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Published: Saturday, 3/17/2007

Fun of trip research makes up for lack of fun getting there

Whoever said that "getting there is half the fun" hasn't been out of his foxhole for a long time.

Because as we all know, "getting there" in today's turbulent travel times is rarely much fun at all, what with heavily congested airports, airplanes, trains, and highways.

But if there is one aspect of travel that does still provide us with something approximating "half the fun," it would have to be researching an upcoming trip. As we write, we're up to our proverbial withers in research tools for Nice and the French Riviera. It's a part of the world we haven't visited in a dog's age (that would be seven years), and a far too beautiful part of the world to be so long neglected.

Our handy helpers this year include the usual cast of characters: Rick Steves with his quick and easy tour of Provence and the French Riviera; Arthur Frommer's solid compendium, France 2007; a slightly out-of-date copy of Earl Steinbicker's Daytrips France: 48 One-Day Adventures by Rail, Bus or Car, and the always hip, irreverent, but insightful Time Out series, this one for the South of France: Provence and the Cote D'Azur.

Supplementing these standard guides are a stack of archived and well-worn articles from the likes of Gourmet, the New York Times, and Budget Travel magazine. Each, in its own way, adds to our grab bag of knowledge and gives us fresh ideas and perspectives on what there is to do and see once we get off the plane at Nice's Cote D'Azur Airport.

We already know most of the basics, of course.

Like the wide sweeping Promenade des Anglais, that iconic boulevard laid out in the 1820s by Victorians escaping bleak England, that runs for miles along the Mediterranean with its broad, sunny sidewalk highly prized by joggers, cyclists, inline skaters, and chic pram-pushing mums.

And the famous market, the Cours Saleya, a three-block tract that parallels the Med and does a daily double turn as bustling food and flower market before morphing each night into a popular restaurant scene and seafood spectacular.

It's a place that buzzes on well into the wee small hours. Even on those occasions when the evening turns cool, patrons can still sit, sip, and sup (and smoke) under the stars with the help of umbrella-style propane heaters.

Adjacent to the market lies a slurry of narrow alleys which make up the colorful quarter known as Old Nice.

A once blowsy, down-at-the-heel, and slightly dangerous maze of ancient dwellings, bistros, galleries, and churches, this quarter is undergoing a 21st century version of urban renewal as a colony of Brits has moved in and begun fixing up its many lofts and studios as permanent dwellings or weekend getaways - attracted, no doubt, by Nice's eternal sunshine, lively lifestyle, and scrumptious nosh.

This new wave of British migrants can make it over from the UK for as little as $50 on newly deregulated flights, making it a great escape from their own frequently miserable weather!

As a good portion of Nice's downtown is now pedestrianized, it's perfect for strolling and window shopping in upmarket boutiques and world brand stores. But there are still enough broad avenues, arcaded squares, pretty parks, and elegant turn-of-the-century architecture to remind one of that glamorous and golden past.

High above the city lies Cimiez - the site of the original Roman settlement from 150 BC - and now an affluent suburb with large villas, worth-a-detour museums, and some highly atmospheric ancient ruins.

But Nice is not all trendy Brits and mortar.

It's also a great center of Provencal culture populated with the likes of Van Gogh and Cezanne, Matisse and Chagall. And who can forget those other incoming scribes like Hemingway, Huxley, and Scott Fitzgerald who added their own touch of sophistication and wickedness.

If all this isn't enough to keep us busy for our getaway week, research has opened up several new areas of exploration: dreamy fishing villages, colorful ports, walks along the coast, narrow gauge train rides into the back country, and, best of all, vast menus of food we've never ever tried before.

But first, of course, we have to get there And you know how much fun that can be!



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