From the Vault: Breakfast In Dublin, Lunch In Monaco...

(Note: This was supposed to have been posted sometime in 2007/08, with photos, but I forgot. So let's wind the clock back 7 years - to the Twilight Zone...)

That was my weekend, anyway.

It's something we do where I work; we figured out it was less expensive to go abroad for a Christmas party than it was to have one at home, so midway through the year the 'committee' sits and picks options.

The first year, we went to Madrid, which cost us about €50 a head less for flights and two nights' board than one night in Kilkenny City (transport not included).

The following year, Munich.

Last year, Amsterdam.

This year, Nice.

This year there were ten of us, and we flew out on Friday morning in high winds and rain, arriving two and a half hours later in bright, cloudless sunshine and temperatures of about 18C (any Fahrenheit heads out there, you know what to do).

The plane flew down along the coast, as if announcing our arrival, then banked sharply before turning back to land at Nice airport. Luggage was on the carousel as we walked into the baggage area; passport control barely gave us a second glance, let alone a first.

Three taxis and ten minutes later, we arrived at the Westminster Hotel, Promenade Des Anglais.

After checking in, we arranged to meet up in the bar before heading out later for dinner. Generally speaking, we look for a restaurant specializing in local cuisine one night, with our second night being more casual. Friday night we had a reservation at Le Tire Bouchon, a short distance away by foot, at 8pm.

Anyhow, we met up and sat outside on the terrace, drinking Heineken beer and watching the jetliners come in along the coast. The sun gradually sank into the sea, a ball of molten gold in a cobalt ocean, and we headed out for dinner about 7 o'clock.

It was just as well we left early - although I had nothing to do with it (see my adventures in Berlin and Rome), we got lost. We asked for directions from some local people, but misunderstood 'keep to the left' as 'turn to the left' on one occasion, which just made things worse.

We were about to give up and take our chances with another establishment when we decided to explore fifty meters farther down a street we'd already been halfway along, and found what we were looking for.

The food and service couldn't be faulted; I had quail as a starter, followed by salmon baked in cabbage leaves on a bed of avocado and onion. With an apple-and-red berries crumble as dessert, followed of course by coffee, I have to say I haven't eaten so well in weeks. My friends and colleagues enjoyed their meals equally well, and we spent a good three hours and €500 doing so, including a healthy tip for our hostess (who bore an uncanny resemblance to actress Greta Scacchi). 

(Note: One of the lads returned with a friend a couple of weeks ago and went back to the same restaurant - sadly, he didn't enconter 'Greta').

Afterwards, we went in search of a bar and found an Irish joint called 'Ma Nolan's' in the Market district of Vieille Nice.

Here's the thing - in Ireland, there's a total ban on smoking in enclosed public places. You want to smoke, you go outside. It's been in force a couple of years now, and people have gotten pretty much used to being able to breathe in bars again.

In France, there's no such ban, so when we walked into Ma Nolan's we walked into a cloud that even the smokers among us had trouble with. We stayed for one drink and moved on, some to another venue, some back to the hotel.

Saturday, and Monaco.

The tiny principality, home to millionaires, their money and their yachts, is twenty minutes down the coast by train. Deciding it would be rude not to visit, we did so.

Monaco is an amazing place. It's built on (and possibly in) a mountain, and everything in it reeks of style and money.

We walked down from the train station towards the harbour, then up to the Royal Palace. A steep climb, but worth it. The place was so picturesque and almost clinically clean, it put me in mind of Lord Farquad's castle in Shrek.

The palace guard challenged a British tourist who wandered too close to the gates, proving he wasn't just there for show and the idiot, who either failed to understand or chose to ignore the challenge, was ushered away quietly by a gendarme before he could be shot.

After the palace we wandered down to the harbour, where there was a Christmas market.

Being Monaco, the local council did it in style, turning an Olympic-sized swimming pool into an ice rink, and building snow runs for the kids to ski or ride snowmobiles. The snow brought the temperature to near freezing, so we stayed long enough for a quick lunch before going on our way.

Traveler's hint: If you are planning a visit to Monaco (and I do recommend it) be aware that there are public escalators to save you having to walk too far uphill. Classy or what? Fortunately we found them as we were heading back to the station - if we hadn't, I doubt anyone would have had the energy to go out for dinner that evening.

Back in Nice, we went out for pizza. Our waitress took orders for ten starters, ten pizzas and drinks, all without a notepad. If the order came out perfect, she'd deserve a decent tip.

She got the drinks right, and eighteen of the other twenty items - there was one mistake with a starter, and a pizza that didn't arrive (and when it did was undercooked because they rushed it), but nobody's perfect. After a brief renegotiation of the bill, we found a little French bar with an outdoor tent and heaters, and settled in with a few beers.

There was a Celine Dion song playing on the stereo, but we toughed it out, even when one of a party of French people began to sing along with it. Her lack of talent was matched only by her unbridled enthusiasm, and we almost applauded when she had finished.

The bar closed at 2a.m., and we wandered back to the hotel, where someone opened some vodka. I got to bed at about 4 and don't remember falling asleep (Just tiredness - honest).

And that was more or less it - except for getting stuck on the Ferris wheel with Therese and Jennifer, an unexpected visit from President Sarkozy and 'near-death by running club' (narrow escape there), all in all it was a 'Nice'* weekend...

*I know - sorry...