June 18 – 19
Happy New Year to all. I inadvertently posted this last Monday, a full week ahead of schedule so am pushing it today per my usual time table, that is one post a week until we do so much traveling that I’ll need to start posting more than once per week. So if you’ve already read it, read it again or ignore. If not, enjoy!!
Our journey to Nice on Saturday would be simple, with one change of trains in Marseille, a seemingly easy day of travel. Imagine our shock when we arrived at the Montpellier station and discovered that because it was Saturday, half of Montpellier and southern France was heading out by train that day and as we didn’t have a seat reservation for this first leg, we were going to have to scramble to get seats.
Assessing the situation, we decided to split up, with Joanna jumping on board first in the initial crush of people in order to secure us two seats together while I held back and muscled both bags up on onto the car and stored them away. It worked this time around, but we’d not be so successful with it later in the trip. We had a little time to kill in Marseille and I was able to buy us a sandwich and something to drink before getting ready to board.
We got into line to scan our tickets (stored on the phone app) anxious to board early in order to get seats when we ran into a problem we’d experienced back in Paris. Apparently, we weren’t using the app correctly, needing to authorize the trip in the app which would then keep the scannable bar code on a read screen on the phone. Not authorized, the code kept disappearing and thus wouldn’t scan at the control point. So, I stood behind someone who got the gate to open and followed them through, stopped and motioned for Joanna to do the same. Fortunately, it was a large train and we secured good seats and would eventually figure out how to correctly use the app for future legs.
We landed in Nice, walked a few blocks to the main tram line and rode it towards the sea before disembarking for a five-block walk to Hotel Vendome, our home for the next two nights. Nice being Nice, this would be the most expensive stay of the trip at 287-Euros ($305) for both nights and our small room was sometimes difficult to navigate, but the air conditioner worked well, and it was an easy walk to the more touristy part of town.
We then went out to explore the neighborhood, checking out potential restaurants (a couple of highly rated close by) and a Spar market where we picked up a couple of beers to drink back at the room along with supplies for breakfast. We returned there to relax from what had been a somewhat stressful day of travel, and then set out to see if we could get dinner at those restaurants, only to discover that both were full up.
We decided to hit the restaurant just outside the hotel, Little Hanoi, and what a good choice it turned out to be. It is a small family run (mom does the cooking and sons are the waiters) place serving Vietnamese food and so we ordered a Bun Ga and a Pad Thai along with a glass apiece of Vin Cote Provencale, a delightful Rose of local origin.
The Pad Thai was as good as any we’ve enjoyed and the Bun Ga, a rice noodle salad with grilled chicken breast was a delightful discovery, one we’ve not encountered before and will look for when we eat Thai food back at home. It was just the right amount of food for the two of us and we settled the tab of 36-Euros ($38) full and satisfied, returning to our room for a quiet evening that prepared us for a full day of sightseeing in the morning.
After eating breakfast in the room, we set out walking the four blocks it took us to get to Avenue Jean Medecin, the main boulevard leading to the sea and turning left continued walking to Place Messena, Nice’s Ornate 19th-century plaza that is lined with cafes and neoclassical buildings. This historic square, named for André Masséna (a French military commander during the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars) was designed by Joseph Vernier in 1843-1844.
When one stands in the middle, views abound, including the Promenade du Paillon, a green space with diverse plants and trees and a play area for kids with a reflecting pool and the Fountain du Soleil, a bronze sculpture of the Greek god Apollo.
From there it is a short walk to the Bay of Angels (Baie des Anges) and the entry into Vieux Nice, or Nice’s Old Town on Rue St. Francois de Paule. As one walks, they pass the Alziari Olive Oil Shop, dating from 1868 they produce stone ground olive oil, the owner claiming that the stone wheels create less acidity. Locals can fill their own containers from huge vats inside the store.
Next door is Nice’s Opera House, built in 1885 on the site of the previous building which burned to the ground in a fire. As you continue walking you enter the first section of the Cours Saleya, Nice’s main market square since the Middle Ages, which is home to the Riviera’s largest flower market. Next up is the produce section which leads you to Place Pierre Gautier and the Ducal Palace, where the kings of Sardinia, the city’s’ Italian rulers until 1860, resided when in Nice. Today it houses the local police headquarters.
At the end of Cours Saleya we turned left onto Rude de la Poissonneire and continued past Distilleries Ideales walking up Rue Droite, a skinny street that during the Middle Ages provided the most direct route from the Paillon River to the sea within the old walled town. We continued walking following the walking tour in our Rick Steves guidebook, passing a couple of churches (Notre-Dame de l’Annonciation and Jesus Elise St-Jacques) holding services and eventually concluded our tour in Place Rossetti, home to the Cathedral of Ste. Reparate, which was relocated here in the 1500’s from Castle Hill. It is named for Nice’s patron saint a teenage virgin of the same name, whose martyred body floated to Nice in the fourth century accompanied by angels.
Hungry by now, we stopped in at Hobo, a coffee shop with an inviting menu that seemed to be just the right spot for us at that time. We sat outside and ordered the Aperitivo Platter, a charcuterie and cheese board so large we were worried that it was a double order. When the bill came and revealed it was just one serving for an incredibly reasonable 14-Euros, we shook our heads in wonder. With a Chocolate Glace for Joanna and a Leffe beer for me to drink, our total tab came to 24.50-Euros ($25.88).
From Hobo we walked to the shore where I relaxed on a bench with a nice view of the beach below while Joanna walked up to the top of Castle Hill, which sits 300 feet above sea level, making for an excellent strategic and military look-out over the bay below. The Citadel was in use here between the 11th and 18th century but was destroyed in 1706. Now, all that is left of the castle are the ruins.
When Joanna returned, we strolled along the Promenade des Anglais, Nice’s famous seaside walkway, until we reached our starting point at Place Messena, where retraced our steps back to the hotel to recharge our batteries in the room. Later we would venture out for a bite to eat, nothing large or elaborate as we were still full from lunch, and we landed at Sapori, a narrow store front restaurant specializing in Italian street food.
There we ordered a couple of glasses of wine (Prosecco for Joanna) and a large slice of pizza, followed by a nice Crepe Suzette, the perfect finish to what had been a short but good stay in this most famous of towns in the French Riviera. Our tab came to 23.40-Euros ($24.72) another reasonable amount in a town one would expect to be an expensive place to eat. We returned to the room and again relaxed in anticipation of what would be a very long day of travel tomorrow on the way to Lucca, Italy. Join us in the next post as we hit a few bumps in the road, but still manage to get there.