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I Guess That Was Nice

One of the often-repeated sketches from the TV program The Fast Show is: "I went on holiday to the South of France last year", to which the reply is "That must have been Nice". Yes, you've got it, our latest jet-setting trip was a two-hour flight and five day stay in the capitol of the French Riviera. The event was the European leg of the Microsoft ASP.NET Connections tour, held at the Acropolis in Nice.

Funny, I always thought the Acropolis was in Greece. Maybe "Acropolis" is just a foreign word that means "impersonal, over-designed, and under-constructed place for having conferences". OK, so it wasn't quite that bad. But there seemed to be more stuff not working properly than usual in these kinds of places, and more than the usual evidence of botched repairs. Thankfully, we took our own projection and sound systems with us.

While the turnout was somewhat less than expected, due no doubt to the later than usual arrangement of the venue and a lack of expected advertising support, we had enough attendees to get a few each for the sessions. And they seemed to be knowledgeable, yet still found my incoherent ramblings about ASP.NET stuff and XML at least a bit useful. However, I suspect my wandering into Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle when discussing the XML Infoset model was just a little disconcerting for many. I think they came to my subsequent sessions just to see what this mad Englishman was going to waffle on about next.

As to Nice? Well, it will probably be nice when it's finished (if you'll pardon the pun). To say they have been building it for several hundred years already, I can't remember ever going to a city where there were more road and building works - except, possibly, Peterborough here in England. And, if that wasn't enough, they held a marathon that closed the main streets the day we arrived, so the taxi fare was double the usual amount. But I guess that was planned as an introduction to the charging scheme of the hotel.

On arrival, they were very happy to inform me that, despite making a booking for a double room for myself and my wife, they would be adding 45 Eurothings per night onto the bill to cover "breakfast and ancillary charges" for a second occupant of the room. In many other cities, I could probably have had a hooker delivered for that price (not that I have any knowledge of the usual rates for this kind of extra service). Best part was that my wife, because she had the same room number as me and I was part of the conference, wasn't actually allowed into breakfast - she had to share with all the hairy geeks in the "conference breakfast" instead. And I have to say that the cost of two (very) small beers - 15 Eurobits - broke my previous record for a central London hotel. No wonder they could afford to give you complimentary slippers and the loan of a dressing gown. In fact, I've spent a week in Redmond, including flights and a rental car, for less than the hotel bill.

One interesting aspect of the hotel was the swimming pool on the third floor that was half outdoors and half indoors, connected by a narrow channel and a plastic curtainy thing. My wife, who knows a lot about swimming pool design from her vast experience of jetting round the world with me, was able to explain that this was so you could swim indoors if it started to rain, thereby preventing you from getting wet.

Nice itself reminds me of the capitol of our own Riviera here in England - Brighton. Nice doesn't seem have any dilapidated piers, but it does seem to be all hotels, restaurants, and a beach made of very large pebbles. However, the food in the several restaurants we tried was generally excellent. And the views from the old castle hill between the beach and the harbour, including an impressive waterfall, were stunning - as you can see from the photos here:


A View Across Nice Seafront

The Waterfall At The Top Of The Old Castle Hill

On our day off, we took the train to Monaco. I was impressed with their railways (compared to ours here in England), and Monaco station is amazing - buried under a mountain and with an abundance of hi-tech electronic displays and stuff. However, the half-mile walk to get out into the open air was, to say the least, unexpected. Surprisingly, Monaco itself was distinctly underwhelming. It was nice to see the Grand Prix circuit running through the streets (they were just setting up for this year's event), and there were some very expensive cars everywhere we looked. And even more expensive yachts in the harbour - the largest proportion of which seemed to be registered in London and flying the Red Ensign.

Maybe this was because most of the people there seem to speak English, including the owner of one cafe who actually was English (from Liverpool). In fact, the only place they didn't speak English was the Post Office, as I discovered when I went to buy a stamp for a postcard to send to my mother. Luckily, some of my schoolboy French has survived my continuing descent into senility, and I ended up shouting "Angleterre" a few times and poking money at the lady. In return for my 5 Euromoney note I got remarkably little change, and a handful of stamps. Not sure whether this was supposed to cover sending a couple of dozen house bricks by airmail, or just a postcard, I stuck them all on the back. The advantage was immediately apparent in that I now only had room left for "Wish you were here", saving the usual effort and head scratching deciding what else to write. Mind you, after a week the card still hasn't got back here. Maybe they're flying it around the world a few times to use up all the excess postage.

Back in Monaco, they (of course) managed to take more money off us. Having waited in vain to be served at the Monte Carlo Cafe, we thought we'd take a stroll into the famous Grand Casino for a look round. We had to check our bags and cameras on the way in (I assume for security reasons), and then discovered that they charged 10 Eurostuff just to see the place. Needless to say, we decided not to bother, and I suppose we weren't surprised to find that they wouldn't give us our bags back until we paid them 2 Eurothings each! The constant stream of visitors going in and out probably pays for one of the yachts.

Strangely, the nicest part of Monaco was - again - at the top of a hill, this time the one containing the old town and Prince Rainier's Palace. The views from the hill were dramatic, including the vast array of boats and expensive new apartments, the untidy and unattractive view of the main town with old apartment blocks climbing into the foothills of the local mountain, and the amazing array of roof gardens. You'll see what I mean in the photos below.


Monte Carlo Harbour

The Oceanographic Institute

The Exotic Gardens and Cathedral on the Hill

Preparing the Grandstand for the Monaco Grand Prix

Posh Boats and Apartments...

... and Amazing Roof Gardens

So, after the hectic last few months, I'm not planning to go anywhere for a while. Instead, I suppose I'll have to settle down and do some real work to try and pay the electricity bill. I'm currently playing with all kinds of stuff from the Microsoft patterns & practices group, including the Mobile Client Software Factory, WMI and Group Policy, and health modeling. I can see a lot of headaches coming my way trying to get to grips with all this at the same time. Still, if any of it turns out to be interesting (or if I can actually understand any of it), I'll have something other than griping about hotels and airlines to write about next time. And no doubt you'll be pleased to hear that it will probably not provide any more opportunities for grainy and indecipherable photos.

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