It’s been a weird time for us/me. Pretty much as soon as we got here, we knew we were leaving. Unpack? Don’t unpack? Get some food staples? Skip it? Do research on what I want to do with the time that we have here? Skip it and just wander?
The answers are…don’t unpack. Skip the staples; eat a croissant. Skip the research (other than the previously scheduled walking tour); wander…a little. I just can’t muster up the energy or the desire to go at Nice like I normally would. And it’s definitely not Nice’s fault. It’s an absolutely lovely city. And I know that I’m missing the opportunity of a lifetime, but I just can’t. I don’t know about you, but once I’m “out”, I’m at least halfway out with one foot on a plane. And my heart just isn’t in it. And maybe I’m missing a travel/wander buddy.
It sits on a bay in the Mediterranean where the water is a beautiful aqua at the edge and a deep, lovely blue beyond. This is because there really wasn’t a beach here until the Brits started coming and required one so the French hauled in rocks from the Alps to create a beach. As you enter the water, you only have about 6′ before you’re 6′ under because it drops off so quickly. Boats can come almost up to water’s edge. And speaking of boats, this morning I watched a one-man fishing boat hauling his empty nets in right near the shore. Not sure what he was hoping to find. Not sure I want to know!
For seven km along the water there is a promenade called the Promenade des Anglais. It’s named for the English “tourists” who put Nice on the map starting before Queen Victoria’s time. They all wanted to see and be seen (remember that scene from Bridgerton?) and they didn’t have the place to do it so the promenade idea was born! It was even funded by the Queen and England’s aristocrats. I just read that after a particularly bad winter, the Anglican Church decided that the poor needed work so they hired locals to build the promenade giving them “dignity, not a handout”.
There are fancy, historical hotels and casinos along the promenade and plenty of beautiful apartment buildings. If you go out to the promenade in the early morning, you’ll find lots of runners, walkers, roller bladers, and bikers. They have added a great bike path next to the promenade to keep bikes off of the road and walking path. Later in the day it’s full of families, beach-goers and voyeurs sitting on the benches looking out to the sea or toward the promenade. There are restaurants down on the beach and those fancy rent-a-lounge places where you can have your cocktails and lunch delivered to your chair.
Near the eastern end of the promenade is the farmers market. It’s there 6 days a week and it’s incredible with produce, local food goods, linens, plants, and of course, cafés. Mondays it’s an antiques fair. Can’t wait!
The hills behind the immediate coast are full of apartments and villas, but the city itself is pretty flat. There are at least three aspects of the city. The first is the tourist beach area with the famous hotels, bars, casinos, and the promenade.
The vielle ville which is the old town with the teeny, tiny streets lined with shops and cafés. And then the more residential apartment area a few blocks behind the beach.
This is right behind where we are staying which I would call somewhere between the tourist part of town and the residential part of town as there are definitely permanent people in our building, but also lots of vacationers.
The epicenter of the town is a HUGE plaza near vielle ville. It has a large statue of Neptune (I think) standing in a fountain in its center. The story goes that he was a little too endowed so during the mid 20th century some people managed to have him removed and placed in a less obtrusive spot. Not too long ago, there was a campaign to bring him back. Luckily when they removed him they just cut the granite above his ankles. When they brought him back they just “superglued” him back together and there he is in all his glory.
There’s also a large play fountain for kids and playful adults. This area of town was a muddy river mess most of the year. When the Brits turned Nice into their playground during Queen Victoria’s day, they required a more “pleasant” environment so somehow they rerouted the river and paved over the muddy mess. All of the fountains and winding pathways in the area represent the path of the two rivers in Nice that begin their journey in the Alps. And to finish the river’s saga, in recent history the city decided that they needed more parking to accommodate all of the tourists so they dug out under the town square to create lots of underground parking. (I think it’s a big $$ earner for them because it’s not cheap to park here.)
There’s also always a controversy when it comes to city government… so there’s a piece of art – 7 huge iron “sticks” leaning against each other reaching to the sky, representing the seven continents that some city politician thought they needed in the plaza. They were created and installed for 2 million francs. The story goes that the citizens weren’t fans, but they lost the battle. Well, time goes by and now the city wants parking, but guess what? They can’t dig under the “sticks” because they are too heavy so for another 1 million francs (or was it Euros at the time?), they moved the sticks closer to the sea where they weren’t going to be digging. The locals are still not fans! And one more detail, there’s a restaurant that looks out at the sticks. It’s supposedly Elton John’s favorite lunch spot. I bet you couldn’t wait for me to end that tale.
The architecture of Nice is incredible. There’s tons of gorgeous ironwork, lots of scrolling details and tile roofs. The beach area has a lot of art deco buildings. At least, I think that’s what they are…I’m no expert. Yesterday I wandered up behind our apartment where it quickly becomes very residential with a few nice, small hotels sprinkled in. The buildings are just gorgeous. The people wandering the streets in that neighborhood weren’t actually wandering. They were headed to the beach or church or grocers or breakfast…all with a clear purpose. I was the wanderer. I’d say that our neighborhood is somewhere in between the feel of Nice vielle ville and the residential neighborhood. Our buildings were probably built in the 1800s with some newer buildings sprinkled in. Most of the streets are one-way with great bike paths and it is NOISY!!! But you already know that we kind of like noise.
Before I roll with the pictures to tell the story of Nice, I’ll just add a few notes about the people here. The “real” people, not the tourists. I’ve had nothing but positive experiences. You already met my new best friend at the post office. And by the way, when I returned with my second box yesterday, I got a “Bonjour, cherie!” In only two visits, I’m already a “cherie”. I’ve also made quite a few trips to the pharmacy that I can throw a baseball to from our balcony (okay, maybe I can’t, but you get it) and the woman there is always so sweet and helpful. She doesn’t speak English and we know that I don’t speak French, but so far we’ve managed to get everything taken care in fairly efficient order.
And I am so lucky to have a great boulangerie about 10 steps outside our downstairs door. The woman who is there every morning always gives me two croissants when I ask for one. I’m not sure why, but I’m not going argue with her! Seriously, when I get home I’m gonna have to hit those hiking hills HARD!!!
I also make a daily trip to a café for an afternoon pastis. And depending on where I go, I either get a cup of potato chips or a cup of bar mix. At the potato chip place, the server is an older woman who is elegant and lovely. Everyone at this café seems to be a local because she chats with all of them in French. Obviously, she can’t chat with me, but she always makes a point to engage me for a moment and she knows my order and just brings it to me when I get there. Tonight I was sitting next to this lovely French woman, Sara, and after we awhile began chatting. Oh my gosh. Somehow I ended up in tears, she ended up in tears and we are now IG friends and are meeting for my last pastis tonight. More to come….
But…Who’s going to be my evening grab-a-Pastis buddy when I get home?
One more thing before I end this rambling thing with photos of vielle ville, I want to make another point about this type of “dwelling” travel. Even in the matter of a week, when you frequent the same places and try to communicate in their language (when traveling outside the country), you quickly become a bit like “Norm” where everyone may not know your name, but they recognize you and treat you a bit differently. It’s so worth it.
So vielle ville. Speaks for itself. I’ll describe a few of the photos.