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NICE IN NICE: Wednesday 8 May 2013: TRAINS AND TRIFFIDS

The Little Train at Nice, France

The Little Train at Nice, France

We are woken early by Julia’s mobile pinging to let her know she has a text message. It is from Swellin to remind us that today is a national holiday in France – it is 8 May of course, Victory in Europe Day, the day WWII officially ended, well here in Europe at any rate, it is still celebrated here in France, although largely forgotten in the UK for some reason – and all the shops will be shut!? We panic because we only arrived in France late afternoon yesterday and we haven’t bothered to get any provisions in?! We jump in the shower, get dressed as quickly as possible, and rush down to the local supermarket. It is open! In fact it will be open all day the shop staff tell us! We load up numerous baskets with stuff we need and make our way to the till. We take up so much space that the shop staff have to open another till! I look at the shop staff and give my Gallic shrug … ‘Ah! Les Anglais?’ I say. Everybody laughs!

We carry our heavy shopping bags home and decide to have lunch before starting our exploration of Nice itself. Our intention is to wander down to the Promenade des Anglais (built by the English in the 18th century to provide employment for the poor of the area) and then take the Little Train around the main sites of Nice so that we can have an overview of what is worth seeing in this wonderful city. Our lunch is disturbed by the sound of the noon gun! Every day at midday a cannon explodes in Nice. It always takes visitors by surprise especially those who are close by on the castle hill or parts of the old town. You can easily spot the locals, however, as they don’t bat an eyelid. As for the reason for this you may be forgiven for imagining it has military origins, celebrating a victory or warning of attack but no, it’s much more quirky than that. Back in 1861 a British gentleman named Sir Thomas Coventry-More settled in the old town of Nice. He had a wife who enjoyed her morning strolls along the Promenade des Anglais and had a tendency to get back late to prepare lunch. Sir Thomas was having none of this tardiness so he found a rather ingenious way to summon her back – a cannon blast. Having had his plan approved by the Mayor he provided the cannon at his own expense and installed it on the lower terrace of the château. Every day just before midday Sir Thomas would raise a colourful globe on a mast from his home which would be the sign for a municipal employee to set off the cannon. His wandering wife then rushed back home to get his lunch ready pretty damn quick! When the Coventry-Mores left Nice the locals missed the daily detonation and on 19 November 1876 a law was passed making the blast official thereby keeping up this peculiar tradition to this day. Nowadays it’s no longer a cannon but a large firework that is manually set off in the same place as the original cannon, and has been lit by the same man for more than twenty years now. During this time he has only missed it once due to a traffic jam although he has been known to set it off an hour early on April Fool’s Day!?

After lunch we wander down to the Promenade des Anglais and board the Little Train. It is a marvellous trip, taking us round the major sites of the old town and then up to the summit of Castle Hill with its amazing views across Nice and the Mediterranean. Our particular train has the last carriage reserved for members of a school party from Italy. There are so many of them that a second train, filled with the remainder of this school party, follows us. We are very amused to notice, as we round various S bends, that hanging on the back of this second train are a number of kids on skate boards or roller blades hitching an unofficial lift up to the top of caste hill?! We stop for a time at the very top, so that we can take in the amazing views and take photographs, before descending back to the Promenade des Anglais. We walk back to our apartment taking in the amazing buildings that make up this marvellous city.

Julia cooks us a wonderful dinner. We just love this wonderful city and this wonderful studio flat we have found. We eat on the balcony enjoying the late evening sunshine. The people in the apartment directly opposite wave to us and we wave back. We look across to another apartment on the other side of the main road to ours. It has the most incredible roof garden. It looks like the hanging gardens of Babylon with a profusion of stunning flowering trees, shrubs and plants. We have seen no sign of anybody living there and we have come to the conclusion that the plants growing there must be triffids (as in John Wyndham’s post-apocalyptic novel) and they have eaten the residents. We will keep a careful eye on this apartment. We are only here for 10 days, but in that time, at their present rate of growth, these colourful plants may well have made their way over here?

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