REVIEW: Isola 2000, Skiing in the French Alps

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Adventure in the Alps

One of the stand-out features of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region, where Nice is located, is its diverse geography. While I’ve enjoyed the beauty of the shores of the Côte d’Azur, I knew I had to explore the Alps before the Mediterranean sun claimed the mountains’ winter chill.

Reaching out to my host mom for ski suggestions (and snow gear), she recommended that my friends and I visit Auron, a ski area about a 2-hour drive from Nice. After reviewing instructions, the layout, and general operations of the resort with my host mom, my friends and I were prepared to make the trip to Auron.

At least, we thought we were going to Auron.

 

Set to Ski

Two days before leaving for our day-long ski trip, we reserved seats on the Bus 100% Neige (lines 730/740/750) for 8€ each. These buses, that are coach, rather than a typical city bus, leaves from the Gare de Nice-Ville and brings passengers to nearby ski resorts. We showed our printed tickets to the driver, boarded the bus, and began our journey through the hills of Provence.

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The bus ride itself was an adventure, complete with stunning sights and, at times, mountain-hugging, stomach-twisting turns, both more amazing as we increased in altitude.

We arrived at Isola 2000, a ski resort south of Auron, and everyone got off of the bus. My friends and I, confused, asked the driver if the next stop was Auron. He, and a few fellow passengers, laughed, and replied no, that this was the final, and only, stop. We unknowingly took the 750 line, instead of the 740 (which shows how closely the bus driver inspected our tickets). The bus still returned to Nice and departed from Isola 2000 at the same time as the bus from Auron would have, so our mistake would not cost us. What is more, the bus driver assured us that conditions were better at Isola 2000 than Auron that day, so without any knowledge of our location or surroundings, we set out to ski.

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Fortunately, renting equipment at Isola 2000 was straightforward and affordable, especially compared to American prices. For 25€, you could borrow boots, skis, poles, and even pants. A student lift ticket for the day cost 30€.

 

Breathtaking Borders

Quickly noting that a French Alps “easy” slope wasn’t quite as easy as the green circle routes of the Pocono Mountains, my friends and I erred on the side of caution for the first few runs. Once warmed up, however, we were ready to tackle an “easy” course that bordered the Italian border and offered a mountain-top view of the Alps.

I have never ridden on a steeper ski lift, nor do I think I have ever stood at a higher altitude. After precariously climbing up rocky ruins in very inflexible ski boots, I took in the breathtaking panorama of the Alps. I have been skiing for more then 10 years, and have stared in awe from coastal cliffs overlooking the setting sun, but I have never seen such a spectacular snowy sight. I felt a similar (but much less anxious) wonder as when I saw the Hill of Crosses. This masterpiece, however, was natural, with incredibly fresh air, clouds at eye level, and beautiful snowy peaks. Though I prefer beach resorts to ski resorts, I now understand the appeal of winter adventure excursions.

Isola 2000, France | Alyssa's Abroad Perspective - alyssasabroadperspective@wordpress.com

Isola 2000, France | Alyssa's Abroad Perspective - alyssasabroadperspective@wordpress.com

We got in a few more rides, grabbed a bite to eat, and enjoyed a true après-ski.  Though I’ll always wonder about Auron, Isola 2000 provided a perfect, day-trip experience. Despite the cheesy name, the resort delivered.

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Need to Know

  • From Nice, reserve seats on the Bus 100% Neige (750 line) for 8€ per person at least 48 hours in advance. Board at Gare de Nice-Ville (Thiers).
  • Walk down the hill from where the bus drops off at Isola 2000 to find the rental cabin. Boots, skis, and poles cost 25€ and a student-priced lift ticket costs 30€.
  • The bus departs for the mountains, and back to Nice, at multiple different times, but taking the first bus out (7:30 a.m.) and the last bus back (4:50 p.m.) maximizes time on the slopes.
  • Isola 2000 offers options for all levels of skier, and the Italian/French border feature is a fun, bonus attraction.

Destination Locations

  • Auron
  • Isola 2000
    • Mercantour National Park, Office de Tourisme d’Isola 2000, 06420 Isola

 

Paix, Amour, Nice,

A.J.H.

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February 21, 2017

Carnaval de Nice 

Though the largest carnival celebrations may be in Rio or Venice, Nice organizes a family-friendly schedule of celebratory events commemorating the festival.  Ready to explore a significant section of Nice’s history and current claim to fame, I prepared for participation in the fête.

The origins of carnival celebrations are not clear beyond their pagan roots, as there are many explanations for the glutinous gatherings.  A popular possibility, however, is that Christians adopted the parties to precede Lent.  The days of carnival allow for freedom and liberation, peaking in Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  No matter the original reason, carnival is now a time for people to come together and find the fun in society, and more importantly, themselves.

 

Le Roi de l’Énergie

The theme of this year’s celebrations was the King of Energy, and my first event was the Carnival Parade.  Though there are multiple showings of this procession throughout the festival week, I attended a weeknight production with the other students in my program.

Our cheap tickets sent us to a space to stand, closer to the action, while bleacher reservations were available at a higher price.  It may have been the day of the week we chose to attend, but the seated spectators were stoic and dull despite the animated attempts of the carnival dancers to engage the crowd.  I appreciated standing and dancing along the parade route, even though, by the end, I was partied out.

Civically proud, as the French are, many carnival floats portrayed political messages.  Among the displays of the Green Queen’s clean energy and the renewable energy of love, Donald Trump made his way down the street as the world’s new oil captain in a “wind of change,” and the French presidential candidates continued along the route on their ceaseless, election cycle wheel.

 

Bataille des Fleurs

My second carnival activity was the Flower Parade.  In addition to the entertainment that the flower-filled floats would provide, their deconstruction, in which flower bouquets would be thrown to the crowd, was another incentive for attending. Unfortunately, the floats were underwhelming, only adorned with flowers and not composed of them, as I had expected.  And, though it may just have been by chance, but I didn’t get any flowers!  You had to be 6 years old, 60 years old, or have a 6-foot-tall friend to catch a bouquet.

The Carnival Parade is worth the time, with reasonable expectations.  I do not know how past festivals have been celebrated, but because of continuing terrorist attacks in France, Carnival has recently been adjusted to accommodate safety concerns.  The Flower Parade, however, disappointed.  Nonetheless, Carnival hosts many other events over its 10-day duration, so there are plenty of other celebrations to explore.

 

Destination Locations

 

Paix, Amour, Nice,

A.J.H.

REVIEW: “Mozart, Bruckner,” Philharmonic Orchestra of Nice

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First the ballet, now the opera.  Because Nice’s theater scene is so integrated into the culture of the city, one cannot visit the seaside town without spending a night (or two, or three) with some of the best performers in Provence.  With great cultural experiences so accessible to students, it would be a waste not to take advantage of the spectacles of the Riviera.

The Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur presented the Philharmonic Orchestra of Nice’s performance of “Mozart, Bruckner,” a concert made up of one of Mozart’s concertos and one of Bruckner’s symphonies.  I was not exactly excited for the 2-hour performance, but I agreed to attend the event with a friend, and I knew I would appreciate the handwork and talent of the abled artists.

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The Opéra de Nice is an exquisite building of glamour and elegance.  I felt exceptional just sitting inside.  Our seats were in a box above the performers, so we could see almost every on-stage detail.  Though long, the show was amazing.  Watching each set of musicians play, then listening to the piece as a whole, I could not imagine how a single person could create such a dynamic and complicated work as these composers had.  As for the talent of the living, the pianist for the Mozart concerto performed the entire hour-long piece without music.  Memorizing, or perhaps more fitting, feeling a piece as intricate as his is nearly as impressive as creating it.

After the show, we went to one of the city’s only food-serving establishments open until 12 a.m., a crêperie called Pôp-ô-thym.  The restaurant served any crêpe, waffle, or pancake option that you could imagine, and the breakfast menu was loaded with creative savory crêpe offerings.  With so many crêpe dishes to try, I will definitely return!

 

Destination Locations

 

Paix, Amour, Nice

A.J.H.

January 29, 2017

Field Trip!

As a part of our UMD-required culture class, we will take a few day trips around the south of France to learn more about regional history and culture.  On our first excursion, we took the train to Beaulieu-sur-mer (direct translation: beautiful place on the sea), a small town six miles east of Nice.  Here, we explored two villas-turned-museums of wealthy, French families.

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View from Villa Kérylos

Villa Kérylos 

Villa Kérylos was the holiday home of French politician Théodore Reinach, who designed the structure with architect Emmanuel Pontremoli in the early 1900s.  The home, named “Kérylos” after a bird of Greek mythology signaling a good omen, was a tribute to the grandeur, style, and beauty of Greek civilization.  Each room told stories of the ancient Greeks through tiled floor images, painted walls, statues and replica furniture of the time.  Following an audio guide, I learned about the Reinach family, Greek mythology and the ancient civilization’s presence on France’s Mediterranean coast today.

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Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

A short walk brought us to our second destination, the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.  This estate was the home of Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, née Rothschild, a French baroness.  Constructing the home after her divorce in 1904, she filled the home with great antiques, including furniture, porcelain, and Asian art.

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Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild

The gardens of the estate were also a part of the baroness’s vision, though of the nine sections present today, four were added after her death.  The grounds were beautiful, even for a winter day.  We enjoyed exploring each themed section of the garden and were thoroughly entertained by the fountains that synchronize to music every 20 minutes for a stately show.

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A view of the gardens, from the villa balcony

Lastly, my classmates and I dined at the villa’s tea room.  With outdoor seating for warmer days, the tea room and patio overlook the sea.  An afternoon pastry and warm drink is the French way to end the day.

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Destination Locations

Paix, Amour, Nice

A.J.H.

January 27, 2017

Europe 1, United States 0

Though there are some things that the U.S. does better than Europe (like drying laundry, hot showers, and taking home restaurant leftovers), the language evaluation system here is much more comprehensive.  Because I have only been taking classes here for a week, I cannot yet speak to the system of language learning, but the categorization of an individual’s general knowledge of a language is clear and understood for all Europeans, something that the U.S. should take note of.

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR) includes levels A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2, from least knowledgeable to most knowledgeable.  Using this universal system takes out the ambiguity of claiming to have “proficient” knowledge of a language, or validate/invalidate those who claim to speak fluently.  Because Europeans understand what these levels signify, they can get a more accurate reading on one’s knowledge of a language.

My eight years of French language study has placed me in B2.  By the end of this semester, I should have certifiably completed this level.  In niveau B2, I:

  • can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialization
  • can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party
  • can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options

Though I am almost confident in my abilities for these categories, finishing B2 will increase my overall performance and assurance in my French language knowledge.

Studying Abroad

I study at the Université Nice Sophia Antipolis on the Faculté des Lettres, Arts, et Sciences Humaines Carlone campus.  Within this university, I am a student of the C.U.E.F.L.E., or the Centre Universitaire d’Études en Français Langue Étrangère.  In this program, I take courses with many different types of people from all around the world.  At 21 years old, I am one of the youngest in my classes.  Most of them live in Nice long-term, as spouses of those who have moved to Nice for work, or are here to work themselves.  Many students come from China and Russia, but I have peers from Morocco, India, Brazil, and more.  They usually complete multiple levels of the CEFR here, as you need a level B1 understanding of French to be eligible for French naturalization.  The other students were surprised to learn that the American students are only here for 4 months, hoping to complete our level on the first try.  It is only school for us, but for many of them, it is life.

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View from the top floor at school on Campus Carlone.  Source: nice.fr

My B2 classes include eight hours of language learning, five hours of literature, two hours of electives, and one hour of cultural immersion per week, all in French.  Aside from the mandatory language classes and Maryland-required literature and cultural immersion courses, I take France’s Ancient Regime and Tourism in Nice as my electives.  Though it is my first experience taking classes in French that are not geared toward language learning, I love both courses and am looking forward to all of the knowledge I will gain by the end of the semester.

Overall, so far, I enjoy the academic aspect of my second abroad experience and can’t wait to spend the next four months in one of my favorite countries.

Destination Locations

 

Paix, Amour, Nice

A.J.H.

REVIEW: “Le Songe,” Ballet of Monte Carlo

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“Le Songe,” Ballet of Monte Carlo;  Source: dancetabs.com, Credit: Marie-Laure Briane

Bravo!

My host mom took me to see “Le songe,” or “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” at the National Theater of Nice (Le Théâtre National de Nice) performed by the Ballet of Monte Carlo (Les Ballets de Monte Carlo).  We attended with a few of her friends, some of which sing in the Nice Opera.  I danced for 10 years, and I enjoy visits to Broadway and off-Broadway shows with my mom and sister, so I assumed I would enjoy the production.

Enjoy is an understatement.  I loved the ballet!  The entire show was incredible.  This production was mimed, so there was little speaking from the performers on stage (lucky for me!).  In this style, the dancers had to exaggerate their movements and rely on the music to carry the plot of the story.

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Oberan and Titania, royal fairies of the forest; Source: monacochannel.mc, Credit: Alice Blanger

The choreography was amazing.  To be able to create an entire show to tell a story through dance is a true talent.  Equally impressive was how the dancers executed the choreography to the alternative soundtrack.  The piece was presented through a funky, futuristic lens, as opposed to the classic organization of  a traditional Shakespeare production, so the unique set, sounds, and costumes that distorted the audience’s reality made the dancer’s delivery  of the plot that more impressive.

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The object of Titania’s affection leading the other fairies in dance, ahead of Titania; Source: balletsofmontecarlo.com, Credit: Alice Blanger

As per Shakespeare’s original piece, the performance had a dreamlike, or perhaps nightmarish, quality.  Even reimagined, the show stayed true to story, and was a fun, updated version of a time-honored work.

Though there is only one more ballet production scheduled to show in Nice while I am here, I plan on putting it on the top of my to-do list.  Once I return home, I can’t wait to explore ballet performances in New York, D.C., and beyond!

Destination Locations

Paix, Amour, Nice

A.J.H.

January 21, 2017

Views of Nice

One of the my favorite travel activities is finding viewpoints where I can take panorama shots of sprawling cities.  In addition to the popular Colline du Chateau, a vista point that I visited on my last trip to Nice, I have explored two more spots that are great for observing Nice from above.

 

Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art is a large, circular building with a rooftop garden.  From the top of the museum, you can look out to sea or up into the hills of Provence.

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Cimiez Monastery Gardens

The Cimiez Monastery Gardens belong to the Cimiez Monastery, which serves as a Catholic church today.  The view from the gardens can be enjoyed all year, though I will be returning to the site when the weather warms to see the plants in full bloom.

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Cimiez Monastery

 

Destination Locations

 

Paix, Amour, Nice

A.J.H.