My memories of Nice are a melange of sensations. It's impossible to recreate the trip by simply putting creative language to a timeline or imagery to a log book. How do you string together sounds, images, tastes, smells and textures that have no sequential order but that come foremost to the mind when remembering a place? No doubt this struggle has contributed most to my delayed report. How can I give a true representation of my experience of Le Côte d'Azur?
The truth is that when I remember the pebble beach that stretches along the entire harbor, outlined by the famous Promenade des Anglais, I think of the sound of the waves playing tug of war with the pebbles. I go to the markets in here Aix and I see a stand of brightly colored provençal fruit and I remember a similar stall of fruit at the Niçoise market, except that all of its bounty had been candied, it's sugared coats glimmering like sequins in the sun. I look back at pictures of that trip and I come across the one of Theresa, proprietress of the famous Socca stand at the market. Instantly, my mouth waters from the memory of the chick-pea based Niçoise specialty. Greeting us like a wave whenever we turned a corner onto another Italian-esque cobble stone street, the tell-tale smells of fruits de mer hinted that it wouldn't be long until we'd get our longed for Niçoise salad: Avocado, tomato, spinach, smoked salmon, squid, prawns and anchovies. Now when my limbs and joints ache after a particularly long day of walking around town, I remember my numb feet, my overworked knees and my completely sore cheek muscles from smiling to much after walking seven miles along the coastline from the cliff-top Village of Eze all the way back to Nice on our final day. And then I remember the beautiful sleep on the bus ride back; the whimsical dreams of a noisey school of pebbles swimming under me as I drifted in a perfectly blue sea.
Our first time exploring the city was Friday night after dinning at a restaurant that specialized in Niçoise fruits de mer. We reckoned that we'd gotten a pretty authentic resto and Niçoise salad as it was in a somewhat more "lived in" area of Nice in between our hostel and the main center of the city. Also, we'd received the recommendation from the proprietor of a Brasserie where we'd taken a glass of rosé earlier. Whether it was truly authentique or not, it was delicious. We decided to walk off our big meal and head into the city. I just liked the mix of modern neon blue lights framing and old train bridge that was covered in ivy.
Comme habitude, we began our day Saturday morning at the market. The open air markets at Nice are understandably extensive as it is a big city and a big tourist attraction. We thought we did well, though, to buy the produce for our lunch picnic at a market further away from the center of town that we passed every day on our long walk from the hostel. It was cheaper that way and we could enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the big Nice market without being tempted to spend too much money. We did splurge for important things, though, like fresh pain, fromage and, of course, Socca from Theresa's world famous Socca stand. This eccentric madam was a force to be reckoned with. We'd read about her in particular in Clare's travel book, which warned against trying the famous Niçoise speciality from anyone but Theresa. We were not disappointed. Socca is essentially a thin, buttery crèpe made from a chick pea flour base and cooked on a wide cast-iron planque. I'm sure you can eat it with tapenada or anything really, but we just snacked on it plain while sitting by the beach. Tastey!
After our trip to the market and our snack on the beach, Clare and I climbed up to the cliff-top garden that offers panoramic views of the city. It was up there while taking in breath-taking views of perfectly blue water, soaring mountains and the lovely white city accented by steeples and palm trees, that we decided that Nice was one of our favorite European cities, if not the favorite. "Better than Greece?" Clare tested me, knowing my weakness for that piece of heaven on the other side of the Med. "Close," I replied. While Greece will always have my heart, I wouldn't turn my nose up at a return visit to Nice either!
There is something so picturesque about sail boats on the sea. Nice perfects this image wth the dozens of graceful white sails dotting the perfectly blue canvas backdrop. When the weather's fine in Nice, two groups of folks seem to flock the area: sailors and rollerbladders. The one disappointment about our weekend was that we failed to rent rollerblades for an evening of wheeling along the Promenade des Anglais with the other promenaders. But as it was we'd only get in the way of the professional bladders who entertained the crowds with their stunts and impressive obstacle course routes.
As for the the town of Nice itself, the Vieille Ville or Old Town is the historic section of town where most of the tourists flock, though rightly so. It's lovely with plenty of winding cobble stone streets, brightly colored old buildings and squares that center around dolphin fountains and glaciers on every corner. Perhaps the most endearing quality about Old Nice, though, is the laundry. It seems as though I learned how to find Nice on a map of France and was then given the same basic lesson about the capital of le Côte d'Azur for every French class I've taken beginning at age 12. It's the center of french vacation land and the favorite celebrity destination. With these images engrained in my mind, I came to Nice expecting to see fashionable people riding around on Vespas and gated seaside communities. It's true, we saw a fair few of both these things, especially on our walk from Eze to Nice, but Nice itself is still very lived in. The casinos and fancy hotels are a comfortable distance from the Old Town and nowhere near the actually residential neighborhoods. But even in the center of the Old Town we'd look up and the see not the glamorous laundry of the rich and famous, but the ordinary bed sheets, stained baby clothes and well-worn underwear which could've belonged to any old Jack. Or Jacque, rather. It's good to know that such a paradise as Nice could also be a home.... you know, just in case we decide to go back.