It’s Not Nice, it’s NICE: Our Travels in Nice

After a horrible bus trip from Marseille, we were hoping Nice had more to offer (and less bugs!). Ready to start fresh in Nice, we packed a quick bag and headed for the door. Beginning our short walk to the city center we couldn’t have been more happily surprised. Looking up and down the streets it seemed that every building was a palace, with ivy adorning the walls, or balconies covered with flower beds and impromptu vegetable gardens. Smells of fresh baked breads and pastries spilled out into the streets while notes from street musicians could be heard in the distance. We were glad that we no longer had to side-step dog poop on the sidewalks. Unlike Marseilles, the trash was placed in the trash cans, not on the ground next to them.

We slowly made our way towards the center of the city to Plaza Massena (with one slight detour to a Russian Orthodox Church, just in case our visa request to Moscow gets denied). The plaza itself was beautiful, lined with ornate red buildings, black and white sidewalks, and large sculptured fountains. Stopping to enjoy a bit of green in the big city, we walked alongside a narrow park sectioned off for soccer, playgrounds, and general laziness. We eventually took a turn into the Old Village, a twisted maze of tiny streets with shops, markets, and restaurants tucked away into the walls.

Escaping the maze of the Old Village, we found our way to the beach promenade. It was a little too cloudy and windy for a day at the beach, so we were content to pass it by. Especially once we saw it was all rocks!

While walking we came upon the memorial site and the location of the July 14th tragedy. Though we did not actively seek it out, we knew that we would inevitably find it, and it did not make it any less gut wrenching. All along the boardwalk was a long stretch of flowers, candles, and stuffed animals. There were letters from families, messages with encouraging words, and pictures drawn by little children who dreamed of a world at peace. The memorial extended across the street to a nearby pavilion, where additional items and letters were placed. A makeshift platform was laid across the plaza, with messages and pictures from people all across the world. I cannot begin to imagine the pain that the city must have been, and still is, going through. Looking around we saw many people mourning or paying their respects, adding their tokens or writing a message. And while life in other parts of the city seemed to continue as normal, we couldn’t help but think that maybe everyone offered up a few more smiles to friends and strangers.

At night, against our better financial judgement, we decided to go bar hopping in the Old Village. We found a bar called Wayne’s that had no cover, free live music, and cheap prices, so we started there. When the waitress came up to us, we were surprised and excited to hear a nice Irish girl, speaking a language we finally understood! We have been changing from country to country so quickly, we never really have time to pick up the language. So here, we finally felt a tinge of home. We had some beers and went to watch the band, who were also singing familiar American songs! Content to stay at our cheap bar, we danced in the sweaty heat of too many bodies for much of the night.

For our second day, we decided to venture outside of Nice to partake in some of the local wineries. Ever conscious of our budget, we took the local bus as far as we could, and resolved ourselves to walk the rest of the way. No matter how many times we decide that walking will be easy, we always end up regretting it. We always end up walking up the side of a mountain! So here we are, again – skirt and backpacks and flip flops, sun beating down on us as we trek uphill to find the winery. The first one we reached was Chateau de Bellet. But at $20 a person, we opted for a self guided tour in lieu of the full experience. We continued on, and 45 minutes later stumbled upon Domaine de la Source. It was a small winery, the smallest in the Bellet area, and was actually a family home. Walking up, we found a large group who we thought may be part of a tour, only to find out we had just crashed 3 year old Aiden’s birthday party. But the mother was accommodating and brought us for a quick look at the winery, and wrapped up with a tasting. She spoke fairly good English, but at times we all felt a little lost as we pieced together our scattered vocabulary. The tasting room itself was cool, nice and chilly to keep the wine at the right temperature. So we fumbled through our tasting experience, interspersed with random conversation and awkward silences. The wines were good, not too sweet, with a little tartness. They also had their own homemade jams and olive oils, free to sample as well. All in all it was a nice experience and a great escape from the heat. Aiden and his brother must have thought so too, as they snuck into the cellar and talked to us in French, before being lead out of the cellar. And then, we were back in the sun hiking up the mountain.

After we walked 30 minutes in the opposite direction did we realize we could’ve saved our legs a bit. Typical! Our second and final winery was…interesting. Definitely more of a lived in family house than the last! After circling the house very confused, we interrupted the man from gardening and attempted to ask for a tasting in our lacking French. He was very sweet, and was proud to show off the medals his wine had won over the years. While his English wasn’t great, we found ourselves having a nice conversation with some English, some French, and lots of body language. Matt was found admiring one of the paintings on the wall, which lead us to a walk around his personal art collection. The wines were tart and fruity, and we really enjoyed the rosés and the whites. At the end, we said a polite au revoir and headed back up the mountain one last time to catch the bus home.

With the sun still beaming and no shade in sight, we were in for a long hot walk. We had heard it was still popular and relatively safe to hitch hike in Europe. We had been curious about the validity of this the whole trip, and I decided now would be as good a time as any to try. So with each passing car, my thumb shyly went out to see if someone would stop. Car upon car drove by, and Matt decided I wasn’t being forceful enough with my hand signal. At one point, Matt stepped away from the road to take a picture, while I stood exhausted and sweaty. When the rumble of a car came from behind, I threw my thumb up high pleading for someone to stop, preferably not a serial killer. Lo and behold I then heard the screech of brakes and yelled to Matt, ” It worked! They stopped, I’m not kidding!” We were picked up by a 19 year old boy who graciously agreed to bring us to the bus stop. He was in college and lived near Nice his whole life with his father. Upon reaching the bus stop, he asked “Are you going back to Nice?”  With barely a reply, he said he would just take us there! This lovely boy drove us back to Nice center, as we chatted about school, life on the mountain, and how he learned English. He dropped us off, wished us luck, and away he went. I guess we can confirm that hitch hiking is still alive and well here in Europe.

Our second and (sadly) last night in Nice we treated ourselves to a real dinner in the Old Village. We sat down and enjoyed mussels, crepes, fresh fish, and a delicious but very tiny brownie. Stephanie was kind enough to ask me if I wanted a bite just as she was spooning the last piece into her mouth. Happily full, but not quite tired, we walked back through the village, catching all sorts of street performances along the way. Maroon 5  cover bands, opera singers, and…figure-roller skaters??? Whatever they were, it was cool to watch. Perhaps we will buy roller skates at our next stop…

Matthew & Stephanie

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