Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Nice is Kind of Nice

It has been suggested to me that I was too critical on my work, for such a public forum, in my last post and I just want to take the chance to clarify what I meant. When I said my work was boring I meant for those of you reading this, I find it interesting it's just that I don't think you guys would appreciate it if I started talking about my simulations and the plans for our next set of experiments. That's why more posts are generally only about what I get up to on my weekends, though I suppose my job finishes in 3 weeks so perhaps then the knives will come out :). (Are you allowed to use emoticons in blog posts?)

Just as a side note, I discovered last week that using the term "those guys" or "you guys" to describe a group of people is incredibly rude in French. So I guess my idea of just speaking in English in my head and then trying to directly translate into French can sometimes backfire. I was trying to think if we have the same sort of rudeness thing in English, and whilst I think we definitely have formal and informal language the only way to be really rude to someone is to swear at them, that or to bluntly demand something, that wouldn't go over too well either.

After my long weekend in Barcelona the following weekend was also a long weekend, celebrating Victory Day (end of the Second World War) and so I decided to do a bit of exploration in the South of France. Actually it turns out that the Monday was also a holiday (Victory Day was the Thursday) so I could have had an extra long weekend if I'd known about it.

How did I not know about a public holiday you may ask. Well the Monday was Pentecost Monday, some weird Christian holiday related to Easter and it used to be a public holiday in France. The government abolished it in 2005, so on my calendar it wasn't marked as a public holiday. Turns out though that the French people didn't really like the idea of losing one of their holidays, so of course they went on strike and the government, of course, backed down. So whilst it is no longer marked on the calendars everyone takes the day as a holiday anyway. The people at work were not too clear about whether they would come in or not, so I rock up straight from the airport only to discover that Pentecost Monday is pretty much universally taken in France. So that was a short day for me. I should have used it to update my blog and download my photos rather than doing it now, weeks later.

So anyway I spent a day and a half in Nice (can be seen in the photo to the left) on my long weekend and I have to say it was kind of nice. It helped that the weather was good. Nice is the capital of the Cote d'Azure (or the azure coast) and is in the French Riviera. It was founded around 350 BC by Greek seafarers before the Romans turned up in 154 BC and turfed everyone out. It was then ruled by one of the thousands of Italian principalities (on and off) until good old Napoleon sorted them all out and in 1860 it became part of France for good.

It definitely had a different feel to the rest of France I have visited, it seems the sort of place you go to just to be seen, not to actually do anything. They also obviously aren't too concerned about skin cancer there either (whether that is a valid unconcern or not I'm not too sure) because there was some definite premature aging going on there and quite a lot of that incredibly attractive leather skin on display.

Of course it isn't really fair to compare European beaches to Australian ones, I mean that is really the only natural beauty thing that Australia has going for it, the sea and coastlines. It's not like we have massive mountains or fjords, though I suppose we also have deserts which can also be beautiful. But what I'm trying to say is that Australia has some pretty amazing coast line and it's not until I went to Nice that I truly appreciated how good our beaches are in Australia. It's not even that the beach in Nice was really bad as such, just had a completely different feel to the beaches in Australia, such as in Australia our beaches generally don't have massive piles of gravel on them, or bulldozers the next day smoothing out said massive pile of gravel.

It feels like in Australia when you go to the beach it's not just to lie on the sand and tan yourselves, for one thing I think most of us Aussies view the sun as our enemy what with the years of scary cancer messages from the cancer council. You generally go to the beach to play some cricket or fly a kite or play in the surf followed up by a BBQ or fish and chips in the park that always borders a popular beach. In Nice though there was none of that, for a start there was no sand only gravel, so cricket and touch footy were out, not unless you like the feel and look of gravel rash. Then instead of a grassy expanse bordering the beach there was a massive 6 lane pedestrian highway and no real restaurants either.

If we had something as pretty as the Bay of Angels in Nice I'm fairly confident that at least a good portion of the bay would be lined by upper class restaurants and bars. But in Nice there is a different attitude, you sun yourself during the day, no exertion though, and then when you want to eat you go home dress yourself up and wander into the centre of town, which didn't overlook either the beach or the marina but was tucked away in the old part of town. That said I reckon I could get used to that sort of life, especially if I lived in England and just escaped to Nice in the middle of winter or something like that.

This is the famous Promenade des Anglais (the English promenade) running the length of the Bay of Angels. It was built by the little English colony here in 1822. In my guidebook it is listed under walks to do in Nice and is described as a palm-lined seaside stroll. It is true there are trees there, but I'm not sure I would describe a 6 lane pedestrian highway as a seaside stroll.

Apparently the beaches at Nice are special as they are generally free, but you can rent a beach chair for the day at these little private beach sections. I wonder if you can set up your towel right in front of the chairs or whether the operators have right of way claims or something and could move you on.

The marina in Nice, there were some amazing boats in here, at least 50m long with about 4 storeys, lovely wood paneling everywhere and leather seats as well and all were spotlessly white. A far cry from the 12 foot catamaran my family had a part share of back in Darwin. It is only when you see these boats that the unbelievable level of wealth that does exist around here is really clear to you. I guess Nice is mainly full of normal every day tourists and so doesn't cater so much for the ultra-ultra rich that perhaps you find in Cannes and St Tropez and Monaco.

Some of the houses along the marina in Nice. I love these colours they painted them, I can see why this place has been so popular with artists over the years.

I'm going a bit crazy with the photos again I know, this is another of the houses along the marina in Nice.

I went on a little boat cruise (unfortunately not in the 50 m leather seated cruisers, but rather a stock-standard tourist mover) around Nice and along the coast a little and we passed the town of Villefranche-sur-Mer. This was a fantastic looking town and had one of the very few natural sand beaches of the area.

The natural harbour of Villefranche-sur-Mer

Here's another one of those few natural sand beaches, you can tell how rare they are by the sheer density of people on this tiny little strip.

One thing I was slightly disappointed with in Nice was the lack of nice walking trails. Before going I had read that there is a big national park behind Nice and so I was keen to try and find some maps and head up there. After my wonderful, unexpected, walking in Barcelona I was keen for more. But once I had paid a visit to the tourist information office in Nice I discovered that they had no idea what I was talking about and no it wasn't a miscommunication kind of thing either. People just don't seem to go to Nice to get close to nature, not unless it is one of those natural sandy beaches type of nature.

You can see in this photo the awesome hills behind the city but I just didn't know how to get out there, or what I would do if I ever did make it.

I next tried to head for this monument, I have no idea what it is as it wasn't marked on any of my maps, nor was it discussed in my guide books. But I thought I might be able to walk through the gardens to it and then perhaps work my way up the hill behind it to what looked like some more bushland. Again that wasn't to be, the little path I found was littered with garbage and looked like it was used only by drunks and drug addicts, so I wasn't too keen to go up there by myself. Then once I worked out an alternative route and made it up there it turned out to be not so impressive and surrounded by suburbia without an easy way up the hill behind. Obviously when going to Nice you just have to accept that your days will consist of sunning yourself on the beach, a massive lunch with chilled rose followed by more sunning before a shower and then dress up for dinner. Doesn't sound too bad but I think I would get a little bored after a while.

I'll leave you with two more shots of Nice as while there didn't seem to be a whole stack of stuff on the nature side of things, it really was a pretty city.

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