Waking up to the sound of the sea and wind playing through the leaves of palm trees really made Nice feel like the vacation it was. Though I must say, that made it harder to get going in the morning, despite our long list of things to do with our time there. Having lost the adrenalin high of the first days of the trip coupled with the fatigue of walking 8+ miles each day, I wanted nothing more than to lounge around in the hotel room all morning.
Honestly the strongest driving factor for getting me up and going was that the hotel room didn’t have a coffee maker (is that not a French thing? I thought all hotels had some sort of coffee/tea machine…) and I was ready for breakfast and a jolt of caffeine. Kelly and I decided to hit the outdoor market in the center of the old town before heading to Castle Hill, and we stopped at a little boulangerie on the way over.
Despite some struggles with communication in ordering our croissants and drinks, we managed to get breakfast, and sat outside people watching while we ate. I still don’t really comprehend breakfast in France, so if anyone feels like enlightening me, please leave a message below. My host family in Annecy served me bread with butter and jam alongside tea every morning. Every single morning for an entire month. But I have heard from friends that their host families offered them various other things, though the various things tend to be sweet. It may be clichéd but it seems like the French really do like eating chocolate croissants for breakfast. Also every time I order a single croissant the staff looks at me funny…I think most people order two or three croissants for breakfast with their coffee. I’m so confused.
After we finished our breakfast we walked just two blocks over to the beginning of the market. On the side of the market closest to our hotel was the flower market, and as you went along it slowly changed from flowers to painters to souvenirs to fruits, vegetables and prepared foods.
There were markets every day in various sections of the city in Annecy, but I don’t think I have ever seen so many fresh flower bouquets! I felt a little bad since we weren’t buying anything, but I wanted to take a picture of each of the flower vendors and their lovely products.
The market stretches most of the length of the old town in the area closest to the sea, and after walking only a couple blocks over Kelly and I arrived at the entrance to the walk up to Castle Hill.
Really all we knew about Castle Hill was that it was a small hike up and then offered panoramic views of the city. Aren’t you amazed at how prepared we were? 😛
As we started walking up the hill we heard this terribly loud BOOM! And for several minutes we semi-frantically looked around, observing the other people walking up or down the hill, trying to discern if it was a normal sound to hear. We never figured out what it was, and after a bit of seeing everyone else being super calm we promptly put it out of our minds and kept walking.
It only took about 15 minutes to reach the top of the hill, but once we were up at the top, there were several different paths and look out points to go to, as well as several paths on the top of the hill going around and through a park and some historic ruins. After a few pictures we found a bench to sit on while eating some of the fresh strawberries from the market.
After our snack break we went exploring, taking many more pictures and pausing every once in awhile to just take everything in. At one point we passed a group of English speaking women doing yoga out on one of the observation points, and I would have loved nothing more than to have joined them—it looked the epitome of relaxation and being one with nature.
After observing Nice from every possible angle and learning about the ruins present at the top of the hill and their long history, we finally started making our way back down the hill. Of course, it took way longer on the way down, because we continuously discovered new pathways and had to stop and take more pictures. Oops.
When we finally got down to the base of the hill and back into the old town, we realized how ravished we were and decided to find a proper lunch. (Much to Kelly’s disagreement, strawberries, water and gummy bears is not actually lunch, and that was all we had eaten since our croissant/coffee breakfast).
Spotting a few girls eating delicious looking salads at a small table, we decided to eat at the same restaurant. The problem was, the signs outside were hand written in French, and there were no visible waitresses or staff present. We almost walked away, but then a woman came out from behind a counter and asked us if we wanted to eat lunch there.
Being completely starved, I said yes and she gave a verbal, short list of things we could eat (it was like 75% a tea shop with only a few things to munch on). We ordered salads and a short time later they arrived at our little table.
Did I feel a bit awkward during the entire lunch? Yes. Is that a new feeling when I’m abroad? No.
I almost always feel like I’m doing something wrong until whatever I’m doing is over, and I realize I must have done okay in the end. It all ended up fine this time as well, though I think the woman working at the store thought we were weird for not ordering coffee or tea after our meal—another thing I don’t entirely understand about French food culture yet.
Feeling incredibly victorious from having eaten an entire meal of fresh vegetables, we went shopping for dessert.
The previous night we had passed a couple pastry stores, and we wandered around until we found one of the same shops. Luckily this time we weren’t starving so we were able to actually take in everything the store had to offer—and we each ended up with a little pastry to take with us.
Having no real plans for the rest of the day, we took our pastries to a small park near the water, hunkered down beneath the shade of a palm tree and ate our pastries. Between the satisfaction of being properly fed, our morning of exertion, the perfect weather and the sound of the waves crashing against the shore, we were perfectly content to sit and people watch.
After dropping off a few things at our hotel, we continued on to explore the newer part of downtown—which turned out to be filled equally with restaurants and high end brands. This didn’t stop me from pausing every few feet to take pictures of buildings (if they didn’t want me taking so many pictures, they should have made uglier buildings).
We ended our day with a stop at the grocery store for sustenance and a walk along the beach back to our hotel, where we made a picnic—this time on an actual table on our hotel’s patio.
Day two in Nice came with only two planned adventures: going to the Matisse Museum and dinner at my friend Leanne’s apartment. That sounds easy right?
Well. The Matisse Museum is about two miles away, so we decided to walk. The weather was fantastic and we wanted to see more of the city. I should have realized the day before when we were looking down on Nice that going two miles inland meant two miles of hills, as only the beach and few blocks inland from the beach are flat. Oops.
To make matters worse, I was staring at my map and thought I was leading Kelly and I on a shortcut…though I realized about 15 minutes of walking uphill later that I had made us lost, so we had to retrace our path back down and then find the right path and walk back up a hill. And then we continued walking uphill in direct sunlight for about 45 more minutes. Yup, my calves are sore.
We finally arrived at the Matisse Museum (thank god for GPS) but we were both so hot and sweaty that we sat on a bench in the shade in the park outside the museum for at least ten minutes, until we were more presentable and were ready to go into the museum.
I had relatively low expectations for the museum, but upon entering I was not only proved wrong about the museum but was also happily surprised to find that the fee I paid for entrance to the museum also covered several other museums in town within the next 48 hours.
We weren’t allowed to take any pictures once we were inside, which was a shame because the museum/villa was so incredibly lovely. The villa actually used to be the house Matisse lived in when he lived in Nice, and the three large floors of the house were turned into the perfect display areas for his artwork. As Matisse had such a long life and career as an artist, there were many different things and styles to see, and Kelly and I wandered for over an hour in the museum.
Returning to the old town from the museum was infinitely easier, being almost completely downhill. It was already midafternoon by this point, and though we had been snacking throughout the day, we hadn’t had a proper lunch or eaten anything particularly healthy. Our breakfast had been several hours before and consisted of things bought in the market before our walk up to the museum.
However, we were feeling a mix of a lack in motivation and also particularly in the tourist mindset (also we are barely qualified to be adults) so we ended up getting gelato around 3:00pm when we finally returned to old town on our way back to the hotel.
It was amazingly delicious, but I felt embarrassed to be an American as we people watched and observed several American tour groups descending on the same gelato place we had chosen.
After some chill time in the hotel Kelly and I went out quickly to pick up some wine and a baguette—and because I’m ridiculous and am not knowledgeable about wine at all, I searched several sources online to find a good wine to pair with ratatouille, which is what we would be having for dinner.
Groceries in hand, Kelly and I walked once again back to the old town to find Leanne’s apartment. Completely by coincidence, it was located immediately next to the gelato place we were at that afternoon!
Due to the ratatouille that Leanne and her friend Johanna had already prepared baking in the oven, the apartment smelled amazing as we walked in. Despite not having seen each other for almost a year and having lived very different lives and experiences since then, it felt as if no time had passed as we chatted over a glass of wine and then dug in to the delicious food.
Having someone prepare food for you is always an amazing comfort, but this feeling was tripled with the addition of it being a home cooked meal when we had been solely eating out for days and with ratatouille seeming fancy and exotic, as nobody has ever cooked that for me before.
All-in-all it was the perfect end to the day. One of the most amazing parts about being abroad is making connections over little things and maintaining connections to people all over the world who are so different from you even while being a friend. Leanne is one of those people who is so different from me in so many ways, and yet she and I have so many things in common, and since the first time we met in Annecy last year and shared lunch after our first day at IFALPS we have always had so many thoughts on life, love, language and travel to share.
It is always amazing to see how other people are living their lives and taking chances—to be inspired by the life choices and learn from the paths of others. I wish I could collect all of my friends from all over the world, and make a city for us all to live in so we could spend more time in person together. But at the same time, I have proved again and again that it is possible, no matter how hard it may seem at the time, to reconnect with people all over the world no matter how much time has passed.
Thank you for reading this post about my first two full days in Nice! (Even when it turned into just my philosophical musings on life instead of what I was actually doing with my day 😛 )
Stay tuned for one more post about Nice and then for my next adventure: Agde!