest major airport is in Nice. We had a short stay of only three nights so I didn't want to be traveling half my trip.

Monaco/Monte Carlo was our next day trip. It is beautiful! It is an extremely clean and well kept city. This is the famous harbor where all of the yachts dock.

It's a mix of historic and contemporary buildings all set on the cliffs. 

I was excited to see Casino Royale. This is our view from the famous Cafe de Paris. It's the perfect place to people watch. 

Not the best photo because of the heat. We also had to hurry because Monaco requires masks even outside. 

The back of the casino is just as impressive. We considered going in the evening so we could check it out, but none of us really wanted to get dressed up and hire a car service. We took the train and walked around the city instead. 

There's not a lot of sightseeing to do in Monaco. It's great for the traveler who is more interested in gambling, fine dining and high end shopping. One to two nights here is all you need. I've heard that a lot of people will have a short stay here and then hire a car service to take them to Saint Tropez. Unfortunately, we just couldn't fit Saint Tropez into our trip. It's very difficult to get to because of traffic. If we get to go back we will focus on Saint Tropez and the wine region of Provence.

TIP-Don't stay anywhere more than two nights in Europe if you haven't been there before. That way you get to experience the city, but aren't stuck if there isn't much to do. Exceptions would be large cities like Paris or London. You can still hit the highlights in 2-3 days. Plus there's so much to see in Europe!

Travel Information:

Trains-I didn't love traveling by train for short trips. It's a 30 minute walk from the Promenade in Nice to the train station, especially in the summer when it's really hot. Then there's the waiting for tickets and the train. In retrospect, we should have bought our tickets online and hired a car to take us to the train station. The trains took a lot longer than what's stated on the ticket. It took about an hour to Cannes and Monaco each. About four hours of our day were taken up by traveling. It really wore us out. I made sure on our way back to the Nice airport we had a driver instead of taking the train. It was so much nicer! It might be more economical to travel by train, but it's worth it to splurge on a driver or a rental car.

Flights-We fly to Europe for free! It takes about three years to save enough credit card points to have first class or business class seats round trip. We charge everything we can to our United credit card and pay it off at the end of the month. One benefit of having a United card is the access to airport lounges (depending on the credit card), extra free bags and priority check-ins. Those lines can get long sometimes at the ticket counter. We always get to board first as a 1k member too. It's important if the flight is full and you need to make sure there's enough room for your carry-on in the overhead compartment. 

If you don't want to go that route, one tip I learned from a travel book was to view the best rates on flights at It gives you all of the carriers and prices in one place. 

I hope this gave you insight if you are looking to travel to the French Riviera. Paris is coming up next!

The Best of Charleston: Travel Guide

Dec 24, 2018

I have wanted to visit Charleston for so many years, and I finally was able to tag along on my husband's work trip earlier this month. He had meetings set up on Monday so we decided to leave Friday and explore the city. Once we realized there wasn't a decent flight out until Tuesday, we decided to squeeze a day in Savannah in too. I love history, architecture, quaint cobblestone streets with gas lanterns, and beautiful gardens. It was a given this would be a great trip!

We arrived in Charleston after only a two hour flight from Houston. The Charleston airport is small and easy to get around as is the city so we were at The Belmond in no time. It is gorgeous, posh and very busy! They have a great bar and a couple of restaurants that made the lobby look like Grand Central Station. I can't say the desk clerk was the nicest person in the world, but I can't say it bothered me either. Some people would be immediately put off by this so I wanted to put it out there if you prefer more service instead of just being a number at a large hotel. I was more concerned about getting downstairs to take a look at the Christmas train in the lobby.

My boys loved trains when they were little. It might not be important to them now that they are older, but anything with a train in it was a huge part of our lives for so many years. I kept imagining what their faces would have looked like when they were younger. I shook myself out of that sad, melancholy state when I also realized they would be jumping over the velvet ropes to play with it aka destroy it, and then taking off screaming in the lobby when I caught them mid-jump. It's always important to remember both sides.

We had the hardest time trying to decide where to go for dinner. We had a drink at the Thoroughbred Club in the hotel while searching for the "perfect" place to go.

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There are just too many amazing restaurants in the city to decide on a perfect place, but if there is one it's Circa 1886. It was a bit of a wait for our reservation so we ordered a huge appetizer tray at the bar (big mistake). We should have saved our appetites for every bit of that dinner. Everything from the Christmas themed cocktails to the appetizer to the entree was amazing. We arrived at the restaurant and were escorted to the front door by a man with a lantern since it wasn't well lit. I truly felt like I had stepped back in time. That wouldn't be the first time on this trip. The restaurant is old and quaint with sectioned off rooms that made me think it was probably a house at one point. The menu is anything but old and quaint. It is southern cuisine reimagined for this century. My husband and I shared an appetizer and an entree since I wasn't very hungry. I'm so glad we did because the quail appetizer was amazing!

We did not go to the bars on King Street at all on this trip. Maybe it's because we're finally feeling our age or we could have just been in a food coma. Our Uber driver tried to talk us into a nightcap there, but we just wanted to get back to the hotel and lounge in our hotel robes. The next day we walked around the area to get a feel for the city before heading out to Savannah.

On the way to Savannah we stopped at Magnolia Plantation at the recommendation of our Circa 1886 waiter. It was not only interesting, but it pieced together some of the history we learned on other Charleston house tours later as they referenced the family that lived here.

I was freezing on this porch! Could they find indoor areas for us to wait on these tours? With the exception of one, every single one of them made us wait outside in the near freezing weather.

This river was moving insanely fast! I kept picturing this river being used for transporting cargo hundreds of years ago in my head.

I always expect plantations to be grander than they are like in Gone With the Wind or how I imagine them in my head when reading books. The entertaining rooms are very small, and it's very primitive. Also, I find any time there is an area deeply affected by a time in history it's almost impossible for them to move on from it. I find it to be true in Charleston as well as where I grew up in Louisiana when it comes to the Civil War. It's hard to escape the evidence that surrounds you in the buildings and streets you walk along every single day. I find it to be educational and interesting, but also odd to keep re-living the past since I now live in an area where everything is brand new.

I cannot wait to read a book based upon this plantation. You can find it here.


Savannah is a two hour drive from Charleston so if you have the time it would be great to incorporate both cities into your trip.

The first stop for us was a late lunch at The Olde Pink House. We were told they didn't have any tables open despite the 2pm hour, but luckily a manager stopped me as we were walking out and said he'd squeeze us in. This is where you stop for crab cakes, she crab soup, and fried green tomatoes. It was really good!

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We were seated right in front of this fireplace despite our lack of reservations!

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We stayed at the trendy, boutique Kimpton Brice Hotel. I loved the one we stayed in Austin so I knew this one would be great as well. It's near the waterfront with all of the bars and restaurants.

The bar at the hotel was my favorite with it's Christmas decor and themed cocktails. My favorite one was called the Yippee kay yay mother*****r. Die Hard really is a Christmas movie in my opinion!

This was my third cocktail of the night so it was a bit crooked.

We went to a few bars along the waterfront, but nothing really stood out as worth mentioning. It was a fun night though. We had driven around the city in the afternoon to check out Forsyth Park and the supposed tourist attraction cemetery (felt odd so we left). I realized when we drove past Forsyth Park it looked almost identical to the Forsyth Park that my grandmother's house was near in Monroe, Louisiana. Lightbulb moment! You might know it better as the park Forest Gump sat in with his box of chocolates. I really liked Savannah, but you only need a max of two days there to see everything.

Charleston Part II

The next day we were back on the road to Charleston! This time we checked into The Spectator Hotel. It is absolutely beautiful! The service was amazing. We had a butler that pulled all sorts of tour information for me and slipped it under our door when he learned I would be on my own the next day while my husband worked. He even said to let him know if I would like him to bring me chamomile tea before bed. Breakfast in your room is also included with your stay. This is truly a one of a kind hotel!

Serious interior design eye candy in the lobby

De Gournay wallpaper behind the reception desk

A gingerbread replica of the hotel.

The bar is gorgeous! They set out a charcuterie platter everyday at 4pm too.

Loved our bathroom!

Thinking about painting our doors black, too.

My absolute favorite place I went in Charleston was 5 Church. It's a restaurant and bar in an old church, and absolutely beautiful.

Honestly, go for the ambiance. The wine list is a bit overpriced and could be updated with better selections (you know I'm a wino). I ended up sticking to the cocktail menu. The food was okay, but there are so many better choices in Charleston for the price. Despite that it was still my favorite!

Another gingerbread house to look like the building!

We also toured a couple of historic homes. I love these tours! The guides really know their history and they try to track down every piece of significant history related to the home or family. I always think I know my US history, but am always enlightened in some way.

First up was the Joseph Manigault House.

So walking up to it was kind of ominous...I seriously had second thoughts at this point.

Making him go first!

I was pleasantly surprised once inside! The Garden Club of Charleston decorates the house every year for Christmas. I'm thinking I need to join a garden club to improve my Christmas decor! Do I admit that to them?

This house tour is a bit pricier than others, but it's one of the only ones that let's you take photos inside.

However, the Edmonton-Alston House was the prettiest house we visited. It's sits right on the harbor with gorgeous views from the balcony. It was supposedly a spot to view Ft Sumter at the beginning of the Civil War, but I'm sure General Beauregard enjoyed the view as well.

Image of Edmondston-Alston House

Another favorite home is The Calhoun Mansion. We didn't get to take photos inside, but it is filled to the brim with art and antiques from all around the world. The gardens were my favorite part of the house.

My husband having a bit of fun.

I also enjoyed walking around the residential area on the south side near the harbor.

I love this inn!

The Christmas decor is the best I've ever seen!

Rainbow Row

We also ate at Magnolia restaurant, The Charleston Crab House and Hominy Grill.  They were all good, but Hominy Grill for brunch is a must!

My husband had The Charleston Nasty.


I had the bread pudding French toast with bourbon caramel sauce. Yeah. Surprisingly, I didn't cry when I got on the scale at home. All of that walking paid off! Go ahead and eat your way through Charleston. As long as you are exploring the city on foot the rest of the time you will work it off!

I hope you enjoyed my travel guide!