Tout a commencé avec français.
Incremental exposure to French language and culture sparked my international curiosity and called me to come abroad. In elementary school, I participated in a lunch-time French club, where I was introduced to the basic words and phrases of a language that seized my attention. My official French studies began in middle school and have not stopped (aside from this short break in Spain). Though I’ve adjusted my lingual learning throughout my education, I do not have a passion for the other languages and cultures as I do for French. University logistics dictated that I study in Madrid before France, so after years of fantasies, studies, and patience, I was beyond eager for the opportunity to visit the country that I had never been to, but that already had my heart.
The University of Maryland operates a study abroad program in Nice, France, which I intend to take part in next spring. A friend from one of my French classes is participating in the year-long version of the program and invited me to spend a weekend with her while we were both abroad. I would be able to preview the city, learn about the program, and have my own personal tour guide in Nice.
After getting off of the plane, I stood at the gate for a moment, taking in the ocean views from the Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport. I was finally in France! After locating my my friend Olivia, we made our way to her apartment via scenic bus ride, a default privilege whenever one travels along Nice’s Promenade des Anglais.
For dinner, Olivia brought me to La Claire Fontaine, and we both got pizza. Though we were in France, she informed me that there were Italian influences in Nice because of its Mediterranean location. I took the heavy rain that began during dinner as a sign to extend my stay in the restaurant and finish my entire personal pizza pie, one of the best I’ve ever had. Once the rain slowed, we dashed across the street for dessert. Continuing Italian influences led us to Fenocchio, a gelato shop that my friend claims is the best in Nice. I wouldn’t argue with her assessment. The shop boasted endless flavor options, and my cup of white chocolate gelato was delicious.
As thrilled as I was to have been in France, I was much less enthusiastic to speak. My French was embarrassing. Originally eager to finally use French after only practicing Spanish for the last two months, I thought that this trip would be the perfect opportunity to exercise my skills. All of the confidence that I had developed in my French speaking abilities, however, disappeared when I attempted to talk in Nice. I could not think of much of what I wanted to say, Spanish slipped out nearly every other word, and the French accent that I had worked so hard to develop was nonexistent. I know that I can credit this to my immersion in Spain, in addition to a complete lack of use of French, but nonetheless, it was frustrating. I will do my best to practice my French while in Spain, even if only mentally, with hopes that it will come back to me in French class this fall.
Day 2 – Monaco
With so many other destinations accessible from Nice, Olivia brought me to the Principality of Monaco. A 45-minute bus ride for 1,50€ brought us right into the center of the little land of big boats, fancy cars and people looking to spend money. Taking in the impeccable grounds, beautiful buildings, and happy visitors relaxing in the sunny, 60-degree weather, I felt like I was in Walt Disney World. From the landscaping to the sky, the town felt staged. Everything was perfect, too delightful to be true.
Strolling past green lawns and luxury shops, we arrived at the Casino de Monte-Carlo. Though I expected more grandeur after all that I’ve heard about the famous gambling hub, it was still a stunning structure. Even more underwhelming was the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, but the views from the courtyards of the royal residence were impressive. Upon the same hill as the palace is Princess Grace Kelly’s grave, in the Saint Nicholas Cathedral, along with the other monarchs of Monaco’s past.
For me, where Monaco lacked in architectural richness, it made up for in linguistic diversity. Similar to Nice, but even more so, Italian influences intermingled with French flair. Though it has been a year since I have studied Italian, after 5 years of study, I was pleased to find that I could still understand some of the language that I saw and heard. Studying in Nice would allow me to practice my French, as well as some Italian, keeping my language studies well-rounded.
When Olivia and I returned to Nice, we picked up a local snack called socca. Socca is, essentially, a crêpe made out of chickpea flour. Though I had never had chickpeas before, the socca tasted just as I imagined. Served warm with only salt and pepper, it was slightly bland, but tasty. It is not something I’ll ever be craving, but it was a nice lunchtime snack.
As the day progressed, we decided to pair our salty socca with sweet cupcakes. Emma’s Cupcakes was luxe yet inviting, and though we could have spent the day in the shop, we took our treats to go. Sitting on the wall of the beachside Promenade, Olivia and I took a break from our miles of walking and enjoyed the sea, the sunshine, and our cupcakes. Similarly to those in Spain, the French cupcakes were not as delicious as I’d hoped. Though the Europeans can deliver delectable, flaky pastries, they are unable to master a squishy, moist cupcake.
With plans to watch the sunset, Olivia and I walked along the Promenade, stopping on the beach so I could observe the shore of stones, instead of sand. How does anyone enjoy sunbathing on the beach in Nice!?
We waited for the sunset at Castle Hill, the highest point in Vieux Nice, or Old Nice. Unfortunately, weather and natural landscape took away from the overall effect of the experience, but the views of Nice were perfect.
Funny side note: While on Castle Hill, Olivia and I were shocked to spot a boy in the ocean! Despite what the sunny photos may convey, it was chilly and windy, especially near the sea. He stood in the waves for about 10-15 minutes, seemingly unaffected by the frigid temperatures of the winter water.
On the walk away from the viewpoint, after sunset, we found ourselves behind Crazy Ocean Boy! Something had to be wrong with him, seeing as he was soaking wet wearing shorts and a T-shirt while his friends were dressed appropriately for the weather.
Ready for dinner, Olivia brought me to Le Blue Whales, a recently renovated diner. She explained that even though I was in France, I had to try one of their burgers. Though it is an American food, it was crafted by French hands, and that made a delicious difference. It was easily one of the best burgers I’ve ever had, which I attribute to the house sauce. It added a cool, flavorful compliment to the warm, juicy meat. If any visitor of Nice is wary of spending a meal eating American food, burgers at Le Blue Whales is worth it!
The walk across town helped to digest our meals as we prepared to end our night with one last excursion. Olivia told me that the Ferris Wheel in Place Masséna had been set up in the fall, but is not erected year-round. Closing down Nice’s Carnival festivities, the ride was set to be removed the day of my departure. I convinced my friend to take the Ferris Wheel up for nighttime views of the city. Though distracted by the incessant, Nicoise wind (Olivia explained it is caused by the meeting of ocean and mountain air) and the teetering of our little gondola, we enjoyed yet another perspective of Nice.
Day 3 – Èze
The town of Èze was on our agenda for Sunday morning. On the same bus route to Monaco, just a closer stop, Èze is a mountain village located on the Mediterranean coast. Once we arrived, we quickly set off and began climbing through steep, narrow streets and tiny shops and restaurants to arrive at the top of Èze’s most accessible seaside cliff. To experience the best views, we paid 4€ (2,50€ with my ISIC) to enter the exotic Jardin d’Èze. Guiding you up the steps to the top of the cliff were cacti and other succulents of many different kinds. Earth goddesses were also scattered among the plants, accompanied by prose of womanhood, love, and life. The views of the French Riviera from Èze were even more brilliant than those from the night before.
Goddess Isabeau: “Le sol me retient/ Et alors?/ J’ai la tête au ciel.“
Though the ground keeps me rooted, my mind is in the heavens.
Wanting to be well fed before my journey back to Madrid, Olivia and I got brunch at Café de la Place. I desperately wanted a good, French, quiche lorraine, one of my favorite dishes, but the Quiche of the Day was ham, and I have had quite enough jamón in Spain! I opted instead for the mini-brunch for 15€, where I chose three dishes from a list of about 10 breakfast staples. Of my trifecta of choices, my least favorite were the pancakes, which were slightly undercooked. My fruit salad was tiny, but refreshing, and lightened the rest of my meal. The “egg muffin,” or breakfast sandwich, was fantastic, competing with Le Claire Fontaine’s pizza and Le Blue Whales’ burger for best fare of the trip. Where I got fruit salad, Olivia got French toast, which I was curious to taste because of its name. The dish served at this restaurant was very eggy, and consequently soggy, leading me to favor American French toast. We finished our little late-morning meals, leaving just enough room for one more treat.
I could not leave France without a crêpe! Olivia recommended the restaurant Lovebio, the best crêpes that she’s had in Nice. I was surprised at the choice because of the limited menu options and high prices, but nonetheless, I got a Nutella crêpe with whipped cream. As it had seemed, the crêpe was not as tasty as I’d hoped. In fact, I liked my crêpe from Madrid better than the French one. I wonder if I do not appreciate the form and simplicity of a true French dessert, or if I just had a crappy crêpe. Future French travels will tell.
Crêpes aside, I hope that further exploration into France reveals a stronger sense of French identity (because if I know anything about the French, I know that their ego exists, loud and proud). During my visit, I was unable to recognize the Nicoise as people of France. Though my judgements could be inaccurate due to the short length of my stay, it seemed as though there were too many tourists for Nice to retain its French character. My expectations for French immersion may have been misplaced on this Mediterranean town. As much as I appreciate the diversity of cultural influence in Nice, it wasn’t the France that I was looking for.
Visiting Nice, no matter what your motive, is like going on vacation. With wide streets for strolling, where people feel the mountain/ocean breeze reach their senses, while greenery soaks up the Mediterranean sun, the city demands to be enjoyed. Though I wasn’t there long, Nice affected me, as all seaside destinations do. The beach-town vibes gave me joy in a way that city sensations simply can’t. Yet as much as I felt at home in this French town, after the constant activity of metropolitan Madrid, I am unsure if I would like to study in Nice for an entire semester. Forgetting future decisions, Nice is a beautiful city, with great food, great views, and a great summertime feel (even though I went in March). Overall, my first trip to France was a success.
- La Claire Fontaine
- 30 Rue Centrale, 06300 Nice, France
- Casino de Monte-Carlo
- Place du Casino, 98000 Monaco
- Prince’s Palace of Monaco
- 98015 Monaco-Ville, Monaco
- Saint Nicholas Cathedral – Grace Kelly’s burial site
- Emma’s Cupcakes
- Le Blue Whales
- 1 Rue Mascoinat, 06300 Nice, France
- Place Masséna, 06000 Nice, France
- Jardins d’Èze
- Rue du Château, 06360 Èze, France
- Café de la Place
- 11 Place Garibaldi, 06300 Nice, France
Paix, Amour, Nice