The Romance of Nice

Carnival and Sun: A short sojourn à deux on the French Riviera

The colorful and historic city of Nice on the shores of the Mediterranean sea | Photo: Lisa Berger

Minutes away from landing, my girlfriend and I glanced out of the oval window of the airplane and caught sight of the beach promenade at Nice, glowing yellow in the lamp light. Say what you will, this is Romance. Seconds later we had landed and shared our first kiss on the soil of the Cote d’Azur, the beginning of an unforgettable week – just the two of us in this city beloved of Henri Matisse, Isadora Duncan and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

After collecting our baggage in this serene provincial airport, we made our way out, before heading to our hotel.

We quickly checked in, went upstairs, dropped off our bags and made our way out to see the town. The darkness had fallen and it was time for food and wine. Having no fixed idea of where to go, we started walking, and a few minutes later, we stumbled upon a rather small, restaurant sheltered by a low red awning, right on the promenade, graced with palms – it was there that we decided to settle.

Bonjour, madame et monsieur,” the maître d’ greets us, and we know we are in France for good. Looking through the menu we selected a wine to kick off our holiday. Of course a Syrah, then to the meal. We reveled in a fine carpaccio and a mixed salad appetizer, followed by a wonderful looking and indeed tasty sole meunière. With plenty of wine left over, we moved outside to chat and enjoy a fag. So it was nearly an hour later that our first dinner had come to an end. Holding hands as we walked back to the hotel, we forged our plans for the morning, and our first full day in Nice.

But the sea air was soporific and we both slept in late, consequently forcing a change of our plans; no matter, it was a holiday, no plan was required.

It was a warm day, especially compared to the grey cold and mist of Vienna in March, and so we dressed light. Heading out of the hotel, we made our way onto a narrow street, turning left and right where ever we felt like it. That’s what its all about – discovering the city free of itineraries. We ended up in a lively pedestrian zone, filled with restaurants and shops – and of course many people.

Both sides of the narrow street were lined of handsome, stucco villas, shutters pinned back with curling wrought iron fittings, with shops at street level, selling clothing and souvenirs, no-frills pizzerias and the many cafes and eateries with tables spilling onto the sidewalk. There, businesses people were sitting outside in the chill March air, under the protection of the awnings, warmed by electronic heaters attacked to the facades.

After hours of new sights and experiences we sat down in a small, modern bistro named Maori – An atmosphere so pleasant, we would come back not once but three times as the food and drinks were superb – the risotto and piña coladas were particular favorites.

On our way home with stomachs painfully full, we slowly approached our hotel where we discovered that the street was closed and grandstands were set up for the coming up parades. Oh yes, it is carnival time we discovered, but before we got excited and hypothesizing what awaited us, we decided to rest in order to fully appreciate this special event.

The following days were a blur – we were trapped in the middle of the Carnival Parade seeing as our hotel was situated in the midst of this event.  Day after day we witnessed thousands of costumed people, from small children to old couples, and everything in between. The main parade consisted of dozens of unique and colorful floats in different sizes, such as a smoke spitting dragon, a large inflated scorpion and other wicked creatures. People were deck out in a glittering plastic wig or a joker’s cap and bells, or figures from fairy tales. We walked around in t-shirts and light pullovers, standing out in the crowd like real tourists. We are not ones to dress up, so we descended into the low-profile areas that were practically uninhabited – it seemed that everyone else in Nice was here for the Carnival.

On the fourth day of our trip, we decided to visit Monaco, as it’s just a short train ride away. Just 25 minutes to be exact. Problems occurred when purchasing our tickets, as in France, everything is in French, and only in French. Fortunately, someone who had just purchased a ticket from the automated machines help out, and finally we had our tickets.

Then our new friend, too, came seeking assistance. Pushing a heavy grey bag in my direction and a smaller carrier bag towards my girlfriend he asked us to help haul his friend’s luggage into the train.  A woman in her 70ties, our new companion turned out to be an eastern European lady returning from a cruise on the Mediterranean, who spoke German and lived in a suburb of Monaco. So our train-ride turned out to be a real adventure as she was very interested in art, knowledgeable in Viennese galleries such as the Albertina and the Belvedere as well as which pieces were housed where. Eventually, she showed us her photos of her trip,, and she even gave us her number in case of emergency. A kind and trusting woman.

Monaco, though, was a disappointment, as  it is rather small and not as beautiful as I expected. Except for the main square with the Hôtel de Paris, the statue of Massenet and few other venerable buildings, the principality consists of squeezed-in community housing reminiscent of the Gemeindebau of Red Vienna, in warm but faded colors. These are occupied solely by the rich or super-rich, as everyone wants to settle in this tax haven.

We settled in a café overlooking the million dollar yachts, an impressive sight for the two of us, and began daydreaming about what we would do with sooooo much money. But what did it matter, really. We were in love, happy, and most of all healthy. That’s what counts…  And after an expensive club sandwich, we explored this miniature country, before retreating to our comfortable nest in Nice.

The next day, our flight back to Vienna wasn’t until 8:30 p.m., so we decided to discover more of the city by, once again, just wandering about – to wherever our curiosity led us. We jumped from café to café, from Le Luna Rosso to Fesch and others, sending post cards to our relatives on the way. We walked through gardens that were already green, explored clothing boutiques and talked about our adventures and impressions, of the city and its people. At this time of the year, the crowd seems to include more tourists than locals. Everywhere you look, people have cameras hanging from their necks, others struggle with city maps and children tight rope walking the walls, poking their heads into around each corner, looking for a hidden treasure.

For us the trip was another memorable adventure, a holiday zu zweit.

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