At noon in late September 2008, I suddenly woke up from my deep reverie; I found myself staring at a strip of shining coastline and the vast stretch of the ocean beyond. So mesmerizing was the sight before me that I did not remember where I was for some time; I did not care. I was staring at the ‘French Riviera’, and the fact took some time to sink in. Waking up to such sights come rarely and this is one that I would not forget for soon.
That morning, me and my companion had taken an early morning train from Paris to Nice, which was to reach Nice at around noon. I had dozed off for the whole journey before waking up for the part that really mattered. It was announced that the train was late by half an hour, but I did not mind one bit. Neither would you, if you got a chance to stare at such a wondrous sight for the whole day.
The French Riviera, or ‘Cote d’Azur’ as it is called in French, refers to the southeastern Mediterranean coastline of France. I had indeed heard a lot about this place. Famous (or should I say notorious?) for its nude beaches among other things, it is like one big resort; a summer getaway for the rich and affluent. Nice is the largest city on the Riviera, and also one of the most popular.
The fact that this was our first ‘trip’ in Europe made it more exciting. We had never stayed in a youth hostel before. We had pre-booked a hostel near the railway station (from good ol’ Hostelworld.com) and we had no problems finding it. The hostel was a small but convenient place with all the basic facilities that you would expect from a place you are going to crash. I was pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere I encountered in the hostel. Clean rooms, neat dorm beds, friendly staff and a lounge to chill out; pretty high level of maintenance for a ‘budget’ accommodation – that’s Europe for you. We also met some fellow backpackers who shared our passion for travel and interacted with them. This was the first of the many interesting dorm experiences that I would have in the coming months.
The stroll from the hostel to the beach took us ten minutes. In those ten minutes, we navigated through paved, pedestrian friendly roads with all types of cafes, restaurants and showrooms displaying the choicest of high-end brands. So typically French! At every turn of the corner, I found a Gucci, a Chanel or a Louis Vuitton store. There were many more luxury brands which I am not even aware existed, displaying their extremely over-priced wares in the display glass and tempting the more vulnerable shopaholics. Not being an avid shopper myself, I was content at window shopping my way through the Armani suits and Christian Dior perfumes.
The narrow roads suddenly made way to the main road alongside the beach. The vast sea was there before us alright, but where was the sand? There were only pebbles, pebbles and more pebbles. The beach was filled with nothing but hard, flat stones. We had infact come to a pebbly beach, a concept I was unfamiliar with until that moment. Nice did not have a sandy beach, and the realization was kind of a downer. Getting into the water was difficult with the smooth but hard pebbles under your feet and we gave up our attempts.
Nevertheless, we enjoyed the walk along the beach and the wonderful waterfront. The Promenade des Anglais (or ‘la Prom’ as it is called locally) is the wide footpath alongside the beach. It adorns the beach like a necklace on the neck of a beautiful woman; and during the night, it sparkles. You can just sit there enjoying the cool sea breeze while watching all kinds of people – old people taking their dogs out for a stroll, roller-skating kids performing admirably difficult stunts and young couples soaking in the romance of the town.
One more attraction of Nice was Vieux Nice, the old town. It is a veritable maze of narrow roads, shops, restaurants and markets. By the time we reached there, it was already dark and the whole area was lit up and lively. After an hour of wandering around in the old town, we set out to another popular attraction, the Colline du Château. It is a castle, or rather the remnants of a castle, atop a hill. It is a steep climb up the stairs to the summit but the view is supposed to be worth it. But alas, when we went there, we found out that it was closed for the evening. We decided to wake up early the next morning and make the climb, but it never happened.
It must have been the allure of so many culinary varieties, but I really gorged on whatever I could get my hands on that day – burgers, sandwiches, nuggets, Chinese food and what not. By the end of the day, I realized that I had spent 30 euros on food alone. That means I had spent a total of almost 70 euros that day. This was definitely not ‘budget travelling’! However, in the days to come, I would learn valuable lessons on how to spend less and ‘save’ more.
The next morning, we headed to the beach again, where we two of our friends who had arrived on the overnight train. After whiling away our time a little, we headed back to the station and boarded the next train to Cannes to explore the fascinating province of Cote d’Azur further. Overall, Nice had left a sweet taste in my mouth. In other words, Nice was a very ‘nice’ place which left us with very ‘nice’ experiences! (forgive me if that was too unimaginative :P)