It is a delicate time to travel to France, they say. Tension is at its all time high, security measures are over-the-top, you can almost cut through the dense uncertainty which clouds over flights to and from France, they say…except none of it was true. Airport security was as lax as ever between the Schengen countries (as if terrorists would fly directly into France from Syria or Iraq with an ISIS passport).
I read that people in Nice speak Niçard, although according to a friend who had also visited Nice, no one even speaks it anymore. I did hear lot of people speaking a mix of Italian and French. Although Nice was never a part of the Italy we know today, it was part of the Kingdom of Sardinia. A lot of names on doorbells and tombstones were Italian-sounding and ravioli is part of their regional cuisine. The presence of Russians is highlighted by the very Russian looking Saint Nicholas Cathedral (the best building in Nice, in my opinion). The mayor of Nice declared Nice as “France’s first Russian city” which at the very least means that he has Russian constituents to please, if French politics is anything like American politics.
Surprisingly, most people we met on this trip were able to speak either Italian, Spanish or English or all of the above. I’ve been to France 3, 4 times already (Paris, Marseille, small villages in the south) and had rarely met anyone who spoke anything other than French.
Aside from Italian food (linguini and ravioli specifically), Niçoise cuisine appeared similar to other Provence area cuisine. The most unique thing we tasted was a pancake made with chickpeas, called socca. A quick search on wikipedia would tell you that this particular food originated from Genoa, yet another example that despite the fact that some nationalists would cut your throat defending that certain food or culture belongs to THEIR COUNTRY, culture is largely contingent on geographic proximity and migration flows and has little to do with actual man-drawn city or state boundaries.
It could have been the weather. A city under gloomy weather conditions looks as attractive as drunk girls and boys in smeared makeup armpit sweat stained wrinkly shirts respectively when the club turns on unforgiving florescent lights. It was not particularly ugly of a city but it was not a jaw-dropper. Nice has a quaint little old town (vieille ville, which we ignorantly pronounced as “veal veal”), and some charming shops, but I thought the churches were some of the worst I’ve ever seen in Europe, although my companion disagreed. She thought the Basilique Notre Dame was lovely, while I thought it looked more like something that belonged in The Capitol of Hunger Games.
Although Nice in the winter time failed to amaze, its location on the French Riviera makes it a formidable contender in summer tourism for Europeans and apparently, Russians. Train ride to Monaco costs only 3.50€. The 30 minutes scenic ride across the Cote d’Azur by itself was worth the trip. This takes us to the next section.
Villages, and Monaco
We spent little time in Monaco, and only visited the famous Monte Carlo Casino. I think Las Vegas and Monte Carlo are exemplary of USA and Europe respectively. What the Casino lacks in grandeur, accessibility and everyday appeal (it’s not open 24 hours? where’s the buffet?), it makes up with classic beauty and authenticity. The Casino is very small in comparison to any American casino, and if you’re not made of cash, your area of activity is even smaller (rooms with black jack requires 20€ just to get in, whereas the general slot machine area with only one or two roulette tables costs 10€). The anterior, where photography was not allowed, is absolutely 007 worthy.
A bus ride from Monaco to a cute little hilltop French town, Eze, on the way back to Nice took 25 minutes and cost 1.50€. The cobblestone paved medieval town is quiet this time of the year, which added to its ethereal charm.
My companion suggested we take the train des Merveilles which cost 13.50€ each way. I wasn’t sure if Merveilles is a place, or it simply means the train of awesomeness, but anyway I liked the sound of it and it’s regarded as one of the most beautiful train ride in Europe.
The two hour train ride through the Alps was highlighted by luscious, green surroundings. I loved the dabble of yellow, but since most trees in the region are evergreens, the beauty of foliage paled in comparison to Vermont or New Hampshire (even New Jersey, for that matter). What was particular breathtaking to a non-European was the random small medieval villages that nestled in the mountains, the stuff of fairytales. We ended the train ride in a small medieval town called Tende, situated almost at the Italian border and finished the trip with a heavy, meat-based lunch.
The Henri Matisse Museum might be a point of interest for art buffs. We went because we were compelled by the sheer fame of it. Our Airbnb host kindly suggested, “This might not be a good time to visit the Matisse Museum because some of his most famous works are on loan.” If you were to lay 5 paintings in front of me with one of which being Matisse’s work, the probability of me pointing out the correct one would be exactly 1/5. For the true fans of Matisse, it might be worthwhile to check whether or not the museum presently houses his most important works, because from what I saw, the work exhibited seemed more like pages from his sketch book, but what do I know.
Unlike Spain, lunch service ENDS by 14:30. Watch out for dog poop. Look out for perfumeries.