Nice to Meet You

(The predictable pun trip continues!)

We take our first walk along the spacious Promenade des Anglais and after one look at the sea on our right I am forever informed of just what makes up the Côte d’Azur. Yes, I got a taste in Cannes, and now the cycle is complete. Welcome to Nice!

It’s a beautiful city, gorgeous, in fact. Everything is on a noticeably bigger scale than in Cannes. Lots of white and pastel in the local architectural landscape as well, at least among the modern buildings, while in the distance I already glimpse stone and red-tiled roofs. Hotels are everywhere, one more impressive than the other. The rest of the world seems far away, except for the unsurprising, but still unnerving moment when I glimpse armed soldiers patrolling the Promenade.

My dad had been here a long time ago and I remembered him saying the beach was covered in stones, and the same obviously went for the bottom of the sea, making it very hard to walk to the water, then get in and get out. Fast forward several years later and here we are. I’m about to experience this for myself.

I’m feeling confident. I’ve successfully tested out my swim shoes in Cannes, albeit on sand. Now they will get their real chance! We walk down the steps to the beach, me having changed into the shoes beforehand. The pebble covered ground is very level and we make our way through the numerous spread out (sun)bathers already there. I feel fine. We can do this! It’s just a few skips and catching the right moment to wade in, right? We get to the water’s edge and discover that the descent down, though not high, is steep. Waves break against the shore, which is covered, as far as the eye can see, with glistening wet egg-sized stones.

I take a tentative step forward and as my self-protection instincts kick in, several things become clear. Despite my shoes, it is actually very hard to remain standing if you try to go down to the water. The stones, though round, stick out at all sorts of angles. There are no rules to getting in and out – some people do it on all fours, others try to take it at a run and a leap, while some also slide in on a air mattress. My knees and elbows feel very exposed, not to mention any other part of my body containing bones. When my dad first talked about his experience here, I couldn’t quite imagine what he meant. Now I know and I have no further questions whatsoever.

We’re on a public beach, which means that getting into the water is entirely up to us. I propose setting off to where I think the descent looks more level and wonder whether I should wiggle in on my butt, though crouching down on those stones doesn’t look appealing. I bend down to tighten the elastic on my right shoe and it breaks apart in my hand.

A few minutes of determined walking seamlessly brings us to a private beach – everyone is concentrating so hard on careful steps or guarding their seat, there is practically no interaction between people. Finally, we see a short, low wooden pier with no bars on the sides. It wobbles very slightly above the waves, but there’s a ladder! Jumping off the pier is forbidden, and with good reason, because a) the water is not deep here; b) rocky bottom, see above; c) I wouldn’t want to do it anyway.

The ladder requires turning my back to the sea, stepping on the first rung with one foot, gripping the (slightly slippery) handles with both hands, and then proceeding down. Honestly, I don’t know what I was more afraid of, falling on the stones, or falling off that ladder. But I make it! Did I mention it wobbled as well? What an adventure.

I’m in that water, which I’ve been dreaming of ever since we got here. I can’t see the bottom and I’m swimming in azure. There are no buoys in sight. I’m hoping my right shoe stays on my foot, because this is one situation where I don’t fancy being Cinderella. It’s a magical blue sea and I barely have to move as the water carries me on its own. We forget about the journey back to shore (which we successfully master) for a while. I can sea it all now.

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I Cannes Make It Here

Cannes is lovely. It’s a beautiful coastal city with a lot of flair and plenty of history, and despite its often mentioned connection to the rich and famous of the world, it feels approachable.

This morning we stepped out of our hotel into the brilliant sunshine to see a typical British hen do group clearly having just checked out. Thankfully, they were both sober and well-behaved. The bride was wearing a white jumpsuit and a pink newsboy cap covered in sequins of the same color (I’d say that’s pretty classic), while her posse, at least ten of them, were all dressed in black shirts and jeans, accompanied by enormous suitcases. Perhaps we’re in a different kind of district, but there has been no wild partying here thus far and I’m liking the vibe in our “residence”. In fact, we successfully moved to our intended apartment and we’re loving it. Everyone staying here seems intent on pursuing their own vacation plans, and we’re just the same.

Swimming distances at our beautiful beach have increased day after day. A woman passes me in the water and says something in French with a smile, of which I only understand the first half, but it seems to be approval of the water. I couldn’t agree more myself. And she just spoke to me in French! Do I look French? Do I swim French? We’ve also theorized that the underwater platform further out from the shore that we’ve stood on might be for setting up the fireworks display that takes place here at the beach. Actually, it’s the Festival International D’Art Pyrotechnique, lasting until August 24. We’ve even heard it already from our balcony and it’s also broadcast live. Those fireworks are actually some of the best memories from my stay in Cannes nine years ago. It’s nice that the festival still happens.

After a few days here we feel confident enough to swim out to the yellow buoys bobbing on the surface, because it doesn’t look that far. I lose my sense of time in the water and seem to get to my goal faster than anticipated, but when I turn around to look back at the shore, suddenly it’s very far away indeed. We swim back, with a stop on the platform other people are standing on. I stop swimming and bend my legs, even crouch, to stand just in time – this part is much closer to the knees. It’s fun to find even footing after swimming in deep turquoise water, swaying only slightly with the gentle wave, then slide off to once again not feel the sand underneath  before reaching the shoreline.

We’ve quickly frenchified ourselves as much as it’s possible to while being visitors here and with beginner level French. Mornings start with automatic bonjours to other guests and staff. The day is peppered with mercis and bonne journées. In fact, I’ve been approached in French in different situations like it’s the most natural thing in the world (mais oui), and I realized that I’m not afraid of that happening anymore. Bring it on! Interactions are still very short and simple, plus I do more listening than speaking, but hey, that’s the start of good communication.

The housekeeper in charge gets in the elevator with us one day and asks whether everything is working in our apartment. “Oui, ça va bien, Madame, merci”, I respond. Wait, what? I speak FRENCH? She continues the conversation, but I don’t understand what she says at first, so I look at her intently (without getting nervous!). She doesn’t switch to English, which I find quite respectful, but gestures actively with her hands and repeats the sentence. It seems to be about the weather, so I nod and smile. Another time a polite older man hesitates before joining us, not being sure if “c’est possible” to fit in, but “Oui, monsieur, c’est possible”, I reassure him, because that’s what I do now. I speak FRENCH! And the secret to my newfound confidence is probably that, while the locals are generally absolutely fine with speaking English, they also don’t expect you to not speak French at all. You just might. Again, mais oui!

I got a bit carried away with tales of my baby steps en français. Beyond that I’ve found myself nonchalantly crossing streets at red lights (but only after checking twice that no cars are coming), regularly buying baguettes (sometimes the bag they come in is too short, so we carefully fold the baguette in two for hygiene – nobody caught us so far), and mostly relaxing about time (“Tomorrow let’s…” – “Don’t make a plan.” – “Why not? I make plans in Germany.” – “We’re not in Germany now.” – “Oh, right!”). I did print a ticket from the machine in the (English-French) pharmacy before I even realized what I was doing, because the sign told me to, but then I quietly threw it away because the line of people had a (very relaxed) life of its own.

On the way back from the beach we, as usual (mais oui), pass the Cartier boutique and I stop to look at the window. A beautiful ring with a square-cut emerald immediately catches my eye. There is no price tag. A quick search on the Cartier website (I love the internet) produces the aforementioned item and it is indeed gorgeous. It’s not surprising, just slightly intimidating, that the price is not available here either, but you can click on “Request” and fill out a form with your information. And that’s as close as I’ll ever get to such luxury. Today I saw a woman exit the Dior shop with a bag, just like it was an everyday thing to do, and only a few minutes walk after that I happily bought a baguette for one euro, so I guess that’s just how life works.

Cannes Swim

(There are no pictures yet, because the hotel Wifi is a bit slow, but I refuse to put a brake on my creative impulses.)

A cloudless blue sky, Mediterranean palm trees and a warm breeze – all that needs to be added to this list is the beach, and to the beach we go.

There’s a system to the process. Arrive before ten in the morning,  because then you’ve got more chance of grabbing a nice spot not too far from the water, stay until noon and then retreat somewhere shaded or air-conditioned during the hottest hours of the day, thus preserving both yourself and your holiday state of mind.

It’s a nice morning stroll down to the promenade above the water and sand, past the Cartier boutique (and yes, I’m the person who will immediately think of Kate Middleton’s wedding tiara the moment I see that name), bright blue metal chairs that some people are quietly sitting on and others are using as props for working out, and the immediately visible enormous potted palms and flower bushes that maintenance staff are watering with a hose.

The only trick is to find a free beach. Luckily, it doesn’t take too long, but first we do pass several generously fenced off areas where the stretches of sand ahead are practically fully covered with white lounge chairs and sun umbrellas, all available for a fee. The white hotel buildings lining the Croisette behind us and the white boats (even a cruise ship or two) in the distance do immediately transport my memory right in To Catch a Thief.

A few minutes later we find our Plage Zamenhof en Regie Municipale, go down a flight of stairs and walk to the water. The almost white sand is powder fine beneath my feet and there are no downward dips like on our (still fondly remembered) beach in Lloret de Mar. Seagull and pigeon tracks are everywhere. People are relaxed, smiling and keep a respectful distance from each other. A white blanket is neatly spread out by the water, and an hour after we’ve parked ourselves at our spot, the family who owns it arrives. No one has touched their stuff. Apparently this beach at least is still a pocket of decent human behavior. There’s no litter, shouting, loud music or obsessive selfie-taking.

Our chosen sea-bathing location („A little sea-bathing would set me up forever“) is a cove of sorts, with the boats and ships in the distance forming a final barrier beyond the bobbing yellow buoys. The water is, of course, putting all the azur in this côte. Wading in is magical, and that indescribable blue surrounds you as you start to swim, feeling like those dreams about flying when you were making breaststroke movements through the air.

Short note. I turn my head and see an older man wading right towards me with a grin, despite the fact that the there is, literally, plenty of space all around and he doesn’t have to pursue this particular direction. So the question that keeps repeating itself the world over is why does a pot-bellied, balding man with a severe case of the moobs and a gold chain getting caught in his limp grey chest hair think he can stare at and signal to a woman like he expects her to respond?

But I simply propel myself forward with a nice kick of the legs and off I go. It gets deep fairly quickly, but the water stays calm and within seconds you notice that it’s the perfect temperature for swimming, or simply floating. Within my line of vision I can see people standing with their upper bodies out of the sea. Intrigued, I keep swimming. The water is clear enough to see to the bottom and I notice an expanse of what looks like rock underneath. I carefully reach down with my feet and touch a hard, slippery surface. That’s enough for one try and I swim back.

Next time I bring along my swimming shoes, something I’ve never worn before. It’s a little strange at first, feeling the water seeping in and still being able to swim, but once I get to the rock, I stand and can indeed find stable footing. Surprise, one part is rock, and despite the footwear, the slippery part is still slippery. The other part bends in as I step on it, feeling like some kind of rubber platform. It turns out we can swim over this underwater floor, as it’s still a safe distance away from our knees, but beyond that the occasional waves coming from the boats are more noticeable.

The beach showers are very bracing, but I seem to be toughening up on my second and third session – no squealing. „The cold never bothered me anyway.“ The water is also very clean, so whatever stamina might have gotten sucked out of me during the last few months in the (home) city, I will hopefully get some of it back here. Of course it helps to run back into the warm sunlight after the aforementioned shower.

Time to go. Not only is it quite hot, we’re also out of baguette. Cannes not have that.

 

Cannes Do

Nice Airport isn’t unfamiliar to me. Aside from that long ago trip to Cannes that started by landing in the aforementioned location, I’d also flown here for an entirely different event last year, then set off to a village about half an hour away which was one of the many picturesque examples of rural southern France. At the time I had exited Terminal 1 at the airport, feeling nervous about locating my bus stop, which was intensified by ongoing construction all around me and no shade in the hot July sunshine.

Fast forward a little over a year later, and I stride out, to be pleasantly surprised by a sleek, finished square, with an immediately visible cafe, relaxed travelers, clearly labeled stops with seats and roofs, and a smoothly running train shuttle that takes me to Terminal 2, where I pick up the rest of my group. Go, Nice!

I love the look of our hotel, especially its lush, green front lawn, and inside we’re firmly told to „Have a seat“ before we can say much, a phrase which is repeated to another woman as well, only she responds in an English accent, „I’ll stand, if you don’t mind.“ I really like hearing that, but we’ve all been on the road for a while, so we do settle regally in the armchairs nearby.

Soon after we’re greeted by a visibly nervous manager, who shows us two rooms to choose from for those error-induced first three nights, though both are still not anything like the apartment we originally booked. Still, we pick a comfortable option, considering the circumstances, and negotiate a fair deal on the price as well. Kudos!

After that’s done everything is a little easier and we set out to remember our bearings and get some late lunch. The local architecture is beautiful, with white, beige, cream and pastel tones dominating. Balconies and shutters are everywhere, numerous varieties of palm trees, both potted and not, dot the occasionally hilly streets. White summer dresses, striped jumpsuits and fedoras regularly pop up among the relaxed streams of people flowing outside – most of them speaking French, plenty Spanish, some Italian and yes, the immediately noticeable mother tongue is also there (though not as loud as I expected). Throw in a sprinkle of various English accents, including confident American, Dutch, a bit of German, and you’ve got yourself a European melting pot.

What I’m floored by is the sheer amount of large hotels that have been built, or even are being built since I was here last. Of course, nine years is a long time, but I remember more space between buildings. It’s a little unnerving. We emerge from the Rue Meynadier, a lovely pedestrian street full of cafes, shops and artisan businesses, and, just like everyone else, inevitably find ourselves on the very fancy Boulevard de la Croisette (there hast to be a boulevard! This is France!), which (never) satisfies all my Valentino and Cartier needs. The Croisette is, however, one of the easiest ways to cut across to the beach, if you are already walking around the city center.

We stop by a large supermarket located near the hotel and soon have what I would say is a French enough shopping basket, with a baguette (mais oui!) among some local vegetables, ham and cheese, as well as some (discounted, but still freshly made) strawberry tart.

I have already automatically replied in French to some very short sentences I understood, to my breathless excitement, so despite French class being out for the summer, it’s not really ever far from my day, because that’s just what I do now. And what I Cannes do, I do.

Off to Cannes

My 2019 summer vacation takes me to Cannes, a city I’ve been to once, but that was nine years ago, and before all those involved had a smartphone or, indeed, Instagram. Ah, how times have changed. I’m fervently hoping that this lovely place (so much more than „just“ the film festival it’s known for all over the world) on the French Riviera will not be overrun with people trying to take the perfect selfie. I certainly won’t be part of that crowd.

As always a multitude of impressions descends on me the minute I walk out the door, backpack snugly positioned, suitcase leisurely rolling along, glasses in place to pick things out and remember them for this blog post.

On the way to the airport express a woman passes me, wearing exactly the same gold sparkling sandals I have at home. It’s both strange and interesting to recognize the exact item I own and know it came from one of the mainstream shops we all go to on a person I will probably never run into again. Her feet are very tanned. Mine are still my trusty classic redhead fair. Fair feet. Sure, why not.

At the airport I spot a stylishly dressed little girl. She’s wearing a denim jacket, black and white striped pants and, again, glittering gold sandals, as well as effortless confidence. Her younger sister is hanging on her hand, enthusiastically bubbling over with important news in my native language. „I saw a big unicorn! I really did, honest, a big unicorn, such a big unicorn!“ Hey, I believe her, I see them too.

The couple ahead of me in the line for the security check look like (wannabe) influencers, at least if their serious swiping through artfully staged couple snaps (yes, I could see the pictures) is anything to go by. „This one? Should we post this one? Maybe the other one?“ But they are cute and earnest, plus also polite to the staff.

The flight is made doubly pleasant not just because of the sunny universe outside, but because no one else occupies my row and I can joyfully scoot from my aisle seat to the window. The nice-looking family in front of me with two small children reminds me both of our travels when my siblings and I were young and the little people who made me an aunt. As soon as they sat down, the kids are methodically listing what their mother may give them: headphones, iPad, book, crayons – multimedia consumption in action right before my eyes.

So this is basically stage one. Stage two is meeting up in Nice airport with the rest of the party. Stage three is arriving at our accommodation in Cannes and seeing what happens next. Shortly before our departure we were notified that due to some nebulous error/ glitch/ mistake/ pick your own word, we would be spending the first three nights not in our orignally booked apartment, but a smaller one with bunk beds. Stay tuned…

Rolling with the Heat Wave

I decide to take a walk after finishing work and drink in the beauty of Planten un Blomen park in full summer bloom. Same spots, always a different, lovely view. Never gets old.

Feeling inspired, I lengthen my route and emerge at the foot of the bridge to Dammtor train station. Now, this bridge is fun to walk on, because it occasionally vibrates, either due to the trains going by not far off or the street traffic underneath. But it’s also notorious for pairs of people with badges lying in wait to pounce on pedestrians, all for the purpose of conducting a survey. “Hello, do you have time, you simply have to stop…” and they then bend and skip to half-block your way.

I’ve caught myself avoiding that walk more than once, and hey, I know most of them are just doing their job, they have a quota to fill, but I just really want to keep moving. I automatically go through a list of polite, but firm responses should I get insistently approached, arrange my face so that I look extra absorbed in the music I’m listening to, hope the sunglasses AND the headphones combined will assure me some peace…and discover the targets of my intended actions are not there! Not one.

I pass like Harry Potter through the barrier at Platform 9 3/4 and everything is fantastic. The sun is shining, everyone around me seems mellow and the train station interior provides a welcome respite from the heat outside. This little experience gets me thinking about the advantages of hot summer weather.

There’s the obvious ones: no coats, no scarves, no sweaters, you can leave the house without the aforementioned and you’ll still be fine in the evening. Heck, you can even leave your umbrella. If it rains, it’ll probably be like a refreshing shower. At this point, optimism reigns supreme. Everything will work out.

Blinds get drawn down starting early in the morning at work and this seems to contribute to the general productivity-inspiring quiet. You’re not that hungry at lunch, but stuff your face with strawberries throughout the day. So healthy. Plus you definitely drink more than your day’s fill of water. The wonderful smell of sunscreen wafts through the corridors.

Nobody is running anywhere. Slower walking is the norm. Even butterflies seem to slow down. Ice cream shops are open late into the evening. It’s totally appropriate to go there for dinner.

Shade discovering skills are as intact as ever, and I don’t want to throw any, I just want to lie in it.

 

 

Summer in Germany: The Bare Facts

The picture of a bare-assed man on a bike snapped from the back is what first stops my gaze during a routine afternoon online browse in one of Hamburg’s local papers. Then with a rising feeling of foreboding I read the headline: Phew, It’s Warm! In the Car, In the Garden – Where You Can be Naked and Where Not. In this case, “can” translates as “allowed”, and by allowed one obviously means the law.

We are a few hours away from another heat wave after weeks of cooler weather and once again everyone is preparing. The city is serious about this, with memories of last year’s summer still fresh. Even the DJs on my favorite morning radio show suggested taking care of anything that needed to be done ouside today, because, to quote Disney’s The Little Mermaid, “It’s gonna be hot in my big silver pot”.

People are also serious about this, and apparently some might go so far as to bare all in search of relief from the heat or a blatant display of confidence. While I sincerely hope we will avoid running into each other (please, God, no), Germany’s so-called Freikörperkultur (FKK), translating as free body culture, is known the world over. Somehow we didn’t cover the topic all those years ago in my German classes, but now it’s definitely visible to the naked eye.

I decided to finally research the subject to know my rights as a clothed citizen and, to be fair, those of the “textile-free”. The aforementioned article provided some useful bits of information. First of all, walking around without clothes in Germany is not punishable by law. However, being able to continue with the decision depends on a combination of the chosen location, legal details in laws relating to misdemeanors and disturbance of the peace, various safety regulations, and, perhaps most importantly, on whether or not other people glimpsing you naked on your bike or balcony feel “disturbed” by the view.

An incident during Germany’s June heat wave in Brandenburg made international headlines, when local police stopped a naked man riding a moped. At least he had his helmet on. A picture posted on the police’s Twitter account was accompanied by a question about how to best caption it, because law enforcement themselves were “speechless”. The moped rider’s answer delivered in local dialect? “It’s warm, isn’t it?”

My questions, meanwhile, are these: isn’t it extremely uncomfortable, not to mention painful, to park your naked butt and additional exposed skin on what will clearly be a very hot surface? Isn’t the discomfort and pain consideration relevant even without hot weather?

Further Googling on being naked in Germany produces a fountain of satisfying headlines. Nudity in Germany: The Naked Truth, mentions nude beaches where disrobing completely is required by all visitors. “Summer in the parks of Berlin and Munich brings the chance of encountering a middle-aged, bronzed German wearing only a hat and the BILD-Zeitung, Germany’s favorite tabloid.” Making notes right now on where not to go, but no worries, public FKK areas are signposted. There’s also a handful of online sources detailing where nude bathing is allowed.

The more straightforward, practical Where to Get Naked in Germany additionally explains the culture and where to live it. Finally, The Dos And Don’ts of Public Nudity in Germany are very helpful for those feeling somewhat lost even after reading the material linked in this post. However, after seeing a suggestion to try nude hiking, I’m done.