Our wine correspondent Jim Walker recently returned to Nice, France. He shares with us his latest observations about that fair city and the folks who are fortunate to visit it or live there.

In my last contribution to Gentleman’s Portion, Travel Woes I described the difficulties associated with our travels to southern France. But all was golden once we arrived in Nice and settled into our rental apartment. In fact, the sun shone every one of the 40 plus days (March through mid-April) we were there with temperatures oscillating happily between the mid-teens and low 20s. I provided my thoughts about Nice and surrounds after our last Nice visit in the Gentleman’s Portion blog Musings on Nice and will now update and add to that list based on our latest experiences.

No longer gratuité
  • The little red electric bus that beetled around downtown for free now costs a Euro! The locals are enraged and they freely express their anger. Many refuse to hop on when confronted with the scandalous fare. And the route has changed so that it no longer goes along the picturesque La Promenade des Anglais. There is also an annoying added wrinkle – at the terminus one must wait by the curb for up to 15 minutes while the bus sits empty a meter or so away.  No doubt this is to accommodate the driver’s rest break, but the optics are dreadful.
  • Nice has a new, modern tram system that takes one just about everywhere in the city for only one Euro a ride (if you buy a 10-ride ticket). Line 2 goes from the airport to the port and becomes a subway when it enters the center of Nice. At this stage the drop from the platform to the tracks is a mere quarter meter and the electric current is supplied overhead. No worries should one find oneself suddenly on the tracks, unless a train is coming of course.
  • Whilst on the subject of transportation, there is a terrific double-decker hop-on-and-off bus that goes from mid-town  all the way to the neighbouring town of Villefranche-sur-Mer and back. The seaside views are stunning. It is a tad expensive but worth every penny.
  • Masks on public transportation, no matter how crowded, or anywhere else for that matter, are virtually non-existent in Nice. Wear a mask and one feels like an outcast, but we do it anyway.
  • The Niçois are beautifying their city at a frantic pace. Old sidewalks and curbs are being torn up and replaced with beautiful hand-laid light gray cut stone. They are works of art and so much nicer than poured concrete. Little garden plots containing a large tree and flowering shrubs are integrated every 10 meters or so. Each has its own automated watering system.
  • Litter is a problem even though there are garbage receptacles on most street corners. All manner of flotsam and jetsam finds its way into these roadside gardens while local dogs take delight in watering them. I do hope the plants are hardy.
  • I thought that the French were becoming better about picking up after their canines, but they seem to be regressing. There are poo-bombs all over the place and one must be constantly vigilant.
  • Poo-bombs, litter and light gray pavers do not seem a happy mixture. However, those clever Niçois have the solution. A large tanker-truck filled with water rolls slowly down the deserted streets in the early morning with a chap out front wielding a large hose. He carefully washes the sidewalks onto the road. Then a street cleaning vehicle comes along and sweeps everything up. All is spic and span and ready to be littered and defecated upon the next day.
One of Nice’s many marvelous trees
  • You will find the most wonderful trees in the many old parks that are scattered liberally around the city.
  • Now, I will probably go to hell for this, but the little old ladies of Nice are a true menace. They are vicious, cranky and meaner than junkyard dogs. They are solitary creatures – for good reason. They are particularly dangerous if carrying an umbrella or, worse, a cane. If you are at the head of a queue or simply in their paths, they will barge ahead and whack you with their canes for good measure. Men and pigeons are the primary targets of their malevolence.  
  • There are two other pedestrian hazards that are encountered on the thoroughfares of Nice. First are the folks roaming around the sidewalks in zombie-like trances induced by handheld devices. The second are the electric scooter pilots who zoom down the sidewalks with gay abandon. They are particularly lethal when combined.
  • The French really are clever. Take the pharmaceutical vending machines sprinkled throughout Nice. No matter the time of day or night, one can obtain whatever is required for what ails them. Nothing is left to chance. Front and center, just below the pain relief medicines, you will find the sex toys.
  • A surprising number of Niçois, particularly younger folks, smoke cigarettes or use vaping devices. Sitting near these puffers on or near restaurant outdoor patios (where smoking is permitted) can end up ruining an otherwise fine meal.
Papie and Romy – fast food research
  • Based on a lunch we had at a local McDonalds (prompted by granddaughter Romy), French and North American tastes seem to differ. The Big Macs had significantly less of their famous sauce and nothing tasted as sweet as back home. We won’t go back no matter how insistent Romy is.
  • The French do so many things well but one of them isn’t plastic cling-wrap. It is truly miserable – flimsy, impossible to start and determined to entangle itself. The good folks at Saran Wrap are desperately needed.
  • Restaurants post their menus online, but this can be misleading as I sadly discovered. I had been aching for the scallops (Saint-Jacques) so marvelously prepared at Le Séjour Café. Before making reservations, I checked online to make certain those tasty little devils were on the menu. Yes! But when we settled down at the restaurant there were no scallops to be found. “Ah, mais monsieur, they are out of season.”
  • Le Séjour Café was very good as were Restaurant Dante and Olive & Artichaud but our favourite was Le Cénac (their website is not currently functioning). Their duck confit is wonderfully crispy and nestled on a bed of potatoes roasted in duck fat. The café gourmand is par excellence.            
  • If celiac disease is a concern, GiGi Tavola located in the port of Nice is for you. Their gluten-free pizza is excellent and the deserts are sinfully delicious.
  • Nice is about as good as it gets. However, there is one small fly, or should I say moustique, in the paradise ointment – mosquitos. None of the travel brochures, rental agencies or vacation websites make mention of the little wretches, of course. But the row upon row of repellants, sprays, netting and anti-itch lotions in the pharmacies give testament to the rife existence of the ravenous rascals. They were worse this spring than last fall. We were told that plug-in repellants placed in each room will solve the problem. We shall see.
A favourite source of fine libation
  • Bottles of wine can be purchased just about everywhere food is sold – the butcher, the baker, grocery stores, coffee shops, pizzerias – anywhere. The selections can be surprisingly broad and thoughtful. I still prefer the many specialty wine shops like Cave Rivoli, La Cave de Stephane or Cave de Monaco.
  • We love rosés from the Tavel region of southern France, but they are difficult to find in Nice.
  • Getting rid of empty wine bottles responsibly is a real bear. One must cart the evidence of their bacchanals to one of the large curbside bins haphazardly scattered around the city. They are as scarce as those fabled hen’s teeth. Then, as soon as you locate one, it is bound to be moved to make way for a construction project. You can imagine how much fun it is schlepping a sack full of empty wine bottles in search of garbage bin.           
  • We found a surprisingly large number of folks reading real books!
  • We decided to visit the Musée d’art moderne et d’art contemporain (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art) one day. It was a major disappointment. It is a massive brutalist building filled with unappealing installations (I know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder). It is difficult to navigate, lacking signage and austere. There are seemingly endless flights of stairs to scale (the lone elevator was hors de combat), even on the roof. The views of Nice from the rooftop are its one positive feature.
  • A more pleasant outing was to Parc Phoenix (Park Phoenix), a zoo located near the airport. Covering more than 17 acres, it contains 2,000 animal species and over 2,500 plant varieties. It makes for a fine half-day excursion even if, as Romy pointed out, the giant turtles stink.
  • The French are revolting – really. It seems that the poor wretches are all in a tizzy because the government is forcing them to work till they reach 64 years of age before collecting their generous state pensions (tell that to Joe Biden or Charles III). These malcontents are nasty nuisances for citizens and visitors alike with their endless series of strikes and protest marches. They inject a good measure of inconvenience and even danger into daily life throughout the land. As much as we adore Nice, we will not be returning until this is all put to rest.

Cheers! Jim

Featured image: Nice’s Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

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This is Jim’s 82nd blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories.

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