Highlights of Nice, France

Nice, France Highlights:

Due to the large Catholic holiday on August 15th, I decided to hunker down and spend a whole week in the coastal city of Nice. I would only recommend that much time if you are in the mood to relax and enjoy the weather, casino and local bars. Considering it was the beginning of my trip, I didn’t want to spend most of my days lying on the beach but still found fun things to do while I was there.P1020718

Vieux Ville- The “old city” in English, this was my favorite part of Nice. I walked through narrow streets filled with small cafés, souvenir stands and specialty shops selling Provence lavender, soaps and artisanal cookies. The gelato and pizza stands were outnumbered only by the tourists that shuffled along the cobblestones with cameras in hand. At the center, the streets opened up to reveal a large open market. In the morning, the stalls are filled with fresh fruit, vegetables and fish. In the evening, the food is replaced by watercolor paintings, purses and jewelry for sale. The perimeter of the square is lined with restaurants and outdoor tables under awnings boasting the freshest fish and cheapest wine. 

Beach- Crowded and pebbly. I would recommend waiting until evening, picking up a cheap bottle of wine and finding a spot on the shore to watch the sunset.P1020807

Matisse and Archaeological Museum- Not only are both museums free, they are necessary stops in this French city. The Matisse museum is well situated in the middle of a large garden, perfect for picnics and dog walkers. I spent about an hour in the museum looking at the Matisse collection before heading over to the Archaeological Museum to see stone ruins of ancient Roman baths as well as the smallest Greco-Roman amphitheater, well persevered next to the museum’s entrance. Near these two museums is another church with beautiful botanic gardens and an expansive view of the city. P1020794

Main Square and Fountains- The main center is perfect for families with children. The wide network of water jets are built into the ground and erupt without warning, shooting plumes of water high into the sky, disappearing as quickly as they come. Kids can also plan in the massive jungle gyms shaped like water creatures located to the east on the way toward the contemporary art museum (also free). I spent over an hour writing on a park bench, listening to the sounds of splashing feet and high pitched giggling. P1020708

Park- I found a large patch of green in the northwest corner of my Nice map. Feeling adventurous, I somewhat skillfully navigated the network of local buses and made my way to the center of supposed patch of wilderness. My excitement in finally finding the location was replaced with disappointment finding the gates closed with a sign indicating the park was closed for the entire month of August. No one in Italy works in August including the wilderness.

[Finally, my French blogs are done. Next stop: Italy!]

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Nice Day Trip 2: Eze Village

P1020842If you have an extra day in Nice and want to get away from the beachside crowds, I would recommend taking a day trip to Eze. Eze Village, and its stone fortress, is located on the hilltop 429 meters above sea level with an incredible view of the French coastline. The various touristy shops, restaurants and history make it a great day adventure before returning to Nice for some nighttime fun. 

Eze was original part of Provence but became part of the County of Savoy in 1388. The oldest building in the village, known as the Chapel of Sainte Croix, dates back to 1306. Since that time, the stone fortress was built and rebuilt as power-hungry men with large armies destroyed its walls (Ottoman fleet of Solomon the Magnificent, soldiers of Louis XIV etc.). Eze was also the home to many wealthy families and even Prince William of Sweden during the mid-1900’s. Eze Village is now the location of the swanky Château de la Chèvre d’Or hotel and esteemed restaurants tucked away into the many wooden doors lining the narrow cobblestone paths. 

I spent the entire afternoon walking through the winding alleyways shaded by tall stonewalls in a maze-like pattern leading up the hill. Each doorway led to a small art gallery or souvenir shop to attract the hordes of tourists like moths to a flame. Hand painted fans, jewelry and small restaurants selling sweet smelling crepes waited around every turn. 

For an additional fee, I gained entrance to the Exotic Garden and up to the highest lookout point in the village. The gardens were beautifully arranged to include desert plants (cactus, aloe) as well as luscious flowers, pools of water and elegant female statues carved from stone. P1020849

Another claim to fame for this little hill town village  is a rocky stone path that Nietzsche climbed while composing one of the chapters of “Thus spoke Zarathoustra.” I was not as inspired to write philosophy while walking the path myself but I was going downhill which inevitably discourages such inspiring thoughts. 

 

This trip has so far been divided into three types of days: solo exploration, group activities and travel. Eze Village was a completely solo trip beginning with the small but important discovery of finding the elusive bus stop. I disappeared among the tourists and navigated myself easily while taking pictures of the architecture and gifts for sale. I like these days, the moments of quiet and solitude when there is nowhere else to be and no time to return. I appreciate the days when I don’t speak to anyone except the waiter at the cafe or hostel employee before heading off to bed. It’s new for me, this aloneness, but I’m trying to wear it well. P1020850

Just as important are the days when I do have companions to go on exploration adventures with or  friends to accompany me to the nearest bar.  I am thankful for these friends even if our time together is brief without any plans or knowledge of ever seeing each other again. They have given me the needed companionship that I can’t imagine life without. P1020857

Nice Day Trip 1: Monaco

From Nice, many tourists hop on one of the many buses or trains to get another look at the southern coast. Small towns like Cannes and larger cities such as Marseilles are perfect for day trips and change of scenery. I explored Monaco (quick 30 minute train ride) and Eze Village (by bus). P1020780

Monaco- Monaco has many reasons to be one of the smallest countries everyone has heard about. The Monte-Carlo Casino has been featured prominently in James Bond movies and car enthusiasts love to watch the Grands Prix races boasting the fastest single-seat auto racing cars in the world. To this day, Monaco is a monarchy under Grimaldi family rule for over 700 years. What this country lacks in size, it more than doubles in family history and excessive displays of wealth.

Monte-Carlo Casino-There is a dress code so make sure you are not wearing ugly sandals or look like a slob before trying to climb the red carpeted stairs. For sandals that would not be appropriate, please look up Chaco’s since that was the footwear I had on that day. Accounts from other people have indicated the interior of the casino is quite extraordinary but I was having a glaring contest with the “bouncer” from my place outside. If you’re visiting at night to try your luck on blackjack or roulette, make sure to wear a dress or suit and tie.P1020773

Oceanographic Museum- This aquarium is built on the cliffs facing to the ocean with a beautiful view of the water along the curve of the rocky coast. It is a great stop for families and children to view the 6,000 specimens including tropical fish, sharks and Mediterranean tanks.

P1020793The views from the palace, botanic gardens and boats moored in the port are reasons to visit. Staying outside the casino however, I watched luxury cars drive around the front entrance clearly displaying the wealth of the drivers inside. Many tourists, mostly males between the ages of 10-60, would pose next to these cars as if they were celebrities.  The famous names: Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, and Ettore Bugatti. There was money here most of us only dream about and I couldn’t imagine a life focused so exclusively on external displays of opulence and greed.

Slide1My feeling can be summed up in this one picture. While walking down toward the water from the train station, my friend and I spotted a man on board his yacht. We watched him pump his legs back and forth on an elliptical machine located on the second story while two women sunbathed outside on the boat’s main deck. This man, with calories and money to burn, had no problems simultaneously showing off his extravagant ship while burning off that beer gut. It seems preposterous in a way I can’t fully put into words.

With that kind of money, I would trade any amount of yachts in the world for a chance to visit another place I’ve never been…while contributing to charity and buying myself a really pretty dress.

Nice, France: A Picture Look

I left you, dear reader, in my room back in Nice wondering how I was going to embrace my solo journey. The following day (and every day since) I met new people who were nothing but warm, welcoming and world travelers. I have a lot to learn from each of these people. 

Since I am heading off to bed after many hours of attempted planning for a reasonable way to get from Venice to Croatia, I’m afraid my brain is a mess of ferry schedules and hostel names. But due to my increased access to the power of Wi-Fi, I thought it was only fair that I pass along a couple of Nice beach pictures to satisfy any desires to view the sunny perfect coast of southern France. 

P1020724 P1020751 I met this lovely gentlemen Stefan while eating my very French “salad Niçoise” in sandwich form, which is to say all the deliciousness of the salad packed together between two large slices of thick spongey bread. Both of us had independently sought out the shade to escape the Nice sun and eat our little meals in silence. My friendly comment about our similar sandwiches started an entire conversation leading to a guided tour and gelato treat. Stefan lives and teaches in Germany where he is a French professor. He has family and friends in the area and has visited Nice consistently for over 15 years. He wasn’t very comfortable speaking English so we conversed in French and I did my best to channel every verb, noun, and other phrase from my high school vocabulary. We were patient with each other and I got a tour of the city I never would have received otherwise. In this particular photo, Stefan has requested a candid shot. I have absolutely no idea what we were trying to convey…but if confusion was our end goal, I would say we succeeded quite well. P1020744 The harbor. Down to the left you can make out smaller boats behind the sailboats in the water. A closer picture from the shoreline shows off the color and detail of these adorable water navigators. It’s a stark contrast from the number of large ferries taking passengers to Corsia and Sardinia every day. 

P1020823See how cute they are?
P1020828All the beaches in Nice are made of pebbles, otherwise known as smooth rocks. In my humble opinion, sand here is incredibly under appreciated  although the stones do make a pleasant sound as they tumble over one another pulled by the receding waves. 

 

[Where in the world is Katelyn update: I am currently in a hotel in Torino (Turin) having arrived in what is fast becoming my favorite city so far. I arrived this morning from Cinque Terre having the most incredible two days. Pictures and details to follow.]

How Nice It Can Be

I think it’s the only time I will be able to say, 

Oh France? Yeah, it was a last-minute decision.

P1020678And it was. Jesse, one of Sandeep’s friends, had recently spent a weekend in Nice and spoke fondly of the beaches and sights in Côte d’Azur. From her description and the location, the southern coast of France seemed like a perfect place to visit before heading east into Italy for cobblestone streets, pizza and espresso. Booking a train and a hostel online the night before however, proved to be seemingly impossible but after some hair pulling and a very expensive 1st class ticket, I was headed to Nice.

I spent the majority of the train ride watching the landscape blur past my window. The rusty-red soil in France quickly replaced the fertile Swiss ground and trees withering under the coastal sun seemed seasons away from the cool and windy Alps just hours before. As we passed Marsailles, I spotted large white yachts floating in the ocean and sunbathers scattered along the shore. It was then that I realized the challenge of my first solo city adventure, a place many diehard backpackers try their hardest to avoid—high seasonP1020687

I arrived in Nice, tired and slightly disoriented. The streets, tourists, and general buzz outside the train station had none of the reserved order of Geneva’s downtown. I walked past restaurants boasting a variety of cuisines in bright neon lights and jostled my backpack between the crowds of couples, families and travelers on the sidewalk. A flurry of young travelers filled the hostel with laughter and bottles of beer as I checked in. I hurriedly dropped off my bag and found my way to the ocean, illuminated by lights from restaurants, casinos and freshly lit cigarettes. High-rise apartments and hotels stretched as far as I could see while a bloated orange moon floated slowly above the din. Does can a person feel so lonely in a crowd of people?

I sat on a bench and watched Nice pass by: shirtless joggers, women in high heels and miniskirts, families and groups of college-aged friends. The challenge of navigating this new city seemed suddenly quite overwhelming and I watched the moon rising, wondering what I was doing on a trip to Europe so utterly alone.

P1020693
Notice the leaning tower of Pisa eating pizza in the bottom right corner.

I returned to my room to find the five empty beds occupied with a group of young college students traveling from Taiwan. The organizer of the trip described their travels and showed me his scrapbook filled with cutout maps and miniature drawing. One girl joined the conversation to fill in place names and smiles in halting English while the other girl offered me orange slices as we sat in a circle on the floor. The young man had traveled about a month by himself before meeting up with his friends and I asked him if he ever got lonely on the road. “Sometimes,” he admit, “but when you are alone you can…go deeper in the culture and in yourself.”

His words couldn’t have been more true or come at a better time.