A Travellerspoint blog

Nicely done, Nice.

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. IMG_4473.jpgIMG_4468.jpg

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. IMG_4462.jpgIMG_4464.jpgIMG_4507.jpg

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. IMG_4487.jpgIMG_4493.jpgIMG_4482.jpgIMG_4478.jpgIt 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. IMG_2771.jpg

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. IMG_4519.jpgIMG_4514.jpgIMG_4523.jpg

I'd heard the Musée des Beaux-arts was worth making the climb to visit. IMG_4544.jpgThankfully that was true! Most impressive were the sculptures, including Rodin's The Kiss.IMG_4536.jpg IMG_4541.jpgIMG_4527.jpgIMG_4529.jpgEqually 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? IMG_4542.jpg

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!

Posted by apostrophewoman 12:04 Archived in France Comments (2)

Lingering a little longer in Lyon

Saturday lived up to its promise as the best day we'd had in Lyon weather wise. We had wanted to take the funicular to Fourvière to visit the Basilica and the Roman ruins, and waiting until Saturday certainly paid off. The views from the top of the hill were magnificent. IMG_4367.jpgIMG_2734.jpg The Basilica of Notre Dame de Fouvière is young in Lyon's terms, constructed between 1872 and 1884. Visible from all over the city, the gleaming white Basilica rises like a fortress on Fourvière Hill, with slender turrets on its four corners and crenellated walls. IMG_2748.jpgA gilded statue of the Virgin surmounts the bell tower. This relatively austere exterior contrasts with the richly decorated interior, with gilt, marble work, stained glass windows, and colored mosaics covering virtually every surface. Strangely though, it wasn't overwhelming, despite being designed to be a demonstration of the church's wealth and power. 90_IMG_2736.jpgIMG_2738.jpgIMG_4371.jpgIMG_4380.jpg
The Basilica was built on the site of an ancient Roman forum, and the Théâtre Romains were our next stop. From the relatively recently constructed Basilica, we found ourselves in a setting built between 17 and 15 BC by the order of Augustus. This was my first experience of Roman ruins on this scale, and yet again, as so often on this journey, I found myself immersed in history. IMG_2765.jpgIMG_2747.jpg I confess i may have recited some of the Sermon on the Mount as reported in Life of Brian. Blessed are the cheese makers!
Given the road back to the old town was downhill, we decided to walk in the sunshine. Boy, was I glad we hadn't walked up! As we were almost at the bottom of the hill we were passed in the opposite direction by a couple of fellow travellers. I heard one remark to the other "I don't know how I let you talk me into this". They only took a few more steps before concluding that there must be an alternative. I wonder if they found the funicular!
Our stomachs indicating it was lunchtime, we set about finding somewhere suitable from the many and varied places on offer. We settled on La Traboule, which seemed to have old school tables and chairs (actually from a school, not "old school" in the hipster sense of the words!). IMG_4391.jpgIMG_4392.jpg We were given a complimentary aperitif, which none of us recognised. Well, I recognised it as cough medicine, but I don't imagine that's what it really was! Lunch over, it was time for a quick stop at the second of Lyon's two Antoine et Lili stores, before heading to the Saône for our river cruise.
Now, some of you know there is a term for people who go out of their way to be annoying at public events. It doesn't seem to matter where you go, there are members of this extended clan just waiting to make their presence felt, oblivious to the needs of those around them, who generally only want quiet enjoyment of the proceedings. Lo and behold, the queen of the FKs was on our cruise! The boat had an upper and a lower deck, and given the weather the top deck was in demand. After we'd been moving a short time, a young guy came upstairs looking for somewhere to sit. He headed right to the front of the boat, hung around there for a while and then walked back down the aisle shaking his head at his as yet unseen companion. That wasn't good enough for her! She led the way the second time, and they positioned themselves again at the front, obscuring the view of those fortunate enough to have found themselves in prime viewing position. All they could see was a couple of bums, belonging to a couple of bums! One of the boat staff asked them to move - nothing doing. Then an announcement came over the loudspeaker suggesting that they take some photos and then allow other people to see. The Queen folded her arms and it looked for all the world like she was there for the duration. The young guy had given up by this stage and gone downstairs. There appeared to be some discussion between the front seat passengers and Her Majesty, and she finally, ever so slowly, gathered her things and made her way down the aisle. They are everywhere, those FKs; you must be on your guard! IMG_2749.jpg
By the time we disembarked, it was time to go home and pack, and then head out for our last dinner in Lyon. I found a note from Isabelle explaining that the pâtisserie was closed at the weekend, but she had bought me a specialty item originating from Roanne (the town of her birth), la praluline. This buttery brioche was studded with pink almond and walnut praline, and would see me through my train journey the next day, and beyond.IMG_4399.jpg I'd been travelling with Barbara and Chris for two weeks, and we'd had such wonderful adventures. They were heading home on Monday, but for me there were still new destinations to explore. Next stop: Nice!

Posted by apostrophewoman 22:55 Archived in France Comments (3)

No such thing as a lie-in in Lyon

I know, you were getting mighty sick of all those shots of endless sunshine, right? Lyon has been cold, wet, and...wonderful! Even as I try valiantly to fight off a cold, I am thinking of ways to make the most of my limited time here. There is so much to see, and soak up: it's a wonderful city.
We left Buis late Wednesday morning after taking the opportunity to visit the midweek market. Much larger than the one held on a Saturday, all manner of items were on offer. We picked up a few goodies and hit the road.
Our trusty Renault Captur was due for return by 3pm, and we pulled into Europcar at around 2:55. There's that chronically on-time superpower in evidence again. Our taxi driver was very chatty, and took great pride in telling us about his city. He pointed out some places of interest on our way, and I was very ably deposited at my lodgings for the next 4 days. We had booked separate apartments through Airbnb, and they ended up being about 500 metres apart in the Old Town. We were all pretty tired, so decided on having a night in at our respective abodes and meeting up the next day. I knew my host Isabelle didn't speak a lot of English, but we managed to communicate pretty well! She lives in the next apartment, and is probably the most generous Airbnb host I've come across. Apart from the delivery of croissants for breakfast, she provided other breakfast provisions including bread, milk, juice and fruit, not to mention the mountain of biscuits on arrival. She writes travel guides, and presented me with some in English as a gift.
Once again I found myself opposite a church, with the attendant tolling of bells. The first peals rang out at 7:30 am, so no sleeping in for me. That didn't mean though that there wasn't a quick trip to the lounge room to pop on the heaters and make a quick coffee, then jump back into bed to plan the day! Given the inclement weather, it seemed a good chance to explore the traboules. These passageways might cut through a house into an internal courtyard, or may even go through an entire block to give access to the next street. Some of them may have been built as early as the 5th century. Traboules are found in other French cities, but in most cases, unless you happen to live in a house that has one, you won’t know they are there. Lyon is different. Dozens of its 300 or so traboules are open to the public, thanks to an innovative agreement between the city council and the inhabitants of the pertinent buildings.90_IMG_2686.jpg90_IMG_2693.jpg The city bought up many of the properties surrounding the traboules and made them available as low-cost housing, but with strings attached. Residents around a traboule must agree to keep it open to the public between certain hours. Visitors are expected to be quiet, and respect the fact that the apartments surrounding the fascinating old passages are private homes. There was certainly a sense of being allowed somewhere secret and private as we pushed open the heavy doors to find ourselves in one corridor or another. IMG_2684.jpgIMG_2690.jpg90_IMG_2694.jpg
For centuries they were used by people to fetch water from the river and then by craftsmen and traders to transport their goods. By the 18th century they were invaluable to what had become the city’s defining industry: textiles, especially silk. The silk weavers used the traboules to carry their bolts of silk down to the markets in the new city center on the Presqu’île, the narrow peninsula between the Rhône and Saône rivers. The covered traboules were the quick way, and had the advantage of protecting their precious goods from the elements.
We continued exploring the old town, dodging in and out of shops as the rain fell. Barbara was keen to visit her favourite French boutique, Antoine et Lili, and let's just say I didn't have to be dragged kicking and screaming. On our way we passed La Fresque des Lyonnais. Approaching it from the bank of the Saône it looks like just another of Lyon's lovely buildings. When you go to the other side, you realise that two facades of the building are trompe-l'oeil (to trick the eye). The paintings represent Lyon's history, with 31 famous inhabitants depicted, including the Lumière brothers, Antoine Saint-Exupery, and Paul Bocuse. IMG_2707.jpgIMG_2710.jpg
Our eyes may have been tricked at La Fresque, but they were in for a treat at Antoine et Lili. I don't think I've seen a more beautiful store. The colours were extraordinary, and I'm delighted to report my first French fashion purchase. IMG_4297.jpgIMG_4296.jpgJust as well I have that generous baggage allowance! Shopping done, we lunched at the bouchon next door. Bouchons serve traditional Lyonnais fare, particularly specialising in offal. Just pumpkin soup for me, thanks! Hermès the spaniel was clearly hoping for a more meaty snack from the kitchen. IMG_4303.jpg
One more spin around the old town, a quick rest back at home, and we then decided to eschew the bouchons for some Indian food for dinner. We had our first taste of Indian wine (not bad), and some very tasty curry.
Friday was against forecast to be wet, so we decided to stick pretty close to home again. My cold wasn't improving, so the prospect of being caught in the rain wasn't something I relished. We visited Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste, constructed between the 12th and 15th centuries. We were fortunate to hear the organ playing as we entered, and while walking through I was reminded of reading The Pillars of the Earth. IMG_4357.jpg90_IMG_2720.jpgIt's extraordinary to think of these massive monuments being constructed without the benefit of modern day engineering. Clearly some carving in the stone was supposed to be there; sadly there were later additions. IMG_4346.jpgI don't understand why anyone would feel the need to deface something so extraordinary. Clearly though, graffiti is not a modern phenomenon. IMG_4344.jpg
Saturday promised to be clearer weather-wise, so we planned more outdoor activities for that day. I don't want to let you in on all of Lyon's secrets at once, so you'll have to stay tuned for part two! IMG_4350.jpgIMG_4352.jpg

Posted by apostrophewoman 18:17 Comments (4)

Bells and beauty

Just for something different, Sunday dawned clear and full of Provençal sunshine. After a leisurely breakfast we headed on a tour of a couple of the surrounding villages. Our first stop was Crestet, a medieval village perched on the crest of a mountain range. IMG_2673.jpgEven as I type that phrase I shake my head! As is often the case in these small villages, there is a parking area set aside for visitors so the narrow streets are not overrun by non-local vehicles. Mind you, there wasn't really room for any cars belonging to the some 400 residents either. As you'd expect from a village perched on a mountainside, it's full of steep, cobbled streets, just waiting for the unwary traveller to twist an ankle. I don't know how the residents deal with it every day! Thankfully I escaped unscathed and with ankles intact. 90_IMG_2611.jpg90_IMG_2615.jpg90_IMG_2617.jpgIMG_2626.jpg
Next on our agenda was the charming village of Séguret, officially one of the most beautiful villages in France and looking out over the Rhône valley. After strolling (and climbing!) the winding streets we stopped for lunch at Côté Terrace. Chris had researched places to eat and this one came up trumps. The terrace was shaded from the autumn sunshine but still a beautiful place to sit and reflect on our journey thus far.
Before leaving the restaurant we decided to use the facilities (as you do). Interesting set up! I don't think I mentioned our previous toilet experience in Tullins, where the unisex toilet included a urinal directly inside the door! Here at Côté Terrace, unisex was once again the way to go. This time, however, the urinal was surrounded by a shower curtain like arrangement. I used the cubicle first, leaving Barbara outside to converse with the man who arrived to see a man about a dog. I heard her talking to someone, so presumed I would need to avert my eyes when I exited, lest the curtain not provide the correct level of protection! It was a tad disconcerting to say the least, and I struggled to keep my composure when I returned to the table and tried to explain to Chris what had happened. It was made worse when our fellow toilet tenant returned to sit at the next table and explain to his companion that it was 'a bit awkward in there'.
Post-ablutions, we wandered back to the car through the picturesque streets. IMG_4139.jpgIMG_4140.jpgIMG_4151.jpgIMG_4155.jpg
Arriving home, it was my turn to cook, and I set about preparing roasted potatoes, sausage, and beans. Simple, but very tasty!
Tuesday was our last day in Buis, and we decided to stay close to home. I finally felt I was beginning to get some sense of where we were located in the old town. My bedroom overlooked the local church, and the bells have been our constant companions. You would think the tolling of the bells would be pretty straightforward: on the hour enough peals to signal the time, and perhaps one peal on the half hour. Not if you live in rural France! From what I can tell, different villages have differing bell patterns. In Buis, the bells would peal on the hour and half hour as you'd expect. What wasn't expected was that the hourly tolling would be followed up a couple of minutes later, in case you'd missed counting the first lot. A couple of times a day there'd be a series of nine peals, and at one point there was a cacophony of bells twice during the day. It seems to either be connected with a call to prayer, or to alert the workers to the time for lunch and return. Whatever the real story, it was somehow soothing to find myself part of this rhythm of village life. IMG_4192.jpgIMG_4199.jpgIMG_4198.jpgIMG_4197.jpgIMG_4201.jpgIMG_4203.jpgIMG_4204.jpg
We ventured the 4km or so to Le Rocher sur Buis, another tiny community perched on the side of a hill. The standout for me here was the old cemetery which has been incorporated into a community garden with fragrant plants. It was exceedingly peaceful until 2 fighter jets roared their way overhead! IMG_2632.jpg90_IMG_2635.jpg90_IMG_2645.jpg90_IMG_2648.jpg90_IMG_2649.jpgIMG_2653.jpg
We marked our last night in Buis with a visit to La Fourchette (The Fork), where the atmosphere and service were convivial and the food delicious. It was bittersweet to wander the darkened streets to home, knowing this was the last time we'd do that, on this trip at least. But Lyon was beckoning, and we were to answer the call the next day.

Posted by apostrophewoman 12:13 Archived in France Comments (3)

Perfectly Provençal

We bade a fond farewell to Montreux on Friday morning after ensuring we had carried out our host Lorenz's very precise instructions for the disposal of our rubbish. Compost in the green bin, paper in the brown, bottles in one bag, cans in another, and general waste in a white bag (it must be white!) and into another bin! We set our trusty GPS for Buis-les-Baronnies, our next destination, in Haute Provence.
We stopped for lunch in the village of Tullins, at an unprepossessing cafe near the station. We were in need of a stiff drink after nearly being reversed into in the car park. Thankfully Chris was able to locate the horn and we avoided disaster by millimetres. The bar at the front of the cafe had a few patrons but no sign of anywhere to sit down, so we made our way through to the back which was heaving with locals on their lunch break. The dish of the day was beef tongue, which surprisingly none of us fancied. As we've found before in France, simple meals served in a low-key setting are often delicious, and this was no exception. We were also impressed that the cost for three of us to eat was less than the cost of one cocktail at Funky Claude's!
We arrived in Buis late in the afternoon, and I was very glad Chris was driving. It's really hard to describe the layout of the town. Higgledy piggledy doesn't come close: the narrowest of streets go off in all directions, with houses right up against the road. IMG_4035.jpgIMG_4037.jpgI thought the streets of Kirkwall were narrow, but they were freeways compared to Buis. Having been here three days now, I'm still not confident I could find my way home by myself! The house was built in 1760 and has 5 levels: cellar, garage/entry, kitchen/living, and 2 floors with bedrooms, all 3 of which have bathrooms. It has a sun-filled terrace which faces the local landmark of Rocher St Julien - it's a glorious spot to sit and soak up the Provençal sunshine. IMG_2568.jpgChris is out there now reading a book about the history of Buis, and it's believed Hannibal passed through this area with his elephants, and that there are remains of Roman walls in the cellars of some houses in the town. Extraordinary.
The Saturday market in Buis is the smaller of the two held each week, but it was the perfect place for us to stock up on a few provisions and strike up conversations with some of the locals. We wandered the streets again later in the afternoon and retired to the house for a delicious dinner whipped up by Chris in our well-appointed kitchen.
Sunday dawned bright and sunny, perfect for our planned excursions to L'Isle sur-la-Sourge and Avignon. I'd read that L'Isle sur-la-Sourge's Sunday market was reputedly one of the biggest and best examples of a Provençal market, so was keen to check it out. No disappointment there - the sights and sounds and smells were amazing. Bright colours everywhere, even in the cheese! I did my mother proud in the market-buying stakes as we made our way through the crowded rows of stalls. Olives, nougat, spices, lavender, fruit pastes, cheese - the products of Provence were in abundance and a delight to behold. IMG_4053.jpgIMG_4055.jpgIMG_4059.jpgIMG_4063.jpgIMG_4064.jpgIMG_4068.jpgIMG_4071.jpgIMG_4075.jpgIMG_4076.jpg
We set our course for Avignon, about 40 minutes away. We parked near the Palais des Papes, the construction of which began in 1252. Avignon became the residence of the Popes in 1309, and at 15,000 square metres, the palace is the largest Gothic building of its type in Europe. It's enormous!IMG_2578.jpg The streets of Avignon were full of colour and movement. 90_IMG_2584.jpgIMG_4085.jpgWe worked our way to the Pont d'Avignon which crosses the Rhône. Just one more lovely sight in a sea of relentless beauty! IMG_2582.jpg
After a hard day of shopping and sightseeing we decided to take our chances at finding somewhere open to visit for dinner. Chez Max is a stone's throw from home (although I still wouldn't know in which direction to throw said stone!). It was the sort of place you would love to have as your local, with welcoming hosts and delicious food served in yet another amazing old setting. IMG_4103.jpgWe marvelled at the thought of all the people throughout history who would have sat where we were under the beams, and talked through their days.
The night ended with the successful completion of three crosswords: one quick, one French, one cryptic. This is the life.

Posted by apostrophewoman 08:53 Archived in France Comments (1)

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