Nice, France. La Baie des Anges. La Promenade des Anglais. Famous names and places many travelers’ dreams are made of. For those who have been lucky enough to visit and spend quality time in Nice, no explanation is needed. They know. For those who haven’t yet, let me tell you the story of my long-lasting friendship with that beautiful girl, la fille du sud. You can find her on the shore of the Mediterranean sea. She has been blessed by the Gods, (whoever they may be,) with expansive blue skies, unlimited access to bountiful produce, a rich history straddling two cultures, and more scenic and heart-stopping sights than one can envision. Bienvenue à Nice, the ruling queen of the French Riviera. My favorite trips always include at least one great city. I visited three during my French summer vacation this month, Paris, Lyon, and Nice, all so beautiful, with unique personalities. There is a reason the trip ended on the coast. Nice, France holds a special place in my heart.
Many years ago, my personal life was unraveling, and I saw no way out. On a whim, I decided to return to Nice, a city I had not seen for many years, on my own. I hoped the trip would take me back to the happy summers of my childhood, spent on the shores of the Mediterranean, in France and in Spain. I hoped for a break. From the moment I saw her through the window of the airplane as we started our descent towards the Bay of Angels, I was hooked. I remember thinking I had never seen so many glorious colors, vivid promises of happier times ahead. Nice, France, had me at “Hello.” She seemed so happy, so radiant in the summer sun. The sight of her immediately lifted my spirits. It was, indeed, the beginning of a beautiful friendship, as illustrated in all the enthusiastic stories I wrote on my blog in the summers of 2011, 2012, and in the years that followed. For long intoxicating days and nights, as I explored the city and surrounding areas, I relished every moment, every step I took in le Vieux Nice, (the old town,) along the harbor, on the Promenade des Anglais, every interaction with locals. I savored every slice of Socca, a local snack, and every glass of Rosé. In Nice, France, for a few magical days each year, I found freedom, a renewed sense of independence, the peace I had craved for. “You will be all right. Everything will be all right,” Nice whispered in my ear, shrugging it all off, so carefree, so mesmerizing, How could I not believe her?
I went home that first year, and I was not all right. More challenging times, more upheavals were to come, but I kept returning, for strength, for inspiration, for laughs. I found true companionship in a busy, touristy, city on the French Riviera. How funny is that? And so, this summer, after several years of turmoil – You were right, Nice. I bounced back. I am going to be all right, – I planned to pay a visit to my old friend, for a reunion of sorts, a celebration of good things to come. I booked a wonderful apartment (details at the end of this story,) like always in the old town, above le Cours Saleya, the city’s most popular market in the daytime, and a favorite night-time spot, when restaurant and café terraces sprawl out, alive with the sound of conversations and laughter.
On the evening of July 14th, the French National Holiday, I was in Paris with my family, and we watched the traditional military parade on the Champs-Elysées we had taped earlier that day. We felt relieved that in spite of terror threats, the 2016 Euro soccer competition had wrapped up peacefully and successfully for France, after a tumultuous 2015. Then text messages started coming in, from friends and relatives who knew I was headed to Lyon, then Nice, the next day. “Did you hear about Nice? A guy in a truck attacked people on la Promenade des Anglais.” The familiar sinking feeling returned. Not again. Charlie Hebdo. Le Bataclan. So many other tragedies all over the world in between. Too many to count. The new normal, still unacceptable. And now Nice. I was asked if I would cancel the trip, if I would be returning to Paris, my adoptive city, after visiting Lyon over the weekend. I considered it very briefly, not knowing if it’d be easy to reach Nice with increased security. There are worse things in life than having to spend extra days in Paris as a tourist in the company of dear friends and loved ones. Then, quickly, I made my decision. I would go to Nice, if they’d let me. I had to check on my girlfriend and make sure she and her people were all right.
I reached the coast three days after the July 14 attack, after a rewarding visit in Lyon (Lyon deserves her own story, and will get it later.) The first thing I saw when I left the train station as I waited for the tram, were three young men’s faces, smiling at me from flyers posted all over the city walls: “MISSING- Have you seen this person?” Then their name, a description, their country of origin (they were all out of town visitors.) Finally, the sentence: “Last seen, High Beach, Promenade des Anglais, evening of July 14th.” I realized later these three young men were among the victims, many of them children, whose bodies had not yet been identified. As the tram made its way towards the old town, I spotted the French and international media, blocking half the elegant Place Masséna. Hiding in the shade from the summer heat, reporters were waiting for the scoop, the story worth sharing, and, I understood later, for the ceremony and tribute scheduled the following day, on Monday July 18.
This visit was going to be different.
i stayed away from la Promenade des Anglais, the tributes, the flowers, for the next three days. Instead, I looked at people in the heart of le Vieux Nice. There, on Monday July 18 at noon, I stood next to two restaurant waiters for the minute of silence observed around the country. I listened to conversations. I heard the Niçois’ grief, their concerns, and above all their anger, at the murderer, and at the French government that seemed so powerless at protecting the country. Yes, Nice and her people were upset, and I was too. I would not presume to understand how the victims’ families and friends felt. Half of them came from other countries. Like me, they had arrived in Nice, France, for a good time, on their vacation, to fulfill a dream maybe. They had met chaos, pain, and even death. Pourquoi? Why? As the days passed, and the official tributes unfolded, the media frenzy continued around the world. I avoided that too, as much as I could. It was unmistakable: Nice was a little quieter. Some restaurant tables stayed empty at night, even on popular Cours Saleya. There were people on the famous pebbled beach, just not as many. Some tourists had clearly canceled their visits out of fear.
They needn’t have. The city was secure. The police, the Gendarmerie, and the army, heavily armed, could be seen patrolling streets in the summer heat. I greeted them every chance I got. So did other people, including waiters at restaurant terraces, occasionally joking with a young soldier and offering him to swing by later, for a free drink, “pour l’Apéro.” The soldier typically did not respond, but acknowledged greetings and smiles with a nod.
During that week, I never felt fear. I was home, where everything is familiar and reassuring. I realized once again, just as I have many times over the last 35 years following terror attacks in Paris, that risk is all around us, everyday, everywhere we go. We all need to make a choice: Are we going to stop traveling, exploring, and enjoying ourselves because *something* could happen? Are we going to hide, even as we fully realize we are not safe at home either? Are we going to give the fanatics, the lunatics, the cowards, the hypocrites, the failures-to-launch of the world the satisfaction? I think not. I love France. I love Europe. I love travel. I will not change or cancel my plans. Not only will I keep traveling, I will also continue sharing the lifestyle I – and millions of others – are attached to, on this blog, on Instagram, and with the French Girl in Seattle Facebook community. We are small, but we are mighty. The word gets out fast thanks to social media. If I can convince just one person to not cancel their trip, to go to Paris, Nice, or anywhere else, especially in France this year, to live their dreams while supporting the local economy, then mission accomplished.
Nice, France is waiting. She has not changed. Even bruised and battered, she remains lively, fascinating, and too beautiful for words. So let’s use photos, shall we? Le Vieux Nice, the old town, is still the magical place, it always was, not quite France, not quite Italy either. This is where you go for some shade during the hot afternoon hours, or for a good time in the evening.
For a change of pace, and to watch locals and visitors at play, head to the beach, stroll along la Promenade des Anglais, or go to the most elegant part of town, la Promenade du Paillon, la place Masséna and the pedestrian-only streets of the shopping area.
If you thought Nice, France was captivating in the summer sun; wait until you see her dressed for the evening.
If you believe food, drinks and life are best enjoyed #enterrasse, then Nice, France is for you. You have many outdoor spots to pick from, even if if you are sitting in the privacy of your own balcony with a view.
The choice is yours, les amis. For me, it’s an easy one. I hope that over the next few years, most of my travels lead me back to la fille du sud, my girlfriend, la belle Nice, and to France.
All photos by French Girl in Seattle. Please do not use without permission.