Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Nice Diaries: Day 4: Thursday 13th September 2012

Our last day in Nice, and it's sunny, bright and beautiful yet again.  After breakfast we hit the shops one last time and I buy a nautical-style Nice souvenir T-shirt.  I know that's a bit cheesy, but it had to be done. 

Down to the seafront to sit in the "shelter" for a while.  The beach is packed, and I still don't know why as it must be very uncomfortable sunbathing on those pebbles!  But then I see that some very smart people have folding padded mats which they lie on, rather than towels.  Problem solved.  And if you're one of those millionaire-types you don't have anything to worry about, as there's always one of the private beaches (pictured below)

In my earlier post I mentioned the planes flying in and out of Nice airport.  Here's another one.  Although you may need a microscope or a magnifying glass to see it!

For our final lunch in Nice, we go back to the same restaurant we had lunch in yesterday (pizza again) and in the afternoon we go for a final walk and spend some time in our favourite park, the Albert 1er gardens, which faces the promenade. 

Sadly all good things must come to an end, and so by late afternoon we collected our suitcases from the hotel, boarded the no. 98 bus and made our way back to the airport for our evening flight home.  Our holiday in Nice may have been very short, but it was very sweet indeed, and I can't wait to get back there again someday. 

So that's it for our 2012 holidays then.  These are uncertain times for a number of different reasons, but all things being well (crossing fingers and everything else) I'm hoping that we get away again next year.  All I'll say at the moment is that in my mind I'm planning something a bit different, something big....but you know what they say about the best laid plans etc etc so only time will tell if that works out!  If it doesn't, I'm sure there will still be some interesting destinations to choose from (who said Turkey again??)

The Nice Diaries: Day 3: Wednesday 12th September 2012

After a little late morning stroll it was time to revisit one of the things we did on our very first trip to Nice in 2003: take the "Petit Train" up to the Castle hill. 

The little train leaves from the promenade, and the round-trip takes about an hour.  Have a look at for more information about the route etc. 

Once again I'm feeling very tired and washed-out so welcome the opportunity to take the weight off my feet and let the train take the strain, as the old advert used to say.  The little train goes through the old town, round the port and then climbs up to the castle hill where you get 15 mins or so to grab a quick drink and take some panoramic photos.  Here's what you get to see from up there:

It was a bit cloudier today, and around lunchtime we had precisely four drops of rain before things brightened up again.  The weather during this holiday has been just perfect - very warm, mid to high 20s, but not unbearably hot.  (Apart from the issues with my own personal "central heating" - which I won't go into here!)

Pizza time!  There are lots of good pizza restaurants on the Rue Massena, with their wood-fired ovens for that all-important authenticity.  We had lunch in one of them, then went for a walk around the Place Massena and the streets on the other end of the Avenue Jean Medecin.  We love our coffee, and we love our late-afternoon coffee stops.  Today it was the turn of the Grand Cafe de Lyon on the Avenue.

It's not cheap, but as a people-watching spot it's first class.  Especially when you see an impossibly-gorgeous guy riding past on one of those "rickshaws".  Hot Rickshaw Guy became one of the highlights of my holiday :) 

Another stroll after coffee and back to the hotel to get ready for our final night in Nice.  Nothing too complicated tonight - back to the Rue Massena for another of our old fave restaurants.  Gnocchi time :)

Oh and don't forget onion soup, red wine, coffee, pastis...and how could I not forget faithful travelling companion's 6 escargots????  I won't mention the restaurant except to say that my nice hot waiter is still there, although the hair's beginning to recede a bit by now :(

One more thing to do: back to our "local" bar to hang out for a while and then it's back to the hotel.  Going home tomorrow :((((

The Nice Diaries: Day 2: Tuesday 11th September 2012

Up early for a very busy day ahead.  You never forget you're in France, particularly at breakfast time, when you are presented with the traditional croissant and crusty roll :)  Pain au Chocolat was also in the equation today. 

It's a beautiful, sunny morning with the temperature in the mid to high 20s.  Nice in September is the perfect place to be, and today it's all about shopping.  But not too much shopping though, as we're travelling with hand luggage only.  (By the way, I bought one of those cabin-sized "World's Lightest Luggage" cases for this holiday and I would definitely recommend them for travelling on short breaks for up to three nights). 

There are subtle little changes here and there - a newsagent's and a sports shop which we used to frequent have now been closed down and replaced by other businesses. 

Record shops are still a must for us on holiday, even if these seem to be sadly dying out in most places.  At least Nice still has the Virgin Megastore and FNAC, both at opposite ends of the Avenue Jean Medecin, the city's main shopping street.  After a big chunk of the morning spent in both stores, I emerged with 2 DVDs - the new Calogero live DVD and the production of the Cleopatre musical starring Sofia Essaidi.  I bought the soundtrack album from it four years ago.  I'm a bit of a sucker for these French musicals.  Faithful travelling companion meanwhile got a couple of CDs, however just for a big change I didn't get any this time round as nothing really floated my boat.  I've been out of the loop with French music for the last 3 years or so and need to do a lot of catch-up! 

The weather gets warmer and I'm starting to get tired.  Time for lunch.  Let's go to the Old Town!  You can walk from new Nice to Vieux Nice if you want to, but the tram service is very frequent during the day so it was really handy to jump on a tram on the Avenue and take it all the way to Place Garibaldi.  Tickets are 1 euro per journey, buy them at the ticket machine at the tram stop and remember to validate the ticket once on board.  You can also buy an all-day unlimited travel ticket for 4 euros, which I would recommend if you want to see a lot of the city in a short space of time.  One thing I'll say is that the tram is a very popular way to get around however it's always very packed too, so if you're using this mode of transport be prepared for standing room only, and keep your eye on your handbags, wallets and purses. (Having said that, we still found Nice a very safe city by day and night).

Above:  the newly renovated Place Garibaldi.

Parts of Nice still resemble a building site, currently turning the area around the bus station into a new green space.  A lot of building/renovation work has taken place in Nice over the past few years - significantly on the new tramway and the renovation of Place Massena.  Last time we were in Nice, Place Garibaldi was also being renovated but this work is now complete.  But there are more exciting developments to come in Nice - check out this feature for more info.

Anyway, Place Garibaldi looks majestic, and is the gateway to Vieux Nice, the old town, which has a very distinctive character and boasts all the multi-coloured buildings and architecture which Nice is famous for.  Time for some exploration before lunch.  There are lots of winding side streets like this one:

Apart from the feast for the eyes, Vieux Nice also presents far too many choices of where to eat!  I was particularly attracted to one restaurant which offered an "assiette" mixed plate of Nicoise specialities like socca, pissaladiere and farcis.  Ladies and gentlemen, feast your eyes on Tuesday's lunch....

I was able to eat most of it, although there was a little bit of indistinguishable minced-meat stuff mixed into the pakora-type thing at the top so I left this.  Otherwise = wonderful :)))

After dinner we did more exploring, down to Cours Saleya which is just wall-to-wall bars and restaurants, still a lot of them specialising in seafood if that's your kind of thing.  Through a little gate/tunnel and you're at the top end of the promenade with what looks like a synchronised parade of white cars!  

Hand luggage or no hand luggage, a trip to Molinard perfume shop was a must, for a small bottle of their own-brand perfume which will fit just nicely into my see-through bag.  The area round the Opera is filled with some more upmarket restaurants and shops.  You would probably need a bank loan for some of the choccies and macarons in Maison Auer ....

By late afternoon I'm really struggling and a stop for a cool orange juice is very welcome indeed.  However, I'm not firing on all cylinders and on the way back to the hotel I end up having a bit of a freak fall, which probably wouldn't have happened if I wasn't so tired.  Not too much damage done, apart from a few bruises, a couple of cuts and a huge dose of embarrassment :(  Oh, and a very sore, bruised knee which, as bruises do, got more obvious as the week went on.  Just as well that I only wear cropped jeans/trousers and not shorts!

Despite my distress it didn't put me off enjoying another fine evening in Nice.  After the overwhelming amount of hot guys spotted in town on my first night, it was inevitable that it wouldn't be quite so good tonight.  Still good though :)  Ditto for faithful travelling companion, who remains very impressed by the female population of Nice. 

Tonight we headed back up to the old town and dined at a North African restaurant, which is another thing we love about holidays in France.  This one had a distinct Tunisian influence.  We'd never tried brick a l'oeuf before, so that was another one to cross off the list.  It looks like a big crispy omelette and tasted pretty good, however I didn't know that it was filled with runny egg and tuna.  Both of which I would cross the street to avoid.  The crispy bits were nice though, and the rest of it was donated to faithful travelling companion.  I should really have done my research.  Here's a pic of the brick:

The main course was a more familiar vegetable couscous and you can't miss the opportunity to try a bottle of Tunisian wine either, well can you?

After our meal we went back through the old town where a few of the bars and restaurants were surprisingly closed.  Not sure if this was because it's a Tuesday, or the time of year, or what reason.  Anyway we hung out in a bar which was showing the France v Belarus match, and then headed back on a tram. 

You'll be glad to know that those colourful works of art are still there in Place Massena...

We didn't go straight back to the hotel - it was time for a midnight walk down the seafront on yet another warm, calm evening.

This is the area of the promenade across the road from the Casino Ruhl, Mercure hotel and Palais de la Mediterranee.  In the centre of the picture is one of the "shelters" which in the daytime is a good place to grab a seat and people-watch, or look at the sea, or count the number of planes flying in and out of Nice airport down at the end of the prom :)

The Nice Diaries: Day 1: Monday 10th September 2012

Finally getting round to posting this at long last!

Firstly a little explanation: due to our personal circumstances this year we had to leave it very late to book our summer trip, and also had to book a shorter one for three nights only, from Monday 10th September for three nights, returning on Thursday 13th September.  So with it all being very last-minute it was a very easy decision to make - to return to somewhere we've visited before, which didn't require too much planning or research, and which we could also reach easily with direct flights.  One destination ticked all the boxes - Nice.  Result!

The first time we visited Nice was in 2003, then in 2005 and most recently in 2008.  Which suggests that it might be a rather good place to repeatedly visit!  Yes I'm biased, but I completely love the place and I don't think there will ever come a time when I tire of it. 

So what is just so wonderful about Nice?  Well, the location for starters.  It's a big city with good transport links to lots of other great places on the Cote D'Azur.  In previous years we've independently travelled by bus to Villefranche and by train to Cannes and Monaco, in addition to organised bus tours to Ventimiglia, (just over the Italian border), Monaco, Eze and Saint Paul de Vence.  But you don't even have to leave the city as there is so much to see and do.  As our time in Nice was limited this time round, we decided not to go too far away but just hang out in the city and slow the pace down. 

After what has been a completely disastrous non-event of a summer weather-wise, it was somewhat disorientating to arrive at 8.00 pm into a beautiful, sunny evening in Nice.  As usual, on arrival at the airport, get the no.98 bus (4 euros) which takes you right along the seafront and beyond, dropping tourists off along the way.   Sunbathers, dog-walkers and people strolling along the prom on a beautiful evening, people eating's another world, but with a reassuring familiarity that you're "coming home" in a way. 

This time we were booked into a very centrally located hotel, just a couple of minutes walk from the Promenade des Anglais and also very close to our favourite part of the city: the Rue Massena and the surrounding streets which are packed with a great choice of eateries.  OK, so it's mainly aimed at the tourists, but the food is still very good quality nonetheless. 

Aah yes, the food. Now that is one of the best reasons for coming to Nice.  If you love pasta and pizza as I do, then you will be in heaven.  Unlike Italy though, pasta is served as a main course here rather than as a 'primi piatti'.  So let's have a starter then.  How about that traditional French favourite, soupe a l'oignon?


Although there aren't so many obviously visible signs of the worldwide recession in Nice (there aren't so many vacant shop premises for example) the most noticeable thing is that the prices have been hiked up.  Not quite to Norwegian levels (!) but that little bowl of soup cost 10 euros.  I always thought the cost of eating out was lower in Nice than it was in Paris - don't know what it's like in Paris now, as I haven't been there for a few years, but it's certainly become much more pricey to eat out in Nice.

But we've saved up our euros and we are on holiday after all!  Needless to say we order a bottle of the local Provence red to accompany our dinner. 

Now I am a creature of habit, so the one ritual I must do on my first night in Nice is to have some spaghetti au pistou, which is basically spaghetti swimming in olive oil and basil....

I'd forgotten how fabulous it was to be able to sit outdoors at 10.00 pm in September wearing a short-sleeved top and not even needing a cardigan.  How good would it be if we could have that kind of climate and culture?  

After dinner we go for a stroll round some familiar haunts and take a quick walk down the seafront.  No sign of the Michael Jackson impersonator this time though.  

Faithful travelling companion also has a little holiday ritual too - a bottle of Pelforth Brune beer in our favourite little bar which, conveniently, is really handy for our hotel  so we don't have too far to walk home :)

Although we only arrived in Nice at 8.00 pm, we certainly made the most of our first night there.  As ever, the place is packed with tourists from all over the world and a cosmopolitan mix of locals.  And two people from Scotland who are very happy to be back!

The Empire forges on (again)

I've been checking out the news on some of my favourite artists/bands to see if there's any new music on the way. One of these is of course the brilliant Empire of the Sun, so I was very happy indeed to come across this article -

Peter Mayes revealed that the band have written over a hundred songs (!) for the follow-up to "Walking on a Dream" and I particularly loved this comment which is good news for anyone who was worried about a change of musical direction:

Mayes also added that Empire Of The Sun would not be chasing current trends on their second release, and were aiming for a 'timeless' sound similar to their debut.

"One of the tricks with Empire is to have a certain sense of timelessness. Not nostalgia for the sake of it, but a certain musicality," he added. "Those sort of feelings go beautifully with Nick's voice. It can be really futuristic, it can be anything. It's not just a dubstep record that's going to be cool for three months."

What a relief!  I wish there were more like them around.  We'll have to wait patiently for the new album's arrival, but the knowledge that it's on the way is enough to keep us happy for now :)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The challenge of finding 50 songs that I liked in 2012.

This weekend the clocks will be going back an hour, taking us into the darkness of winter and that phase where the clock starts to tick relentlessly down to the end of the year.  It's also the season when this blogger turns to thoughts of ....compiling my annual chart.  Once upon a time on this blog, the biggest problem with doing the annual top 50 was deciding what to leave out.  But five years is a long time in music, and over the past couple of years I've got so disillusioned with it all.  I still believe that there is good music out there, you just have to look for it.  But even that is such an exhausting, time-consuming task.

It's taken me a couple of years to put my music collection onto iTunes - and I've still got a long way to go yet - but during that time I've been rediscovering the long-forgotten riches, rarities and obscure oldies of my music collection, many of which turned up on Retro Saturday in the past. 

Turning away from new music has made it much harder to reflect what's going on in the present, which accounts for the lack of topical music-related posts/album reviews etc on this blog.  However, with an eye on the calendar I notice that exactly three weeks from today, my annual top 50 countdown will begin.  I'm going to start shortlisting it from this weekend: hopefully it won't be too short a list!!  There will be the odd little 'technicality'a.k.a. 'bending the rules' along the way of course, as the qualifying period will include songs which were maybe released outwith the UK in 2011 but not released here till 2012, also songs released in December 2011 which missed out on last year's countdown will be eligible. 

Anyway I'm going to focus on this little journey of discovery through 2012's musical delights over the next couple of weeks so once again there won't be too many blog posts during that time, apart from a couple of outstanding ones which I've got planned over the next few days. 

Danny and Gina to present Melodifestivalen 2013

We're now in that season of rumours, speculation and gossip about Melodifestivalen and Eurovision - which can be fun, fascinating, frustrating and annoying all at the same time!  However, the facts are finally beginning to emerge one by one.  On Wednesday 24th October it was announced that the very popular and highly successful Gina Dirawi would return for her second consecutive year as presenter - but she's got a new co-presenter this time: none other than (drum roll.....) Danny Saucedo!

I think they'll make a great combination, although this is definitely a sign that SVT is aiming the show at a younger viewing public.  I was actually surprised to see Danny return to MF in any capacity, as I thought he was finished with the show after his 'schlagerfiasko'-strop after the 2012 final.  Although if he had returned as a competing artist rather than presenter, I was hoping that it would have been in a reunited E.M.D. 
Radio Sweden have a short interview with Gina and Danny at and they're planning a lot of song and dance and some attention-grabbing interval acts!

OK that's enough facts, now let's get back to the speculation...!

SVT's still saying nothing about its presenting plans for Eurovision itself, although I did read somewhere recently that they were considering a solo host.  This would certainly be a departure from the over-presenting of recent years (come on, do we really need three presenters??) however I would still love to see Måns Zelmerlöw and Sarah Dawn Finer presenting ESC together. Sarah has confirmed she will not be competing in MF-2013, so there's all the more reason for her to present the ESC final!

Of course the rumours come thick and fast about who's been submitting songs, and who the potential performers would be. Here's my wish list - I'd like to see Ola, Christian Walz and H.E.A.T. back again, as well as the now-solo Martin Rolinski. I'd also love to see Vincent Pontare giving it a go. As for some ex-Idol contestants - Christoffer Hiding, Eddie Razaz, Olle Hedberg and Robin Stjernberg would complete my dream wish list!! And what about Darin? He said never again, but as James Bond would say, "never say never again" :)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Go South! The 2013 Tour de France route revealed

We've hardly had time to catch our breath after the extraordinary last few months in the world of cycling, but the route for next year's Tour de France was announced today.  A very interesting route too, with a heavy focus on the south and east of the country. 

I'm very excited about the race starting in Corsica, before heading to my favourite French destination, the fabulous city of Nice, for a team time-trial.   There are also some fierce climbs along the way, including iconic Tour favourites Mont Ventoux and L'Alpe d'Huez.

The Tour begins on 29th June and ends on 21st July.  Get the dates in your diary :)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mor ve Ötesi are coming to London!

Just recently found out that my favourite Turkish rock band, Mor ve Ötesi, will be playing a gig at the O2 Academy in Islington, London on Saturday 1st December.  Unfortunately I won't be able to make it, (please please please MVO, can you come to Glasgow or Edinburgh some day???) but I thought I'd mention it anyway in case any of my readers are interested!!  More info at

There are exciting times ahead for Mor ve Ötesi fans: there's a new album, Güneşi Beklerken, due for release in November.  If it's anywhere near as good as Masumiyetin Ziyan Olmaz, then it should be a cracker.  I love that band.

How do we rid cycling of the cheats?

It's been a tough few weeks for us cycling fans.  For a start, you have to explain to non-cycling-fans that not every cyclist takes performance-enhancing drugs, and yes, believe it or not, there are clean cyclists in the sport.  Recent weeks have seen the Lance Armstrong legend destroyed under the weight of investigation and scandal, that he was involved in years of very sophisticated doping and cover-ups, along with his US Postal Cycling team colleagues.  How do you convince people about the greatness of cycling, when they only read about the dark side?

Confession time: I'm not jumping on an already packed bandwagon, but I never liked Lance Armstrong.  At first, we were all taken in, we were all inspired that someone had not only made this fantastic recovery from cancer, but had gone on to win the world's greatest bike race.  We cheered his heroics, and viewed him as an inspiration.  But as time progressed, his arrogance began to annoy me.  He wasn't just the multiple winner of the Tour, he was above the Tour, above criticism, powerful and untouchable.  The arrogance grew, and he became more and more unbearable.  He was just too good.

Today the UCI - the sport's worldwide governing body - accepted the recommendations of the investigation carried out into Armstrong and his colleagues, which has given us some eye-popping revelations in recent weeks, and which has confirmed our worst suspicions.  Armstrong's been stripped of his seven titles and erased from the Tour de France's recent roll of honour.  Many more cyclists have joined him in the hall of shame, in the past and present and unfortunately they won't be the last.  So how do we rid cycling of the cheats?  That's a tough one.  My own view is that life bans from the sport for cyclists and officials involved in doping would be a good start and would restore trust and credibility.  Laugh if you must, but I believe there are still clean riders in this great sport: but it's up to those running the sport to take real, meaningful action against the cheats, rather than just meaningless words, lip service and limited bans.  But will they?

Here comes the Quickstepper!

Here's a sight you won't be seeing anymore - Mark Cavendish in the colours of Team Sky.  A few days ago, Cav announced the news we've been expecting to hear for a long time: that he was quitting Team Sky and signing for the Belgian-based Omega Pharma-Quickstep, which is likely to be more conducive to his future sprinting ambitions.  It's certainly a momentous change at this stage of Cavendish's cycling career as he is also leaving a couple of long-term key supports behind - his long-term sidekick and lead-out man Bernie Eisel is remaining at Team Sky, as is his coach Rod Ellingworth.  

2012 was an unforgettable summer for British pro-cycling, topped by Bradley Wiggins' Tour de France win and Chris Froome's impressive TdF and Vuelta campaigns.  But seeing Cavendish in the unfamiliar role of support act and domestique for Team Sky was not what we'd come to expect from the king of sprints, and the body language spoke volumes.

With hindsight, I was never too convinced by the Team Sky-Mark Cavendish partnership, although I was initially excited by the prospect of an all-star British team.  However, the priorities of Team Sky appear to lie in the GC, the long haul and competition-crushing tactics rather than the quick burst to the finish line, and it's pretty understandable that Cav needed to move on to further his own career and perhaps leave a space on the team for a cyclist geared more to that kind of set-up.   But that's not just a decision for a sprinter to make: all is well now, but how long till Chris Froome makes his way out of the Team Sky exit door?  Or will he be happy to bide his time until he assumes the role of team leader?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Hydro: Glasgow's latest entertainment venue takes shape

Whilst visiting an event at the SECC in Glasgow last week I took this photo.  This is The Hydro, a 12,000 seater arena currently being constructed adjacent to Glasgow's other massive riverside concert and exhibition venues, the SECC (nicknamed the Big Red Shed, although it's not red anymore) and the Clyde Auditorium (nicknamed the Armadillo).  Given Glasgow's fondness for affectionate nicknames for architecture/structures, I wonder what The Hydro - which is just along from the Squinty Bridge of course - will be nicknamed?  Actually I have read a couple so far, but they are so rude that I wouldn't even think about publishing them here :)  Clean answers only!

When it's completed and opened in September 2013, The Hydro will be Scotland's biggest national indoor arena. I guess it will be our answer to the O2 Arena in London!  It promises to host mega-concerts by international artists.  I only hope they get the acoustics sorted, as the thumpy-thumpy big shed was never known for its acoustic subtlety.

(Of course, if Royaume-Uni ever achieves the impossibility of an ESC victory - which probably won't be in any of our lifetimes, but there's nothing wrong with a vivid imagination!! - the EBU should cast their eyes in the direction of Glasgow which will have not one but two arenas to choose from.  I can dream.....!)

Monday, October 01, 2012

In praise of....Night of the Proms

In case you're wondering, Night of the Proms is not to be confused with the Last Night of the Proms, so don't expect all that Jerusalem/Rule Britannia/Land of Hope and Glory stuff.

Because the Night of the Proms that I'm talking about is a series of concerts which has been on the go in Europe for many years, (even though they are unheard of in the UK) and which involve international and local artists performing with an orchestra.

My first encounter with the NotP was back in the mid-90s, in the days before digital satellite TV, when you could watch Dutch TV channels RTL-4 and RTL-5 (before the killjoys decided to encrypt these channels).  Which reminds me, I must do a post sometime about those TV-watching days :) but I digress....that year I tuned into the Night of the Proms show being broadcast on one of those Dutch channels, because my favourite Belgian band Clouseau was appearing.  Even back then, I loved the combination of pop/rock with an orchestral backing so I was hooked.  However, there were no more opportunities to watch these concerts, the years passed and I gradually forgot about them. 

I didn't realise that these shows were still going, however I read over the weekend that the latest NotP concert was staged in Sweden, which starred Sarah Dawn Finer, Anastacia, Art Garfunkel and the one and only John Miles who has been involved in these shows for many years now.

If you check out YouTube there are lots of clips from old shows staged in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, where artists including Martin Fry, Tony Hadley, Seal, and the Alan Parsons Project to name some, have all appeared.