Nice on €10 a day

Nice on €10 a day

Nice on €10 a day - 01

Every time we come here, the same thing happens:

Me: Keith?

Keith: Yep.

Me: Why don’t we live in Nice?

Keith: Don’t know, love.

Nice on €10 a day - 02

We bloody love Nice. We’ve been here quite a few times and it’s always just brilliant. I can’t put my finger on what it is that we love so much about Nice. It is quite a lot like Brighton with sun, but surely that can’t be it? Can it? We have come to the conclusion that we like everywhere that’s like Brighton with sun, so maybe that’s part of it, but Nice is just small enough, cool enough, sunny enough and interesting enough to keep us entertained. This visit was at the end of a weird and very busy week so I hadn’t had time to get my head around the fact that we were going away.

Nice on €10 a day - 03

Nice on €10 a day - 04

We set off at 4am to Gatwick and halfway through the afternoon, I found myself laughing out loud shouting ‘We’re in Nice’ as the reality finally hit me. I once had a minor mental breakdown here on my own (after Keith had caught an earlier flight home than me to go somewhere for work) and almost didn’t come home. Still wonder if I made the right choice. By now I would have fitted right in with the leathery elderly gents and ladies who frequent the beach during the day and probably sleep under a sunbed at night just to get their fix.

Nice on €10 a day - 05

Who could not love a place where you can swim in the sea and get horrifically sunburned within an hour in October. Idiots.

I first came to Nice 18 years ago in a time when it had a bad reputation. Guidebooks warned of pickpockets, dodgy happenings on the beach and a general sense that you needed to watch your back. It was a place where no one really wanted to go. Seedy, sleazy and full of dog shit. Since then, Nice has cleaned up its act and is now a very nice place to be. The city has had a whole bunch of money pumped into its redevelopment including a tram network, multiple public pieces of art and most recently, a fantastic new park in the middle of the city complete with squirty fountains and enormous wooden creatures for kids to climb all over.

Nice on €10 a day - 06

Nice on €10 a day - 07

This time we’re here on a budget as this is our new existence. This trip was booked when we still had jobs and cash so is a big of a hangover from the ‘Old Life’, but it was paid for so we had to come. In actual fact, we never spend much money in Nice. Buses to anywhere along the whole Cote D’Azur only cost €1.50. There’s something really joyful about going to Monaco on a bus for €1.50 and buying nothing more than an ice cream in the most stupidly, tackily affluent place in Europe. Once we went to the Casino at Monte Carlo and spent €5 on the slot machines. Living dangerously and hoping that some multi-billionaire would decide that his ‘Lady Luck’ for the day was a scruffy, slightly overweight sunburned middle-aged woman. Let me dream.

Nice on €10 a day - 08

This weekend we went in the other direction west to St Paul de Vence, made famous by none other than Bill Wyman in his classic hit, Je suis un rock star. It goes like this:

Je suis un rock star, j’avez une residence,Je habitez la dans la south de France,Voulez-vous partir with me,And come and restez la with me in Vence.

I knew the words without having to look them up because I remember reading and learning them from Smash Hits in 1981, and despite not remembering what I’m supposed to be doing tomorrow, I do know all the lyrics of Je suis un rock star. Thanks, brain, most helpful choice of data storage criteria applied there.

Nice on €10 a day - 09

Actually St Paul de Vence is made more famous by the likes of Chagall, Picasso and Matisse who all shacked up there for quite some time and have now turned the place in a crumbly bunch of expensive art galleries and posh restaurants. It is a really pretty place perched on top of an outcrop of rock an hour on the bus from Nice.

Nice on €10 a day - 10

Nice on €10 a day - 12

It is fair to say that house prices in St Paul de Vence are what you might call ‘bloody ridiculous’. This little number is up for sale for €450,000 and you don’t even get the shop underneath in order to sell overpriced Matisse prints in order to pay your astronomical mortgage. Worthing suddenly looks like excellent value, despite the lack of sun, romance, character… I’ll stop there before I depress myself.

Nice on €10 a day - 11

In St Paul de Vence, I think I found my calling in life. Two of my best favourite things in life are French villages and tidying up. So, what better job could there be than a French village hooverer? That was his real job. I would bloody love that. I wonder what qualifications you need. I would have got a better picture, but the fella saw me following him pretending to take photos of the surrounding houses unconvincingly. He could probably tell I was after his job.

Nice on €10 a day - 13

 

St Paul de Vence also progressed a new hobby which we started in Somo, near Santander on our bike trip: Life imitates art. I think this could catch on and go viral. I am wondering how best to set up a platform for other contributions to this fascinating new trend.

Nice on €10 a day - 14

Nice on €10 a day - 15

Once we returned to Nice from St Paul de Vence we found that we couldn’t stop.

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Nice on €10 a day - 17

We also have a favourite jam shop in Nice which sells a particular Lavendar jam that Keith is somewhat partial to.

Nice on €10 a day - 18

The shop is run by the owner and jam-maker himself who revealed himself on this visit as what can only be described as ‘a bit right wing’ on this occasion. I have read that the French do not balk at the topic of politics in polite conversation as we Brits might and quite enjoy a rousing debate, feeling no compulsion to agree out of good manners with what is being said. We discovered that Jam Man had no problem with contributing to the payment of welfare benefits to the unemployed, as long as they didn’t drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. He was positive about Sarkosy and had nothing but ‘boffs’ and disdain for Hollande. He didn’t mind the Polish, but wasn’t so keen on the Romanians or the Arabs, but none of these were as bad as the Russians, who were mafia and had too much money and no manners. If we’d have stayed longer I think we could have a jolly old time finding out his views on gay marriage. Oh, and he thought David Cameron was a good bloke. He does make lovely jam though. Keith has asked him for job in his jam shop twice but he either thinks we’re joking or is ignoring us.

Nice on €10 a day - 19

We always have ice cream in Nice. Our usual summertime dinner is take-away pizza, bottle of €1 fizzy wine, bottle of cassis and two chocolate moelleux puddings from the Lac Chocolatier shop in the old town, whilst sitting on the beach watching the sun go down, with the option of an evening swim while you’re at it. It’s an expensive night out for €17, but sometimes you just gotta push the boat out.

Nice on €10 a day - 20

Early sunsets in October mean no beach dinners this time but we managed an ice cream from our up-until-now favourite ice cream shop, which we will never visit again because the woman behind the counter wouldn’t let me take a photo of the ice cream in the shop, even though I was buying one, and even though publishing it on this blog would have rocketed her profits by at least €2 a year for the rest of her life. So, screw her. We shall go elsewhere. Yes, I am that churlish, don’t mess with me. Here is a photo of some cakes from the lovely Lac Chocolatier who did let me take a photo. Shame they don’t sell ice cream, but loads of other places do in Nice, it’s a bit of a thing (near to Italian border).

Nice on €10 a day - 21

We also came home with a new addition to our family on this trip. Sitting on the pavement all alone, we found Guillaume.

Nice on €10 a day - 22

He wasn’t called Guillaume when we found him (or was he?), but he didn’t look like his rightful owner would come back and get him, so we rescued him. Is he a lamb? Is he a dog? The jury is out, but he is Guillaume and he now lives in Worthing. Considering he used to live in Nice, I’m not sure we’ve done him any favours now I come to think of it.

Nice on €10 a day - 23

Nice is the kind of place that doesn’t have a ton of must-sees, it’s perfectly fine to just wander. There’s the Vieux Ville (Old Town), the Promenade des Anglais, the beach, the port, the cheap bus rides to anywhere along the coast in both directions, the food, the markets; really just the general laid-back ambience of a warm seaside city.

As someone once said: ‘If you’re tired of Nice, you’re tired of ice cream’.

I think it was me.

Nice on €10 a day - 24

Cost of trip:

Flights cost us £79.00 each – British Airways out, Easyjet back. We walked from the airport to our accommodation- Nice airport is about 4 miles along the beach from the centre. Bus ticket in costs €6 each (saving of €24). We decided to save the money and got somewhere to stay mid-way between airport and centre so neither felt too far in one stretch. We got a studio at the Adagio Access Nice Magnan which wasn’t the cheapest at £70.00 per night (Airbnb had studios for €34 a night when I looked later). Advantange of the apartment was that it had a kitchen including fridge, hotplate and microwave. This saved us a whopping fortune on hotel breakfast (saving of €34.60 in our aparthotel) and dinners out. We spent a total of €60 in 3 days. This bought us 2 x breakfasts for two people, 3 x lunches for two, 2 x dinners for two, bus tickets to/from St Paul de Vence, 2 x ice creams. We ate granola, yogurt, juice, coffee, rotisserie chicken, Dauphinoise potatoes, salad, Camembert, ham, tomatoes, bread, chocolate pudding, chocolate, soup and fromage blanc. We always take plastic cutlery and a tupperware box for storing, carrying and mixing stuff. Fill it with pants and socks in your luggage and it takes up no room.

The Cote D’Azur, where even the toilets have charm.

Nice on €10 a day - 25

Day 13: Biarritz. Rest day.

Day 13: Biarritz. Rest day.

Me: We should learn to surf.
Keith: I don’t want to.
Me: Why?
Keith: Because its completely bloody pointless.

Hard to argue with that, but I so want to be cool. Just for once.

Photograph of Biarritz beach and bay taken from top of cliff looking south.

 

It seems like everyone surfs here. Or pretends to. Unless you are an elderly lady who’s had ‘some work done’ who can’t surf because she has to look after her ridiculously small dog and her extensive collection of leopard print garments. Or one of the many gentlemen getting away with a specific shade of salmon pink trouser that would not be tolerated in Britain without homophobic comment being passed.

Photograph of surfers at dusk, Biarritz, France.

Today we had ice cream made by a ‘Champion du Monde’ in the ice cream field. As an ice cream maker myself, I was keen to see if his claims had any merit and if perhaps living in Biarritz could be achieved after all if I could open an ice cream shop to rival his (yet another use for Keith’s redundancy money). Suffice to say it’s back to the drawing board. We both had to concede that this could well be the best ice cream in the world. Rare and high praise not lightly given.

Photograph of two pots of Thierry Bamas ice cream on a Biarritz pavement.

 

The number of flavours were limited to about 14 – none of your messing about with fancy shit – and were just sublime. Keith had vanilla and blackcurrant and violet. I had raspberry sorbet and salted caramel. Divine. Biarritz is very much a French holiday resort as its not too easy to get to. Ryanair fly there from the UK. That would be worth suffering for a Thierry Bamas ice cream.

The other thing that feels nice about Biarritz is that alongside all the hoards of tourists, it’s a real town with real residents, even if they are a bit bonkers. It’s a bit like Brighton with sand. The market was packed on a Sunday morning. As not very brave travellers, we are frequently beaten by markets and other local establishments that have rules that we don’t know. We often queue for ages and appear to be overlooked only to discover that their was a ‘system’, despite the fact that it looked like the last thing that could ever possibly be in existence was a ‘system’. More often than not, we give up and scuttle off to a supermarket where we can pick up what we need without having to speak to anyone or get it wrong, but feeling like complete failures for our ineptitude at basic level intrepidness and bad about not supporting local tradespeople. If they would only form an orderly queue like civilised people, this wouldn’t have to happen. Perhaps we should move here and teach them a thing or two. Moving to warm, sunny places is a bit of theme in our lives.

Photograph of interior of Biarritz market with stalls and lots of people.

Photograph of vegetables on market stall in Biarritz Market, France.

But today wasn’t one of those days that we would be beaten by locally grown agricultural products. Today I win at markets. And it feels good. Small victories are claimed by cowards.

Today we also win at Basque cake. They come in three flavours: custard, chocolate and cherry, so we had all three. As Keith says in times of such deliberation: ‘It’s not an ‘or’ situation; it’s an ‘and’.’

Photograph of three Gateaux Basques cakes on a plate.

The cakes are ground almond based so super squidgy and moist. All were good, but custard just too sweet.

Biarritz being on the Atlantic is therefore tidal, so at certain times of the day,the beautiful golden sand beach of the main bay disappears.

Photograph of Biarritz surf beach on a sunny day with swimmers and surfers in the sea.
And all of the thousands of people have to find somewhere to tan their beautiful selves, so they pop round the corner to the town beach which doesn’t all get swallowed in sea. This was all a bit much for us (me, mainly). Too busy, too noisy, too visually overwhelming. Some of these people must have been before and know what it’s like, and come back for more year after year. This is puzzling. We do not comprehend such behaviour. We conclude that some people like to sit this close to other people and don’t get stressed about stepping on other people’s towels or losing their kids. They actually find it relaxing and fun. We are not those people. We have to live in a world populated by these people. This is harder than you may think. I am in awe of those people and wish I was that laid back.

Photograph of a packed beach in Biarritz, France.

We spent our final evening here watching CSI on telly and wishing we didn’t have to get back on the road tomorrow. Tomorrow means Spain, which means poor maps, poor planning, mountains and horror stories about how hard it is to get into San Sebastian on a bicycle.

Day 4: St Philbert de Boutaine – Lucon. 80 km.

Day 4: St Philbert de Boutaine – Lucon. 80 km.

Photograph of Philbert de Boutaine Hotel breakfast

The one star breakfast wasn’t so bad.

Back on the road again. The landscape has flattened out now to constant minor inclines. Much harder work than they sound. There is no respite and no payoff, only a rollercoaster of emotion. The ups bring despair, the downs: elation. Sounds a bit dramatic but that’s the way it feels when it continues for hours. Tiny slopes, unperceivable to the motorist, become sources of hope and doom to the knackered cyclist.

Photograph of a field of sunflowers
Today we saw our first sunflowers. Fields and fields of them replacing the corn which had dominated up til now. What is it about sunflowers? Find me a person who is not warmed by the sight of a vast expanse of waving heads facing into the sun (mind your eyes, little flowers) and I’ll find you someone who needs to get out more. Or something.

Camping tonight in Lucon (missing a circumflex) at a proper holiday village, Domains de Guifettes. It has chalets, mobile homes, a bar and a lake. Woo hoo! We’re on holiday! But before we can hurl ourselves into the hedonistic world of the French holiday village, we have domestics to do. Clothes to wash and bikes to maintain. Just what you fancy after cycling 50 miles.

Photograph of Keith doing some bicycle maintenance.
Sat by the lake on the fake beach in the evening. The lake is unswimmable, probably due to being an almost fluorescent shade of green and somewhat gloopy with algae, but it looks nice. The landscape now is flat as a pancake and that fills us with a little joy for when we next hit the road.

Photograph of Keith sitting on a sunlounger on a sandy river beach in Lucon, France.
Had pizza in the beach and learned something new: it is possible to fuck up pizza. Who knew? I love French pizza. The base is super thin and they quite like chucking crème fraiche on them, which is fine by me. Sadly, these pizzas has a bizarre range of toppings,most of which were not on the ones we ordered and several of which were missing from the ones we ordered. Tuna, potato and bacon pizza, anyone?

 

Photograph of two pizzas in boxes side by side.

The bar was basically a gay disco pumping out techo Cher at 8pm whilst people are ordering ice cream for their kids, staffed by a large man with a lot of chest, chain-smoking and talking constantly on his mobile. He reached another pinnacle of achievement: it is possible to fuck up ice cream too. Bubble gum flavour ice cream on a waffle. My fault, my French wasn’t good enough to know exactly what delight from the menu I had ordered, but I wrongly assumed that all ice cream is good, whatever the concoction. Well, you know what they say in crap training courses about assuming (ass-u-me), turns out its true.