You get to see more, I think, when you travel solo. You don’t have to hide your sneaky peeks at people behind your shades, for one (oh come ON…we’ve all done it…) But today, there are some sights I don’t necessarily want to gaze at for too long.
For example: the oiled and topless women around me are slim and gorgeous.
And now….eeeek….the portly man beside me is stripping into shamelessly skimpy trunks; cologne reeking more strongly with each discarded layer.
This is Nice in November, and I’m feeling uncharacteristically coy, British, and slightly overdressed.
Beach man half runs, half hobbles painfully over pebbles towards the glistening sea; arms flailing, throwing shapes like a drunken dad on the dance floor. After five minutes’ immersion, he’s mincing back over the stones to his sun-roasted shirt and shorts; scent still, inexplicably pungent.
Above the beach, the beautiful people are barely breaking sweat as they pound the Promenade des Anglais, happily lapping the designer clad walkers in the slower, ‘no-look-at-me’ lane, out to pose in size two Gucci, with poochie.
I’m now feeling overdressed, and overweight, in Nice.
Regardless….I grab a comforting almond croissant and retreat to the cooler, shadier old town, for my own work-out: an ungainly clamber back up the near vertical, hamstring-stretching 39 steps to my rented top floor studio. It’s five minutes and several centuries away from the city’s blindingly bright yachts and designer stores; and thankfully so.
The sunlight’s dappled here; dancing on higgledy terracotta terraces of homes so close you can inhale the heady aroma of someone else’s supper; hear who’s coming… and (cue slamming door…) who’s going. You can squint at the headlines in Monsieur’s ‘Nice Matin’, opposite; or the frilly flutter of Madame’s smalls on their balcony line; blushingly close.
In fact, there’s such a patchwork of scenes unfolding, that I’m tempted to stock up on baguettes, cheese and fruit from the feast of stalls in the Cours Saleya , shout “ACTION!” and stay in this royal box of a balcony for the duration. But with holiday clock ticking, I chase the bigger picture; the mesmerizing, breathtaking, sparkling sweep of city and shore from the wooded castle ruins high above the town.
Far, far below, more beautiful beach people are home from school with their beautiful children, splashing and squealing as they play in the warm water.
Reluctant to leave the view, I dawdle down, stopping for a crisp, skinny slice of socca, and a fat scoop of sorbet . That’s supper sorted; superfluous the next day, though after a simple, filling lunch at another Nice surprise: The April knitting café (needles optional.)
Women, mainly, meet here, away from the bustle of the city’s big squares and their everlasting lunches, to chat, eat, and create something. Travelling alone, I find the female clientele comforting, especially when Lisa serves me her incredible cauliflower soup with bread and salad, then lemon cake and coffee. On the Ruelle de la Boucherie, this is a real sanctuary; a gem of a find.
I discover other Old Town treasures too; the minuscule but opulent, Genoese- Baroque Palais Lascaris, near tiny shops packed with soaps and shoes and spices. There are eye-popping displays for free at the gleaming Modern and Contemporary Art Museum, and just streets away, the Opera de Nice. I’m only here to ogle, but it’s offering free concert tickets for that night. I grab one, gratefully, and return later, smarter; taking the tiny lift to the dizzy heights of the sixieme etage. My heart soars at magnificent Mozart from the Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice with its incredibly talented young guest soloists.
Show over, I scuttle back through the dark side streets to pack; woken for my morning flight by unsynchronised bells sounding seven, from two churches; overlapping noisily, boastfully, like squabbling children.
Later, airborne, I look back at the bay, and my solo break. One of sated senses and uncovered secrets; but with tankini untouched, none of them, mercifully, mine.
Jane visited Nice in November, 2013.