17.10.2016 - 20.10.2016
In 1984 my mum and dad found themselves in Nice in the middle of their European coach tour, without the requisite visas. The tour left them behind to sort out the paperwork, and they then needed to make their own way to the next stop. As first time travellers with schoolboy (and girl!) French between them, I seem to recall them being less than impressed with the place. I suspect that had more to do with the circumstances than the city! When the chance arose to join some of the English Weltons on a cruise, I needed to find a place to spend some days after leaving Lyon. Given I had to make my way to Genoa, it made sense to journey south and make my way along the coast.
I had already booked my hotel in Nice before the horror of the terrorist attack in July. At that stage I was planning to stay on the Promenade des Anglais, opposite the beach. After the news broke, I'd be lying if I said I didn't think twice about continuing with my planned visit. In the end though, I decided to go ahead, but to move hotels so as not to be overwhelmed by staying so close to the site of the massacre. I found it impossible not to imagine the pain and terror of that night as I walked, and just when the sunshine and soft breeze brought me back to today, the four heavily armed soldiers on patrol reminded me again of Nice's loss of innocence. Here and there along the Promenade there were individual sites of remembrance, tattered and weatherbeaten cards and flowers marking the spot where a loved one died. In a pavilion further along, a collective memorial stands in the form of countless stuffed toys, along with photos of the victims. I walked silently among them, and wept for the waste of life they represented.
There are many ways to make your way along the Promenade. You can run, skate, scoot, skateboard, rollerblade, or even, well, promenade. One day a man played sax, another tried to convince me to buy a hat, and dogs pooed everywhere. Actually, that wasn't just one day - from the quantity of poo on the streets, the dogs of Nice have some serious issues! I remember people warning me about poo on the streets of Paris, but I can honestly say I have never found it to be an issue there. Nice, on the other hand: dog poo capital of the world! I found myself torn between wanting to look up at the extraordinary architecture as I walked, but not wanting to take my eyes off the footpath lest I soil my red shoes. The miracle of Nice for me was managing somehow to avoid treading in anything faecal!
Poo aside, Nice was a fine place to spend a few days. I managed to time my visit to coincide with the Monday antique market, and had my first taste of the local speciality, socca. I bought it from Chez Teresa at the market, although it's not cooked on site. Every few minutes a new batch of this chickpea pancake arrives by scooter! You don't receive a slice, but more a collection of shavings and pieces. Unfortunately I managed to drop half of mine out of the packet when walking through the market to the seaside. At least the seagulls were happy! At one point in my market meandering my heart skipped at what sounded like an explosion. "Don't worry, it's just midday". Apparently in years gone by an English visitor was unhappy that his wife was off gossiping with her friends and late home to prepare his lunch. He made a deal with the local authorities that he would provide a cannon to be fired at 12 each day as a reminder to his wife to return to her duties. The cannon has been replaced by a firework, but the tradition continues.
I decided to take the Hop on, Hop off bus to get more of a sense of the city. It was more Hop on, Stay on, especially as we really didn't seem to stop until about three quarters of the way around the circuit. It wasn't helped by the dodgy audio commentary which kept cutting out at "Our next stop will be ...". Being on the open top deck was a bit dangerous at times; there's some work to be had for a good tree lopper! Still, it was a good way to see parts of Nice where I otherwise wouldn't have ventured, particularly up in the surrounding hills with their palatial mansions perched high above the city. It also gave me a great view of what has rocketed to the top of the list of my favourite buildings. The 7 storey Square Head (4 in the head, 3 in the neck!) houses the administrative offices of the library. How extraordinary to design it, and then be able to build it.
Le Miroir d'eau was my other favourite sight in Nice. What is it about splashing in water that brings out the child in all of us? This series of fountains, choreographed like a well-trained troupe of dancers, makes me smile even now as I recall sitting and waiting for the next dance to begin. Children frolicked and giggled as the jets grew higher and the ebbed away. Just when you thought it had finished, one would spurt up and soon be joined in formation by others. When the dance was finally done, the mirror of water reflected the beauty around it. It was a wonderful place to sit and watch the world go by.
I'd heard the Musée des Beaux-arts was worth making the climb to visit. Thankfully that was true! Most impressive were the sculptures, including Rodin's The Kiss. Equally interesting were the paintings of Gustav-Adolf Mossa, a local Niçois artist. It doesn't take an art genius to work out that old Gustav had a bit of a problem with women. Almost exclusively, this collection of his work portrayed women as huge, violent creatures, wreaking havoc on the poor men around them. I wonder what drove Gustav to depict women in this way?
From Nice I would catch the train to Menton, just a little further around the coast towards the Italian border.Sadly my time in France was coming to a close, but there were yet more adventures ahead. We're not nearly done yet!