From Paris’ Gare du Nord, we boarded a southern-bound train towards the Cote d’Azur, the French Riviera. The countryside itself is a vision. The scenery was green and lush, a chessboard of farmland, towers, and small villages. I have grown to embrace trains over any other sort of travel. They offer a smooth option, without the hassles of long lines and security.
The only downside to train travel is timing…when we arrived in Nice, it was well into the night. With our struggling knowledge of working French, Nice proved a bit different than the atmosphere in Paris. After asking for a ride, being refused, and then asking for directions to our apartment and getting a finger to point us in the general direction, we slugged past the various vacation properties in a haze. Spring break 2012, and all I wanted was to sprawl and sleep. Once again, airbnb proved a reliable source.
My first real vision of Nice came early the next morning. Google images can in no way prepare you for the enthralling portrait that is the southern French coast. The rocky beach (and it is composed of small smooth stones instead of sand) gives the French Riviera a unique character.
I felt like I was experiencing the color blue for the first time in my life.
And running into it, I also experienced raw cold for the first time as well.
There are a number of cliffs with stair access (or some with a carve your own type of pathway). From the pinnacle, all directions of Nice can be seen including the harbor, observatory, airport, and the seaward horizon. The harbor hosts a wide range of vessels, from weathered looking dinghies to sea scows to sleek outfitted yachts to monstrous cruise ships. Nice is also littered with small parks–flowered, sculptured, and fountained.
As always, the part of the city that most charmed me was its oldest preserved section, Vieux Nice. There are a variety of vendors with local soaps, herbs aux provence, and olive wood carvings. It has a very classic feel with weather worn painted shutters supporting laundry lines, warm coloring, and cobblestone. I was shocked and delighted to see a variety of cuisine presented (and in demographics as well with Nice’s large immigrant population), especially when I laid eyes on an Indian establishment with its doors thrown wide.
We spent easter meeting each other’s families on Skype, drinking too much wine, and singing the Dixie Chicks over the balcony. Ellen, a friend from high school with limitless energy and contagious devilishness had come to join us for the week. She led us to the merry shore.
We rented bikes to trek along the coast, from the airport and along Grace Kelly Boulevard (which had me believing that we had made it to Monaco). There are extensive bike lanes up until the residential areas beyond the harbor, which offers an uphill battle between extravagant villas. Try not to get hit by any vintage Ferraris.
The regional trains offer service to Monte Carlo, Monaco, and Cannes. Hilariously, Monte Carlo was also my first casino experience. The Monte Carlo Casino is housed in the former palace, with extravagant baroque style architectural elements. Also had the first sighting of the 500 euro bill, and by first, I mean that it was thrown in a stack onto the blackjack table. Because the euro increases in size according to denomination, I realized that some of the people in the casino had customized wallets in order to fit the inflated bill. The patrons were an odd mix of bored retirees and girls reminiscent in attire and age to senior prom night.
For the last day, we trained it to Cannes, the location of the annual film festival, to do a day of sea kayaking. Cannes is a slightly more luxurious setting than Nice, with some of the most excessive shopping clusters available. Most well-known designers seem to have set up shop along the coast of Cannes. Advertised for later this month was a “Shopping Festival”. Because the local population actually celebrates their ability to throw wild amounts of money into leather, scarves, and watches. What is this madhouse. It has an actual sandy beach, which, after having run through the rocks to get to the water in Nice, was extremely welcome. The kayak trip took us to a small island off the coast where locals were hiking and picnicking.
And, after a few travel mistakes and a patchy extended trip back to Oviedo involving hitchhiking with a honeymooning couple from Kansas, an overnighter on the Barcelona streets, and a 12 hour bus ride, I am on Asturian soil once again. And kissing the ground repeatedly. France is excellent, but there is nothing like being able to communicate, like sleeping in a bed, like sidra, like la Gorda, like the rain, to make you feel at home again.