(145/366) Nice is nice!

May 24, 2012 – Well, we managed to get our behinds in gear early today, and made it up to the train station and on a train to Nice by around 8am. It’s about a 30 minute train ride, give or take, to Nice from Juan les Pins. Because it was early, we managed to get two seats on the upper level and settled in for the scenery. Eventually we stopped and I looked out at the station name – Nice St. Augustin – and hopped off. And realized that we’d jumped off a station too early. We were reading the schedule, trying to figure it out, when a staff member came up to us and started to speak rapidly. Like I said before, rudimentary French at best. I can read a fair bit and decipher a lot, but speech is hard because there are inflections and pronunciations that come at me too fast. I asked for English and he said “There is a train strike, here is the only schedule for today” and handed up a sheet of paper that contained significantly fewer departures than the one I was carrying. Another train was to come along in about 20 minutes and we figured we’d wait for it rather than walk. It was running late, and many people on the platform were wondering where it was, leaning out and stretching their necks to peer off into the distance. Eventually it showed up, and it was packed! I mean really, really packed. I squished on into a teensy space, and Kirk was standing on the platform looking at me like “You don’t actually expect me to fit in there somewhere…do you?” He got up, but couldn’t get in far enough for the door to close, so I wiggled and bumped the fellow behind me, and he wiggled and bumped the person behind him, and eventually we created just enough room for Kirk to squeeze in as the door closed. There were several people left behind on the platform. As we pulled in to the right station, we wondered if we would explode out of the train, it sort of felt like it.

The Nice train station is impressive and lovely. And when we made our way out to the exit, there was a crush of people, commuters we assumed, piled up inside, trying to get to trains that weren’t there. It was not a good day to commute.

We stopped for a croissant and an espresso, and then made our way down to the waterfront, pausing to enjoy a few moments in a lovely treed park that we found in the middle of an otherwise busy area, and a dog park to boot! The promenade along the white pebbled beach is lovely, and the water and sky seemed to blend from one to the other. Gorgeous shades of blue and azure. A fabulous day greeted us in Nice. The sky and water were blue and inviting, and I loved the echoes of white and blue in the beach umbrellas. I love the Pacific, I really do love our blue ocean, but I can never get the colour of the Mediterranean out of my memory. I love this sea, the shades speak to history and ocean adventures. It seeped into my blood somewhere along the line. That’s why we are here, because I needed to be near this body of water again. That and the fact that I needed to taste a real French baked croissant, a real French crêpe, and sip on real French coffees again. I needed some real French food, made with real French ingredients and pair them with real French wines. Not some pale comparisons fabricated in Canada or the USA.

We picked up another sort-of-useful-map and made our way along the promenade where we saw rows of blue and white bicycles for rent at very reasonable prices, as long as you had a mobile phone to set up an account, which we don’t. So we continued our walk and ended up at the base of a series of stairs that led up to the fort. We stared up-up-up at the stairs that took the energetic up to several panoramic vistas, and eventually up to the fortress and its ruins far above us. The stairs weren’t that difficult, or maybe we are just in better shape than we were a year ago. The views were incredible, and to add to the fabulousness, there was an accordion player sitting on the edge, playing beautifully.

We stopped for lunch at a cafe in the park above, and each enjoyed a wonderful plate of pasta while sharing a carafe of rosê wine, before heading down the road on the other side of the fort and wandering through an amazing cemetery dating from the early 1800’s. Many of the family monuments are quite elaborate, and are carved with the names of family members that span up to 200 years in some cases.

Our day clouded over a bit and some rain began to spit down on us, so we retreated to the shelter of a cafe and shared a carafe of rosê while we listened to the patter of rain on the awning. We then ended up back in town, and found our way back to the square above the Old Town. We love wandering the old narrow streets, boasting arts and crafts, food, perfume, soap, and oil shops. We did a bit of shopping, and I found a fabulous dress in a little shop that had to come home with me. Then we stopped for one of the best gelato cones ever (Guava for Kirk, Cassis for me). The Old Towns just beat the commercial shopping zones that are populated with many brands that we can easily get back home – MAC, Timberline (that one seemed weird), Zara, Guess, Esprit, etc. I can choose from those brands back home, why look at them here.

We wandered the streets and I took far too many photos of building architecture and shuttered windows. I just love the colours of the buildings, and the selection of complementary paints on the shutters. They are all so colourful and pretty. I took 265 photos today, and most of them are of buildings. It will take a while before I sort through those, particularly since I have three days backlog now.

It doesn’t read like we did much today, but I can’t hazard a guess at how many kilometres we put on our feet today, and I do know that they hurt by the time we ended up back at the train station. The train ride back was uneventful, and we got off at the right station. No issues this time. Lunch was pretty filling, and with the warmer weather, neither one of us was particularly hungry, so we stopped back at our favourite crêperie (Luna Store) and had a sweet crêpe and a half bottle of red wine while we watched the people go by. It seems that Thursdays are more active, either that or the weather just brought people out and opened restaurants and bars up. We watched people walk by with various dogs, but again, seriously, what’s with all the Yorkies here?? They are absolutely everywhere!

I love that scooters outnumber motorcycles something like 100:1 in Europe, they are such wonderful little vehicles, and make so much sense for zipping around a city. A fellow in a suit and tie went by on his scooter, iPhone in hand, headphones in his ears, and texting as he rode. Another went by and pulled a wheelie down the street – on a scooter!! Normally motorcycle wheelies just annoy me, but on a scooter? That’s just awesome!

So a final walk along the beach, the air heavy with the scent of jasmine, and we stopped to speak with Stefan, our hoteliêr, and ask him for a good bottle of red from his cellar. He came up with a dusty 6 year old wine from the region, full bodied and rich with flavour. It was a perfect end to a great day.