Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Nice, France: Vieux Nice

Strolling in Vieux Nice.
One of the most charming parts of Nice is the historical center, known as Vieux Nice, an area of the city that has scarcely changed since the 1700s. Its tiny lanes are crowded with delis, food shops, boutiques and bars.

A spice shop.
Though I walked through this area several times a day, I didn't do much shopping there. But I enjoyed seeing the variety of shops and cafes vying for attention.

A unique bar/cafe
Vieux Nice has become a trendy area, with an abundance of color and panache: its a veritable feast for the eye.

Welcome to our vintage clothing store!

Luscious pastries!
 And of course, lots of tempting food is available!

A restaurant specializing in local foods.
Since we were there in October, the tourist traffic was lighter than usual, and the shops started closing after 7 or 8 pm, leaving many streets with an eerie, empty feeling.

By 8 pm, some streets of Vieux Nice were empty.
Overall, our stay in Nice was a unique adventure, but much too short to take advantage of all that the area has to offer. There's so much to do and see! I hope to return in the future for a longer stay. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Nice, France: The Beach and Castle Hill

Sailboats on the Mediterranean, from the beach at Nice
We've all seen images of the French Riviera, and it's touted as one of the most beautiful spots in the world. But seeing it up close and personal was not what I expected. Yes, it's long, and attractive: the weather is lovely and the setting is exquisite.

Hanging out on the beach
But the beach itself? It's rocky! And it's no fun walking along a rocky beach like the one in Nice. What's more, walking barefoot is out of the question. But if you can get past that, it's a great place to spend an afternoon watching and listening to the waves.

The only sand you'll find on this beach!
There is only one sandy spot, a sort of large sandbox, where kids can play and build sandcastles. There is also an absence of changing cabins, which are readily available (usually for a price) on the beaches in Italy. Instead, in Nice I noticed several people, men and women, changing their clothes right on the beach. They managed to take off all their clothes and put on bathing suits (usually bikinis) with little fuss or notice...quite modestly, in fact, without any sort of cover up.

You can see how large the rocks are on Nice's beach. Ouch!
Even though the rocks kept me from walking along the beach, I found a spot to sit and enjoy the sights and sounds of the waves crashing on the shore. It's a lovely sound...like a rain stick....a swoosh as the wave comes in, and then a clatter of the rocks hitting against each other as the wave recedes.

Benches like this are placed along the Promenade des Anglais: a great place to watch the sea!
After walking along the beach, we decided to explore Castle Hill, the highest point of the city, where there are spectacular views of the Riviera. We went in the afternoon, and were already tired, so took advantage of the elevator that swiftly transports you from beach level to the top of the hill.
A view of the Riviera from Castle Hill
At the top, there is a large park with a terrace, and a variety of paths to meander along. The 90-meter terrace overlooks the sea, but the castle itself is no longer there.

A view of Nice from the other side of the terrace on Castle Hill.
Castle Hill” was the site chosen by the Greeks in 350 B.C. to set up a trading-post, thus founding the city of Nice. The post became a permanent settlement, and they named it Nikaia, after Nike, the goddess of victory.

Cascade Dijon: A man made waterfall on Castle Hill
A castle was built on the site during the Middle Ages, but had been completely destroyed by 1706, as the city underwent the tumult  caused by various rulers. 

Castle Hill with the beach in the foreground and the full moon above.
We made our way back down to the beach from the castle, avoiding the elevator in favor of walking. We were lucky to be in Nice during a full moon, and I was able to get some lovely shots of the beach and the city under its glow.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Nice, France: Place Garibaldi, Place Massena

Place Gardibaldi
In France, the large squares where people congregate are called les places, and in Nice there are several places of note (the singular, place, is pronounced like plas). Luckily, our hotel was just around the corner from Place Garibaldi, a popular hangout, where one could easily catch the tram to get to other parts of Nice. The tram service is efficient and streamlined, and the voices announcing the stops are sultry!

Place Garibaldi under the full moon, Oct. 2014.
Place Garibaldi is named after Giuseppe Garibaldi, hero of the Italian unification, who was born in Nice in 1807. In fact, Nice was part of Italy for most of its history, until  1860, when it was ceded to France as a territorial reward for French assistance in the Second Italian War of Independence. There's a large statue standing in tribute to Garibaldi in Place Garibaldi, but it seems ironic that he is so honored, since he opposed the cession.

Place Massena showing a few of the resin statues.
In Place Massena – Nice’s geographic center – there are seven resin statues that were created by Jaume Plensa, a Spanish artist. They are depicted as male figures, sitting or kneeling, as if in meditation. At first glance, they seem a bit odd, but also intriguing.The nearby buildings are attractively painted in lovely shades of red or orange ochre, all with light blue shutters.

At night, the statues light up, radiating the colors of the rainbow.
These seven figures represent the seven continents and the communication between the different communities of today’s society. The name of this creation is “conversation à Nice”. In addition, the statues are illuminated every night, smoothly changing shades, going through the different colors of the rainbow, as if to emulate a dialog among them.

Tram moving through Place Massena
Place Massena is one of the largest public "squares" I've seen in Italy or France, and is the main square in Nice. Since the place was rebuilt in 2007 to accommodate the tramline, everything looks fresh and new. Place Massena is often used for special events and festivals, but serves as a park and meeting place for both locals and tourists on a daily basis. 

Blowing bubbles in Place Massena
Statue of Apollo in the La Fontaine du Soleil in Place Massena.
At one end of the square stands the La Fontaine du Soleil, or Fountain of the Sun, with a majestic statue of Apollo at its center. From here, it's only a two-minute walk to the Promenade des Anglais and the beach.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Nice, France: Promenade du Paillon

A view of the ''fog'' fountain on the Promenade du Paillon
Nice is more than a pretty beach and ritzy shopping venues. It's a wonderland of creative, interactive outdoor art, mesmerizing fountains and free art museums. Many of the wonders are part of  the new Coulée Verte, or “green corridor”, officially known as the Promenade de Paillon, opened in October 2013. The park covers nearly 30 acres and spans 1.2 kilometers (.75 miles), right through the heart of Nice.
The jet fountain: people can walk amidst the pulsating jets
In order to spruce up the area once dominated by an ugly bus station and concrete multi-story car park, those structures were demolished in 2011. In their place, the city has created a green space that has turned into a public garden, complete with fountains, a variety of unusual trees, interactive art displays and playgrounds. The Promenade du Paillon was constructed over the river of the same name, buried in the nineteenth century to clean up the city. Everything in the park is designed as a reminder of the river, which still flows beneath the city.

The "fog" fountain, minus the fog
Several fountains provide a place to play: one has pulsating jets that people can walk around. The jets pulsate at different heights and rhythms, stop altogether, then start up again, so it's wise to be careful when walking around them, to avoid getting drenched. Another "fountain" emits fog, and seems to be popular with both children and adults. It provides a dramatic backdrop to wander through, and there was a male model being filmed for an advertisement while I was taking photos.

Filming in the fog
One of several play areas for children
For children, there are swings, a variety of games and giant structures to climb on,  sculpted in wood in the form of marine animals, such as whales, dolphins, turtles, and octopus.

Wooden chairs that can be moved to face different directions

Some areas have arcades with roofs, and sturdy wooden chairs that can be moved to change directions for a different view, or to turn away from the sun's rays. This vast green corridor has been planted with 1,000 trees, 61,730 shrubs and 55,364 hardy plants, and is intended as a place for recreation, well-being and tranquility.

Magical night art on the pavement
As I was walking through the garden one evening, I noticed that there were mesmerizing designs on the pavement, and the designs changed, depending on the amount of light near them and where I was standing. It seems that the pavement was painted with some type of luminescent paint that reflected light. I couldn't find any explanations of the phenomenon in Nice, but after doing some research on the internet, came across something they might have used to create this effect. Perhaps it was " a glow-in-the-dark product called “STARPATH” that can be applied to virtually any pavement surface to provide energy-free lighting once night falls. The material absorbs light during the day to create a luminous glow at night, and it is also non-slip and water-resistant, so it could reduce accidents while increasing visibility." (from http://inhabitat.com/dazzling-starpath-pavement-glows-in-the-dark-to-provide-energy-free-illumination/) Whatever the case, it added to the fun and enjoyment of the Promenade.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Eze-le-village, France

Eze-le-village, in the hills above the Riviera
The trip to Eze was a simple one, as we caught a bus near our hotel that took us east, from Nice to Eze, in less than an hour. The bus followed the coastline, past Villefranche-sur-Mer, Cap Ferrat and Eze-Bord-du-Mer, then up into the hills.

Quaint street in Eze
Eze is a tiny village, with quaint winding streets that are too small for vehicles. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote the bulk of his work “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” in Eze, where he lived in the late 19th century. There is also the famous Nietszche trail, a strenuous climb that goes from the coastline up to the Village. Nietszche claimed that climbing the trail daily in the summer heat gave him hallucinations that inspired his writing.

Up and up...
And at the top of the village, there is a castle in ruins, the area now covered by an exotic garden with more than 400 cactus and succulent plants. It cost 6 euros to enter the gardens, but it was well worth it, as there is a panoramic, 360-degree view of the Riviera at the top. It was a lovely spot to spend a few hours enjoying the scenery. 

Cactus and Sea
Placed amidst the cactus are fifteen ethereal statues of women,  created by the sculptor Jean-Philippe Richard and added to the garden in the 1990s. The visages of the idealized women are said to be "steeped in eternity."

Endless beauty!
I found the statues to be mesmerizing, and took many photos of them, against the backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea.

After our trek, we stopped for galettes (crêpes made with buckwheat flour) at a crêperie called The Cactus. Galettes are usually savory, with vegetables, meat and/or cheese fillings.

Galette with vegies and cheese
There are several perfume factories in Eze, including another Fragonard, but we skipped it and visited a different one, Galimard, which had a similar museum and saleshop as the one we'd seen at Fragonard in Grasse. My friend was anxious to get back to Nice, so we didn't linger, and as the prices were higher that what we'd seen in Grasse, it's just as well.

The perfume museum at Galimard

In this room, you can hire someone to create a unique perfume for you.
After a rainy day in Grasse, we were fortunate to have such a lovely, clear day in Eze. I'm still haunted by the images of the statues in the cactus garden: it seemed they had some wisdom to impart with their ethereal beauty.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Grasse, France

Train Station in Grasse
The journey from Nice to Grasse was somewhat awkward, and further complicated by rain and the fact that we went there on a Sunday, when many things were not open. The train didn't leave until noon and it took about 90 minutes for us to arrive in Grasse. Though the distance was not that great, it was necessary to take one train to Cannes, then another to Grasse, with many stops along the way. And from the station in Grasse, we had a long walk up to the city center, following a winding path up hundreds of stairs, as the shuttle buses were not running that day.

part of the walk to the village center
Once in the village, we headed towards the Fragonard Parfumerie, one of the leading perfume factories in France, which also has a small historical museum.  The streets of Grasse were eerily empty, and shops were closed, so there was not much to distract us from our goal.

the empty streets of Grasse
Just as we arrived at Fragonard, it started pouring rain, so we were content to peruse the Fragonard complex for several hours.
Parfumerie Fragonard Museum
Tours of the factory were given in several languages. Since the tour in Italian was getting ready to start, we decided to go along with that group, instead of waiting for the English-speaking tour guide.

An explanation of one method used to make perfume.
I could understand most of the tour, and there were also written explanations in English to fill in the blanks. However, it didn't seem like a working factory, since everything was so pristine. It left me wondering where the real work was being done, but I was too intimidated to ask.

A display of the mixing room
How cold extraction is performed.
Here's where you get enticed to buy their products.
And of course, there were several sales rooms. There were so many lovely scents, it was hard to choose, but I knew that I wanted to splurge a bit. I ended up buying a small 1.7 ounce bottle of eau de parfum, called Jasmin - Perle de Thé, which has notes of lemon, bergamot, jasmine, honeysuckle, green tea, white cedar, guaiac wood and white amber. So subtle and lovely! I was told that the scent of eau de parfum will linger for up to 5 hours, while the scent of parfum (perfume) will last up to 8 hours, or longer.  I also bought a smaller bottle of perfume, (.5 oz), for twice the cost of the eau de parfum, in a similar scent, strong on jasmine. (Oddly enough, I recently discovered that I can get the same bottle of Jasmin - Perle de Thé on Amazon! It's a lot more expensive, but at least it would save a trip to Grasse.)

Some  antique perfume bottles in the museum
The museum had a large selection of antique perfume bottles that were attractively displayed.
More uniquely shaped antique perfume bottles.
Though there were several other perfume factories in Grasse, we didn't get to see them. We walked around in the rain trying to find the International Perfume Museum, but kept getting lost, and when I stopped to ask for directions, I only got annoyed responses from the locals, who didn't seem to know what I was talking about. I know enough French to ask simple questions, but could not always understand complicated responses to those questions. And many locals either didn't speak English or they didn't want to.

I loved the decor of this cafe!
Once we left Fragonard, we were pressed for time, knowing there was only one more bus (no more trains!) that would take us back to Cannes, but we stopped to get out of the rain and have a snack before we made the long trek back down to the station. There was a clever little cafe across from Fragonard, and even though the waiter was surly when we asked how to get back to the station (he refused to tell us!), he made wonderful crepes. My crepe was simple yet exquisite, with a dusting of powdered sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice.

The best crepe ever, and yet so simple: crepe au sucre et citron.

On the way back to the train station, I asked a local man if we were headed in the right direction, and he was kind enough to lead us to a shortcut that saved us some time. I was disappointed that we'd seen so little of the town, and wished we had planned it better. If we'd come earlier, on a weekday, we'd have had more time to see what Grasse has to offer. As it is, due to the rain and the hassles we'd encountered, we were tired eager to get back to Nice.

About those crepes: when I returned to Florence, I went to several creperies, hoping to find a crepe made with sugar and lemon like the one I'd had in Grasse. Yes, they had them, but they were not the same. The crepe in Florence was thick, and covered with granulated sugar (instead of powdered), which made it  heavy, gritty, and sickeningly sweet. However, back in the States a friend invited me to take a crepe-making class at our favorite health food store, and now I can make them myself!