Sunday, February 12, 2012

           The Southeastern Tip of France: 
            NICE and its surroundings

As Ulla and I wheel our luggage across the street from the Nice airport, we spot an oasis of palm trees, grass, and shrubs. We perch on the low stone fence and break out the juice packs and pretzels. For a minute we just bask in the sun.
France, here we come!

The bus runs a convenient route from the airport to the City of Nice. Our 20-minute walk from there to the hotel takes us through town square and a building remodel where the sidewalk turns into a man-made tunnel.
We discover fabulous bakeries (where we're to become loyal customers over the next days) before reaching Hotel Comte de Nice on the quiet Rue Dijon. There is a daily flower market a short walk away at Avenue Malaussena and Place General de Gaulle.

The hotel is, shall we say, quaint. Truth be known, we didn't pay for luxury, so a crisp clean room and a bathroom with a shower satisfies us.

After settling in, we head for the beach, where we've made plans to meet up with the rest of our party: Kim, Ed, and Kaitie will be joining us today, after their stop in Paris. The day is warm and the salt-saturated water soothes our traveling bones. Climbing out of the sea turns out to be a strenuous attempt, though, as the waves insist we stay and the pebbles (smooth as they may be to behold) sting the bottoms of our feet. By pure willpower we scamper out, then stretch on our blankets to soak up the Mediterranean sun.

Our friends' faces pop out of the crowd and it's a joyous reunion. We giggle like children and sunburn our backs searching for sea glass and shells, and buy fruit drinks at the bar that's lapping-distance from the water.

That evening the lot of us feast on pizza (yes, feast!), and Ed downs a heap of clams (not me, thank you very much!). The street-side restaurant with checkered tablecloths and wrought-iron chairs oozes charm, as do the waiters who delight us with their English. Admittedly, I am a tad disappointed they won't have any of my “fluent French”. Ha.
For dessert we devour (yes, devour!) ice cream. Creamy and fruity yumminess.

The hassle of renting a car the next morning gives us a late start for our day, but off we go eventually. I am SO relieved not to be behind the wheel in this traffic! Fortunately, Ed “the Colonel” keeps it together for all of us.

The day soon promises to be idyllic and lovely, as we take in the mountain views that lead to the small village of Plan-de-la-Tour. Lavender fields, dotted with farmhouses, scent the air. Vineyards sprawl down the side of the road into the valley below and, as we ascend, we can catch glimpses of the villas and wine estates of the rich and famous.

The Village on top certainly delivers in idyll and charm: Centuries-old houses full of texture that hug the narrow streets; aged men in their caps at a game of chess; people gathered in the shadow of ancient oaks to play Petanque. We peek in the door of a church adorned with statues and murals and icons in the dimly lit coolness , and imagine hymn-singing filling the rafters in centuries past.


I stop in the tiny post office to mail my postcards, thrilled at the chance to speak my French with a village native.
We wander around the streets and take in the quiet gentleness. Studying the detail of a fountain basin and iron pump, we wish to linger.

But it's time to say goodbye.

And it's time to pile into the car for a drive-through of Cannes. We chuckle to our lowly selves as we gawk at the posh hotels and the limos that spill out fancy folk who walk with “an air”. Remember French Kiss with Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline? Parts of it were filmed right here.

Next we're off to St. Tropez, a celebrity haven just a 90-minute drive from Nice. The magazines show it: celebrities hanging out in the surf, on their yachts, in the cafes and restaurants. (We recognize none, though). St. Tropez offers a relaxed, breezy scene and (minus the tacky tourist shops) it's a pleasant place. We walk out to the end of the pier and lean back on a bench to daydream of life on one of the docked yachts. We're soon joined by paparazzi who elbow each other for the perfect spot. They're looking for somebody!
But our brush with fame is not to be; the mysterious celebrity docks too far out of reach and won't get off the yacht. (Rats). It'll be in the paper the next day (which, incidentally, we forget to check).
Before heading back to Nice we decide to take advantage of the sandy beach of St. Tropez (as most of the Cote d'Azur is pebbly), so we take a refreshing dip in the blue-green.

Back at the hotel we fall into bed with our aching feet. We've skipped dinner, but everyone is too tired to do a thing about it. It's been a full day of loveliness -and a bit of glamor, to boot.

In the morning we take a stroll to the patisserie to enjoy the ritual of the chocolate croissant. Walking to places -the bakery, the beach, the market- provides a chance to savor the moment. Small dogs sit pretty under the sidewalk cafe tables as their human counterparts have croissants and coffee. 

We spend the day walking from cathedral to square to flower market and buying a few souvenirs and a few more postcards. We try to get a peek at a park on top of a cliff (you go up by elevator), but it's closed because an Opera performance is on. Note to self: come back and catch that next time!
With nightfall we make our way to the Night Farmers' Market, which consists of never-ending rows of booths with souvenirs, hand-stitched linen (I buy lavender fingertip towels for family), scarves, jewelry, and flowers. The crepe stand outside a restaurant opposite the market offers a welcome break from the treasure hunt. They have twenty choices for fillings -a challenge, but we manage. We end up sharing bites with each other and each mouthful is scrumptious.
It's a pretty great way to end another pretty full day.

                                                          Provence, je t'aime!

    What would you want to do in Southern France?
           Breathe in the lavender?
                   Browse the farmers' markets?
                           Take a dip in the Mediterranean Sea?



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