Expanding my horizons

Published: January 15th 2012
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Sleepless nights should NOT be spent reading The Shining with the soft, dull snore of fellow roommates punctuating the silence at unexpected intervals. It does nothing for the nerves.

Thus passed my second night in Nice. In the morning I neither felt rested nor inspired, but I was determined to shake my funk and get out to see the beautiful gem of Southern France.

In Nice, one can feel the taste of Italy: terra cotta roofs, gelato on every other corner, the heavy aroma of pizza floating in and out with the sea breeze. But just take a step out of the city...and Italy follows you. My wanderings took me along the coast towards the highly popular principality (stingy about that fact, they are) of Monaco. I happened to choose the same bus as a group of elderly, friendly Irish folks who could never quite remember that each stop was accompanied with a leg-rocking jerk, and so the vehicle was filled with good hearted Irish chuckling over some French grumbling. I felt like a mediator between the two when I saved a French woman from falling on her "bum". All in all, it was an interesting ride (especially when my fellow tourists failed to get off at their correct stop).

Le Rocher is the great rock that rises out of Monaco. It holds a white cathedral that reminds me of a black and white photo rather than stone as well as the palace of the "royal family" painted in baby yellow. Rather than explore interiors, I chose instead to sip a cappuccino on the main square, soaking in the early morning sun with Monaco laid out before me. The city is not as picturesque as I would have believed; though its buildings are colorful they lack a certain intensity, like the energy of the city has been sucked away over the passing years. Perhaps it's all bottled up in the Casino. No, I couldn't miss at least snapping a photo of the ideal James Bond stage (Just picture a young Sean Connery, yumm), but neither did I dare risk going in. Let's face it people, I don't look like I belong.

Next along the coastal route back towards Nice was Villefranche-sur-Mer. Here I think Cinque Terre meets Killarney. Terra cotta roofs still abound, yet there is a decidedly fishy smell hovering over the streets that, if I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine myself back at the port of Killarney, Ireland eating my fish and chips as my feet dangled over the water. I think I like those feelings best, when new memories merge with old and your sensations are heightened just a bit more.

The last and final stop of the day was west of Nice, in Antibes. Here we loose Italy and are thrust right back into France, and not exaclty the better part. Leaving the train station, which I'm sure are all permanently attatched to the stench of urine, I decided I knew better than my trusted Ricky Baby (Rick Steves for those who are less familiar) and set off in what I believed to be the right direction towards the Picasso Museum. Let's just say that was a big negative. My own impromptu route took me through the shadiest part of the city, and by that I mean it did not instill a feeling of safety. Graffitti covered more walls than stone did; open, gaping windows either had broken panes or smashed boards as the only means of separating the outside from the in. Trash littered the ground, and I'm pretty sure if I had dared to venture inside one of the buildings, I would have found a family of trolls or goblins just waiting to eat me. So what did I do, you might ask trusty reader? I of course clenched certain muscles and booked it out of there!!!

I eventually returned to realistic civilization, goblins replaced with teenagers and trolls by...more teenagers. Out of breath from my run from death, I eventually found the Picasso Museum and charmed the admittance man with my worried look and no doubt flushed cheeks. He simply chuckled at my poorly constructed French, took my meager 3 euros, and pointed me in the direction of a journey through the modern artist's one-time home. Though not normally a huge Picasso fan outside of his Blue Period, I was impressed by the exhibit. No need to bore you with the details here, but if you have the time, check out his "Nu assis sur fond vert", which roughly translates to "Nude sitting on green". I bought the postcard 😊

Train home, nothing special. Decided to head for the hostel instead of getting a gelato down by the beach (which I learned "ice cream" is "une glace" NOT "une glacier", which is actually an iceberg) and what should happen at the tramway stop? Of course someone is pulled in by my "look", which at this time of day means sweaty and blotchy, and decides he needs to strike up a conversation. Starved for French myself, I agree to go have a drink. Said ("Sigh-eed") is from Morocco and has been living in Nice for over 25 years. He hardly speaks any English and very kindly explains the nuances of the French language to my eager self. One drink, one kiss on the hand, and we are having dinner tomorrow. What more can I say?

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