Sunday, 4 November 2007

Nice & the Cote d'Azur

After two days (actually more like 26h) in Monaco we caught the train down the coast to Nice. We ambled our way from the train station to our little hotel, which was located in the old town (Vieux Nice) - definitely the right place to be as Nice is quite a large city but with most sites of interest located in its centre.

After dumping our bags we wandered through Vieux Nice to get our orientation and check out the narrow streets of the town. We walked through the markets on cours Saleya (closed by the time we got there on Sunday) on our way to the cobble beach to catch a glimpse of the Mediterranean while the sun set.

That evening we found an outdoor restaurant where you order your food at the counter from the very stressed out waitress, and they call you when your order of traditional Nicois fare is ready to eat. We had fried Aubergine (beignets d'aubergines), Zucchini (beignets de courgettes) and Sardines (beignets des sardines), along with another local speciality, Socca. All were delicious and cheap - a good indicator that you've found genuine local food.

The next day we crawled out of bed and wandered back down to cours Saleya where there is a trash and treasure market on Mondays. There was some very cool things for sale, and we knew a few friends who would be going crazy for the art-deco and antique items available. With our no-check-in easyjet tickets, we didn't have too much trouble stopping ourselves from indulging. However, after picking our way through all the stalls, and being told off a few times for taking photos, we finally bought ourselves a little silver-plated box as a memento.

We then continued down to the sea shore where we sat and listened to the waves washing the pebbles up and down the beach.

During the day we had something of a crisis as we had decided to visit one or two of the museums in Nice. Nice is the home of Matisse and several other artists had spent time there, so we felt like we should make an effort to see some of their work. After deciding to bite the bullet and catch a taxi, however, we were then faced with the depressing situation of not finding any - even after calling for one. We decided to make the most of the situation and headed up the hill to the Parc du Chateau, where there isn't much of a Chateau left, but a lovely park and fantastic view over Nice.

Before dinner we walked the Promenade des Anglais, checking out the old hotels where artists and philosophers had stayed through the centuries. We wandered into the famous Hotel Negresco, built in 1912 and containing some interesting pieces of art, and one very impressive chandelier (with 16,800 beads of Baccarat crystal, and an identical piece residing in the Kremlin). Later we had a cocktail aperitif in one of the hotel bars which left us in good spirits for dinner.

That night was to be my big 'birthday dinner', generously sponsored by Linda's parents who were in on her secret planning. We wanted to eat local food with a generous dose of seafood, something we had been missing a bit in Switzerland, and we picked our restaurant accordingly. I ordered a Nicois salad and Tuna steak with rice for main, while Linda had fried goat's cheese and Calamari. We finished with a white chocolate mousse desert, by this time somewhat tipsy after polishing off a bottle of local red wine. Now from the description of the dishes it may not sound all that exotic (although obviously more so when written in French) but I have to say this was one of the most delicious meals we have ever eaten, including anything in Italy which is quite a statement from us.

The next day we emerged early, and slightly hungover, from our hotel room with a view to picking up a rental car and driving along the Cote d'Azur (blue coast) North of Nice. We made our way there via the flower markets on cours Saleya, where we picked up some breakfast and supplies for eating on the run.

We drove out of town and stopped first at Villefranch-sur-Mer where we had a vital cup of coffee (or two) and wandered around the very pretty 14th century town, tracking down rue Obscure, a little street that had been covered over by houses over time.

Next up was Eze, which was a fair way up the hill from the Mediterranean but with magnificent views. Eze is a very attractive little town with plenty of shops to keep the tourists amused (I bought myself a t-shirt, Linda a bracelet) and with a succulent garden at the top of the town with the best views around.

Lastly we made a dash for Gorbio, stopping on the way to snack on Brie and Baguette on the roof of our rented Citroen looking over the Mediterranean (did I mention we were in France?). Gorbio was a bit of a letdown after Eze, partly due to the weather, the time of year (post peak tourist season) and time of day (between meal times). It was a very attractive little town but just felt a little past its prime (maybe by a couple of hundred years).

By this time it was starting to get late, and we had to get our car back to Nice by 6pm, and so began our typically stressful dash home at the end of a holiday. We stormed back to Nice along the coast and stumbled off the wrong exit of the Autoroute to find ourselves in peak hour traffic in suburban Nice. I broke about half a dozen road rules, getting us back to the rental shop only marginally late, but was pleasantly surprised to not get beeped even once during my maneuvers, suggesting the French are more closely aligned to Italy than Switzerland when it comes to driving.

We took a few moments to decompress after that stressful little drive, before picking our luggage up from our hotel and catching a taxi to the airport. Of course the Easyjet flight was running late, putting our last-train-from-Geneva plans in jeopardy, particularly since Linda had checked her luggage in for the return leg. We were tense the whole way home, imagining ourselves sleeping on benches at Geneva airport, and arriving to work with 1 hour sleep, but by some miracle we ran for, and made, the last train out of Geneva, arriving home relieved but exhausted from the trip home.

Once again we vowed never to leave our return trip home so late, at the same time knowing we will always try to make the most of our time while away. I think it's safe to say we also felt like we needed to spend more time in the South of France, given that we only saw a small corner and had fallen in love with the place (and the food of course).

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