DM and MM's Europe 2016 Diary

Day 13 - Vieux Nice

Thursday, 10 November, 2016

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We woke up in a leisurely fashion as the sun came up around 07:00. This morning we did not have a breakfast included in our hotel stay, so after showering we set out to a boulangerie we'd seen yesterday called Boulangerie Blanc. It had good looking pastries and cakes and bread, and a few tables around the back. M. got a pain au chocolat, while I liked the look of the almond croissants on display so chose one of those. M. got a cappuccino, while I had a hot chocolate. It was all good, the pastries especially so. M. said it might have been the best pain au chocolat she's ever had, and my almond croissant was nutty and rich and delicious.

Monkey enjoying an almond croissant
Breakfast at Boulangerie Blanc

After this relatively simple breakfast, we returned to our hotel briefly to freshen up and collect my camera gear for some walking around Nice. We crossed over to the beach to have a look at that first, with the morning sun making the scene very picturesque. There were a couple of people in the water, with one old man lying on the pebbles at the surf line and letting the waves wash over him. A group of other men were nearby, peeling off clothes to reveal swimming gear.

Monkey in the blue chairs
The famous blue seats along the beach

We walked along the promenade along the beach, in the sun, towards the hill on which the old Castle of Nice was located. This is between the beach to the west and the port of Nice on the east, and is a looming lump of rock projecting into the sea, though not nearly as big as the one at Monaco. The top is only large enough for the remains of the castle and a large cemetery on the inland end. I thought the castle might be cool, but after climbing a dizzying series of steps to the top, it turned out to be mostly destroyed, with only a large round tower intact, plus a few partial walls, and an area where some sort of archaeological work was happening with what looked like the foundations. Instead, much of the area of the hill at the sea end was covered with a park. It was ninety metres above the surrounding land, and there were wonderful views of the city and beach below. At a view point right at the top there was a class of school children, being enthralled by some stories of some sort by their teacher.

French Riviera
View from the Castle of Nice

From here, we walked north to have a look at the old cemetery, the Cimetière du Château. At least I assumed it was an old cemetery, which might have some stark but interesting sights and present a few good photographic compositions. It was lower down the hill than the castle area, and we walked down through the gardens of the park to get there. The nearest corner was the Jewish quarter, which was walled off from the rest of the cemetery, so after looking in there we had to go out to the street again and walk along it to another entry to reach the Catholic portion. It turned out the cemetery seems to be still very much in use for recent burials, as a lot of the graves and monuments were very new. Some were amazingly large and spectacular, but there's something about recent graves that makes them less appealing as photographic subjects than old ones. So we didn't linger long, and left to walk around the northern tip and down the hill on the east side, towards the port.

Cimetière du Château
Cimetière du Château

The goal was the Marché aux Puces, or the flea market which was marked on my paper tourist map. We had to traverse a few streets along the hill to find a way down, eventually making it down a long sloping road that let us out near the coast. From here we walked along the edge of the port, where many boats and a few larger ships were docked, inland towards the flea market.

The market turned out to be a smallish square filled with small prefabricated buildings which looked almost portable, though they had obviously been there a long time. There were maybe twenty or thirty of these, each one a different stall populated with antiques and bric-a-brac of all sorts. Lots of furniture and home decorations, some clothing, musical instruments, globes, posters, books, walking sticks, etc. In one of the stalls there was an actual sword just sitting there on a chair, next to a pair of swimming flippers and what looked like a box containing a power drill.

After checking all the stalls, we walked back around the base of the hill on the north side to return to the old town area. This took us down a street where some construction was taking place, blocking the road to traffic, with only the footpath open to walk down. Along this street, every door and window seemed to open into an antique shop. We rounded a corner and crossed over the main road to head into the newer part of town, towards the boulangerie where we'd had lunch yesterday, to get some lunch today as well.

Pierre wine shop
Pierre wine shop, Vieux Nice

Along the way, we passed a chocolate shop, where M. went in and bought a small block of chocolate caramel, and had a couple of bites while we continued walking to the boulangerie. When we got there, all the tables inside were occupied, so we waited a few minutes. I asked what the soup was, confirming it was vegetable soup, which is what M. felt like for lunch. She got a cup of that, while I chose a salad Niçoise. The lady asked if I wanted oil or vinaigrette on it, and I chose the latter. I also got one of the cool looking pink marzipan pigs in the display, which the lady called a "porchon" when I pointed at one. She put our things on a tray like yesterday, with a couple of chunks of baguette and two cups of water. As we sat and ate, other people came in and shared tables with strangers. I was a bit worried that I might have chosen a sweet that normally only kids get, but a man sitting near us was having a cup of a bright pink pudding of some sort after his sandwich, so that seemed okay. The porchon turned out to be a layer of pink marzipan on the outside, and filled with chocolate truffle inside, probably to make it lighter and less sweet! I only managed to eat a bit more than half before hitting my sugar limit, so wrapped the remainder to have later.

We returned to our hotel to drop my camera bag and use the toilet, since it wasn't too far away. On the way we passed Place Masséna and the Fontaine du Soleil again, stopping to take some photos with my SLR camera. Nearer our hotel, we passed the Église Saint-François de Paule and popped in to have a look.

Église Saint-François de Paule
Église Saint-François de Paule

After refreshing ourselves in the hotel, we went out again to find a cafe to sit in for a while and relax with a drink, while M. read some of her book and I typed up some diary. M. searched and found a recommended cafe called Marc de Cafe in the old town. We walked over there, but found the cafe with a handwritten sign on it saying they were on vacation and would reopen in December. So instead we wandered at random a bit until we stumbled across a place called Illia Pasta, which had hand made pasta, tripling as a pasta shop, a tiny restaurant, and a cafe.

We took a table by the window and a man got up from chatting with his friend at another table to serve us. He asked what language we'd prefer, French, Italian, or English, and took our orders: a cappuccino for M. and when I said I'd like a beer, he said, "We have Moretti," indicating some cans in the fridge. He brought a sealed can over with a plain glass tumbler to pour it into, after he'd made the coffee for M. We sat and M. read while I wrote diary for a while.

Monkey with a Moretti
Monkey enjoying a Moretti

While we sat, two older women came in, one clearly a regular although she was American, as she explained the various menu items to her friend, who was Canadian. The American spoke in moderately good French to the owner, who kept answering in English. The Canadian lady seemed to know French better, but didn't say as much. They both ordered some pasta with ratatouille sauce, and some glasses of rosé wine. The American lady kept telling her friend that she had to try the hot chocolate, saying it wasn't really hot chocolate, it was more like a pudding (this being the thick Italian style). A bit later a man came in who obviously knew both the owner and the American lady, and they all had a big chat.

Relaxed and refreshed, we went for some more walking, back to Galeries Lafayette, where M. wanted to buy a handbag she'd looked at yesterday, using the 10% off tourist deal we grabbed a voucher for in the Hard Rock Cafe. We walked out of the old town and along through the park which separated two directions of traffic, until we reached the main square with the Apollo fountain, then turned up the mall to the shop. M. found the bag she wanted, and asked to buy it, but when she said she had the discount voucher, the shop assistant said it couldn't be used for the bag because there was a red dot on the brand name on a sign. Given that, M. decided not to get it after all.

We had a bit of time still in the afternoon, and nothing planned, so I checked the map app on my phone to see if there were any interesting things nearby. I found the Théâtre de la Photographie et de l'Image, a photography art museum, just a couple of blocks away, which was open until 18:00. So we walked over there, only to find a printed paper sign stuck to the door saying it was closed, and if I understood the French correctly, it was because the museum was moving to a new address. With nothing else to do in the time we had available, we walked back to our hotel, poking our nose in a couple of other boulangeries and chocolate shops, and a cookie shop, along the way

On the promenade
Sunset on the beach front

At the hotel, we could see the sun was almost setting over the beach, and people were out enjoying the views and the air. We ducked in quickly and I collected my camera and a couple of lenses, then we went back out and crossed the street to the beach promenade to take photos of the sunset, and also people silhouetted against it, some sitting in the blue chairs along the edge of the promenade, and one guy doing handstands and other interesting acrobatics. There were now several people down on the stones of the beach, watching the sea and the sunset. One woman took her tiny dog down while another woman took fashion style photos of her on the beach.

After watching the sunset and getting several photos, we returned to our room to get out of the chilly evening air and rest a bit before the dinner expedition.

At the end of the day, nothing matters
Watching the sun set over the Mediterranean

At 19:00 we put on our coats to head out for dinner. We walked over to Le Panier, which was open when we arrived. The waitress spoke good English and said they could either seat us at a table outside (which was very cold), or inside but then we had to vacate by 20:45. We figured that would work okay, but first I asked if they could do vegetarian meal for M. She said one of the entrees was vegetarian, and they could modify a main to make it vegetarian too. M. was happy with that, so we took the inside table.

Le Panier. Kitchen below, dining above.
Mezzanine dining area and kitchen underneath, at Le Panier

All the tables inside are upstairs on a mezzanine level, above the open kitchen on the ground floor. There were about a dozen tables, tightly packed into a small space. We were given a table right next to the only other occupied table, which contained a young English couple. Overhearing their conversation, it seemed they had to be out by 21:00. The menu was written on blackboards, in French on one side and English on the other. The waitress set one up near us to look at, and said the chef would come to go through the menu and explain each item to us. He arrived with a small plate containing a couple of bite sized pieces of house made focaccia bread, seasoned with olive oil and salt, garnished with small radishes, sliced in half. He then ran through the menu, which contained:

Entrees:

Mains:

The chef indicated the first two entree choices were vegetarian, with the soup being vegan, and that he could do the risotto without the sausage. I talked M. into trying the soup and of course she chose the risotto. I decided to try the foie gras and the roast lamb. With the meals M. had a glass of rosé wine, while I chose a red Côte du Rhone. The meals were served with bread, sliced from white and brown baguettes. Bothe entrees came with a wedge of fresh fig. The foie gras was a fairly large rectangular slab and came with two pieces of toasted bread, but I needed to use another couple of pieces of bread from the basket to get through it all. The fruit puree was some sort of dark red fruit, maybe plum or berries - I didn't really try to identify it carefully. M.'s soup came with a thin piece of crispy bread topped with sliced chestnuts. It was all really good.

Le Panier dinner
Slow roasted lamb with mashed potato, chestnuts, and vegetables, at Le Panier

Then M.'s risotto was fairly plain by itself, but came topped with a miscellany of ingredients including chestnut slices, hazelnut pieces, large parmesan shavings, various roasted vegetables including carrots, turnips, and romanesco broccoli, and some salad sprouts and leaves. My roast lamb came in a steak-like slice, with similar roast vegetables, potato mash, and pan fried chanterelle mushrooms. Again, all very good.

By the time we were done eating, it was almost 20:45, but the waitress came and said the booking after us had cancelled so we could stay as long as we wanted. Nevertheless, we didn't stay for dessert as I'd decided I felt like getting some gelato at a gelateria we'd passed a couple of times not far away. When we left, the rest of the restaurant was bustling with customers, all apparently French speaking locals, except for one pair of Canadian ladies who had been early arrivers not long after us. An Asian woman had walked in before them too and attempted to walk up the stairs to claim a table, but was intercepted by the waitress who told her that the place was fully booked, and she couldn't have a table tonight. The Asian woman then asked about tomorrow, and the waitress booked her in for then. So essentially we were the last people to get into a free table at the restaurant this evening! Our good fortune with restaurants on this trip has continued to the final dinner.

The only problem was that when we walked to the cathedral square where the gelateria was, we found it shuttered and closed. So we walked back to our hotel. Along the way we had the idea to check the Internet to find if there was another gelateria nearby that would be open still. We walked down the laneway between the opera house and our hotel, past a restaurant called Le Frog. As we walked by it, a table of diners inside very conspicuously watched us walk past. After determining using the hotel WiFi that there was a gelato place nearby that was open until 23:30, we emerged a minute later and walked past Le Frog the other way, again watched by the diners inside.

Oui, Jelato!
Oui Jelato

A few blocks away inside the old town area we found Oui Jelato, which was indeed open. I perused the twenty or so flavours and chose a cup of three: liquorice, chocolate orange, and cherry. They were all delicious, and I ate them as we walked back to our hotel, past Le Frog a third time! It must have been entertaining for the people sitting by the window in there to see us go past three times in fifteen minutes or so.

Back in the hotel for good this evening, it was time to turn in for a good night's sleep before our flight home tomorrow.


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