My prayers during the night have been answered! Today we were supposedly going on a major excursion to Menton, along the coast near the border with Italy. It would involve walking up to Nice Central Station, catching a train to Menton (where C H Spurgeon went regularly on vacation), spending the day walking round Menton, catching the train back to Nice again, and walking back to our apartment. My legs are already aching from all the walking we have already done around Nice itself, and in addition I have some nice blisters forming on the balls of my feet. I need to have a quiet day, and I need to make sure Julia doesn’t overdo it as well. I lay in bed in the early hours of the morning … praying! Julia wakes up about 8.00 a.m. ‘I don’t think we will go to Menton today’ she says, ‘I think we will have a quiet day instead … and maybe go out for dinner this evening!’ Prayer answered! Praise the Lord!
We are clearing up after a lazy breakfast. Julia is shaking the breadcrumbs from the large circular place mats that come with our rented apartment. Suddenly one of them accidently slips out of her hand and goes flying over the edge of our balcony! We are six floors up? Our neighbours across the way, and ourselves, watch helplessly as the said circular place mat floats and spins majestically – just like a Frisbee – this way and that, up and down the street, before finally executing a perfect landing in a parking space between two cars! From below it must have looked like a UFO suddenly appearing over Nice! Julia rushes down in the lift to retrieve our runaway place mat before someone parks a car over it.
After a very relaxing day sunbathing on our balcony, reading, and writing, we get all dressed up and go out for the evening. Our intention is to walk down to the beach and promenade along the famous Promenade des Anglais. Before Nice was urbanized, the coast at Nice was just bordered by a deserted band of beach. The first houses were located on higher ground well away from the sea. At the start of the 19th century, however, the English took to spending the winter in Nice, enjoying the panorama along the coast. When a particularly harsh winter in the north brought an influx of beggars to Nice, some of the rich English Anglicans proposed a useful project for them – the construction of a walkway along the sea. The city of Nice, intrigued by the prospect of a pleasant promenade, greatly increased the scope of the work and eventually it became known as the Promenade des Anglais. Today, the Promenade (which is several kilometres long) has become the place for locals and tourists to stroll, especially at weekends and during the summer vacation period, as well as a place for cyclists and roller-skaters.
On our way we call in at the very posh Negresco – one of several famous sea front hotels situated along the Promenade des Anglais. I promise Julia that I will take her there for a holiday when I have made my next £million. The doorman is turning away people who are not ‘suitably dressed’ but Julia – who is dressed extremely elegantly – is ushered in without a problem. Julia just wants to see what it is like inside, but the doorman obviously thinks she is ‘someone famous’ and (directing her towards a nice young man standing by to help) offers her ‘the services of Christophe for the evening’!? Julia is not sure what to make of this – but having considered it for a moment longer than I think she should have – declines the offer, and beats a hasty retreat.
We cross the busy main road that separates the hotels and restaurants from the Promenade des Anglais and the beach, and join all the others parading along the Promenade. There are scores of people enjoying the beautiful warm sunshine. I suddenly remember why the French took another day off this week – in addition to Victory in Europe Day on Wednesday – it was Ascension Day on Thursday, and another ‘bank holiday’ day for the French. How strange that secular France should observe one of the major dates in the Christian Calendar this way, whereas we in the UK ignore it (even in many churches, so it would seem)? Being French, however, means that lots of people have taken Friday off as well, and (with the weekend) made an extra five day holiday for themselves. According to today’s Times newspaper, the French are in considerable financial debt because of their addiction to this ‘religion of relaxation’ which means that ‘Monsieur Average’ somehow manages to contrive at least eight weeks holiday per annum?! According to the Times, Paris is virtually empty and everyone in France has come to the Côte d’Azur! This is obviously why there are so many people strolling in the sunshine on the Promenade des Anglais!
We stop off at one of the beach restaurants for a cocktail … Julia doesn’t want to wait for her actual birthday ‘day’ and tells me that the whole ten days we are here is in fact her ‘birthday’! It is very posh and we sit in some nice chairs right by the beach. I decide I have had enough ‘Sex on the Beach’ to last a life time and order a ‘Mojito’ – an interesting blend of mint, lime, rum etc. It is very nice but not really worth what I pay for it. Julia has gone off the idea of a cocktail and settles for a Campari instead. The service is atrocious and we wait ages to be served. We do have a nice chat to a group of Asian girls from north London, in the meantime, who are also here to celebrate a significant birthday for one of them!
We eventually find our way to the Cours Saleya – the famous flower and vegetable market of picturesque old Nice that somehow transforms itself into a marvellous restaurant area come early evening. We find a nice Fish Restaurant and order our dinner – oysters to start for me and gallons of fish soup for Julia, followed by monk fish and snapper for us both, and a wonderful panna cotta to conclude – all washed down by a carafe of white wine. We are joined by a nice Dutch couple on the adjoining table who are greeted in Dutch by the maître d. ‘What did he say to you?’ we ask. ‘We haven’t got a clue’ they reply, ‘his Dutch was dreadful!’ The meal is excellent however, all the restaurants are packed, the atmosphere is wonderful with lots of music and conversation, and we enjoy a wonderful evening. We pay the bill and stroll back to our apartment along the Promenade des Anglais.