A year abroad in the south of France is not complete without frequent visits to Nice. And three visits in three months does it nicely, even if the second was only a brief stop on the way to Monaco, a mere stepping stone if you will. If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve lived in Aix-en-Provence since September and hold an incredible bias for it, I believe I’d easily consider Nice my favourite French town. A city on the coast, perhaps too small to be considered a city, but a decent sized town nonetheless, featuring independent cafés, bars and squares like every town seems to do in France, but with an added breath of sea air, promenades and beaches.
We were here for our friend’s birthday, exactly 12 weeks since first visit. You see, said friend booked the wrong bus for that trip and moved it, quite conveniently, and without much mention to the rest of us, to her birthday weekend, with the expectation that we would then all make the journey again in December, which we did. Well-played. An early start for us that morning was easy after a quiet night in – I will mention this briefly simply because of how proud I am of our achievements – making Christmas Dinner, for seven people, with 4 working hobs, of which only 2 worked initially, and a microwave. Impossible you say: you are wrong. A list was drawn up, food was purchased, roles were appointed, it seems I have a knack for peeling parsnips, cabbage was fried, onions were fried, carrots were boiled, potatoes were boiled, then fried, pre-roasted chickens were placed in the microwave. It was a feast fit for tasteless king.
Anyway, Nice. We had chosen the same hostel, which I would recommend but I’m not sure about my advertising privileges, and it was somewhat surreal walking into the same building on the last week of my first Erasmus semester exactly three months later, exactly three months on from the first week of my term, with the same people and the same intentions. A fitting ending I thought, comfortably cyclic. However, contrary to our first stay, where we turned up without a booking, much to my dismay, and inquired on the day what rooms they had, this day we had booked in advance, and oh my did we get lucky. Instead of being split into twos and threes, we had all been put together, one eight-berth room, perfect. No longer were you leaving the room, after stowing every valuable item you own in the flimsy “safety” box that the hostel so kindly provides, wondering whether they would be there when you got back, hoping your roommate hadn’t stolen your identity and moved half way across the world in the half an hour it took you to go and make dinner.
The day was colder than September, but it was just as busy. Sunbathers and swimmers had made their way inland 200 yards and now strolled, scarf-clad, flip flops still hanging wantonly from one hand, among the stalls of the Christmas market, which promised much more in sight than it delivered in truth. But then, when you’re not there to buy anything, and you dislike people trying to entice you over to stalls for tasters that you don’t want because they make you feel guilty and inclined to buy things that you don’t want, is any Christmas market really that appealing? Scrooge set aside, it was a nice Christmas market, don’t catch the plane there especially though. The setting however, as is always the case in Nice, was beautiful: a large square, draped in history, hemmed in from afar by red buildings decorated with golden arches, paved in black and white tiles which make pedestrians pawns on a city planner’s chess board.
We ambled back and forth, found ourselves among Christmas trees, found ourselves by the shore. The sun was going down, so we sat for a while and then asked someone to take a photo, because let’s face it, we’re not fooling anyone, and we’re not trying to, but we are just as much tourists as anyone else. You can see the airport from the beach in Nice, so we watched the planes fly out and the tide come in as the sun set on our first semester.