With a population of nearly 345,000 people, Nice is Cannes’ nearest big city. I had been eager to visit it since I was pretty out of it when we landed at its airport back when we first arrived in France (and going straight from the airport to a bus doesn’t really count as seeing a city), and so many people have listed it as a Must-See Place. A lot of people here have been semi-complaining about how small Cannes is (population ~74,000) and how there’s not much going on. Maybe I just have a pretty skewed perspective, coming from a town of ~2100 people and then going to a college where the only stores within walking distance are antique shops, but I don’t think I’ve ever lived in such a metropolitan and thriving area! So needless to say, I was very interested to see what an actual “busy” French city looks like!
Aude took a bunch of us to Nice for the last day of Carnival, an annual parade/celebration that lasts for a couple of weeks. It’s kind of like Mardi Gras, only with confetti and silly string instead of beads.
So we park on the Promenade des Anglais (the road right along the beach) and walk over to the parade site. Right off the bat, you’re surrounded by kids running around in costumes (Frozen’s popularity has not died down yet, apparently – we saw many an Elsa!) – since the French don’t celebrate Halloween, I guess this is probably their only opportunity to dress up.
There is also confetti completely covering the ground, as well as discarded silly string cans. My French teacher, Christel, had warned us in class that everyone who goes to Carnival will end up with some sort of something on them, so while it wasn’t too surprising, I was still kind of in awe of the sheer amount of everything!
As Kailyn and I were meandering and searching for a place to watch the parade, we met an older Italian fellow who tried to shoot us with silly string. His can was nearly empty, though, so we basically just got covered with specks and remnants. I don’t think I’ve ever been silly stringed before (or, perhaps better yet, the target of a failed silly string attempt), so that was something I can check off of the bucket list now! He then asked us where we were from, and got really excited when he learned we were American. “I love the States, I really do!” He asked where in the US we were from, and my saying California seemed to make him really happy:
“California! Frisco, yes?”
“Oh – San Francisco? Yeah, all my family lives near there!”
“Golden Gate! Love Frisco!”
“Yeah, San Francisco’s great!”
Kailyn then told him that she was from Iowa, which still excited him, but he didn’t seem to know any landmarks from there. Then he turned back to me and asked if I’m Irish (somehow he guessed correctly…not like I have any distinguishing Irish characteristics!), and I told him that I was, indeed, part Irish. Then he asked us if we had heard of Buchanan before.
“Buchanan? Like the president?”
“Yes! President Buchanan!”
He then bid us a happy Carnival and went on his merry way, leaving the two of us to puzzle over why he would ask about Buchanan, of all presidents.
We found a somewhat less crowded area for the parade, which started shortly after. The theme this year was King of Music, so all of the floats were related to music in some shape or form. As a former marching band geek, I was eating the whole thing up! I also really enjoyed how there was such a blend of different musical styles represented, from Beethoven to Mick Jagger. I’m not entirely sure how to explain the overall experience, so I think in this case my pictures will give a better feel for everything:
The parade was a couple of hours, and by the time it was over, the ground was completely covered in confetti and the trees had streamers and silly string hanging from them. I can honestly say that I’d never experienced anything quite like it before – just the energy and the style of it were absolutely incredible.
By that point we still had a little over an hour to wander around til we had to be back at the bus, so we headed off towards this area with a tiny amusement park – ferris wheel, trampolines, and food stands. Since it was Carnival, we figured that it was only fitting to get churros. I’ve gotten churros maybe three times before in my life, and each time it’s been a long stick, but here we got giant cones with probably 10 decently sized churros in them. It was kind of a ridiculous amount of churro, but it seemed appropriate given the setting.
We took our Cones O’Sugar back to the Promenade des Anglais and walked along the sea on our way back to the bus. It was very windy but absolutely gorgeous. The Promenade is filled with people walking, biking, scootering, roller-skating, and street performing – we passed a Michael Jackson impersonator who had drawn a pretty sizable crowd. My favorite, though, was right in front of our bus; a man was painting the apparently famous hotel we were parked in front of, and we got to watch him for a few minutes before leaving.
The following weekend, Kailyn and I decided to head back to Nice for the day to wander around a bit since we hadn’t gotten to see much of the town outside of the parade. So after brunch on Saturday, we headed over to the train station, ordered our tickets in all French, and managed to get on the right train and off at the right stop! All major accomplishments.
The train station in Nice is right outside of the center of town, which we managed to find pretty easily just by following the crowd, but then we had to figure out where to go from there. We didn’t really have much of a game plan going in – we thought maybe we’d try to have dinner on the beach, and Aude had told us about this panoramic point that we thought we’d try to find, but apart from that we were pretty aimless. That seems to be our general strategy whenever we go somewhere – wander around and figure we’ll stumble across something!
We’d heard from a few others that we had to go to the giant mall, which we passed on our way in the direction of what we thought for really no reason at all was the coast. So we popped in and browsed around for a bit. We found a Starbucks, which got me really excited because it was like a cozy reminder of the time I’ve spent fulfilling basically every writer stereotype at Starbucks back in Orange. I got an espresso Frappuccino, and it was wonderful.
We browsed around the rest of the 4 story mall, going into the occasional store. There was this one giant department store where we found this classic shirt that is pretty stereotypically/fittingly American:
There are also a ridiculous number of underwear stores and baby’s/children’s clothing stores in France. There was one floor in the mall that was nearly exclusively expensive baby clothes, and there was a section on another floor where every other store was selling lingerie. Cannes is definitely the same way, so it’ll be interesting to see if Paris and other larger French cities we visit also have the same focuses.
Having taken advantage of the mall’s American coffee and free wifi, we headed back out and managed to find the area we were in for the parade the week prior – we almost didn’t recognize it without the confetti everywhere! Though there were still streamers and sparkly things in the trees.
We walked across from the Promenade des Anglais for a while, passing this cute little flower market along the way. At some point we took a left and started up this long and winding narrow street crammed with restaurants and shops selling everything from clothes to soap to pirate themed candy.
Probably my favorite part of Nice is how cute and charming and colorful everything is. We passed a pink clock tower, and while the buildings are still pastel-y like in Cannes, they’re a different sort of pastel – brighter, maybe?
Anyway, that road eventually looped around and brought us through a residential/apartment area and finally back to the Promenade. We figured that since we were towards the very end of the Promenade, we were probably pretty close to the panorama point Aude told us about, and, sure enough, we stumbled upon some stairs that seemed to lead to the top of this mountain.
After probably around 736 steps (disclaimer: may be slight exaggeration), we reached a fork in the path with signs that were really not very clear at all to help us figure out which way to go. We knew there was an old chateau at the top that we wanted to find, but had no idea which way to go based on the signs. So we eeny meeny miney mo-ed a direction and discovered a waterfall, which was nice and misty and refreshing and beautiful, but not what we had set out to find!
So we went back the way we came and climbed some more steps and started finding these remnants of old floors and walls and the like, many of which were leftover from the chateau. Turns out the chateau isn’t really much of a chateau anymore! But the leftovers were still quite interesting, and the fact that it wasn’t whole gave it sort of an air of mystery.
We also found part of an old church next to a park, and we eventually found quite a few spots that had pretty fantastic views! Not exactly sure if we found the “official” panorama spot, but by that point we were pretty tired and hungry, so we decided to try to find our way back down.
So I mentioned before how confusing the signs were, but it got pretty bad when we were trying to find our way down! I swear various signs contradicted each other, and given our natural propensity for going in circles as it is, it took us a fair while to end up back on the Promenade! We finally ended up just ignoring the signs and going whichever way seemed to take us most downhill.
We walked back towards the center of town, where there are a cluster of restaurants that are actually out on the beach. We found a reasonably priced place (not easy – there was one place that had dinner for 78 euros!) and went down to a table, but we were only presented with a dessert menu. We’re still not sure if it was just that we were too early for dinner, or if it’s an off-season and they close before dinner, because it looked like they were starting to close everything up by the time we left. So it wasn’t exactly the dinner we were hoping for, but we had some delicious ice cream sundaes and enjoyed the rocky beach and the sparkling water!
We then wandered back towards the area with the flower market, as there had been a plethora of decently-priced restaurants around there, and we ended up at a little pizza place that offered us a student discount. I had a vegetarian pizza with lots of bell peppers and artichoke hearts and the like – delicious!
At this point it was dark and cold and we were full, so we decided to head back to the train station. This brought about the realization that the giant raised statues of sitting people in the square near where the parade had been light up and change color when it’s night! We had a pretty good laugh over how most people find the shopping to be the most exciting part of Nice, while we were freaking out over watching the statues morph from blue to green to orange, etc.
We made it back to the train station and even onto the train just fine, but the ride back was a bit tricky since we had trouble telling what each stop was. The loudspeaker announcing the stops was barely audible, and the inside of the train was so bright that it made seeing the platforms outside near impossible. Somehow we were able to figure out which one was Cannes, though, and after a half hour’s walk we were warm and cozy back in our room!
This upcoming Thursday the AIFS group is leaving for Paris! I remember how when we first arrived here and received the schedule for the semester, Paris seemed so far away. It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been here for close to two months! I feel so lucky to be able to explore and study in such a beautiful region. I miss my friends and family back in Mariposa/Orange/California etc., but it’s kind of amazing how Cannes is beginning to feel like a third home already.