Posted by: Marco | January 12, 2011

How we spent our Christmas vacation

Like many of you, Anique and Owen had a school break from Dec 24-Jan 9. Unlike most of you, we had no snow. Not even a flake. We had rain, mist, cloud, and mild temperatures.


Anique Zorbing in Menton

That didn’t stop our little town of Menton from decorating most public spaces like a scene from a movie. The lights along the boardwalk were amazing, the Christmas Market tasteful, and the ferris wheel fun. Yup, a ferris wheel. The centre of our town was turned into a Christmas Carnival. The centre median of the main north-south road is wide enough to accommodate a ferris wheel, a kiddie-train, a small cinema, a house of mirrors, a skating rink, a Zorb pool, and a swimming pool for seals and penguins. Everything cost 5€ so we didn’t indulge too much. It was decidedly non-Christmassy, but fun.


What we lacked in Christmas-ness, we made up for with homemade spirit. We made shortbread, placed presents under the tree, and hung stockings with care. Okay, the tree was made of wrapping paper and was stuck to the wall…a sort of 2D tree. And the stockings were small gift bags bought at a Euro store (everything costs 40% more than at a Dollar Store).  But it was fun, economical (a theme, if you haven’t noticed) and in the spirit of Christmas.

Despite the constant rain during the week prior to Christmas, we kept up our math and French studies, we finished our gift buying, did some baking, wrapped presents, and decorated the apartment. On Christmas Eve day, we walked around town, visited the Marché de Noël, ate delicious crêpes, and generally took it easy. That evening we watched The Grinch on YouTube, read `Twas the Night Before Christmas, and followed Santa’s progress on the NORAD website.  At 10:30pm, we attended a Christmas concert in the oldest Catholic church in town, the Basilique St Michel, built in 1630. We had hoped for a French carol sing-along: Il est né le Divin Enfant, etc. No such luck. It was 60 minutes of classical music for pipe organ and clarinet. We could be barely hear the clarinet. Oh well, it was a beautiful and appropriate place to be on Christmas Eve.  At 11:30 pm, we walked home in drizzle. The kids were in bed by midnight, in time for Santa to visit.


Christmas morning around the "tree"

Christmas morning dawned rainy and mild. We opened our homemade stockings and unwrapped the presents under the hand-made wrapping-paper tree. Gifts were generally small and easy to pack, or essential items: new scarves, magazines, running socks, sweaters, earrings, etc. We spent the morning lounging like most of you and then went for a long walk in the misty rain. We walked along the coast until we could see Monaco, turned around and walked back. The sea was quite wild and had pushed thousands of fist-sized pebbles onto the sidewalks, no small feat considering the sidewalk is about 6 feet above the beach!


On the 27th, we welcomed our friends from Perth, the Machans. They threaded the needle of bad weather plaguing European airports and arrived on time at Nice airport. We took the train back to Menton in beautiful sunshine. For the remainder of their visit, we discovered Menton and the surrounding area. We took the train to nearby towns and rode busses up unbelievably steep and narrow roads to medieval villages. We spent a lot of time by the sea throwing rocks, building dams, and getting soaked. Some highlights of their visit include:

  • A trip to the impressive Oceanography Museum in Monaco
  • A 14 km walking trip around Cap Ferrat
  • Visits to the mountaintop villages of Sainte Agnès and Eze
  • Shopping in the Italian market town of Ventimiglia
  • Celebrating New Year’s Eve on the beach
  • Participating in the local New Year’s swim  (PICTURES HERE)
  • Appearing in the Nice-Matin newspaper for having participated in that swim
  • Doing a parapente flight from a mountain high above Roquebrune and Monaco (PICTURES HERE)
  • Picnics by the water


Marco parapenting over Roquebrune

On January 8th, Grant, Brandi and their boys, David and Andrew, left for the Nice airport having experienced a very different Christmas setting. To see the photo album of their visit to Menton CLICK HERE.


The day after their departure, we headed to Nice so I could participate in a running race. The Prom Classic 10km is held on the seaside Promenade des Anglais. This year 6100 runners participated in this popular race. It is a fast race for those at the front as it is very flat. Unfortunately, I didn’t seed myself well at the start and spent the first 6km darting around runners that impeded my progress. Whenever, I was frustrated by a wall of slower runners, I reminded myself that I was running on the French Riviera in the sun, wearing shorts and a T-shirt on January 8th! I know just how lucky I am. I finished 773rd in 40:50. I was happy with the time as I passed through 5km in 22:34. SEE THE PICTURES OF THE PROM CLASSIC AND NICE HERE.

The rest of the day, we poked around Nice, tried to find an open café that served pain au chocolat, and ended up using the “walk-thru” at McDonald’s (eeegad!) where I bought a reasonable cappuccino. We visited the Matisse Museum and ate lunch in an olive grove in the north of Nice.

And that’s how we spent our Christmas vacation.



  1. How I like all your pictures !
    Everything you did for the Xmas celebration was great . I expect those memories will be with you all for ever . We see hundreds of pictures with smiles and more smiles.What a treat .
    I also enjoy all the comments you add to these pictures.I have the feeling that I am practicaly there with you.
    Shannon, you look so well and relax. I love the very photogenic faces of Anique and Owen .And Marco ,your smile said it all :We are living my dream.
    Good for you all


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