This has been an incredible traveling summer, preceded by an unbelievable spring. Remember we returned from Ecuador in March of this year, but working from the most recent trip and working from there, here are some shareable thoughts.
Last night at midnight, we returned from Nice, France. My only reason for having Nice on my radar is because it is the easiest gateway to Monaco. Working our way through visiting the ten smallest countries in Europe, Monaco had eluded us so far.
Wizz Air, one of our local budget airlines offered an incredible limited time offer sale. Buy one ticket and get the second one for a 50% discount. Having several former students who work for the company, I was assured this was a good deal. During the sale, we bought tickets for Catania, Sicily; Reykjavik, Iceland; and Nice, France. This was long before July 14th, which may have given us pause or stopped us cold from visiting France.
With airline tickets paid for and reservations made through Homestay.com (more about this later), we promised each other to be aware of our surroundings and enjoy.
For those who missed a chapter of history a horrendous tragedy occurred on July 14, 2016, Bastille Day. Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, Tunisian born, but a long time resident of Nice drove a 20 ton truck into the celebrating crowd along Promenade des Anglais. Eighty-four people were killed and hundreds were injured. Two other terrorist attacks plagued France earlier in the year in different cities. It is now common to see armed military people roam the street with machine guns. Entering stores often requires a search of any bags in one’s possession.
On just our first full day, we knew this was a place to return to, which for me is a rare statement. My modus operandi is to visit new places whenever possible, not to spend our travel money on repeat experiences. For our second day, we booked a walking tour.
Spending two hours with Chiara, our Italian guide was beyond pleasurable. We were lucky that she has a minimum of two participants; it was just Ron and I. My first inclination was that it would be so concentrated with just us; we would be mentally exhausted after the two hours. Chiara is a charmer. We learned about her, she learned about us and we learned more than we could ever absorb about the city.
The Côte d’Azur or as we know it in English, the French Riviera comprises an area set on the azure or incredible blue gemstone of water along the coast of Southern France. Normally, I am one to discount beach resort areas; raised along the oceanfront in a resort city and though the level of beauty may differ, it still feels like a resort in my mind. No one ever accused me of being a beach bunny. However, with Nice it could not have been further from the truth. Nice has so many levels of history; it would take more than a short vacation to even comprehend a smattering. There were Greeks, Romans; it was shuffled between minor royals of Italian regions as well as French. At one time, it was under the rule of Sardinia before Sardinia became governed by France. The history is complex. Shuffling back and forth like a ping pong ball, it is a wonder there is no identity crisis.
Likewise, the region had its own language, Niçard or Niçois (in French). Linguists claim it is a distinct sub-dialect of the Occitan language (Provençal dialect). This language is also spoken in parts of Italy, Spain and Monaco as well as within the city of Nice. During our walking tour, we learned that many residents of the old town area of Nice still speak Niçard, and those who do are bilingual in French. All the street signs are in both languages as part of a revival movement to continue the language. It is being taught in schools. Local television is in Niçard with French subtitles. Nissa La Bella, a Niçard song is thought of as the official anthem of Nice.
Speaking of crises, about ten minutes into the tour my camera battery died. It is a specialized battery, not one available at the corner store. Making it worse, I left the phone back at the apartment since the battery was in the single digits. For once, I had to look without a lens and shutter. There were sights that made me shutter, but not captured in a sharing mode.
Chiara told us of the food items only available in Nice. Socca (chick pea flour pancake), Pissaladière (a tart covered in caramelized onions, Niçoise olives and for some anchovies, but not for me), Tourte de Blettes (a tart made of Swiss chard, raisins and pine nuts). Niçoise olives are small making the olive to pit ratio to inconsequential to appeal to me. After we parted ways, Ron and I returned to Old Town to sample some of these foods.
As much as I love art, there are genres that leave me cold. Chagall’s oeuvre almost fits this category; however, marriage means compromising. We went to the Chagall Museum. It was bitter-sweet when they asked if either of us were a senior, though I did not fit their criteria, I said we both were. Entry was heavily discounted. Had I remembered my Press pass, it would have been free for me. Darn!
Chagall spent a many years in Nice. He planned the museum and supervised all the construction including a huge mosaic he designed. Provided with our ticket was a free audio guide, which did make it more bearable, but the vast majority of the collection was biblical in nature. There are many pieces of Fauvism that often speaks to me in some way, but Cubism leaves me cold. After more than an hour of trying to be converted, the outdoor café seduced me with thoughts of a cold bottle of mineral water.
Later in the day, as we approached a park with a gazebo, it dawned on us that this is now a shrine for the victims of July 14th. The outpouring was incredible, even without being able to read the messages in French.
Our last day, with our flight not leaving until 9:20 pm, we had a relaxing bus trip delivering us to the Monastère de Cimiez. Cimiez gardens are grove of 500-year-old olive trees that are still bearing fruit. Within the same area is the Archeological Museum, the Matisse Museum, and at the back-end is the Franciscan Monk Museum attached to the church. Everything was only in French, but visually interesting. On the left side of the church set apart was a cemetery with a few interesting headstones. One of my favorites was the angel modeling.
Nice, regardless of how one spells it or pronounces it, it is not only nice, it is engaging, enticing, and seduce visitors into wanting more.