Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Nice - A French/Italian Interlude

After two months of almost constant grey skies, the sun was shining brightly on our last day in Paris. We were headed for Pisa, via Nice where JR was attending a math conference. If the weather held, we would have a beautiful flight. As if to compensate us for all the rainy days, the skies stayed clear and about an hour or so out of Paris, a shimmering mass appeared on the horizon. Then, below our eyes, the snow-covered jagged peaks of the French Alps took shape and rose above the surrounding landscape almost as high, it seemed, as the sky itself. As the plane came in for a landing at the Nice airport a short time later, we had an unparalleled view of the entire Côte d'Azur.

Nice is a perfect transition between the bright lights of Paris and the small-town, medieval atmosphere of Pisa, where we will be for the next two months. Although much smaller than Paris, Nice is still a big and bustling city. And it offers some things that Paris does not: the Mediterranean Sea, the mountains of the Pre-Alps, blue skies and warm sunshine. The town also has a real Italian feel - not surprising since Nice was part of Italy until 1860 - and on the streets you hear lots of people speaking Italian. 

Traveling with us was a good friend from Paris, Adrian Leeds, who was looking for and found an apartment to buy in Vieux Nice, the oldest part of the city. While JR was hard at work pushing back the frontiers of mathematics, Adrian and I trekked up and down hundreds of steep stone stairs (no elevators in old Nice) looking at apartments that ranged from awful to okay. Then on the third day, we found the one that was the diamond in the rough - a great view, a balcony, big windows and high ceilings. To read more, (or to rent the apartment when the renovations are finished) go to Adrian's site here.

With the apartment taken care of, Adrian and I had time to enjoy Nice's Carnaval, an 18-day long party that fills the streets with floats, flowers, confetti and lots of happy people. We ate lunch on the touristy, but beautiful and sunny Cours Saleya, a salade niçoise for Adrian and soccca for me. (Socca is a flavorful chick-pea flour crepe that's made in a pizza oven and served with olive oil and lots of pepper. My favorite socca in Nice is at the Socca d'Or on rue Bonaparte near the Port.) On her last day in town, Adrian and I celebrated at La Petite Mason, a great restaurant just around the corner from her new apartment.

Modern-day travelers love Nice for its mild climate, its beaches, the wide sweep of the Baie des Anges (the Bay of Angels), and the long Promenade des Anglais, where you can walk for miles along the sea. It seems the area has always been attractive to people, since what are thought to be the oldest human settlements in Europe are located near Nice at Terra Amata. The Greeks came to the area around 350B.C. and gave the town the name Nikaia, the forerunner of its modern name, after Nike, the goddess of victory. When the Romans arrived in the beginning of the 1st century, they built Cemenelum in the protective hills high above the sea in the area of Nice now known as Cimiez. 

Once on my own, that's where I headed to see the extensive Gallo-Roman ruins and the Cimiez-Cemenelum Archeological Museum, located in the Jardins de Cimiez. The park, fragrant with olive, pine and cypress trees, is also home to a beautiful 17th century Genoese villa that houses the Matisse Museum. Matisse spent the last 40 years of his life in Nice and the museum has a good collection of his works. Within sight of the museum is the elegant Hotel Regina, where Matisse lived, and the cemetery of the Franciscan Monastery of Cimiez, where the artist is buried.

On Saturday, the last day of our stay in Nice and also coincidentally my birthday, JR and I took the train to Menton for lunch at Mirazur, a restaurant with a spectacular view and food to match. (In 2009, Chef Mauro Colagreco's Mirazur made the S.Pelligrino 50 Best Restaurants in the World List.)

After meeting the chef, who gave us a tour of the kitchen, we said our goodbyes, walked along the sea, found a cozy niche among the rocks, and sat in the sun.

Next stop - Pisa.

To see more photos, click here.

A presto,

Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor


  1. So, I guess that makes you a socca mom.

    You really do have a gift for making the reader feel that he/she is strolling through all of these wonderful places with you--seeing, smelling, and tasting all the delights along the way. M.

  2. Great reading, Geraldine!

    Wonderfully done!

  3. Great photos. Next best thing to traveling myself. L.


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