The drive to Nice was the usual: 3 hours of hand cramping tunnels and trucks. And our Airbnb was as advertised: a comfortable studio apartment overlooking the Mediterranean, in the middle of the Promenade des Anglais. This was a problem, although I did not know this at first.
Let’s talk about that name: Promenade des Anglais. In the misty past the English with any means, thoroughly fed up with their dank homeland, would flock here periodically to soak up some Mediterranean sunshine. Of course, there were many sorts of foreign visitors, but few as unsavory as the English, after whom the Promenade is named.
So, anyway, the Promenade itself consists of 6 lanes of auto traffic, separated by curbs, grass, and fence structures, from a 2 lane bike/skateboard/etc path, bordering a very wide paved walkway – the actual Promenade. And then there was the beach … sniff … just a moment … talk amongst yourselves. I need a tissue.
The well-healed for whom the Promenade was built required that it remain clear and clean. In particular, sand from the lovely beach would find its overly intrusive way up onto the Promenade when the wind was onshore. Oh no no no. You French must fix this or we shall take our foreign money elsewhere. Oui oui oui, d’accord. So they dumped over a meter of cobbly stones, 2 to 6 inches in diameter, onto the sand, thereby thoroughly squelching the sand’s desire to socialize. And simultaneously, as walking barefoot on cobbles of that size is excruciatingly painful, they rendered the beach useless save to the most hearty. (We swam once and gave up the practice thereafter; Francesca’s feet took two days to heal.) Meanwhile, world wars having given the well-healed a spanking, they no longer stroll on the Promenade much. Now its promenaders are distinctly more prolish (like us). So why not lose the cobbles and get the beach back? Partly because fuchsia Unesco has declared the place a World Heritage Site. It’s too pretty to interfere with. It wasn’t until the 3rd of our 4 days in Nice that we discovered that the city is not just a pretty Promenade wasteland; there is a charming Italianesque village at the harbor end.
We discovered these good bits of Nice when we encountered the tour tricycles near the old-town. These are electric assisted covered pedal vehicles that can be used as either a pleasant taxi service, or city tour vehicles. We quickly settled with one guy who was studying for a PhD in the linguistics of virtual reality. Utterly cool. Modern world. Anyway, we got on swimmingly with this Savo, and it was he who first took us as part of his tour to the Italianesque harbor area. The next day we asked him (via Whatsapp) to taxi us there so we could spend some quality time in this faux Santa Margherita.
He dropped us off, and we took a little water taxi from one side to the other, at which point I made the huge error of having strong coffee just before lunch.
Why an error? Yeah, so, wait for it. I do some googling and determine a likely place for lunch. I read a review: 3 stars. Really? I investigate. The reason it doesn’t have more stars: a woman seeing to the needs of some diners – one female in particular – was occasionally gruff and unfriendly. The (assumed) Millennial Princess writing the review was quite convinced she deserved better. Her mommy treated her better. She had always been catered to, so where does this gruff French woman get off not kowtowing to her. Anyway, she made no mention of the food, but she inspired in me a strong need to meet this gruff French woman.
Text from Francesca’s French friend, providing context: “Geoffrey, you surely complain, judge and criticize a lot; I think you are ready to become a French citizen. Dual citizenship is legal 😋” Yes, yes, I already mentioned this, but it merits repetition, and it fills me with warm fuzzy yearnings.
We met the gruff woman almost immediately. She ran the place, and, indeed, were I a Millennial, I’d have been affronted by this wonderful Gaul.
And here’s where the earlier cup of strong coffee starts to influence this drama. I start getting a bit hyper – wired – and I am unaware of it. Francesca notices, however. We are sitting next to a pair of Italians, now living in Paris. How do I know this? Because near the dessert course we get to chatting with them. Typical information is exchanged between international strangers, and then the conversation drifted to less typical topics, and I go into full on anecdotal comedy mode. We’re actually conversing, but I begin to dominate, and as the audience is frequently rolling in the aisles, I do not relent. (No one else there has the repartee disease as strongly as I.) At one point, as gruff Gaul is heading off on a scooter to get fresh supplies, I sneak a picture of her. A nearby waitress laughs.
Soon the meal is nearly done, I go to the facilities, and Francesca asks the Italians if I was talking too much. They assure her that they found the whole performance quite entertaining.
But I am not done. Gruff Gaul is now back, and I ask her if she’ll come to the table for a photo with me. She does, and puts on a smile. I ask her to look a little fierce, and I try to emulate, but fail miserably because I’m enjoying myself too much.
Later Francesca goes inside to pay this fierce-some femme, and having done so, adds, “And by the way, my husband is in love with you.” She replies, “Oh, then, I’ll come say goodbye.” Shortly thereafter, we get up to leave, and I go over to look into the restaurant interior (naturally we were seated outdoors). She spied me looking all puppy doggish and came out. Double cheek presses were given, goodbyes said, and off we went (goodbyes also said to Italians, who may have been wondering what just happened). As Francesca and I sauntered away, she asked me if I was aware how wired I’d been. I was not, at least at the time, but now that she pointed it out it was obvious. It has happened before, and I wondered what had induced it this time. Ah. The strong pre lunch coffee!!! This hyperdrive phenomenon is (almost?) always chemically induced.
And by the way, I gave the restaurant a 5 star review, mentioning how annoying that prior 3 star review was. Millennials, am I right? My review:
“One person gave this 3 stars for grumpy poor service, one lady in particular. Well, this is France, not DisneyLand, and we loved the food, and loved this woman. Maybe I saw myself in her. She was all smiles by the end – maybe my poor French softened things. Anyway, we loved the food and the people. If we ever return to Nice, we shall return to Le Marlin.”
The drive to Avignon the next day is unremarkable, marred at the end by the Fembot sending us to the wrong train station. Our fault, entirely. Fembot blameless.
Eventually we get to correct station (TGV), follow rental car instructions for rental car return, park vehicle in appropriate spot, reassemble luggage towers, push them over to Sixt guy, hand him keys, tell him car in better condition than when we got it. Great, he says. And we leave. As I’ve mentioned before, this is the great thing about returning cars in France. They have little patience for the technical minutiae of car returns. No one in France ever actually looks at our cars, clipboard in hand, and checks them over. Our gas tank was near empty, but never mind, they had the keys, and their job was done.
We got a cab to hotel. Temperatures were slated to be in mid 90s (Fahrenheit) each day of our stay, but we thought we could take it for a few days. Shortly thereafter …
Wait. Why Avignon? Well, there was a TGV from there to Paris, and I’d heard of the place, its name evoking ancient quaintness, and popes at some point in history. And that’s it. I did no further research, and I picked the hotel, so I am to blame for … There’s also a TGV to Paris from Nice. Fuchsia.
So, yeah, from time of arrival, to several hours later that same day, there was a linear progression from thinking, “well, ok, it’s hot, but these alleys are quaint and a little cooler”, to concussing myself twice on a stone lintel above an alcove in our ground floor room (stairways to upper floors narrow, winding, and get narrower as you ascend; no elevator in this place that touts itself as quaintly medieval; and there’s no lounge! Having arrived at the wrong time, we got inside with a door code and had to wait on some steps for the owner to show up at 14:00.) Anyway, the little alleys end at some point, and as you near the periphery the populous gets seedier and seedier, the ambiance becomes kind of horror movie fun fair, and the two of us simultaneously reached the point of “get us the fuck out of here!!!” To the owner of the hotel we’re blaming our early departure on the heat and my cancer, and I can’t say for certain that this is not a contributing factor. The guy that runs the hotel has been friendly and accommodating; I have no interest in cranking at him. And in the end he was amiable, but of course we’d passed the point where a refund was in the cards, so amiability was easy.
This work of art is directly opposite the former Papal Palace, and it will always be my favorite image of that benighted town.
We stayed one night out of 4 booked. The type of tourists in town – at least those we were near enough to to make discreet observation viable – were gormless, having been attracted to Avignon as its name conjures up quaint, and ancient religiosity – something out of a 1930s movie. And, indeed, the place we are staying is in a 400 year old building, although only a fraction of the original stones survive. Still, it was more suited to medieval backpackers than the two of us. So, yeah, but, the point is, gormless, inexperienced tourists attract predators, and in a larger area outside the confined old town Francesca noticed an uncomfortable amount of attention being paid to us. Mmmm, fresh meat. (At one point a young guy with an unsettling gleam in his eye rapidly approached Francesca and started blabbering about something. Well, before he got within range my excellent peripheral vision enabled me to spot him, turn, and put myself between him and Francesca, who had no interest in the fellow other than to increase the distance between her and him. I put my hand on his shoulder in a firm, but not unfriendly way, looked him steadily in the eye, and said, “Au revoir.” And we sauntered off without further pursuit.)
And Francesca also noticed there were few if any shops catering to the well-healed. More of a backpacker and first time tourist vibe. You know, we are not rich, but we do enjoy frowsting about in places the wealthy find satisfactory. Avignon is, in our opinion, the opposite of that.
Being at a hotel with no cooking facilities, that first (and only) evening we wandered out and found a place to purchase munchies. There was an American couple at a nearby table. The male was incensed that the salad served him in no way resembled those he was accustomed to in his beloved American homeland. Sigh. You know Disney World has a faux European area. Why not go there? (But, really, who am I to cast aspersions? Remember the story of a much younger, green-about-the-gills, Geoffrey getting steak tartare in Marseille? “Excuse me! Will this be cooked at some point?”)
The other kind of tourist – and there are many – are a kind we encountered in Galway: young, faux hip, on a summer adventure to a place that has lots of stuff, a religious vibe, and lots of other youths like themselves. Galway is smaller, with fewer public facilities, so it was far more gross.
Anyway, our train is changed, and a comfy hotel near the Sorbonne is waiting for us later today.
Text: [At TGV station I walked over to say hi to chocolate lab. “OMG, this guy is coming to see me, and he is scratching me! I must reward him with vigorous tail wags and by wrapping my mouth around his arm.” Good dog. My arm got moistened.]
Text from train moving over 160mph: [This train moves just like the Acela, if the Acela were dropped from an airplane.]
[Note added 2022.08.06: Checked Avignon forecast for first 2 weeks of August; every day nearly 100°F. Guy who gave us ride back home from the airport said he’d been there and liked it. “What month did you visit?” “December.” Yeah, ok.]