Julia reminds me – for the umpteenth time this holiday – that our whole 10 days here in Nice constitutes her 55th birthday celebrations, and that therefore she has the right to choose what we do each day! As always, I am happy to go along with this – nothing much has changed really as a result of being in Nice for her birthday, I think?! So today we are venturing up to the Port Area of Nice … by bicycle would you believe?! Nice has a self-service bicycle rental system – Vélo Bleu – which provides an ecological way of getting round the city. There are 120 bicycle stations with 1200 bicycles throughout the town. All bicycles are available 24/7 every day of the year … and one of the bike stations is just behind our apartment block. It is quite cheap to rent a bike in this way, and you can return the borrowed bike to any of the numerous stations
We pack our picnic lunch into our haversacks and walk up the road to our local bike station. We carefully read the instructions … and it is more complicated than we thought … unless you are a local and used to the system, that is. We have to phone a number on our mobiles, leave our bank details, get a code, type in the number, release our bikes, adjust our saddles … and then we can ‘ride off into the sunset’?! Just getting through on our mobiles is a problem?! At our rate of progress in just freeing the bikes it probably will be ‘sunset’ before we get away? Fortunately a very nice ‘local’, who uses the bikes all the time, turns up and she takes us through the whole process. Easy when you know how!
We stack our bags in the bicycle baskets and set off for the Promenade des Anglais. Julia has a map that shows us the roads with cycle lanes, so I follow her. It is a good job Julia can’t see me. She is tearing along at the rate of knots and I am desperately wobbling along behind trying to keep up with her. We pass the Hotel Negresco. Christophe is waiting outside for some reason? He waves to Julia. I look him over – 4’6” in all directions and somewhat swarthy looking – nothing to worry about there, then?! Ten precarious minutes later I am safe on the Promenade des Anglais with its wide spaces and designated cycle lane. The Port Area is quite a way so we stop for coffee half way. The weather is perfect for cycling – warm and sunny but with a nice breeze as well. As we sit drinking our coffee we look out to sea and see the Corsica Ferry heading towards the Port. We really must go to Corsica one day!
We carry on along the Promenade des Anglais towards the Port Area. The cycle lane begins to climb … Julia changes gear and charges up the incline … I get off my bike and walk. We meet at the top where there is an amazing view back over Nice from the Place du 8 Mai 1945. We stop and take films and photos before free wheeling down towards the Port Area. We stop off at the amazing 1914-18 War Memorial dedicated to the 4,000 Nicois who lost their lives then. We cycle round the Port Area. It is pretty ordinary compared to Monaco or Saint Tropez but there are some very expensive boats moored there. Very prominent in the harbour is the huge ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ luxury motor yacht. I promise Julia I will buy it for her … when I have made my next £million … sorry, make that my next £60 million!
We find a nice spot for our picnic lunch overlooking the harbour where the Corsica Ferry has docked. We watch as they load hundreds of lorries, cars, caravans, etc. in preparation for the return trip. We wonder how on earth they will manage to get them all on board … but they do. When the ferry is fully loaded, and we have finished our picnic lunch, we get on our bikes and start back to Nice central. We stop to watch the ferry pull out of the harbour. The ferry dwarves about 20 small sailing dinghies that are also out in the Baie des Anges. Julia is glad that she is not out sailing in one of them as the ferry passes.
It is great fun cycling back to the centre of Nice. For a start it is down hill most of the way! When we get back to the main beaches area we have to stop so that Julia can go for a swim in the Mediterranean Sea. We park the bikes by some of the famous ‘blue seats’ that are all along the sea front. I am on ‘bag and bike guarding duty’ as Julia goes down to the sea, slips into her swimming costume, and dives in! A coach load of Italian tourists pull up right by where Julia is swimming. They all get out of their coach and go down to the beach to watch Julia swimming. Is this because she looks ravishing in her swimming costume? Is it because of the elegant way Julia is swimming? Or is it because Julia is swimming in an area of beach where the red flags are out to say ‘No swimming!’ here?
Eventually Julia gets out of the water – after I have taken the requisite number of photos of her actually in the water, that is – and (after Julia has changed out of her costume) we get back on our bikes and cycle back to the bike station near our apartment. The road we want to take is blocked with traffic so Julia takes us on a somewhat circular route. It takes us through heavy traffic but eventually we arrive back at the place where we started from and park our bikes. I am exhausted but it has been a great day! We walk slowly back to our apartment with achy legs from all the cycling. We call into our local shop to buy a few bits and pieces … and a bottle of champagne to drink tomorrow evening before we go out to celebrate Julia’s birthday. When the nice lady in the shop discovers that it is Julia’s birthday she gives her a white rose! The fact that it is artificial doesn’t matter – it’s the thought that counts!