24 Hours in New Orleans / Louisiana

Jackson Square, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

Jackson Square

8.30 – Breakfast at Ruby Slipper

With a busy day planned ahead, and a schedule tightly packed with all sorts of activities, an early start at Ruby Slipper (200 Magazine Str.) seems like the perfect option: smiling staff, hearty food, and free coffee refill. Now, do not expect a culinary fiasco, but some good old-fashioned eggs a-la Benedict and pancakes would do the trick. What is more, everything is prepared entirely of local produce so in case you want to support New Orleans purveyors, here’s one easy way to do so.

Ruby Slipper New Orleans NOLA Breakfast

10.00 – The French Quarter

After indulging on eggs and bacon, we simply crossed Canal str. to find ourselves at the beginning of the French Quarter, the oldest neighborhood in the city of New Orleans. It houses low buildings with incredible ironwork on most balconies. Sophisticated jazz, authentic voodoo and modern art co-exist in a mix to satisfy every taste.

French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

We walked to the very end of the French Quarter, following Royal Street, or the Art street as I frivolously named it. Here you can find anything from oil paintings to modern pop art to antique shops. And if you get tired of the art inside, the art outside is just as beautiful.

At the end of Royal Street is located the Old Mint, a small museum featuring a short yet descriptive history of New Orleans from financial point of view, as well as a beautiful gallery of photos of famous jazz performers from the city. And all this accompanied with light jazz in the background. Priceless.

12.00 – Masks and Quick Bites at the French Market

Right behind the mint begins the French Market – an open market featuring all sorts of souvenirs and all sorts of food. Anyone care for a gator on a stick? I myself didn’t dare to try it, but I already had my fair share of alligator meat at Antoine’s.

French Market, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

French Market, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

French Market, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

French Market, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

13.30 –  The Audubon Aquarium of Americas

Exiting the French Market, filled with colorful imagery and dense tastes, we did what every tired tourist should do – take a calming walk by the riverfront.

Mississippi Riverfront, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA Mississippi Riverfront, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

Destination: Audubon Aquarium of Americas.

The Audubon Aquarium of Americas New Orleans

The Aquarium is probably one of the best places to spend (at least) half a day in New Orleans. The space is both interactive and entertaining regardless of your age. My personal favorites were by far the gigantic aquarium with sharks and an enormous yet gracious sea turtle (visible from the second floor, but go down one level to find a nice seating observation area), the feeding of the penguins (twice a day, for exact hours check the calender), and the parakeets house (yes, I know, parakeets are no sea animals!). Just be careful, the parakeets are prone to stealing.
The Audubon Aquarium of Americas New Orleans

The Audubon Aquarium of Americas New Orleans

The Audubon Aquarium of Americas New Orleans

The Audubon Aquarium of Americas New Orleans

Penguin feeding

The Audubon Aquarium of Americas New Orleans

The frog with the craziest blue skin color

The Audubon Aquarium of Americas New Orleans

The Audubon Aquarium of Americas New Orleans

Naughty parakeets

17.00 – Streetcar Ride to Garden District

The Aquarium closes at 17.00 but the sun is still high in the sky.  Best thing to do is dive into another part of the city: the Garden district. To get there it takes a quick (read 20 minutes) drive on the green streetcar (we took it from the corner of Canal str. and Carondelet str.). Now, the Garden district is visually the opposite of the French Quarter – silent streets, few tourists, big 19th century mansions, and even a cemetery.

Garden district, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

Garden district, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

Cemeteries are just as much of a tourist attraction in New Orleans as any other museum. To our disappointment this one was already closed by the time we arrived so we only managed to sneak peek through the gate. However if you are interested in checking it out I suggest you follow some of the free guided tours organized by volunteers – check when is the next one here.

20.00 – Drinks at Bourbon Street

As the sun sets, we head back to Bourbon Street in the French Quarter to see the other face of the neighborhood. Lights are bright, music is loud and the air smells heavily of beer. New Orleans is one of the few cities in the USA where drinking alcohol is allowed in public. (A tradition which probably stems from the Mardi Gras festival.) We find ourselves a table on the balcony of Embers and observe the party madness below us while sipping on a glass of wine.

Bourbon street by night, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

This is the best thing about New Orleans, you can go big or you can simply sit back and take it easy. That’s why they call it the Big Easy, right?

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Three Must-try Restaurants in New Orleans

Beignets at Cafe du Monde

Being in New Orleans and not checking out Cafe du Monde‘s famous French beignets is almost like going to Paris and not visiting the Eiffel tower. It is safe to say, beignets have become some sort of a symbol of New Orleans. All travel guides will lead you straight to the original coffee stand of Cafe du Monde (dating back to 1862) located right in front of Jackson square. Now, if you like to be in the center of the tourist vortex and you are after an authentic experience, then just line up and wait patiently for your turn to come (which may easily take up to 30 minutes). However, if you are not after the authenticity but instead after the taste, continue a few blocks down – right in the heart of Riverwalk Outlet Center you will find a smaller and more recent installment of Cafe du Monde wonderfully located at Mississippi’s waterfront. Queues here are rare, places are almost always available and you can enjoy your beignets at your own pace.

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Po’Boys and Alligator Bisque at Hermes Bar by Antoine’s

If you are a fan of fine dining (I am talking white table cloths, very attentive waiters, and exquisite tastes), you shouldn’t miss Antoine’s, the oldest French-Creole restaurant in New Orleans. The restaurant has been in operation for 175 years, and is still owned and operated by relatives of the original founder, Antoine Alciatore. You want the same great culinary experience but without the pretense of a black tie? Head straight next door into Hermes bar. The bar serves all signature dishes from the main restaurant menu, as well as a selection of finger food to accompany your drink. Like the Oyster Foch Po’Boy, a traditional Louisianan sandwich served on a baguette-like New Orleans French bread. For the most adventurous, there is Antoine’s famous Potage Alligator au Sherry, a wonderfully rich in flavors alligator bisque. It did take some encouragement from the staff, but once persuaded I never regretted giving it a try.

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A Po Boy is a traditional Louisianan sandwich.

 

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My first alligator bisque

 

Chocolate Pecan Crunch at Bourbon House

For a relaxed dining experience in the epicenter of hectic Bourbon street, there is no better place than Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House. The restaurant prides for an extensive selection of bourbons and is the official home for New Orleans Bourbon Society. Now, I am not a bourbon kind of girl but I was instantly drawn to the outstanding oyster bar. However don’t simply cross Bourbon House off your list if you are not crazy for raw seafood either. Instead, try the to-die-for sweet potato beignets, the red beans hummus (another specialty in New Orleans) and finish off with the the best chocolate pecan crunch you have ever tasted in your life.

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Red beans hummus is yet another specialty in New Orleans

 

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The best chocolate pecan crunch in town.

 

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Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie (Banitsa)

Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie Banitsa Recipe

The guests are about to come, but nothing seems to be ready. Does this sound familiar? If so, then you know by now that getting sick out of a sudden or ordering in Chinese are no good exit strategies. Instead, I suggest you a better alternative: a quick and easy recipe of a traditional Bulgarian cheese pie, or the so called banitsa. All you need is a couple of ingredients and about an hour to whisk the most delicious cheese pie your guests have ever tasted. I bet they will ask for an extra portion.

Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie Banitsa Recipe

Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie (Banitsa)

Prep time: 20 minutes | Cooking time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:
  • 1 packet filo pastry
  • 300 gr cheese (feta)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 tea cup filled with milk
  • 1/3 tea cup filled with yogurt
  • 1/2 Tbsp bicarbonate
  • oil or melted butter to grease the pastry
Directions:

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Lightly grease your favorite (round) tray with oil or melted butter.

Place yogurt and bicarbonate in a cup, mix well and set aside for a couple of minutes.

Crumble the feta with the help of a fork. Add the eggs, the milk and the yogurt-bicarbonate mixture and mix well until smooth.

Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie Banitsa Recipe

Spread the filo pastry sheets. Sprinkle a bit of oil on the top sheet, and then place a bit of the mixture on it as well.

Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie Banitsa Recipe

Roll the filo sheet and place it in the center of your tray.

Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie Banitsa Recipe

Repeat for each of the other filo sheets. The rolled sheets are placed outwards from the center in a circle until the whole tray is filled. If some of the mixture is left, spread it evenly on top of the banitsa.

Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie Banitsa Recipe

Bake for approximately 40 minutes until gold. Once ready, take the banitsa out of the oven, cover it with a dry towel and let it “rest” for a while before consuming.

Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie Banitsa Recipe

Serve with a smile, and enjoy every bite. Bon appetit!

Traditional Bulgarian Cheese Pie Banitsa Recipe

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Traditional Swedish Gingerbread Cookies (Pepparkakor)

Традиционни шведски джинджифилови сладки

Happy New 2015! May it be healthy, prosperous and joyful!

In the spirit of new year’s resolutions you may expect me to present you with a slimming recipe without any carbohydrates, fats or sugar. Well, we all know that new year’s resolutions only last for a couple of days, right? And since by now the first days of the year are simply numbers on the calender, it is high time to get realistic again and admit it: that diet we were planning on is (most probably) not happening, so let’s stop fooling ourselves, roll up our sleeves and bake some extraordinary delicious cookies based on an original Swedish recipe (the so called pepparkakor). Swedes tend to bake them before Christmas, and consume them all the way through the end of January. However, tradition aside, these cookies are the best way to wow your guests throughout the whole year. The result is always guaranteed.

Традиционни шведски джинджифилови сладки

Traditional Swedish Gingerbread Cookies (Pepparkakor)

Prep time: 15 minutes | In the fridge: min 24 hours
Cooking time: 10 minutes | Yields: 120 cookies

Ingredients:
  • 150 gr butter
  • 2.5 dl sugar
  • 0.5 dl light syrup
  • 1/2 Tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 Tbsp ground carnations
  • 1 Tbsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 Tbsp bicarbonate
  • 100 ml water
  • 7.5 dl flour
Directions:
  • Get the butter to soften to room temperature.
  • Add sugar and light syrup and mix with an electric mixer until mixture is even.
  • Add all of the spices and the bicarbonate and mix well. While mixing, pour the water. At last add the flour (sifted) and knead into a soft dough.
  • Form the dough into a small ball, wrap it into a plastic foil and let it rest in the fridge for a minimum of 24 hours.

Традиционни шведски джинджифилови сладки

  • Pre-heat the oven to 200-220 degree C. Line a tray with a baking paper.
  • Lightly sprinkle with flour the surface on which you’re going to roll out the dough.
  • Take a bit of the dough ball, roll it out (until thick approx 2-3 mm) and form the cookies with the help of your favorite cookie cutter. Place the cookies on a tray, while leaving some space between them. (They are going to increase in volume while in the oven.)
  • Bake in the middle of the oven for approx 8-10 mins until golden.

If you wish you could only roll out a part of the dough, leaving the rest in the fridge for a later use. The dough can be kept in the fridge for a week.

The cookies become tastier and crispier as time goes by. Store them in a cookie box or a cookie jar to protect from humidity.

Традиционни шведски джинджифилови сладки

Bon appetit!

Традиционни шведски джинджифилови сладки

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Jamie’s Italian / Stockholm, Sweden

Jamie's Italian - Stockholm - Sweden

I have been fascinated with Jamie Oliver and his kitchen ever since my first visit to a Jamie’s Italian in Westfields. So when a new flagship restaurant opened doors in central Stockholm, it was only a matter of time to give it a try.

Jamie's Italian - Stockholm - Sweden

We went to Jamie’s Italian in Stockholm just a couple of weeks after the grand opening, on a whim, after a long day of shopping. ‘Reservation?’, asked the smiling headwaiter, and we shook our heads in denial. ‘Well, we have some nice tables by the kitchen, follow me please’ she beamed at us while moving at a brisk pace away from the spacious empty tables overlooking the busy main street. Let me tell you, by the kitchen is not the place to be if you are planning on a calm and relaxed dining experience. It is warm, and it is noisy. Basically it is a front-row seat to any Hell’s Kitchen episode.

Jamie's Italian - Stockholm - Sweden

A moment later we were already requesting another seating alternative, and we were finally escorted to a corner table in the main hall of the restaurant facing some serious meaty decoration. Much better. Although I couldn’t help but notice that all tables for two were in a close proximity of one another leaving little to no space for privacy at all. Let’s just call this a peculiar interior design choice and move on to the exciting part.

The food.

Jamie's Italian - Stockholm - Sweden

We started off with some spinach croquettes and a squash and ricotta bruschetta…

Jamie's Italian - Stockholm - Sweden

Jamie's Italian - Stockholm - Sweden

… followed by Jamie’s famous mushroom risotto featured in the Jamie at Home book…

Jamie's Italian - Stockholm - Sweden

… and finally, a generous piece of lemon cheesecake arranged with berries which left me speechless.

Jamie's Italian - Stockholm - Sweden

You already know I will be heading back to Jamie’s Italian really really soon. And if you happen to be around Stockholm, you should definitely do the same. The address is Humlegårdsgatan 23. Just be sure to book in advance.

Bon appetit!

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Healthy Nut Bars

Healthy Nut Bars Recipe

When it comes to home-made nut bars, all you need is imagination. And a couple of ‘basic’ ingredients. Here is my basic healthy nut bar recipe that always does the trick.

Roughly following the measures is all you need to prepare tasty nut bars right out of your kitchen. Other than that the recipe is anything else but binding. You can substitute puffed rice with organic rolled oats, you can use any nuts of your preference, add seeds or dried fruit, and even top the bars with melted chocolate. (And these are just some of your choices.)

Healthy Nut Bars Recipe

Healthy Nut Bars

Preparation time: 15 minutes | Cooking time: 20-22 minutes | Serves: 6-8 bars

Ingredients:  
  • 1 cup organic puffed rice
  • 1 cup raw nut mix (pecans and cashew)
  • 1 cup raw almonds with skin
  • 1/2 cup dried shredded coconut
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 3 Tsp freshly squeezed orange juice
Directions:
  • Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
  • Roughly chop the puffed rice, the pecans and the cashew (either by hand or in a food blender/processor) and place them in a big bow. Add the almonds and the shredded coconut and stir well.
  • Place the honey and orange juice in a pot and bring them to boil. Let simmer for 3-4 minutes so that the mixture thickens, and pour to the nut mixture. Stir well until all nuts are coated with honey.
  • Line a baking dish with baking paper leaving flaps on all 4 sides. Transfer mixture into it. Spread mixture by pressing down to pack it in and reach all edges and corners of the pan.

Healthy Nut Bars Recipe

  • Bake for 20-22 minutes in preheated oven until golden.
  • Remove to a wire rack. Use the parchment flaps to press the bars down and compact them before they cool all the way.
  • Allow to cool completely (at least for an hour) and cut into desired size.
  • Wrap each bar individually. Consume within a week.

Healthy Nut Bars Recipe

Bon appetit!

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Healthy Honey & Nuts Oat Tarts

Healthy Nuts & Honey Oat Tarts Recipe

My definition of a great dessert? One that appears to be deliciously stuffed with calories, but is in fact completely guilt-free.

Like these tarts.

They feature light in texture crust, topped with the sweetest crunchiness one can dream of. What is more, there are only healthy ingredients involved – oats, honey and nuts, all rich in iron and magnesium. Right down my alley.

Healthy Honey & Nuts Oat Tarts  

Preparation time: 2 x 15 minutes | Passive time: 1h | Cooking time: 18-20 minutes | Serves: 6

Ingredients:  

For the crust:

  • 180 gr rolled oats
  • 90 gr butter
  • 1 egg
  • 35 gr coconut sugar

For the filling:

  • 150 gr honey
  • 30 ml freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 80 gr butter
  • 200 gr nuts mix (for instance almonds, cashew and hazelnuts)
Directions:
  • Pulse the rolled oats into a blender to a flour. Soften the butter to room temperature, and mix it with the oats flour until mixture consists of butter crumbs.
  • Healthy Nuts & Honey Oat Tarts Recipe

  • Whisk the egg and the sugar and add them to the butter crumbs. Knead into a dough and set aside in fridge for about an hour. (Cover dough with plastic foil to prevent from drying out.)
  • An hour later, knead the dough once again, and roll it out with the help of a rolling pin until 0.3-0.4 cm thick. Divide it evenly to the tart forms. (Use the tart forms or a similar sized cup to cut the dough evenly.)
  • Healthy Nuts & Honey Oat Tarts Recipe

  • For the filling, mix honey, orange juice and butter in a small casserole, and cook it on low heat until butter is melted. Add the nuts and let them simmer for about 10 minutes. (Or until honey thickens.)
  • Distribute the filling evenly into the tarts.
  • Preheat the oven to 180 C. Bake for approximately 20 minutes. Cover tarts with metal foil if nuts become golden.

Healthy Nuts & Honey Oat Tarts Recipe

Bon appetit!

Healthy Nuts & Honey Oat Tarts Recipe

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Three Must-Try Restaurants in Nice / France

Dining in Nice can be a terrific experience. Quite more often though it becomes a terrifying one. With a restaurant at every corner, choosing right can be a challenging undertaking. While in Nice I did quite some sampling, and I had it all – the excellent ones, and the not so incredible ones. Finally I narrowed it down to the three must-try restaurants in Nice (in no particular order).

Côté Lounge

Cote Lounge Restaurant and Bar Nice France

It is impossible to miss Côté Lounge (4 Rue de France). Located on the main pedestrian street in Nice, this bar makes impression with its stylish round white tables, smiling waiting personnel and the cutest tapas plates to accompany your cocktail. It is a breath of fresh air in the dull myriad of look-alike restaurants that trace Rue de France. It is both hip and classy, and the same can be said for the trendy customers.

If you manage to get a place there, do not hesitate to continue with dinner after enjoying a couple of cocktails. I promise you high-end service, with excellent food and an eye for detail.

Cote Lounge Restaurant and Bar Nice France

Le Bacchus

Le Bacchus restaurant Nice France

Le Bacchus (1 Place Grimaldi) is a lovely tasty oasis located just some minutes away from the hectic Rue de France. If you are after premium service and no crowds, this is the restaurant for you. The menu consists of a la carte dishes as well as daily specials, but custom requests are also fulfilled. And everything is served with an extra portion of friendly attitude which makes every client feel special.

Be sure to book ahead of time (same day bookings are OK) especially if you prefer to be seated outdoors (which I would highly recommend).

Le Bacchus restaurant Nice France

La Terrasse by Le Meridien Hotel

La Terrasse by Le Meridien Hotel - Restaurant and Bar - Nice France

I have already raved about La Terrasse in my Nice city guide. But when something is good, it deserves a second round of applause. La Terrasse (1 Promenade des Anglais) is the place to be for a date night. With Nice bay painted in vivid sunset colors in front of your eyes, rich in flavor foie gras in your plate, and a glass (or two) of Provence wine, this will definitely be a night to remember.

La Terrasse also features a bar area where you can just drop-by for a drink. However if you are planning on indulging, be sure to book at least 24 hours in advance.

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French Riviera: Day Trip to Cannes / France

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There is only one place to begin a trip to Cannes. You say, the central train station. I say, Paul‘s; a small family bakery dating back to 1889 and currently conveniently situated right in front of Nice Gare de Ville. A traditional baguette with ham and cheese, and a cup of steaming coffee is a must before heading into the buzzing central station. The trip to Cannes takes as little as 15 minutes, if you are lucky enough to hop on the express train; otherwise a 30 minute ride separates you and the red carpet.

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Arriving at Cannes, there is no glamour to welcome you. Quite the opposite. Narrow streets, and old flaking off facades mark the way to the promenade, where high-end fashion enjoys a waterfront view from behind large shiny windows.

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The separation of glam and normal is visible even throughout the promenade and the beach. Opposite the fancy coffee places and luxury shops are situated organized beach bars packed with sunbeds and umbrellas. Fancy a coffee at Armani and a swim? All you need is to cross a street.

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But if sunbathing in front of branded windows and tall hotels is not a priority, unfold a towel at the free beach zone at the end of the promenade, right behind Palais des Festivals et des Congrès. You still get to have the feeling of glamour but, what is more, without having to look at the boxy facade of the congress hall that annually hosts Cannes Film Festival.

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French Riviera: Day Trip to Monte Carlo / Monaco

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Nice to Monaco by bus

Bus 100 (bus stop: Promenades des Arts, Nice, France – just opposite MAMAC, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art) is by far the most convenient transportation to take you to Monaco. At a price of 1.50 euro per person (and a trip of some 50 minutes), you just need to sit back and enjoy the views, while it traces the beautiful coastline revealing a mix of magnificent beaches, untouched nature and modern architecture.

In Monaco the bus stops in 7 different locations, but getting off at the second stop, Place D’Armes, allows you to explore a lot of attractions all within a walking distance.

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Vintage Cars

Take left from the Place D’Armes bus stop to reach a lift which will take you to a beautiful 4-floor terrasse which stories are home to most of Monaco’s museums, including HSH The Prince of Monaco’s Vintage Car Collection. Truth be told, if there is one thing you need to see in Monaco, it is not the Casino, but this museum. Humbly pronounced as a ‘collection’, it hosts around 100 vehicles dating back to 1885 including the wedding Lexus of Prince Albert and Charlene, as well as a number of Formula 1 cars.

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Scattered around the floors of the open terrasse you will also find a Coin and Stamps Museum, as well as a Mini Zoo. (Oh, and a McDonalds for those who are extremely hungry.) Climb to the top floor to return to the starting point – the Place D’Armes bus stop, and then continue straight ahead towards the Palace (or Palais Princier de Monaco) located in Monaco-Ville. As you walk towards Monaco Ville the buildings are low and in subdued pastel colors. But once you begin the climb to the castle hill, take a moment to turn back, and you will be surprised by the view. In the foothill tall mirrored facades take over those low old-fashioned houses to reveal a whole different face of the city.

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Monaco-Ville

Architecture-wise, the Prince’s Palace of Monaco is not a big deal (a strange mixture of modern and ancient, but nothing to compare to Vienna’s Schönnbrun or even the Palace in Brussels); however the views from up top are marvelous.

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Two are the other main attractions on the hill: the Cathedral and the Oceanographic Museum. Both beautiful building. However all those small houses overlooking the sea, painted in bright pink, blue, or green also deserve attention.

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Place du Casino

Local buses 1 and 2 operate between Monaco-Ville and Place du Casino, and departure just behind the Museum of Oceanography. (Don’t be surprised that the price of a 5 minute bus ride inside Monaco actually costs more than the whole Nice-Monaco trip.) If you have planned on visiting any of the casinos, you have to be dressed appropriate. In other words, no flip-flops. (However shorts and tank tops are perfectly OK.)

Brand shops, and fancy cafes are all in close proximity of Place du Casino. If you are planning to get back to Nice by bus, the closest bus stop is Casino. Unfortunately, buses don’t run too late, with the last one leaving around 8pm but if you happen to be late, trains between Monte Carlo and Nice operate till 11pm.

If you decide to stay for the night, be sure to check out Monte-Carlo’s International Fireworks Festival; maybe there is a show on the day of your visit.

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