Editor’s note: my entire experience in Nice was a fifteen minute train connection between Marseille and Monaco. It is a place I want to actually see, and this beautiful piece by Mandy just reinforces that. For more of Mandy’s writing, click here to visit her index page.
There are often times when I have to spend an inordinate time waiting around in airports, train stations, or bus stops with nothing to do but read. However, it is rare that I have the opportunity to explore a city when this happens. Often the layovers are at odd times of the day or the airports are ridiculously far from a city’s center and traffic can make travel times near impossible to predict. Then other times I am weighed down with an extra suitcase and these days it’s a chore to find a place to store them, since most airports and train stations no longer have storage lockers. This trip, the stars aligned and all the timing worked out well for me and I was able to explore a gorgeous city in France’s Cote D’Azur while traveling.
To explain why I was in Nice in the first place, I need to provide a little background. I had spent the previous three weeks staying in Aix-en-Provence, which was exactly the break I needed during a very dreary winter spent in England. Now, this may seem obvious for those of you who are from Europe, but for me as an American, this weird travel hack has been a game changer. You don’t have to fly in or out of your closest city. In this case, it might have made the most sense to fly to Aix-Marseille airport. I can be picky about which flights to take and I don’t want to get up at the crack of dawn if I don’t have to. I despise layovers and will avoid them wherever possible, and I need this all at bargain prices. In the month I wanted to travel, there simply were no direct flights from Bristol to Marseille, and rather than layover in Amsterdam for eight hours (my best option), I looked for flights to nearby cities – and there it was, a direct flight to Nice on easyJet for a great price leaving in the afternoon and coming back in the evening. All requirements fulfilled. Bear in mind that the bus from Nice to Aix-en-Provence takes two hours ten minutes and costs £6 (prices will vary depending on date of travel). The bus from Aix-Marseille airport to the town center is 50 minutes and costs about the same so it was only an extra hour on a bus to avoid that long layover. You’ll save yourself some time and money by considering options like this when traveling within Europe. This often works for me in the reverse; sometimes I’ll take a bus to London Heathrow or Birmingham from Bristol rather than use my local airport because it can be more convenient in the long run.
Coming home to England from Nice, I had a nice late 8pm flight. I had plenty of options for getting to Nice and I decided to leave at 11am and get into the city center at around 1:30pm. My first mission was to find lunch, which turned out to be trickier than I initially anticipated. I was doing everything on the fly, I had no real itinerary, and I was very hungry when I got off that bus. The bus station is about a twenty minute walk from the port and I naturally thought I’d just see something that took my fancy as I was walking and pop in. I rejected a few paces off the bat because they seemed nice enough but almost too nice. I was more looking for a casual dining experience and completely forgot that these are nowhere near as common in France as they are in the US. As I continued to mosey my way towards the port, I saw a place that looked perfect, but it looked like they were closing up shop. Merde! I forgot about this quirk of French restaurant culture. A lot of them serve lunch only from noon to 2pm, then close until 6 or 7 when they start serving dinner. I was going to have to seek out the rare restaurant with service continu (literal translation: continuous service, meaning they don’t close between meal times).
As I approached the port, hunger still growing, I was rewarded with an incredible view. Despite being ravenous, I was able to appreciate the glory of a sun slowly drifting to meet the sea. Confident that I would have more breathtaking views later, I left the coastal road and wandered into a neighborhood known as Vieux-Nice to complete my mission of getting a late lunch. Vieux-Nice (aka Old Nice in English) is appropriately named, as it is one of the first areas of the city to be settled in the 14th century. The buildings are very old and packed close together on narrow streets, and it has a very old French feel too it. As I walked across the Cours Seleya, I could see the remnants of the daily morning market that I had missed by a few hours. Definitely worth visiting if you’re staying in the city for longer than a few hours, it’s a great place to get a feel for French culture and also pick up some fresh fruit and vegetables. Unfortunately, all the restaurants I passed that were service continu looked too much like tourist traps to me, so it was time to let go of my laissez-faire attitude and whip out my phone for some help.
Not many options came up, but one that caught my eye was Cali Cantine, simply for the fact that it would be open until three and it was a five minute walk from where I was standing. My blood sugar had reached critically low levels. I think some would call me basic for going to an American-themed restaurant while in the South of France, but so be it. I was getting to the point where I was going to have to settle for McDonalds. When I first arrived, it was suspiciously empty and I wondered if it was closed, but fortunately it was not. I started by speaking in French, but then the owner asked me in English where I was from, and we continued on in English. The menu consisted of your typical Cali-Mex fare: burritos, tacos, quesadillas, and food in that vein. I went for a quesadilla and added on a beer, simply because I was excited to see one of my favorite brands (Lagunitas) in France! The restaurant was decorated a bit like a beach hut and had a nice airy feel to it and the food was exactly what I needed. I would definitely come back the next time in Nice.
With my food saga over, it was time to get back to the seaside. I walked along the Promenade des Anglais (translation: English walkway) which extends from the Old Port all the way to the airport. I had considered walking along it all the way to the airport and figured it would be easy enough to hop on a tram if I got too tired along the way. This train of thought was derailed when I came across the Fete de Noel. I have been to many Christmas markets in many cities across the world and they are all very similar so I wasn’t going to stop at this one until I noticed a Ferris Wheel. I will almost always get on one of these if I see one, but even if you’re not as much of anafficionado as I am, this one is not to be missed. It was nearing sunset when I got on and as I went up, the most incredible view of the sea appeared before me and made everything about the day worthwhile. These gorgeous views can also be found at the Parc du Chateau which is atop a big hill near the Old Port if you find yourself with the time and energy to walk up there. I did a quick walk through the rest of the Fete, and with only a couple of hours to catch my flight, I took a tram to the airport and was sad to say goodbye to this lovely city and even sadder to leave the sun for drizzly old England.
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