Today is Julia’s 55th birthday … so I get up and make the tea … and give her the birthday card I have brought all the way from England with me. It has two little bears on it! For as long as we have know each other we have always exchanged cards with little bears on them … soppy pair!? We get up, get washed and dressed, have breakfast … all in record time … Julia has planned the day to the finest detail and we have a lot to get done!
We take the walk from our apartment to Nice Central Station. The walk seems shorter every time we make it and all this walking is certainly making us fitter and slimmer … despite all the meals we are also eating to get the energy to do all the walking?! We are not catching a train this time, but a bus – the number 17 to the end of the route up in the hills above Nice. Our destination is the Musée Matisse and the nearby Place du Monastère with its famous church, museum, and monastery garden. We wait ages for the bus, and when it arrives it is full of students blocking the doors. Julia pays the driver for our tickets and squirms through the crowd … leaving me stuck on the pavement. Nothing for it then, but to use my 6’4” frame and 16 stone in weight, to scatter French students to the right and left of me as (humming ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’) I make my way to join Julia in the middle of the bus. The bus wends its way through Nice and up into the hills, along narrow roads with steep bends, passing numerous beautiful villas, before depositing us at the entrance of the park complex containing the Musée Matisse and the Place du Monastère. The site is both tatty and beautiful with various Roman ruins scattered around as well. There is also a coffee shop which we head straight for!
Suitably fortified we visit the Musée Matisse first, and discover that it is free entry, presumably because they are doing a lot of exterior and interior work to prepare the place for a major exhibition in June. We love the work of Henri Matisse (1869-1954) – a French artist, known for his use of colour and his fluid and original draughtsmanship. We spend a wonderful hour or two simply wandering around, looking at all the wonderful sculptures, paintings, and other works of art housed here. We get to the museum shop just in time for it to close for lunch (even though it is 2.15 p.m.), so we go off back into the park to have our own picnic lunch whilst we wait for the museum shop to open again. Julia has her heart set on a few purchases for her birthday! After lunch we return to the museum, have another look around, and then make our various purchases … including a lovely necklace for Julia in the style of Matisse.
We walk the short distance to the Place du Monastère and visit the Monastère Franciscain with its fascinating church, monastery, and monastery gardens. Today is a special day in the church – venerating the sacrament – but we are allowed in. There are quite a number of people there. Some are waiting to go to confession, and others are sitting by the Chapel of the Sacrament. I think about going to confession … but there are too many people waiting to see the priest already? It is a good job that we can go straight to God with our confession, then! We enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and sit quietly for a while before leaving to visit the Musée Franciscain next door. It is very interesting although everything is in French and no other language so it is difficult to get the hang of the history and the purpose of the monastery. After leaving the museum we wander into the monastery garden … and it is magnificent. It is full of roses in bloom, giving off the most amazing fragrances, and with stupendous views over modern day Nice right as far as the sea. We spend a lot of time taking photos and just ‘being’ there. Finally it is time to catch our bus back home so we walk to the bus stop – via the ice cream stand of course – to wait for our bus.
Later on in the evening it is time to get ready to go out to dinner to celebrate Julia’s birthday! The weather has suddenly taken a turn for the worst and, after days of lovely warm sunshine, it has suddenly started to rain. It is still very warm … but it is also still very wet! What’s a little rain to a couple of Brits though!? We get all togged up and break open the champagne! Having drunk the whole bottle between us we shelter under our min-umbrella and totter off to a restaurant we spotted earlier in the week that has escargots (that is ‘snails’ to the un-enlightened, by the way) on the menu! Julia says she is ‘tottering’ because she is wearing high-heeled shoes! Nothing to do with her downing a couple of glasses of champagne earlier, then? We are grateful for the change in weather because very few French people are ‘out and about’ and there is plenty of room in the restaurant. We have the most wonderful meal – escargots to start, gambas in an intense Nicois sauce for the main course, and a wonderful sweet to conclude, all washed down with an excellent white wine.
After dinner, we huddle under our mini-umbrella, and venture out for a last walk along the Promenade des Anglais in the pouring rain on our way back to our studio apartment. We are the only Anglais on the Promenade des Anglais! In fact we are the only people on the Promenade des Anglais! We can only surmise that there are probably some French millionaires, in their sea-front apartments, looking out at us right at this moment, and saying to one another with cries of despair, ‘Ah! Les Anglais!’