We arrived at Nice airport after a short flight from Gatwick and after waiting almost an hour for our luggage, took a taxi to our apartment. We were met by the apartment manager, who showed us around. The apartment is a little out of the regular tourist areas, which suited us just fine. It's on the second floor, (the third floor in the US) and at the front opens onto a busy street, Rue de Rossini. At the back, the bedroom opens onto a much quieter courtyard, but there are other apartments about 100 feet away so we can see into their rooms and they can see into ours ! The unit has been modernized and has a nice galley kitchen and modern bathroom, although the shower is a little small, at least by US standards. However, we like the apartment and were relieved after our disappointing experience when renting an apartment in Spain a few years ago. The only negative is the lack of air conditioning, which in the heat we are experiencing means we are always sticky and sweaty. However, A/C is unusual in homes in France so we feel as though we are suffering along with the locals and we do have small fans, which do help a little.
We spent the rest of the day and the next day settling and getting to know the neighbourhood. There's a boulangerie et patisserie (bread and cake shop) just around the corner and across from the bakery is a small supermarket which sells all the basics. The beach is about ten minutes away and the railway station about the same. The main tourist area is probably a 30 minute walk but we found that a local bus (Number 7) runs from nearby to the main shopping and restaurant areas when we want to mingle with tourists.
Our apartment from the street (second floor with the shutters closed)
The view from our balcony
Living room / dining room
kitchen (sorry about the mess)
Our view of our neighbor's FROM the bedroom (and their view of us)
On Monday, we started our French class at the Alliance Francais. It's about a 20 minute walk, so we worked up quite a sweat. We were quickly tested and it was clear that we both should be in the Intermediate class - not quite beginners but not experts either. Our teacher ("Professeur" sounds so much better) was Patricia and we were introduced to the class, which varied in size from six to ten depending on who came and went and if they overslept or not. They were exclusively female and exclusively much younger than us. The youngest was fifteen and they were an international crowd - Irish, Cambodian, American (Puerto Rican) Spanish and Russian for starters.
This is a picture of our group during the first two weeks. Patricia (in black in the center) was our teacher.
Another picture, taken by Lesley, who is leaning in the from the right (click on the picture to see it clearly)
We quickly established a routine. Mornings were at school and most afternoons were spent back at the apartment, doing chores, doing homework or reading and sometimes taking a siesta in the heat. In the evenings we would sometimes go out for dinner, sometimes we would eat in the apartment. However, some afternoons and most weekends, we would go SOMEWHERE to explore. Here are a few of the places we visited.
Mayor's Cocktail Party
During the first week, all the students were invited to a cocktail party with the Mayor of Nice. The school was excited about this because it was the first time it had ever happened. It was to be held in a small park in the city center, near the "Square Head" - an iconic building which looks like - well, a square head. The "cocktail party" turned out be a bust, because the Mayor (who is also a national politician) didn't show - he's embroiled in some local controversy and had more important things to do. The "cocktails" were warm soft drinks and the food was OK, but not great. So we chatted with Patricia for a while (in the heat of the late afternoon) before leaving to find a bar, some shade and a real drink.
"Le Cocktail" participants (mostly female) and "the Square Head" nearby
Patrcia with Paul and Kristine at "Le Cocktail"
Ballet in Monaco
At the end of the first week, we decided to visit Monaco to see inside the Casino (which we hadn't seen on our last visit) and also a modern ballet which was being performed in the "Opera" inside the Casino. The casino itself is quite spectacular and was designed by Garnier, who also designed the Opera House in Paris (of "Phantom of the Opera" fame).
Of course, we weren't allowed to take pictures of the interior but surprisingly, there are almost no pictures published on the internet either, although I did find one (see above). You will have to trust us when we say the interior is even more "over the top" than the exterior - sumptuous to the point of kitsch. We paid to go into the casino and were disappointed. Almost no one was gambling and those who were seemed to very underdressed - very "touristy". I guess we have seen too many James Bond movies. The best dressed people in the room were the many young women (hangers-on, we assume) who were sitting around the roulette wheel. Still, a bit of an anti-climax.
We ate in the buffet restaurant (so we could say that we had dined in the Casino) and then went into the Opera House for the show, which was completely sold out. The program consisted of two ballets - the well known "Scheherazade" which was a modern re-creation of a classic Russian ballet and a new ballet given it's world premiere at this event. The " Scheherazade" was dramatic, sensual and at times thrilling, especially as the music is so dramatic and familiar. The second piece (after the interval) was VERY contemporary and frankly confusing. As the performance proceeded, the young and attractive "corps" danced an extremely modern work, with oil or black paint gradually replacing most of their clothing. A "highlight" was when one male dancer entered the stage wearing little more than a g-string but literally dripping with black oil. Parts of the stage was liberally coated with oil by the time he left the stage. I think we both wondered how they would ever get the stage clean again !
So we freely admit we really didn't understand the second ballet, but it certainly wasn't something you would forget in a hurry.
After the ballet was over, we went back into the casino, but there was little more action going on than before, so we left the casino just as fireworks were ending and in time to get caught in the mass exodus of everyone who had been watching. We finally managed to grab a taxi and made our way back to the railway station and home to Nice.
The Casino entrance
Inside the Opera House, Monte Carlo
St Paul de Vence
The Alps start to rise right behind Nice and there are many small towns and villages nearby, many of which grew up in the Middle Ages, often with their own walls, as they would frequently be attacked. One such village, about an hour outside Nice is St Paul de Vence. We travelled there on our second Saturday (July 10) using a mixture of trains and buses. As a rule, the trains were on time, airconditioned and we could get a seat, the buses were often the opposite and that was the case here, so by the time we arrived, we were already hot, sticky and tired. However, the viilage itself was very pretty, perched on a hill with windy streets and LOTS of expensive shops selling art, clothing and various other tourist goodies
A couple of hours in the heat was enough for both of us. Kris did buy a couple of necklaces which were surprisingly good value and after a quick drink, we headed back to the bus and to Nice.
St Paul de Vence
Narrow streets and alleyways of St Paul de Vence
A (less crowded) side street.
Kristine cools off in one of the many fountains and Paul takes a break next to the only kind of horse that doesn't make him sneeze.
July 14 - Bastille Day
July 14 is a big day for the French - very like July 4 in America, although obviously the history is very different. Everything closes (including the Alliance Francais) and services operate like a Sunday. We didn't do much until the evening, when we headed down to the Old Town for dinner and then to the Promenade des Anglais to watch the fireworks and the street party.
Kristine waits patiently for her dinner
A little girl at the next table works through a large pot of "moules" (mussels)
The Promenade des Anglais glows in the last light of the day as the crowds wait for the fireworks to start
Once the fireworks were over, we wandered along the Promenade, enjoying the sights and people watching, before heading back to the apartment.
A woman buys colorful candy which matches the nearby Negresco Hotel, lit up with the French national colors.
Saint Raphael and St Tropez
We both wanted to visit the famous (and sometimes infamous) town of St Tropez, made famous by the presence of the french film star, Brigitte Bardot, who still lives there. The nearest town which has rail service is Saint Raphael, a small resort town about ten miles away, so we decided to stay one night in Saint Raphael and then take the ferry to St Tropez.
We ate dinner at a local restaurant and to our surprise, at the end of the meal, we enjoyed a fireworks display over the ocean, although as far as we know, this was just a regular Friday !
Saint Raphael Beach
Next day, we took the ferry from the Old Harbor at Saint Raphael to St. Tropez
St Tropez from the ocean
St Tropez was a bit of a disappointment. The town is fairly small and doesn't have any outstanding features. The famous beaches are quite a long way from the town and we didn't realize this until it was too late to get there. We spent some time in the market and Kristine bought some shoes, but it was very crowded and very hot. After walking around the town, we did find a couple of very small beaches, but these were obviously not what we had expected. We slowly made our way to the old port, which was filled with very large private yachts, before making our way back to the ferry and eventually back to Saint Raphael and Nice.
St Tropez Old Town, Market
The small beach near the town - not what we were expecting
Lots of private boats lined up along the quay
St Tropez port - pretty enough but not as pretty as Nice
The village of Eze
We almost made it to Eze the last time we were in Nice, but the long climb up from the train was too much and we never made it. This time, we took a tour organized by the school, although "organized" may be a slight overstatement. We walked from the school to the main Nice bus station, where we waited for a bus that never came. Eventually, a later bus did arrive and we set off.
Our first stop in Eze was a perfumery. Well, not really, because they don't make perfume here - it's all made in Grasse, but the "factory" did have a demonstration plant so we could understand how perfume is made. They DO make soap and creams here and the process seems to be almost entirely a hand-made process, but it wasn't terribly interesting. Of course, the final stop was the "factory shop" where we got to try a few products before escaping into the village we had come to see.
The old part of Eze, which like many of these old villages, sits at the top of a hill surrounded by a wall, was actually very pretty. It had mostly been converted to shops and restaurants and has a couple of very expensive hotels and restaurants as well, but the views from the top are great and the shops and bars were very pleasant, although we didn't buy anything before heading home.
Waiting (and waiting and waiting) for the bus to Eze. The expression on Kristine's face says it all.
"Demonstration" distillation flasks and one of the pleasant spaces within the old village of Eze
Views of Eze
The view from the top of the village, looking back towards to Nice
Le Train des Merveilles
On our last full weekend, we decided to take a train trip into the Alps which are just behind Nice. We took the "touristic train" which leaves Nice and heads up into the mountains. We climbed away from the sea, stopping at various small villages until we reached the last stop for this train, Tende. The railway line actually goes over the Alps and a couple of stops further along, enters Italy, but we never made it that far.
The train is shown stopped at two of the small stations, including on the right, St-Dalmas-de-Tende which in the 1930's was the border town between France and Italy and the station was built by Mussolini to demonstrate the power of Italy.
Tende is another pretty town perched on a hillside and the old town is largely undeveloped, so it's mostly private homes, not shops. We didn't have a lot of time, but took a quick look around.
The train sits in an Alpine meadow at Tende
The busy main street of Tende. Italy is just over the hill
The houses of Tende look out over the valley
Part of the old town of Tende
Back on the train, we stopped at Breil-sur-Roya. The town had a small lake at it's center and we had time to stop for lunch in this, another pretty town.
Breil - sur - Roya
Breil - sur - Roya busy street
Lunch at Breil-sur-Roya. Trout for Kristine,
Salad for me
Back on the train, we headed into Italy and Ventimiglia. Turns out our tickets weren't vaild on that train, but no one checked, so we were fine. Ventimiglia is another resort town and we had time to buy a hat for Kristine (although it fits Paul better) and an Italian ice-cream each, before we headed off again.
The rocky beach at Ventimiglia
My new hat (which should have been Kristine's new hat)
On the train once more, we stopped briefly in Menton (but didn't take any pictures) before heading back to Nice
We took a quick trip to Antibes - another quite large town about twenty minutes away on the train. The old town is surrounded by the original walls and the port is much larger than Nice. We spent a couple of hours wandering around the town (and paying a visit to the Picasso Museum) before heading back.
The city walls and below a gate through the original town walls
A beach at Antibes with the port in the background and below a typical Antibes street
The City of Nice
So what about Nice itself ? We lived here for four weeks and lived at least a little like regular residents. We even went to our part time "job" every day (or that's how it felt). There are pictures of Nice spread throughout this blog, but in the last couple of days, we took some more pictures of the city, just to remind ourselves.
Pictures of Old Nice, where tourists and locals alike stand in line to buy everything and to eat everything !
And one last surprise. Just a few minutes from our apartment, in a busy residential area, a Russian Cathedral, which looks as though it was transplanted from the heart of Moscow.
The Russian Cathedral, built by Tzar Nicholas just before the Russian Revolution
And finally, for Patricia, our patient and often very funny french "professeur", who understands that teaching is as much an art as a science: here is our effort at writing in French :
Vingt huit jours à Nice
Nous sommes venus à Nice pour trois raisons. Le premiere était d'améliorer notre Français. Nous avons passé quatre heures par jour à l'Alliance Française et nous comprenons sans doute le français mieux qu' avant. Cependant, je doute que nous ne serons jamais parler couramment. Mais nous pouvons dire que nous avons essayé !
La deuxieme raison était voir de si nous aimons la ville de Nice assez pour y revenir un jour . Après presque quatre semaines à Nice, dans le chaleur, je ne sais pas. Peut être, peut être pas. Je pense que nous le saurons meilleur après notre départ.
La troisième raison était de passer des vacances sur la Ĉote D’Azur. Je pense que nous avons achevé cet but, bien que il y a des villes et des villages que nous n’avons pas encore vus. Mais je suis sûr que notre prochaine visite sera pendant un temps lorsqu’il fera moins chaud, òu notre appartement sera climatizé.
Twenty eight days in Nice
We came to Nice for three reasons. The first was to improve our French. We spent four hours a day at the Alliance Francaise and we certainly understand French better than before. However, I doubt we will ever speak fluently. But we can say we tried!
The second reason was to see if we like the city of Nice enough to come back one day. After almost four weeks in Nice, in the heat, I do not know. Maybe, maybe not. I think we'll know better after our departure.
The third reason was to spend a holiday on the Cote D'Azur. I think that we have achieved this goal, although there are towns and villages that we have not seen yet. But I'm sure our next visit will be during a time when it will be less hot, and our apartment is air conditioned.
(And so farewell to Nice and on to our next stop, Greece and the Greek Islands)