In Nice

The two days that we had in Nice were definitely enough to get many unforgettable impressions of this famous city and to understand why holidaymakers have flocked here for more than two centuries.

I’ve already detailed my swimming experience at the local beach, and after that it was time to do some discovering around the city. Being successfully frenchified on our tourist level, after the swim and some lunch we set out to locate one of the nearby patissieries. It took a bit of circulating despite the aid of Google Maps, BUT in the process we discovered where life was happening slightly beyond our quiet hotel.

We turned a corner and walked straight into rue Masséna, and it was like entering a little world of its own. Gone were the white and pastel of the hotels lining the Promenade des Anglais, instead I saw yellow, burnt orange, minty green, brown, red, and more restaurants crammed on both sides of this mostly pedestrian zone than I could count. Pizza, pasta, oysters, glasses of white wine sparkling in the evening sunshine, every single table I could see occupied. This was it. This was the epitome of joie de vivre. C’etait la vie itself!

The rue Masséna leads to the historic Place Masséna, with its red-white architecture and colonnades. It is wide and spacious, thankfully not spoiled by kiosks, construction or crowds. All I feel is buzzing, encompassing joy that it’s summer and that I’m here.

A short distance away is a local landmark I had absolutely no idea about before we came here, and which turns out to be one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, namely the Albert I Garden. It’s still light out and we walk through the gates to see visitors running, jumping, dancing across a vast space covered in water and small fountain jets. So as it turns out, we can also, quite literally, walk on water.

We have a few hours left before departure and set off in search of the flower market. While we don’t see the flowers, we do wander around the market, and then quickly find ourselves in the old town, the heart of Nice. Buildings here stand much closer together and there are plenty of side streets cloaked in shadow. Guides cycle through alleys with tourist groups, passing restaurants, artisan boutiques and the inevitable colorful souvenir shops. While things are busy enough, the atmosphere and the sounds are completely different from the Promenade and the high street. It’s simply beautiful. I’m enchanted.

 

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.

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 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…

The French and German Way of Life

Germany is where I live and France is where I go regularly. True, I don’t know all of Germany, I know a certain part of Northern Germany best, and there is still so much to discover. I don’t know all of France either, as I mostly travel in one particular direction when I do go, though I have been to a few different cities. But in the last decade, through this combination, I have been fortunate to experience for myself parts of the French and German way of life. And for me one of the most telling bases of comparison for the two is the impression I’ve gotten from both nations in their approach to managing time.

I think those last two words, the choice of them, is already indicative enough of the strength of the German influence on me, which joyfully melds with my own character set-up. It seems Germans see time as something to be treasured, respected, a luxury to strive for, a tool to plan with, a sought-after component of leisure, an opportunity not to be wasted. For there is nothing more frustrating than time that is wasted. The French, meanwhile, always seem to be sure that whatever happens, there will be more time, becase la vie est belle and so is France, and why don’t you sit down, have a glass of wine and some cheese while you wait, you uptight German person.

In my French class we recently started a new lesson built around the subject of le train. Much was said while we collected the vocabulary we already knew. Our teacher explained the one marked difference between the German Deutsche Bahn and the French SNCF. Punctuality? Non. Plus, plenty of people in Germany complain about Deutsche Bahn. Non, it is le ticket! If you have your German train ticket, your platform is printed on it, and usually c’est vrai! Meanwhile, in a French gare you have to go stare at some information screens to find out where you board your train. It is not unusual to not have these details even 15 minuts before departure (being German). This was precisely my first experience taking the train from Paris-Est station to Strasbourg and the memory still makes me snort like an impatient horse.

I had to ask my teacher one burning question. Are the French relaxed about this fact and all Oui, c’est ça, or are there actually people in the country who are irritated by this? My teacher shrugged with that characteristically elegant, but nonchalant air, her eyebrows going up and her lips puckering in sync with the movement of her shoulders. Certain circumstances allow you to get a refund for your train ticket, she said. But what about your destination, the plan to be somewhere at a certain time, I sputtered. Another shrug.

I was recounting this story to a German friend, after we had made lunch plans, which we neatly laid down like we always do, despite knowing each other for ten years. We had included the possibility of being SPONTANEOUS in deciding where to go if it rained, because we planned to walk. But in case we didn’t get to, we were prepared!

Being a middle child, maybe this is what it’s about for me, a constant melding and co-existence of the stable and the new, the tried and tested injected with occasional joie de vivre, the satisfaction and gratitude of something working our as planned (or better) against arriving somewhere two hours later, but your favourite cafe is still open, and you get dessert on the house because your group is friendly and happy about seeing each other.

I know that the French and German way of life will both stay as they are. I know that I will continue feeling as if a bus or a subway train arriving on time as per my prior checking online is a present just for me. I know that (sometimes) it’s OK to stop thinking about time as such and live in the moment. And occasionally I will prepare dinner as a three-course meal. After that I will memorize the platform number printed on my train ticket AND check it on the information screen in the station.

Learning French and Going to France

When you’re learning French and traveling to France, you naturally feel like you should try speaking French once you arrive on French soil, right? Wait, try? “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” You are not simply a tourist or a visitor anymore. You basically have an obligation.

Oui, Yoda certainly knew what he was talking about. I know the process of this particular trip to Paris and it automatically divides itself in to tasks in my head in reference to opportunities to parler français. With decisively German precision I follow my plan of producing short, but appropriate sentences.

I enter the plane and say “Bonjour, Madame”, “Bonjour, Monsieur” to the crew as I make my way to my seat, on the same volume level that I use in other languages, because, you know, je parle un petit peu français. I am rewarded with a “Bonjour, Madame” or sometimes still with a “Bonjour, Mademoiselle.” I like being called Mademoiselle. I don’t find it derogatory and it reminds me of when I started flying to France as a student, after first moving to Germany. The German Fräulein has said farewell and disappeared in to the mist of times past, but Mademoiselle isn’t quite ready to leave just yet.

Step two of my exciting journey en français is putting to the test our extensive lesson on ordering in a restaurant. Are you ready for it? Here goes. “Je voudrais un chocolat chaud, s’il vous plaît.” The stewardess doesn’t politely ask me to repeat my request (parfait!) and gracefully hands me my little cup of hot chocolate, following the action with a sentence I can’t repeat, but I know she’s saying I should stir the liquid. She also asks, and I’m pretty sure I am typing this correctly (confidence is everything), “Vous desirez de l’eau avec votre chocolat chaud?” And because I’m an experienced traveler en France and prepared to invest my German powers of concentration in this drink before me, I answer elegantly, “Non, merci.”

I gratefully sip my hot chocolate, because I need to fortify myself for what comes next after these linguistic achievements. Step three of my interactions en français will be to put money on my Navigo pass so I can take the train from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Paris. I spend the remainder of the flight painstakingly composing various versions of what I want to say. “Bonjour, j’ai mon Navigo…non, bonjour, j’ai un Navigo…is it un or une Navigo? Wait, they don’t need to know it’s my Navigo, too much information, and I have it in my hand anyway, it’s not like I just picked it up off the floor, my picture is on it. OK, how about, bonjour, je suis ici pour cinq jours? Or is it de cinq jours? Or just cinq jours? Bonjour (smoothly slide Navigo towards SNCF employee behind the glass), je suis ici pour (maybe I can ask them, with that little laugh as if we’re sharing an inside joke, if pour is correct, haha, hmmm, oui, le français) cinq jours et je voudrais…what do I use for “to” or “until” when I’m talking about a stop? We recently had a few lessons where we repeated how to use en, au and aux, depending on whether you were talking about a country, city or region, and what gender they were. But we didn’t cover stops of the Parisian metro!

But my feverish race of thoughts is stopped quickly after I enter the SNCF ticket office in the airport. I only manage to get out “Bonjour, je suis ici pour cinq jours”, but something about it must have been convincing, because the lady at the counter released what sounded to my ears like a torrent of rapid French and the only word I understood was “dimanche”. I apologized in English and she reeled off the information I needed in the same language, but she clearly didn’t wish to pursue any longer interactions, so all my carefully constructed sentence parts will have to be saved for next time.

I redeemed myself the next morning by loudly and decisively telling a man blocking my path in the metro “Excusez-moi!”, only to see that he was a ticket controller.