Thursday, March 26, 2015

Nice, today!

You get your mind stuck on something and there's no shaking it free: it's wedged stubbornly and you just have to give in to that idea, no matter how poor, ill-timed, ridiculous.

And so it is today for me with Nice: I really want to go there. It's about a forty minute train ride and I want to do this trip today. Never mind that the weather gurus have been saying for a long time that Wednesday may be wet. Oh, there's some discussion about which hours will deliver real rain, but rain there will be, though current weather maps tell us it will be later rather than earlier. So I must go and I must go earlier.

I should have argued with myself: Nice is so beautiful on a sunny day! I have two sunny days in store, why not wait?

No, somehow I have convinced myself that it must be Nice today.

Breakfast first, of course. Not on the balcony, no way! Too damp, cloudy -- all of it (though in the high fifties F, so not cold).  At the bakery, I buy a demi baguete and a croissant. I will continue buying from this bakery, even though I think madame the sales person doesn't really like me (possibly because I take five minutes to decide if I want the pain au chocolat and baguette or almond croissant without baguette or croissant with baguette and maybe something else...), or maybe she is just a very formal kind of person, in any case it doesn't matter -- the products are so great that I'll ignore the fact that I will never in my week here get her to crack a smile.

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After breakfast -- the train ride. And now I am in Nice.

I have a plan: to walk first to the water. I love the sea coast here! True, the long stretch of shore is all pebbles, but the color of the sea here is unique and stunning and it once gave me days of pleasure (that would have been in the summertime) and I want to pay my respects and take in its beauty once more.

But as I leave the station, I feel a few drops of rain. Not the kind that would cause anyone who has an umbrella to use it (I don't have one, btw), but still, enough to have me hide my camera. (And take it out for the moment when I see a hand of a dad do a multitask: navigate and provide comfort all at once...

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...and then, I catch them again; this time the dad adds another task -- a smart phone -- to the others.)

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I ignore the occasional drops of rain. I walk all the way down to the Place Massena -- which I think is one of the most beautiful squares (here, you see only one side to it; it expands to misty fountains and parks and arcades, making it really one of the loveliest city spaces anywhere)...

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...but I do not pause now. I go to the water's edge.

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I know it's the same sea I have a few miles down where I am in La Napoule, but here, the water lights up and glimmers -- despite the occasional drops of moisture from very pouty skies.

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I then walk to the market. I do love the flowers here -- ah, I see that yesterday's blooms are well represented: the mimosa...

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...the freesia...

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...and jasmine, too, though that belongs more to my perfume tour of the previous day. There was no jasmine growing or blooming along my La Napoule hike path.

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As for the rest of the market -- well, it gets a lot of praise because it really is quite colorful. Honestly. I think it's the buildings surrounding it that add that punch of color. If I lived here, I don't know that I would be a regular shopper.  The vendors are tired and exasperated and most of the items here are likely found in stores around town.

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I'm not surprised that the vendors are exasperated. There are always far more lookers than buyers (every Nice guide book will tell you to go to the market) and on a half wet day like today, they just don't really have much patience with the lookers and so they use their two favorite words: "don't touch!" and they say them again and again to people who come and feel for some reason compelled to finger the oranges. I think about our own Capitol Square market in Madison: it, too, draws more lookers than buyers and still, vendors put out free samples and generally maintain a cheery attitude and believe me, Wisconsin weather isn't nearly as pleasant as Nice's weather. Nice, after all, boasts of having at least 300 days of sunshine each year. Today, in all fairness, is not one of them.

But let me interject here this very important comment: I hold none of this against the city. It's my fault that I chose this day to visit it and in fact, though I would have preferred the sunshine, I still love Nice, even in the stubborn half shower that keeps following me around the city.

Let me list a few reasons for being so fond of this place: you already know I love its shore. But I also love the city colors -- golden, orange, red, green shutters -- all so Provencal, but also very Nice!

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I love, too, its mixture of peoples. So many have that Corsican toughness, the weathered, darkened skin, the very dark hair -- it's common here. And this is a city where people have always come and gone -- from Russia, from Africa, from Italy. You feel that energy from distant places: Nice, like Marseille, has a touch of the world in it.

And I love the walks here. They're better than in most cities. There is the water front. And the maze of the old town.

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And there are hills to climb and I do that, of course. And panoramas to admire.

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I feel a touch nostalgic because the last time I was here (2008), I had dragged Ed with me and he was already feeling that indifference towards travel and so even though I thought he should like it, he seemed only mildly enthused. I had especially wanted to show him the old port -- what, with all those boats, surely he'd perk up -- here it is, photographed today:

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And from another angle:

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... but again, he seemed only lightly buoyed. Feeling his reluctance to engage the city I suggested we pause for lunch. He shook his head and offered one of those  -- "you go ahead, I'll just watch" comments which always made me wince, because I only like eating alone when I am alone, not when I am with someone.

Still, I ate alone,  and he watched. I did not eat a whole lot: just a salad, with a glass of wine. And here's the thing: I'll never forget that salad. It was a great salad. And since that day, when people ask me for advice on where they should eat in Nice, I always say -- there's a restaurant along the old port that has the best salad, but I don't recall the name of the place. (I've grown wiser in recent years and I now always note restaurant names on Ocean.)

Today I searched for this place. And I found it! It's called La Marie Belle and here I am, inside (that's the table he and I sat at so many years ago...):

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And here is the same salad today:

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And you can compare it to the salad I ate years ago, as displayed in this post.

It is altogether a delightful small lunch break and it will be the only restaurant lunch that I will have eaten on this trip. Madame at the restaurant is tickled by my story of the crazy search for the salad (it has m√Ęche and arugula and a few baby tomatoes and most importantly -- raw baby artichokes, trimmed and lightly sprinkled with lemon and a good olive oil and finished off with slivers of parmesan cheese).

Actually she has another reason to be tickled today: her other guests are three women friends who are celebrating a birthday. And it turns out that madame, the restauranteur also has a birthday, though not until tomorrow, but all this is reason for them to order glasses of champagne and madame joins them in this...

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... and now everyone is buoyant and jovial and this spills over into the dining room because you know what? Happiness is contagious.

I leave with lovely images of my few minutes at La Marie Belle.

But now it's raining bigger drops and they're coming more often. People who have umbrellas are using them.

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(The Place Massena again...)

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I manage to stay more or less dry by doing an awning walk (where you basically stay very close to the buildings) and occasionally I go inside shops. For example, the Nespresso store to pick up more coffee. And to the department store to buy a cute little summer jumper for Snowdrop and a pair of pants for myself because I HATE one of the three pairs I brought with me (purchased especially for my travels) and would very much like to throw it in the trash even as I know that's wasteful, so I won't.

And now I have to decide: linger in Nice? Take a long walk along the coast? Or catch the afternoon train home?

I don't hesitate for long. The rain is such that most everyone has an umbrella by now and since this is the only afternoon that will produce any amount of wetness on this trip, I don't want to buy one and so I hop on the train just as it is about to pull out of the station.

Except that it is the wrong train.

I sort of knew that when I hop on: the direction is correct but it doesn't go all the way to La Napoule, it stops at Cannes. No matter. I get off at Cannes and indeed, the rain is letting up again so I walk a tiny bit and then finally catch the correct train to my home town. And my apartment by the sea. Where I indulge in a coffee and a macaron.

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Dinner. Despite the noon salad, I'm hungry. I pick a restaurant with an uninteresting name (Cote Place) and with an uninteresting ambiance. Walls, sparsely decorated with random signs, one in English, announcing something in Texas. The tables have little bamboo shoots stuck in ceramic pots with Asian lettering of an unknown to me language. I ask the waiter if the chef/owner is somehow tied to Asia and he says no -- he, the waiter picked the bamboo things for decoration. Because he liked them.

But the menu -- posted as always outside -- I couldn't take my eyes off the menu. It looked great! And you can eat a whole three course dinner for 21 Euros (that would be around $23), taxes and service included.

And the food? Oh, wonderful! Well, actually beyond wonderful!  I went up just a few Euros and ordered the home made goose liver for an appetizer, because the French do these SO WELL! And then a fillet of turbot over a mushroom risotto with meat infusion for a main course. Just superb!

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Again I have to order dessert (it's included) and I let the waiter -- a really nice guy who is just this year is going to begin to study English...

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...I let him pick one for me: the Tarte Tatin (upside down apple cake, of sorts). I have no complaints.

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I'll end with the photo that I took just heading out to dinner. The lights are starting their night dance over the Cannes harbor. It's cloudy still, but there is a promise of warmer air. It is a fine evening to be walking along the shore of La Napoule.

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