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17 things I love about travelling solo

“I wandered everywhere, through cities and countries wide. And everywhere I went, the world was on my side.” –Roman Payne

Have you been to a place where you know absolutely NO ONE. Yes, not a soul and it’s just you with your back-pack?

I have. And it is absolutely thrilling. In fact I must admit that the first time you travel solo, it can be a ‘butterflies in stomach’ kinda experience. Possibly, for many, it could be the first time in your life, ‘you only have yourself to rely on’ kind of experience.

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It all begins with small experiences such as nobody to hold your bag when you go to the loo. And then grander experiences like having no penny beyond the cab fare to the airport left in your pocket, starving till the flight attendant serves you food, being locked out of your hostel and having no where to go!!!

I have had all of these experiences over my years of solo travel. And I have cherished each one of these experiences…

Travelling alone doesn’t mean I am a loner. I equally enjoy travelling with friends and family. But travelling alone, well it feels like a cleansing experience. Generally travelling by itself is very cleansing, but travelling alone is taking it a few notches higher and a few levels deeper-like a deep tissue cleanser!!!!

But more than anything, it is such an empowering experience. You become the master of your soul during your trip alone, immaterial whether you are a man or a woman.

Here are my 17 reasons why I am totally in love with travelling alone, by myself:

  1. The journey to the travel is more beautiful than the actual trip: Because you are travelling alone, you invest extra time in checking, re-checking your hotel, the ticket is taken care-off by you. You meticulously check on the cheapest deals and the best prices. You become pro at filling Visa forms so much so that people call you to take your advice on what to write in a particular column on the form for their respective trips. You know the price range of the ticket rates to the cities you have traveled to, at the back of your hand. Mine do. Now, I am a little extreme. My favourite hobby is to go through the world map over the weekend and make plan to go to a new place soon!!!!!

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    As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.” – Virginia Woolf

  2. You know much information about the place even before you land: When you travel alone, you are your own guide. It is immaterial whether you will find a guide there or no. Also, a woman travelling alone definitely knows to do her research well. You know the exchange rate well, the language, the way of dressing and the manner of speaking, the places to go to, etc.

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    at Leh…

  3. You are well aware of the fact that there is no fall back plan: You need to manage your money very well. That gives you full power to spend and save the money that you have. You could use it wisely or spend it loosely- you have to bear the consequence of your decisions. I have landed in a situation where I only had the money to take me to the airport left with me on that particular day. And it was evident that I couldn’t afford to eat much and was my crankiest best. I was glad that it was my last day in that city and all I had to pay for was the fare to the airport.

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    both in Bali and in Paris I had the last few bucks to pay the cabbie

  4. You can do whatever you feel like on your trip: ok, you are not into touristy things! Fine. Don’t go to touristy places. You want to get up late and just take a stroll in the local market? Go ahead. There is no one to make a plan for you on your trip. You make your own plan and execute it. Isn’t that liberating?

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    at a local market in Sanur, Bali

  5. You meet new people and share new experiences with them: I have met the best of people on my travels and I continue to be friends with them. When you travel in a group, you tend to hang around and chill with those whom you are travelling with. But, travelling alone you tend to meet interesting people that possibly you wound have never encountered in your life. Like I met Fong Tsit from Hong Kong on my train ride to the Santa Claus village and I ended up having the most wonderful time with her when we reached the destination. Or I met Maurice Janssen from Netherlands on my trip to Nilgiris and it has been over three years and several trips of great times with him. Or meeting my room-mate Sokratis Zor with whom I attended a great concert in Stockholm.
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    Swing ride with Fong Tsit in Santa Claus village

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    Post trek with Maurice Janssen in Nilgiris

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    With Sokratis Zor at The Cure concert

  6. You can modify and moderate your travel plans as per your wish: you wanted to go to place X but you went to place Y, fine. There is nobody to dispute your decision. Like when I was in Bali, a reduced to day from my stay in Ubud and headed to the beaches straight. Or my last few days in Scandanavia were completely unbooked!

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    Did nothing but walked through the day in Stockholm

  7. You pack your luggage sensibly: You know you have to carry your own baggage through that crowded bus or train. Sometimes it is not affordable for a solo traveler to take a cab. Hence, public transport is your best friend. When you know that you are lugging around your own luggage, naturally you tend to take lesser stuff.
  8. You are suddenly aware of the small things around you, that you could have missed otherwise: Things like warm breeze against your cheeks, that musician playing flute at the corner of the road, etc. catch your attention.

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    At a local market in Tel Aviv, Israel

  9. You are more cautious and responsible: You have to take care of your own passport, your own currency, that expensive jacket that you are carrying on your arm. You can’t afford to be irresponsible. yggvtbuoblqq92oov8sagkfowauwvwtgorke0w4qjdiw1024-h576-no
  10. The whole logistics of travelling alone is simple: Even for the best of travel planner, it can be challenging to coordinate a trip when it comes to managing a group of people. You have to take time away from your work match it with other’s date. You can definitely overcome the challenge by planning it way in advance. But, if you have less time, then planning a trip with a group can be super stressful. So if you don’t find a travel partner on short notice, well, it could be your time to pack your bags and travel anyway.dsc_0532
  11. You get your time alone to introspect:  Yes, travelling alone is a great introspective experience. You can just sit down by a beach, look within or just stare at the sun, without having the compulsion of striking a conversation with someone.

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    In Northern Finland

  12. Your mind expands: For most part of our life we are confined to a finite way of living. Expected people, places, patterns, etc. Travelling alone can challenge this and open your mind to new experiences. You step out of all of these predictable things and step out of your comfort zone.

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    At Yasser Arafat’s tomb in Palestine

  13. You own your experiences: Whatever experience you have during the travel whether good or bad, it is your own. Getting duped by a cabbie in Bali for double the amount of money is your own experience or getting food at night in the middle of a deserted village in Israel by two helpful strangers. These are your experiences, guided by your good or bad judgments and nobody can partake in that. There is no one to applaud and no one to blame either.
  14. You start trusting your intuition more: You will definitely sharpen your ability to judge in the correct manner, not just depending on facts but going by the gut feeling too. You learn how to read the situations better and the take appropriate action.dsc_1399
  15. Anonymity is bliss: Nobody knows who you are as you are not travelling with familiar faces. You can do all the experiments that you wanted to do without fear of having people around to judge. How about singing a local song at a karaoke?
  16. Meet locals and get to know about a place better: The experience that you have travelling alone is different from a guided trip experience. I tend to chat  a lot with locals than going through guide books for the required place. And from my experience, locals open up to a solo traveler more as compared to a group of people. Also, many times it has happened to me on my solo trips that I looked to act less like a tourist and more like a local because of getting a local guidance. Hence, you get a completely different treatment from many other locals.

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    In Monaco

  17. You come back home with the best possible travel stories which only you have to share and no one else. Isn’t that super awesome?
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Reaching Portofino in Italy after changing 2 flights, 3 trains and a ferry

“It seemed an advantage to be traveling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially moulded by whom we are with, we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others…Being closely observed by a companion can inhibit us from observing others; we become taken up with adjusting ourselves to the companion’s questions and remarks, we have to make ourselves seem more normal than is good for our curiosity.”
― Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel

Street art in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia.

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I was supposed to head to Langkawi from Singapore but then a friend who had visited Penang told me about the Street Art in Georgetown. The minute I hear street art, eyes closed I rush towards that place and open them up to the work of artists who paint the boring looking walls of normal looking streets into something beautiful.

To begin with, streets of Penang are anything but boring looking. Throw in some street art, you have a feast for your eyes!!!

20160518_180431_002 In the fishing Village

I took a Tiger Air fight from Singapore to reach Penang, Malaysia and booked myself into a hotel close to Georgetown and ventured out to see the streets.

I was staying just for a night in Penang. From here, I headed to my beach resort in Langkawi.

Expect the unexpected

I was not really sure of what to expect in terms of the street art…

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In pictures, why Portofino left me mesmerised..

Portofino is a tiny sea village on the Italian Riviera. It is essentially a sea resort which is accessible by boat  (ferry) or train from St Margherita Ligure. St Marguerite Ligure is a station which is a part of the Italian Railway network and is closest to this port. There is no direct train going to Portofino.

This place boasts of ancient marine culture. It is also one of those spots frequented by celebs, artists of renown and writers.

The village is tiny and is characterized by brightly-colored houses.

This beautiful village left e completely spell bound. Why?

Let the images do the talking.

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When you enter Portofino taking a boat, this is the first sight that welcomes you

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I am standing at The “Piazzetta,” which is the meeting-up point

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My climb towards the famous Brown Castle (Castello Brown) the view from the path

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Brown Castle (Castello Brown) gives to best view to take pictures of the coloured houses

17 things that I learnt from my first 100 miler

What did I learn during my 100 miler

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I ran 100 miles- a distance that holds very very special place in every ultra marathoner’s life. I can also say, any runner’s life.

Like many other runs, it was a great learning experience.

It was a run that took place in Singapore and I was among  46 participants running 100 miles. Having participated in many ultras back home, I am familiar with the whole running distance over many hours kind of format. But, what hit me in Singapore was completely unique.

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So, this was the drill. It was an out and in race. 80.7 km one way and same distance back kind of run. The race started at 7 am in the morning on Saturday. It had many sectional cut-offs, like most ultras do. The aid stations were at varied distances such as 12 km, 9 km, 8 km, 7 km, 14 km, 15 km, 5 km and 10 km. They were called CPs. CP1, CP2, CP3……CP8…

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17 things that I learnt from my first 100 miler

 

I ran 100 miles- a distance that holds very very special place in every ultra marathoner’s life. I can also say, any runner’s life.

Like many other runs, it was a great learning experience.

It was a run that took place in Singapore and I was among  46 participants running 100 miles. Having participated in many ultras back home, I am familiar with the whole running distance over many hours kind of format. But, what hit me in Singapore was completely unique.

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So, this was the drill. It was an out and in race. 80.7 km one way and same distance back kind of run. The race started at 7 am in the morning on Saturday. It had many sectional cut-offs, like most ultras do. The aid stations were at varied distances such as 12 km, 9 km, 8 km, 7 km, 14 km, 15 km, 5 km and 10 km. They were called CPs. CP1, CP2, CP3……CP8. So we had to run from start line  to CP8 and CP 8 to the start line. The distance of 100 miles (over 160 km, non-stop)

This was the first time that I was running an ultra marathon offshore; hence the whole experience was unique to another level.

Now, I am not the one who speaks about the problems I faced before, during and after the run. Instead I focus on learning.  Yes, I am an eternal optimist, ‘kuch extra positive’ as one of my closest friend and batch-mate Sohini Mitter often says. ‘Annoyingly positive’, is what my friend Ashwini Gangal often calls me.

So what are the things that this optimist learned from her first 100 miles?

Here are the 17 things that I learnt from my first 100 miler:

  1. Travel a day or two before the actual event: Whenever I am participating in an event I am known to reach the last; usually because of the limited number of holidays I have in hand. Straight I go to any race (mostly from work to the airport),  finish the run and comeback to work again. Thankfully, I didn’t do this mistake in Singapore. I landed in Singapore and I landed straight into high-fever. But, I had given myself two whole days to recover as I had been wise enough to travel two days before the event. I slept through these two days to recovery only occasionally stepping out to eat. Had I followed my usual cut-to-cut schedule here, I wouldn’t have been able to make it to the race at all.
  1. Miles, miles and miles before a 100 miler: The only thing I focused on before my 100 miler was gathering miles. The back up of 184 km that I had during my 36 hour stadium run suddenly made the 100 miler (160 km run) look doable. In fact, when the race started I was thinking ‘ok fine, I know it is a point to point kind of race but I have actually done this distance’. The confidence that I got out of this was purely awesome.
  1. Speak to a local runner to understand the place before hand: Thanks to Ajit Singh for introducing me to Ken Moon. Well, to speak about Ken, he is a runner based out of Singapore who had come to India to work for a few years. That’s when he befriended Ajit during one of the runs. Ken is a Boston qualified runner and works really hard on the marathons that he participates in. Ken was my single running contact in Singapore. He had warned me about the humidity and the crazy elevations during the first 21 km and of course the last 21 km. I was mentally prepared for the challenge.
  1. Understand various ways to travel to the start point and plan the journey accordingly: Now, Ken also helped me with the various options available to travel beyond the usual preferred transport- a taxi to the start point. And that was another plus. I was standing on the street waiting for the cab for the longest time in the morning and I couldn’t get one to reach the start point on time. But, I wasn’t worried. As I exactly knew how to take a train, at what time does the train service begin and which buses will take me to the start from my location.
  1. Study the route like an obsessed person: One mistake that I did and I must admit is that I didn’t know the names of the surroundings of the aid stations at the back of my hand. I knew aid stations as CPs. CP1, CP2, etc. But, did know them as Pasir Ris, etc. I underestimated the possibility of us getting lost in a point-to-point race. Considering that the distance between two aid stations was enormous and the surrounding was totally unique for us, I should have studied the route like a geek. We wasted a lot of time looking for the turns and got lost many times on the way to the next aid station.
  1. Keeping an eye on the surroundings, making your own mental notes: Many say ultra running is all about getting into that trance and getting completely absorbed into your run. It was a luxury we couldn’t afford during this event!!! It was a run through the city and we had to keep our eyes open to find orientation flags for turns. We had to make mental notes of the buildings that we passed, the gardens that we crossed, etc. to sail ahead smoothly. This really helped us. For eg, it was that Pizza Hut that we have to take a turn from or that cycling track that we have to follow till the end, etc.
  1.  Owning a local SIM: GPS, GPS, GPS. Also, making calls to the organizers in case you are on the wrong route, can’t find an aid station, or are confused about something, etc. For example, we were misguided by a volunteer about the next aid station. dsc_0148The confusion could have been easily resolved at that minute with a local SIM and a call to the main event organizer. At one point in time, we went in the wrong direction, asked a local on the road to help us find the area with the GPS on his mobile, he shot a look at us as if we had demanded his kidney or will run away with his phone!!!!
  1. Having a familiar face running with you in a foreign terrain really helps: I was glad to have Breeze Sharma running this event with me. I have run many events with him and somehow I get along very well with him during ultra marathons. It is really strange that we both barely speak to each other when in Bombay; sometimes we don’t talk for months, but during races, we can run next to each other for hours. And in this case, it was over 27 hours. Also, he is a very experienced runner. Some of his decisions taken during the course of the run and his experience helped us sail through well.
  1. Carrying physical maps: Technology betrays, watch dies after many many hours of running. It is in your best interest to carry a small physical map with aid stations and the route marked. A small piece of paper won’t harm.
  1. Carry your own hydration and nutrition: A smart fellow once told me ‘don’t depend on the organizers for your hydration and nutrition’. I took his advice. I had drop bags at each aid station with basics that I am used to consuming during my runs in India. I am not saying that the aid stations that the organizers had were badly equipped. Not at all. They were very well equipped with watermelon, Oreo cookies, ice, Coke, etc. But, I am used to running and consuming a few things during ultra marathons and I just wanted to retain the continuity.  Monica and Amit from Unived had very nicely packed 8 packets for 8 aid stations with their gels, salt caps, etc. which came handy during the run. I was also carrying Red bull to keep me up in the night. And there was one bottle each of Enerzal, a drink most of us runners are so used to drinking during our events in India which was given by my dear friend Ajit. Along with it, I had protein bars, a pack of dates and chiki packed by my parents all in the bags. Each bag had to last two visits for two people, Breeze Sharma and myself. And it did.  (plus I am really not used to eating Oreo biscuits during a run 😦 )
  1. Learn some basic words in the local language: This will take you long way and help saving a lot of your energy and time wasted on loud gestures.
  1. Never underestimate the power of humidity in breaking you down: Coming from Mumbai, most of us are really super confident in dealing with humidity and heat. Well, that was not the case here. It was beyond hot and humid. My skin gets excessively exposed to sun during my training runs, but this was something else. I have never come back from an ultra with sun rashes, NEVER!!! The distance between the aid stations made the whole drill even more difficult. Honestly, the consistent consumption of salt caps given by Unived really saved the day for us and kept cramps, etc. at bay. We religiously had one salt cap each at every aid station. To explain with example, it was so humid that even at night time while we were walking we were sweating as if we were running at a very fast pace. While running in the afternoon, when we were passed many ponds and swimming pools and I actually felt like just diving into one of them, taking a lap and coming back to continue with the run!!!
  1. Do one acclimatization run: A small one, but at least one so that your body will understand the kind of weather torture if at all it has to endure through the event.
  1. Never ever plan a 100 miler around your menstrual cycle: Oh yes! Ladies, it pains and hurts and how. Ask me, I have experienced it all through the 100 miles on the second day of my periods. Stomach cramps-check, back pain-check, rashes-check, check, check. I had to go through all of this. These three are worth a 100 mile in their own right. The actual distance came later.
  1. Carry some cash on you, always: You run out of water, need to buy something sweet or salty to eat and aid station is far away, having some money on you always helps. We bought water on so many occasions, on our way to the next aid station.
  1. Be prepared to re-jig your plans and don’t be very rigid about them: One need not be stubborn about the plans and the goals set. You can revamp these plans looking at the situation in hand. For example, I was planning to run with a bottle in hand till 80.7 km and for the remaining 80.7 km in the night I was planning to run with a hydration bag which was lent out to me by my dear buddy Girish Bindra. But, I had such a bad shoulder pain and sunburn on my left shoulder that I simply stuck to holding a bottle in hand.
  1. Don’t forget to enjoy: It is your first timed 100 miler. You will never experience the same feeling again. Challenges, toils, turmoil, troubles aside, enjoy the journey to the finish line to the fullest.

 

P.S: Must thank Garmin for the watch Fenix 3, Nike for the gear and the shoes, Unived Sports for the hydration and nutrition. To all my friends Milind Soman for happily giving me all the advice and lending me your watches, Inderpal Khalsa, Jayaraman Rankawat, Abbas Sheikh for those long training runs, Ajit Singh for all your support, Vamini Sethi for being so peppy and positive, Girish Bindra for the bag, Pranav Mehta for being around and happy to help always, Ken Moon for making us reach the finish line- you were our eyes and ears in the night, Breeze Sharma-let’s do one more 100 miles 🙂

My 17 questions to the first Indian participating in the super challenging Spartathlon 2016

runner's sigh

When I started writing this blog, I thought of writing stories that have inspired me to do the stuff that I do and why will I do it again. But, there are also stories about people that I have had the pleasure of knowing. It is some of these stories that I would like to unfold for many.

I really admire those who have the courage to try out something big on their own. And one such courageous person is Kieren Dsouza. I am always heard saying this, “Kieren is one of the finest ultra runners that we have in India”. And I totally mean it.

I met him at the time when I was doing my first 100 km race in Nilgiris. This guy had also participated in a 100 km race there and had finished it in a little over 13 hours. Killing those hills stretching over- 100…

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17 types of people you encounter during a Marathon

runner's sigh

I love observing people and I am always at it even when I am running a marathon. Yes, I am always excited and nervous about a race. But, I am also excited to meet a lot of people on the route, during a race, well, sometimes not. You like it or not, you will definitely meet one of these characters during a race. I have listed them into 17 different types. One may have a list longer than this. So, on your mats, go!!!

17 types of people you encounter during a race:

  1. The Storyteller– when I began running…..my nutrition plan, my future race—–zzzzzzz ‘my last race’, ‘the race before that’………ZZZZZZZZ (wake me up when it’s all over!!!!!!!)    9TzoGz48c
  2. The conversation striker: ‘Is this your first race?’ (like seriously, you can come up with a better line than that)
  3. The coach: you should drink this before the…

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17 reasons why I will come back to Cannes again

Why do I love Cannes over and over again?

I have visited Cannes on multiple occasions for work and each time I visit, I fall in love with this place.

It is small and charming. It is an ideal place to let your hair down and take a dip in that Mediterranean sea. The water is superbly azure.

Yes, it was brought into spotlight for Cannes Film Festival but even the gorgeous celebs and movie stars can steal Cannes’ thunder when it comes to beauty

 

Here are my 17 reasons why I will come back to Cannes again:

 

  1. I love to stroll up the winding cobbled streets of Le Suquet to see the castle, the Notre-Dame de l’Esperance church. This is also the place where you get spectacular view of the city.
  2. It has an amazing seafront which is your Promenade De la Croisette where one can run/ walk in the morning. I would go running each day or sometimes night. Also, long evening walks at Promenade de la croisette are extremely addictive.
  3. Inviting water front to take a dip. In Cannes there is someone always swimming at the sea in the day. Cannes has both public and private beaches-the latter belonging to the luxury hotels, although many allow non-residents access these for a fee.
  4. Cannes houses one of my favorite Seafood restaurant Chez Astoux or Astoux et Brun as it is known.
  5. If you are staying at Cannes Centre, then the Cannes train station is a few mins away from your hotel
  6. Nice airport is not too far and there are convenient airport buses that one can take to travel to this place.  If you have a little bit more cash handy then you can afford the convenience of a cab. It would cost you approx 100 Euros (or more if you have luggage).
  7. Rue d’antibes at Cannes has a neat line of shops. It houses brands such as Mango Zara, United Colours of Benetton, Undiz, Sephora, Mac, etc. If you want to splurge a bit more then there is always an array of shops off the promenade and you can choose from brands such as Dior to Armani.
  8. In case you want to be in a little quieter place than the nosier Cannescentre then La Bocca is a short walk away by the seaside.
  9. The quaint Lérins Islands are a few minutes away by boat.  It is a quieter alternative. Iles de Lérins are made up of twin islands Saint-Honorat which is home to a monastery and castle, and the much larger Sainte-Marguerite. The sea water here is crystal clear.
  10. Delicious French desserts at various bake shops are to die for. My favourite- Laduree
  11. Le Suquet is a beautiful narrow lane full of awesome local places to shop and really old restaurants to eat at. Along with this there are dozens of charming little bistros along Rue Saint Antoine.
  12. The posh towns of Monte Carlo and Saint Tropez are just a ferry ride or a train ride away from Cannes.  I would recommend a boat tour that goes from Cannes to Monaco or Saint Tropez. You will see the entire coastline and it’s only a 45-50-minute ride. You can spend the  whole day there.  The boat typically leaves Cannes around9:30 am or 10 am and pick you up at Monaco/ Saint Tropez around 4 pm/ 4:30 pm.
  13. All through Cannes one is spoilt for choice when it comes to food. There are plenty of options to eat from posh to cheap.
  14. The people here are way too friendly as compared to the rest of France(and yes, a bit less rude)
  15. If you go to this place at right time of the year when the celebrities arrive you might be brushing shoulders with a few of them while walking down the streets.
  16. Go to the fancy dinners. But don’t miss the Gutter Bar, at the end of the Croisette.
  17. Grasse, a place where there are perfumeries is just a short train ride away from Cannes Station. There is also an Antibes to visit which as about a quick 10 min train ride away.
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Clear water and watermelon ice-cream

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Just a few minutes by boat from Cannes, Sainte-Marguerite Island is a must visit

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Plenty of eateries

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Macroons at Laduree on Rue de antibes

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Neatly lined boats captured during morning run

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La Piazza serves fresh delicious Pizzas

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walling up Le Suquet

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Food

Relishing the Delicious See food at Astoux in Cannes

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View of Le vieux port cannes

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Escargot at Chez Astoux

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View from the top

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View from opposite the Palais