For this year’s trip, we return to Europe again, but this time we start in the south of France in Nice, a part of the French Riviera. As the plane descended, I could already see the beaches, and the hundreds of yachts in the water – some of the yachts were so large, they looked like the big ones in James Bond movies. Once we touched down, we picked up our rental car and headed into town.
Initially when I turned on the car, I couldn’t even figure out how to drive it. The car turned on, but I didn’t hear any engine noises, not even the noise of the engine starting. I was so confused and we had to ask one of the attendants, who told me that the car was actually a hybrid, and if the electric engine was being used, there’d be no engine noises. I’d never driven a hybrid car before, and certainly didn’t know a Renault Clio had a hybrid version, but now I know.
Since it was our first day and we needed to adjust for the jetlag, we took the day easy by walking along the beach, and the windy cobblestone streets of the old town.
We met our AirBnB host who showed us into the underground parking garage of the building. I mean underground parking garage very loosely. The spot itself had maybe about 30 cm of clearance on either side, and barely any space to setup. I knew driving in Europe would be more challenging than in North America, but this isn’t what I expected. I was more so expecting narrow streets and parallel parking, but not this. I’d say this was the toughest parking spot I’ve had to navigate in recent memory. Luckily I had help from the backup cam and people standing outside to guide me.
Our AirBnB host was super nice, asked us where we’re from and told about how she used to live in Montreal, but moved back to France because it was too cold there. As a greeting gift she gave us a bar of artisanal soap from Fragonard, a local perfumerie. After dropping off our bags, we took a brief nap to get over the jetlag, and then walked around town. For lunch at Le Bistrot de Jennifer, we had a giant bucket of grilled/smoked oysters, an octopus salad, and a truffle pizza with a panaché to drink. We walked along the beachfront and then up to the top of Château de Nice.
Walking through the old town of Nice, there are colours everywhere. There’s blue from the water, the green from the trees, and the buildings have all sorts of assorted colours. Even the street signs have colour – the signs aren’t always even in French – sometimes they’re in the local dialect called Niçard.
It’s a pretty big city and very very hot even when visiting in September. The sun is relentless, yet people sunbathe on the beach. People here refer to it as “bronzette” in French. Surprisingly, the beach itself is rocky instead of sandy – not what I expected.
The annoying part in Nice, like many cities in Europe, is how much people like smoking in public. We have this imagery in our minds of visiting the Mediterranean and feeling a nice breeze of fresh sea air, but this isn’t what happens. The heat is filled with cigarette smoke, car exhaust, and the occasional whiff of urine and it can be quite suffocating. At times, we just want to dunk heads in the water for some relief. However, the people have been very nice to us (they don’t have the stereotypical snobbiness of Parisians) and there is lots of things to see.
Along the beachfront, there are blue metal chairs (so called les chaises bleues) for people to sit in and soak in the sun. They’d be nice to sit on if there was a breeze to cool us down.
The blue chairs are so iconic, to the point that they’ve become part of its identity – to the point that there’s a monument dedicated to it.
That’s about it for the first day.
More photos of Nice here