Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Nice Way of Life

When midterms come a-knockin’, they stick around on your couch for two weeks and they just can’t seem to leave you alone. When they do finally pack their bags and say ta-ta for now, decompression and relaxation are screaming your name. And when the opportunity to do so on the southern coast of France arises, you find yourself in perfect balance.
The funny thing is, when my roommate and I decided on a trip to Nice, France, we selected the dates because it was our last fully free weekend and because airfare and lodging were the least expensive then. It happened to coincide with midterms; I was just about finished with everything when we went, and Scarlett had only a few things to complete as well. Days spent in the academic centre or at the apartment behind my laptop screen and with hundreds of tabs opened up for research and writing, and a few nights up studying left me weary but accomplished: the Mediterranean Sea beckoned to me from cloudy Dublin, and two days in the sunshine-infused warmth couldn’t have felt more deserved. Timing is everything, and it was the ideal trip to plan for the middle of October.
Like the saying goes, “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list”. Before leaving for Ireland, I of course had ideas for travelling but nothing absolute. Nice wasn’t on my radar for this trip but I’m happy it appeared to me and became a reality. Half of me craved the beach atmosphere, carved into history and architecture; the other half wanted to be in France, among people who spoke a language that I had learned for four years but never got to put into practice. And it is a beautiful mixture of Parisian architecture and seaside village. It’s a pretty nice place, if you ask me!
We arrived on the Côte D’Azur late Thursday night, the plane close to skimming the water and soaring parallel to the coast. Nice glimmered with its building’s lights strung along the shore and up the hill that the city is built upon. And as we navigated the way to our AirBnB via shuttle bus and tram, we slipped past palm trees swaying in the cool breeze and huddled to keep warm. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at a local McDonald’s where—yes!—I ordered happily in French.
To be surrounded by a familiar yet not mastered on my part brings with it exhilaration. I was only in the country for two days but my high school lessons came back with surprising ease. (Shout out to my fantastic French teachers for the foundations you gave me.) That enhanced my permanent state of excitement.
Our lodging was a twenty minute walk into the city center and located in a quiet neighborhood; we had a small balcony, and in the morning I stepped out to revel in the comfortable temperature and the open square of complexes around us. Our host provided a beautifully carbed-out breakfast of a baguette and croissant, which filled us up for the rest of the morning.
We walked through the city, making pit stops through a fountain park and to the Massena Place. On the way to a small hike up to the top of the highest point in Nice—Castle Hill—we passed through the Old Town of exquisite European dreams. Close quarters of neutrally painted apartments and restaurants climbing overhead, where clothing lines hung and flowers were left on balconies. Menus for mostly pizza restaurants stood outside, and employees were milling in and out to get ready for lunch time. In general, the city was quiet save for local bustle: not being Paris, and not being a high tourist season, Nice was able to show us itself in its natural element. We were able to stop and take pictures as frequently as we wanted and to tour the town without fighting for a place among hundreds of other tourists.

As we climbed closer to the edge of the old city, we found a set of stairs that brought us up to the start of the walk. We started at the cemetery overlooking the red-roofs and crystal blue waters, where many apparently wealthy families are buried. Each burial is intricately carved with flowers and angels, among other images. It felt crowded to walk through, but carried an ever-near peace.
We wound our way up the hill, the sights from the lower point just as spectacular as the sights at the very top ledge, over the small waterfall spilling over a rock formation. I could have sworn I was leaning over the railing in the late spring with the way the sun hugged every corner of the coast. I was hot from the walk up, cooler with the fine mist of the waterfall still clinging to me, and at a loss for words at the view that overtook me now. Not in pictures, mind you: in the flesh.

We worked our way down the other side of the hill, passing through a park where school-age children ran around in pinnies and older couples chatted by the side of the hill with the marina. Before lunch, Scarlett wanted to check out a light house, which we could only get underneath. The concrete slabs which hold it up create spaces with the rocks there, and the sea sprays up through the cracks. I was almost hit a few times, exhilarated by the possibility of getting splashed. I planned on sticking my feet in the water later, though, so I saved it for then.

Lunch was taken at a porched in, mainly outdoor restaurant. Scarlett and I both ordered minestrone soup, and as an added bonus interacted very briefly with a charcoal gray cat planted at the opened back door of a boulangerie across the narrow road. And then we spent time at the beach. We lay there for a while, the sun teasing us as it poked in and out of the afternoon clouds. I stuck my feet into the water, warm enough for one to comfortably swim in, and closed my eyes, lulled by the constant ebbing and flowing of the water.
Before dinner, we walked along the promenade, through a tourist shopping square, and sat at the Place Rosetti in the Old Town for crêpes at Fennochio’s. Primarily an ice cream stand, Fennochio’s also boasts a delectable menu for these thinned out pancakes; and I paired a sugar crêpe with cinnamon ice cream which I am still drooling over. That is one definition of the end-all-be-all. I will worship that treat for a long time to come.

Pizza was on my to-do list the moment travel arrangements to get here were in order, so we scoured the town for a good place. We walked our late afternoon snack off with a walk back through the parks up and across the street, seesawing for a bit, and walking the length of them back through the shops of the center. La Maison de la Pizza—a building vaguely resembling the ABC Café featured in the movie version of Les Miserables—is where we settled in, with an owner donning a New York Yankees cap and who later gave us each a glass of free sangria because they had mistakenly given them to us in the wrong glasses. As if we had known or even cared! But the sangria was sweet and the pizza, thin, cheese-less, and tropical in its pineapple splendor, was magic. Scarlett and I ordered one to share which they divided in half for us, and all of which was devoured in thirty minutes.

We had wanted to stay in the city to listen to music, but having been out all day and not finding anywhere that offered music for another two hours, we headed for home. The evening was spent being consumed by our host’s fluffy couch, watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
The next morning, we were ready to take on the day—lugging our duffels and all, as checkout was at ten in the morning and our flight was at nine thirty that night. With more French carbs inside of us, we journeyed on and found ourselves spending much time sitting to watch the world go by. When in Nice, right?

For four hours we sat at the beach. The time was broken up with another crêpe and ice cream party. Our first two hours there, we picnicked with fruit and macaroons picked up from the Cours Saleya market still in full flourish. There, both of us also bought small paintings done by a local artist of the market and of the Old Town of Nice. I changed into shorts and waded into water that splashed refreshingly over my thighs. Looking out at the eternal horizon, I was struck with a moment of invincibility: of youth and freedom that are at my expense. Of the world that I am being opened up to, of the world that was only words and images in my mind but that have taken shape in my own experiences and findings.

Our second beach-pedition was one for reading, writing, and getting sunburnt. Yes, I was burnt, and I am proud. But so too was I unprecedentedly content and relaxed. A little more cultured, a little more permanently eased, a little more worldly. “Worldly” here can be explained by our—my—suggestion to walk to the airport. We used our money to buy more dessert, got exercise, and now can say that we have walked the entire length of the promenade of Nice. I think that makes for a spectacular end to the story.
It took us longer than expected to get there, but there was no rush. In Nice, there really is no rush to get anywhere or be anyone or do anything. We did and saw; but we also could just be.

That was nice. 

"In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth." -Rachel Carson

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