05 – 09/09/2016
I didn’t have any exceptional expectations of Nice. Nothing beyond sun, cool blue sea, and a relaxed vibe. I knew it would be touristy. English is definitely more widely spoken here than the previous places we’ve been. There’s a strong Italian presence too. I wasn’t really expecting it when I hopped off the train, but it makes a lot of sense, given how close Nice is to Italy. It made me slightly bummed that I wasn’t doing Italy this trip, so I made sure I had some Italian coffee, pizza and pasta, and spoke a little Italian while we were here.
We really only had two days in Nice because we made a few day trips to Grasse and Antibes. Most of that time was spent wandering along the Promenade des Anglais, exploring Vieux Nice and the port, eating, and chilling at the beach.
Our Airbnb host (Manuela) recommended going to the beach near the port, where the locals prefer to go. It was a small space that was pretty rocky, almost reef-like. You’d want to get there early to get a good spot down by the water. We could’ve set up a spot higher up on the rocks, but we wanted to be able to see our things. One guy had rigged up a rope to get down to his own private area of the beach. That’s the way to do it.
The pebble beach was a novelty. It wasn’t always easy getting comfortable on the pebbles. We just had beach towels, but there were people with yoga mats, bamboo mats, sun lounges and blow up mattresses. Reef shoes and crocs were a common sight too. It was a skill managing the incline to get in and out of the water. You couldn’t gradually wade into the water. There was basically a shelf of pebbles that went down into water at least half a metre deep. You could definitely pick the locals from the first-time tourists just by how gracefully and easily they got in and out of the water. Some tourists were on their hands and knees. One positive thing about the pebbles though is not needing to vigorously shake sand out of your clothes and towels. It made getting dressed a lot easier.
When in France, do as the French do. Why not? In this case I’m referring to sunbathing sans bather top, which I found surprisingly easy and comfortable to do. Although having said that, it doesn’t seem like it’s all that common anymore. From what I could see, it was mostly the older generation of women going topless. I decided to read up on the topless sunbathing trend later that evening. Several online articles from 2014 discussed the significant decline in its popularity in France with women under 35, with various reasons being cited – health reasons, personal preference, and not wanting to be linked with activist groups and campaigns (e.g., #freethenipple). Regardless of whether you decide to go with or without your top, I think the general attitude down on the beach is one of laissez-faire.
Before hitting the beach on our second day, I went up the Ascenseur de Château to check out the views of the promenade and the port. It’s definitely worth the climb, which was pretty quick (five minutes, I’d say). Though if you’re still really not keen on climbing or cycling up, apparently there’s a sneaky elevator. It was getting warmer by the minute, so I only made a quick dash around the park and viewpoints at the top before heading back down to fling myself into the sea.
In Lyon, we saw teenagers walking around with plates of shaving cream, being given money to have the shaving cream smeared on their faces. Odd. We initially thought it was just a fundraising thing. But on our first evening in Nice, we stumbled across a larger group of teenagers down on the beach. A group of them, smothered in shaving cream and something else, were all sat in a circle. Another group of four or five older-looking teenagers would randomly select someone from the circle and ask them a question. If they answered incorrectly, they were doused with water, flour and more shaving cream. After watching the group’s antics for a few minutes, we decided it looked more to be a part of an initiation of the new students at the beginning of the school year.
Being in the Mediterranean, there was a lot of seafood on the menus. The most popular thing we saw on offer was moules et frites. On our second night, we went to a place on Cour Saleya that was doing all you can eat moules et frites. They were pretty average, I have to say. Bland. The mussels were probably boiled in bulk and then quickly tossed through the sauce when ordered. The salad niçoise that I had on our first night was just okay too. I had it as part of a three courses for 15.90€ deal. You get what you pay for, I guess. While I was up the Ascenseur de Château, I managed to keep bumping into this English bike tour. I overheard the tour guide recommending a restaurant down by the port for a good place to get ratatouille, which I didn’t realise originated in Nice. We went to find it on our last night, but it was closed. So we opted for a cheapish place nearby. The linguini fruits de mer wasn’t anything to write home about (although the pasta was cooked perfectly), but the chèvre chaud (grilled goat’s cheese) was delicious. I’ve really been loving the chèvre in France.
Our time in Nice has been bliss. I think one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed this city so much was because of our wonderful Airbnb host Manuela. She’s so happy, friendly and generous. She’s originally from Italy and was kind enough to help me practise my Italian. Speaking with Manuela, I’ve learnt that I remember a lot more than I thought, which was nice to know. But also that I have even more to get back and learn. I’m now super keen to live in Italy for a few months and just immerse myself in the language and the culture.
We all went out for dinner before parting ways – Amy and I were off to Marseille, and Manuela was off to Italy. Manuela took us to an Italian restaurant near her home. They didn’t give you a whole pizza like they do in Italy, but it was a still a generous half. We had fun swapping Australian, French and Italian slang and colloquialisms over dinner. We taught Manuela the difference between “yeah nah” and “nah yeah”, and the expression “to smash something” (after I’d just smashed the crème brûlée we ordered for dessert). Turns out, Italians have a similar expression, using the verb to brush (spazzolare). So instead of smashing the shit out of something, they brush the shit out of it. She also taught us the slight nuance when pronouncing qui – “wee” means yes and “weh” means yep. Apparently you should only ever use “weh” with family and friends. The French highly value the use of s’il vous plaît, merci, and the more polite “wee” when conversing with strangers. I think the best thing we learnt that night though was the French expression for “hangry” – je creve la dalle! It literally translates to “I drill the floor”. I love it!
Overall, we’ve had a superb stay in Nice. We’ve enjoyed the sun and sea, the wonderful blend of French and Italian, and the relaxed yet spirited vibe.
Merci Nice! You’ve been real nice.