A trip to Nice - I

January this year was the first time we were traveling on a budget airline in Europe. Having heard horror stories of their high-handedness from many colleagues, I was a little concerned about starting our year or a sour note.

Transavia allow one cabin-sized 10 kg bag per person and impose this limit with a great deal of fervour. As the boarding was announced, customers with bigger bags were singled out, asked to measure/weigh the bags, told to checkin the oversized/overweight bags and pay for the privilege. Customers with even a small extra handbag were told to somehow accomodate the smaller bag inside the bigger bag or cough up the extra fees. The responses to these requests ranged from meek submission to outrage. One gentleman was so indignant that he actually threw money at the staff!

Needless to say that this led to a few minutes’ delay. It is at times like these more than any other time that I am glad for a reading habit. I busied myself in a fascinating, recent account of the events that led to the erection of the Berlin wall, while the wife playfully leafed through my passport to see if she could find my first immigration stamp. When she did, its date, 13 Aug 2000, surprised me a little as it was on the same day in 1961 when Ulbricht started Operation Rose” to barricade East Germany off from West Germany overnight.

13 August13 August

Apart from this little episode, the flight was quite pleasant and we were in Nice on time. We were wearing thick jackets in Amsterdam but in Nice, even late in the evening, we could get by with a light jacket. This being January, the days were still short though. As the bus we took from the airport went past the street-lamp-lined promenade by the beach, we realised that the distant, vast stretch of nothingness that lay beyond it was the sea. We were probably in the right bus, but in our anxiety to reach the hotel quickly, we got down at the wrong stop. We were staying close to the Nice train station so getting to that general area was not a problem. But by the time we made our way to the hotel (partly in a tram, partly on foot), it was already 10 PM.

The gentleman manning the reception at our hotel was extremely helpful. I quite admire people doing the job at that time in the night while keeping their sprits high. A receptionist is many jobs rolled into one - you have to be the security guard, the IT guy helping guests with their WiFi and a tour guide answering questions about local attractions and guiding people to the nearest restaurant serving their choice of cuisine.

Most places near our hotel were either shutting down or had nothing to offer to vegetarians. McDonalds is usually our last resort but we were so tired that the two kinds of fried potatoes with three kinds of ketchups at the neighbourhood McDonalds that night felt like a royal feast (ice-cream with coarsely crushed M&Ms, that followed the main course”, enhanced the illusion a good deal).

We slept well and woke up fresh the next day.

An ideal vacation to us means lot of walking about in a new city, with breaks for lunch and coffee thrown in. If we are feeling particularly lazy, we’ll probably find a bench in a park (or depending on where we are, by the sea), for a quick nap or to sit down for a short read. Our Nice trip had all these ingredients.

I am not a sea person but I love the sound of the waves crashing on the beach. At pebble beaches, like the one in Nice, the receding waves try to drag the pebbles along with them. The pebbles budge a little, rub against each other and add their murmur of protest to the roar of the waves.

And while my favourite kind of sky is cloudy-with-a-chance-of-rain, the blue Nice sky had won me over in no time.

The shades of yellow, orange and maroon they use to paint the buildings in, compliment the sky. The Mediterranean sun then does its bit to smoothen out the shades till they all blend in.

We also saw many buildings where features were painted on to them. From fake balconies to painted-on statues.

Buildings under construction or reapairs, got an entire fake façade.

But there were a lot of buildings with real things on them too.

We stopped for a quick lunch at one of the numerous street side cafeterias. Unlike our experience the previous night, vegetarian food was not hard to come by.

When we resumed our walk after lunch, we found ourselves drawn to the sea again. The sea in Nice was always around the corner. Within a few minutes we were at an elevated road that looked over the sea below. The public seating built along the road, at first looked like a drain for guiding excess rain water into the sea but turned out to be a nice place to sit and catch the cool breeze and watch the azure sea below.

Very close to this spot was the famous Castle Hill. For a small fee an elevator takes you to the summit but we were sufficiently buoyed by the breeze to tackle the climb via the stairs. The climb rewarded us with beautiful panoramic views of Nice.

On our way back I came across these neglected, cast-iron, flowerpots with cherubs sculpted into them. The overall effect, after years of rusting was quite disturbing. The cherubs’ smiles had twisted into something sinister. Something they’d use to lure the unwary passerby into a room of unmentionable horrors.

Clearly it was time to leave the hills for more walking around (and spotting things that continued to supply more fodder for my morbid imagination).

The stories about imaginary kingdoms and kings we used to read in our childhood, would often have a plot involving the king going on rounds at night disguised as a common man to gauge the public sentiment. Here is what Sarkozy would’ve come across if he were to attempt something of that sort:

The night fell quickly. We had seen a Ferris Wheel near the main town square last night and decided to take a ride. The wife had never sat in one, but the prospect of the view of Nice at night from a good few meters above the ground helped her overcome her fear. It was a gentle ride with a plenty of time to soak in the view and a perfect note to end our day on.

July 8, 2012