Our destination is Nice. After freezing in Turkey, Germany and parts of France we have sun and it is warm! We love this place. Our Airbnb is in old town on a narrow hilly street called Rue Droite. This is a second floor flat in a 5 story building with those traditional windows that have shutters. When we exit on to the narrow cobblestone street, there are pasta shops, bakeries, and restaurants nearby. We are only 2 blocks from the central plaza that has been built over a river that runs through the town. Today in the plaza was the Paris/Nice bicycle races meeting point and retailer/equipment area. As we waited for the our customary walking tour to begin, a procession of multiple buses with cycle team members and trailered team colored bikes passed by. It was tremendously colorful and excitement was in the air. The races had several starting and ending points throughout southern France.
The walking tour was led by the cutest little Bulgarian transplant who had lived in Nice 6 years. She was very bubbly and entertaining. We walked all over the the traditional town, waterfront, and finally fortress hill where the view was spectacular. This is a really beautiful place and tasty. We had samples of French gelato, then a full scoop, then chick pea cake which tastes like fried chicken—extra crispy, then samples of special candied fruit. Our guide kept on asking if we enjoyed our energy food because we were going to keep walking. At the end of the tour, we stayed at fortress hill and had café latte while we enjoyed the sun and views. We eventually walked down and shopped for fresh pasta and red sauce, fresh bread, and dessert for dinner. We also purchased some of the wonderful lavender sachets that Nice is famous for. Our suitcases can get stinky from long term travel. It was late afternoon by now, so we went home and did some homework. Someone (aka Janet) put together a marvelous dinner accompanied by the Rose’ wine the host gave us. This was a fun day!
Day two. Today we went to the farmer’s market in the center of town, 3 blocks from our place. The weather is beautiful and sunny. One of Janet's favorite things on this trip is to shop for local food. The setting here is so different from the markets of South America, pristine clean, no stray dogs, no haggling prices, but it is still a great way to mix with the people and get an understanding of the culture through the food. Here we purchased fresh fish, veggies, cheeses, olives, bread and fruit for the next 4 days.
This was a leisurely activity, so when we finished it was time to use these items for lunch. Someone (aka Janet again) put together a scrumptious lunch of fresh food so we would have energy for our next excursion.
This afternoon we chose to go to the MAMAC, or Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. The core of the collection for the 21st century came from “European New Realists” Yvette Klein and Nikki de Saint Phalle. The stuff is pretty weird, and a huge change from all the masters we saw in Paris but it is clever and provocative. We also enjoyed the so called “Auto-Destructive Art” of Gustav Metzger, a German living in England, and the street art of “ BEN”, a guy from Nice, who use to have a cutting edge second hand record shop in town that was home to local artists. Outside this museum is also a sculpture park with some crazy stuff.
On our third day we visited the Matisse Artist Museum. Nice has 12 recognized art museums so choices had to be made. This was a leisurely day, we started off late, but the bus trip was quick and took us to the hills north of the seashore. Very nifty housing and a Roman city to boot along the way. This museum is housed in a beautiful Villa and the display demonstrated the growth of Henri Matisse and the changes in his artistic thought over an extended career. Many sketches of models that became paintings, many style shifts, and many favorite locations for inspiration, such as Tahiti and Nice, where highlighted. The painter was certainly a cool dude, who made fun of himself in numerous self sketches. Check out some photos.
On day 4 we are finally ready to explore the region, back on the bus and off to a day trip to Monaco. The capital is Monte Carlo, the worlds second smallest city is home to 33,000 residents. Monte Carlo’s high rise buildings and gorgeous waterfront with large yachts get your attention, as do the astronomical prices. We however, paid only a buck 50 ($1.50) for bus tickets to this Cinderella land with the million dollar views of sea and villas on the winding shoreline road. We arrived in front of the famous Casino, which is also the Opera House. Everything is pristine the Rolls Royces are spit and polished. The sun was magical so the city and marina glistened. We chose not to enter the Casino but instead walked the beautiful Roman pathway along the shore and cliffs to reach the world renowned Musee Oceanographic de Monaco.
The Museum and its center piece aquarium were run by mariner Jacque Costeau for many decades. The Museum is housed in an elegant baroque styled building and is partially built overhanging the cliffs. The large interior lagoon has sharks, sharks, and sharks, and giant piranhas. The whole set up is great. We visited the rooftop terrace for cappuccino and sweeping views of Monaco and the Mediterranean Sea. Very magical.
As we walked back to the bus stop on Garibaldi Blvd., we stopped at the 1875 Monaco Cathedral to check out the mosaics and to view with respect the grave sites of the King and Princess Grace (Kelly). She is an American Oscar winning actress and is the mother of the current King Albert III.
The bus was packed, so we stood all the way back to Nice. Again, the shoreline view of the shiny sea from the cliff heights was fantastic, one little village and marina after another. The evening was completed with a fantastic home cooked meal and sparkling Rose wine.
On day 5 we take another day trip. We decided to move west this time for a short jaunt to another shore side town, Cagnes Sur Mer. Another bus, another $1.50. As well as the view of the countryside, we went to see two specific sites. First, we enjoyed the Pierre Renoir homesite and museum. There were duplicate paintings set up outside at the point the artist sat when painting. The before and after of the location was still very similar.
Renoir was born in 1841 and died 1919. He was an “impressionist” in part, but used many styles over his career. He looks like an “artist”. Photos of some of his paintings are provided. Most interesting was how he extended his career even with the infliction of severe arthritis in his hands and legs. The hands where wrapped and his brushes secured so he could continue. He also painted from a wheelchair in later life and his studio was presented with easel and wheelchair. The overall experience was enjoyable. Then we walked to town center and picked up the free shuttle to The Haut-De-Cagnes Castle located at the top of the steep hill that overlooks the town. This was first a a small fortress that was updated to a Chateau overtime with painted ceilings and wall tapestry, and an art museum of modern art. The castle also includes the old sub level mill for pressing olive oil. A small ancient neighborhood surrounds the castle, which we could see from the top rooftop turret of the castle. The long distance view of the Mediterranean Sea was also great. Check out some photos.
Day 6 and our last day in Nice, and France. and we went to see the Marc Chagall Museum. Chagall is a more contemporary artist than the other artist homes we have seen. This particular exhibit displays really large canvases presenting a biblical theme of the Old Testament in a modern format. These paintings where striking. With the help of an audio guide the complexity and creativity of the artist’s works were explained. This was a very enjoyable outing. Check out some examples of this work
We jumped on the local bus and made it back to out flat by noon. We know this because the city fires a cannon shot at noon everyday. We grabbed some towels and a backpack of snacks and headed down to the waterfront to sun on the beach. After shucking off our shoes and socks and rolling up our pant legs we absorbed the sun rays and sea breeze. It is said that in high season every square foot of the beach is filled with blankets and people. We had a lot more room to stretch out and watched the limited activity on the beach and seashore. Nice really is a great town and the sea and weather add to the charm.
Nice has been a great visit, it is also the 6 month mark on our trip. We needed the sun, the down time and rest after how quickly we have traveled since entering Europe in December. Tomorrow we fly to Rome, Italy and will be joined by our son and his girlfriend. We really enjoyed France, but we cannot wait for time with family, more sun, pizza, and gelato