05 April, 2011

Nice Journal - Spring 2011 - 14

At 7am on Tuesday, 5th April, I made coffee before popping out for some bread. Lisa made sandwiches for the train while I put away the bedding and closed up all the shutters. As always we tried to leave as little as possible for Nicole to clean up after we'd gone. Lisa made a final farewell call to Perry and we were ready to leave. I called for a taxi but after two attempts and two fruitless waits in the call queue we decided to opt for plan B and lug all our stuff over to Gorbella and get the tram down to the station. We'd had taxi trouble getting to the airport in September so Lisa had insisted that we be prepared to get to the station by alternate means.

We left at 9:30 and were pretty heavily laden but we made it to the tram stop OK. To my immense relief, the tram wasn't busy and we got to sit by the door with all our bags for the four stops to "Gare-Thiers". From there it was a short walk to the station and we were soon settled on our seats ready for the off.

Nice - Lille TGV
Nice - Lille TGV
Our seats were on the lower deck of the rearmost coach of the two coupled TGV trains on platform E and, as we left Nice, were two of only five passengers there. We gradually gained more company as we rolled along the Côte d'Azure towards Marseille where the two trains were due to separate. The front train was bound for Brussels whereas our train was due to terminate at Lille Europe from where we would get the Eurostar to London.

The train seemed much newer than the one that had brought us to Nice from Paris two weeks previously. The French TGVs are such wonderful trains! So smooth that there is no discernible transition from being stationary to moving and so quiet that all the passengers talk in whispers!

We had our breakfast of smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches after passing through Cannes. Lisa is dozing in the window seat and I'm now all caught up to date here. It's just passed noon and we are currently flying through beautiful French countryside in glorious sunshine somewhere before Toulon.  Lisa is now reading her Kindle and the lady in the single seat across the aisle from me is playing Scrabble on her iPad so I think I shall go retro and read a paper-based book, Fuchsia Dunlop's "Shark's Fin & Sichuan Pepper", for a while.

* * *

At Marseille there was some delay as the two trains were separated but eventually we departed, reversing out of the platform so that we were now in the leading coach of the train. Lisa declared that now, 1:30, was time for lunch. So we opened up our cold bag and had a few sandwiches each and shared an orange. Now that the TGV is on the high-speed track north of Marsailles, it's racing along at a much faster speed. For Lisa and me it's back to the reading as we approach Avignon!

* * *

I finished the book just before we arrived at Marne-la-Vallée, on the outskirts of Paris, which I visited a couple of times on business back in 1993 when working on the Belgacom project (BNR Europe had a Meridian R&D lab there). After a short leg to Roissy-CDG, we are now on our way to Haute-Picardie: the last stop before we get to Lille. The weather is much cloudier now we are north of the capital; suggestive, perhaps, of what we are returning to in England.

* * *

We arrived at Lille right on time. Check-in for our train to London was not yet open so we waited a while in the waiting room. Finally we got to check in and wait in the featureless waiting room until allowed down onto the platform shortly before the Eurostar arrived from Brussels.

As soon as we were under way we were served a light meal with wine and coffee. It was raining in Lille and there was low white cloud all the way to the coast. By the time we re-emerged in England it was night time. We got into St. Pancras on time and were soon on a train for Cambridge.

And that, dear reader, is all I wrote!

04 April, 2011

Nice Journal - Spring 2011 - 13

Monday, 4th April. Six in the morning is still over an hour before dawn here at this time of year so I came into the lounge and read for an hour before rejoining Lisa in bed for two more hours.

Self Portrait
Self Portrait
At nine, I went out to buy bread and some Ibuprofen for Lisa. On my return, I made coffee and rejoined Lisa in bed once more for a pleasant hour or so's lie-in. I made some more coffee while Lisa prepared a mozzarella and tomato salad (complete with basil pesto which she made using a tea cup and a mustard jar as an improvised mortar and pestle!) for breakfast. Breakfast was delicious! The produce here is so fresh and so bursting with flavour that even the simplest of dishes taste extravagantly good!

After breakfast, I loaded the dishwasher, showered and shaved and got dressed to go shopping with Lisa to the Monoprix. We managed to get everything on our list, including a cold-bag to carry our food for tomorrow's 7.5 hour train journey to Lille.

For lunch we had our third helping of fish soup and all its bits. This was as wonderfully tasty as ever. After lunch we did most of our packing for tomorrow (during which the bookmark we'd bought for Perry in Lincoln came to light in the bottom of Lisa's bag) and then Lisa cut up a bunch of vegetables and a chicken which she seasoned and put in a pot with a can of tomatoes and other good stuff.

We let the whole lot bubble for about forty minutes then Lisa removed the vegetables from the pot and added two cut-up potatoes. After another forty minutes she returned the vegetables to the pot and brought everything back to the boil before turning off the gas and leaving the pot to sit on the stove for another hour or so. While all this was going on we variously read, wrote and played a game of Scrabble. Lisa also called Perry as had been arranged yesterday.

Last Night Dinner
Last Night Dinner - Chicken Casserole
When we were ready to eat, Lisa served out the chicken casserole and I opened another bottle of the excellent white Graves that we'd enjoyed so much earlier in the week. As it's our last meal in Nice this visit, we took some photos. The dish was wonderfully tasty and we ate a surprising amount of what had seemed plenty for four! The wine did not disappoint the second time around either. I mentioned during the meal that we have very often ended a visit here with a chicken dish on the last night.

We cleared away and ran the dishwasher but we did not want the day to end so it was not until very late that we finally settled down for our last night at around three o'clock. What was left of the night was undisturbed but did not feature much in the way of sleep either.

03 April, 2011

Nice Journal - Spring 2011 - 12

Sunday, 3rd April, was yet another sunny morning and I made coffee at 9am. We had a breakfast of bread and cheese with more coffee and were out of the apartment soon after 10:30. Considering it's Sunday, we didn't have long to wait for a tram.

Auto Bleue - electric vehicles for rent
Auto Bleue charging & rental point
As it was so sunny and warm, and our last day down in the centre-ville, I insisted that we get off at Massèna and walk along the promenade. As we made our way from the tram to the sea-front, we ran into an "auto bleue" electric vehicle charging and rental point, the first of these that we'd encountered.

Once we were in Perry's apartment I went with him into his study to disconnect and pack away his old computer. After a while, Lisa joined us and all three of us lugged the old PC into the lift and then into Perry's cave.

Back in the apartment, I helped Perry learn how to load photos from his new camera onto the PC hard drive. And, once he'd grasped that, we walked down to Quai Lunel to end the gustatory part of our visit where we'd begun: at chez Marinette and Fred, otherwise known as Le Vesuvio.

Greeted warmly by Marinette, we were seated at a lovely sunny table on the pavement. Perry and I both decided to have the lasagne today, while Lisa choose the "assiette cannibale" of steak tartare on a bed of beef carpaccio. For wine I picked a Chateau Robine (Côtes de Provence) red that was lovely and full. The lasagne lived up to its billing and Lisa declared that the carpaccio was a fitting addition to the tartare. For dessert, Lisa chose the Café Liègeoise, Perry went for a Tarte au Pommes Paysanne and I had one last Tiramisu. Coffees all round and Limoncello "on the house" completed our last meal together.

We walked back to Foresta and Perry phoned for a taxi to take us to the Musée des Beaux Arts at Les Baumettes. Lisa and I had visited here before on our own but hadn't been with Perry before today's visit.

Spread out over two floors with a huge staircase between the two, the Musée des Beaux Arts is full of sculpture and paintings, many of the latter on a truly grand scale. A very impressive collection that it took a good two hours to look through. I was especially taken with several sculptures by Michel de Tarnowsky, including a striking depiction of Marie Bashkirsteff.

Hotel Elysee Palace
Statue by Sacha Sosno
When we'd completed our tour round the collection we walked down the hill a little way to get a No. 10 bus back to the port. On the way down to the bus stop, Perry pointed out the statue (by local artist Sacha Sosno) embedded in the facade of the Elysee Palace Hotel on the Promenade des Anglais. Apparently there is a matching figure at the other end of the building.

After a final few minutes together at Perry's, we made our goodbyes, promising to call tomorrow evening, and walked back round the sea-front to stop off for another couple of beers at l'Eden on our way back to the tram.

Back home we put our feet up, played a game of Scrabble and decided that we didn't want supper. I took myself off to bed just after 11pm and Lisa followed some time later. At some point in the middle of the night I woke up feeling very uncomfortable so I took the splint out and dozed fitfully until about six.

02 April, 2011

Nice Journal - Spring 2011 - 11

Local School's Vide GrenierSaturday, 2nd April, was the date of the "vide grenier" (literally "attic emptying" or jumble sale) at the school across the road. So the playground was full of trestle tables piled with bric-a-brac and dozens of parents sorting through what was on offer. Unlike a playground full of kids, however, no noise at all reached us from all this activity below!

I made coffee at nine and we got talking. We even had a second cup of coffee each which we took onto the lounge to continue our conversation. As a result we had to make a quick breakfast and an equally quick getaway to be out of the building by 11:30. We got off the tram at Opera and bought Perry a potted Jasmine plant from his favourite gardening store. Then we walked straight through to the sea front and walked all the way round to Foresta in the warm sun on the promenade. We arrived at Perry's at around 12:15.

After some discussion we agreed that we'd eat in Vieux Nice before visiting the Palais Lascaris. So the three of us walked up Segurane to Garibaldi and spent some time looking at the artwork on display there. From there we walked on down through the old town and out onto the Cour Saleya. We waited for more than ten minutes at Bistro Romain but nobody acknowledged us, let alone offered to seat us, so we walked on and out onto the seafront where Lisa and I had been just over an hour before.

We fetched up at Le Bellanda on the Quai des Etats-Unis. We sat outside in hope of sunshine even though the sun was obscured by clouds at the time. We consulted the menu and Perry went for the scallops, Lisa for a stockfish stew and I chose the daube with gnocchi. From the wine list I selected a Bandol Rouge which turned out to be thoroughly excellent and we got through 1.5l of Badoit between us (more than half of it drunk by me!).

All judged the food to be first rate. The daube was dark and rich, unlike the one we make at home, and had two substantial pieces of beef. Very tasty and perfectly accompanied by the floury gnocchi. At dessert time, Perry and I both had the tiramisu (which was pungent and moist the way I like it and had cherries on it and so was the best one this visit since the one at the Vesuvio on our first day more than a week ago now) while Lisa chose a concoction of "white cheese" (seems more like some kind of yoghurt) with fig jam and honey which she really liked but of which she could eat no more than half. Coffee to finish, of course, and Perry allowed us to pick up the bill.

There had been some sun in fits and starts so we didn't rush to finish but at last made our way back into Vieux Nice. Our first port of call was at the Eglise St. Jacques "Le Gesu" in Place Jesus on the Rue Droit where we dutifully looked at the decoration and the painted saints before moving on to the Palais Lascaris.

Salon des SaisonsThe Palais Lascaris is a 17th century town house in the rue Droit in the centre of Vieux Nice. It houses a collection of musical instruments and documents from the archives of the Gaveau, Erard and Pleyel companies famous from the eighteenth to the twentieth for their pianos, harps and reproductions of older instruments. In addition to these collections the painted ceilings, tapestries and art works of the Palais itself are very attractive. The house is on four or more levels (of which the bottom three are open to the public) and a feature of the architecture that struck me wad that, although all of the rooms themselves are fully enclosed the staircase that connects them is open to the elements. I guess in a predominantly warm and dry climate this is not a problem. Anyway, the building and its contents are fascinating and it was well worth a visit.

Foreign Legion Recruiting OfficeAfter the Palais Lascaris, we continued a little further along rue Droit and the turned right to climb a stepped street (possibly the rue de Four) to place St Augustine where we looked around another church full of Saints: Eglise St. Martin - St. Augustine. From there we descended rue Sincaire, past the Foreign Legion recruiting office, down to the familiar environs of rue Catherine Segurane and thence back to Perry's.

Perry had done a lot of walking and stairs this afternoon so it was understandable that he was too tired to be shown anything on the computer as previously mooted. So we agreed to come early tomorrow and do the computer work before lunch. After some discussion, we agreed that the Musée des Beaux Arts would be our final cultural objective of this visit.

After we took our leave of Perry we walked back along the Promenade as far as a bar called l'Eden on the Cité du Port section of the Quai des Etats-Unis. Here we sat on the early evening sun for over an hour while sipping a couple of beers each. It was a nice atmosphere with fewer tourists than in the Cour Saleya and we both found it to be very relaxing.

Eventually it was time to continue our stroll along the front and up to the tram stop at Opera. Once back at Gorbella we both went up to Monoprix to get supplies including steak haché for tonight and a chicken for tomorrow.

Lisa duly made a dinner of the steak haché with the rest of her vegetable gratin and some fresh salad leaves. This was as delicious as it sounds and very satisfying.

I cleared up after the meal and we settled down to bed. I tossed and turned for several hours but finally got to sleep for a while before Lisa's alarm went off at 8:30am.

01 April, 2011

Nice Journal - Spring 2011 - 10

Friday, 1st April, was again a warm sunny morning from first thing. I got up and made coffee and we had breakfast but somehow we didn't get out of the apartment until almost 11:30. We got the tram down as far as Opera and walked through the Cour Saleya and round Quai Rauba Capeu to Foresta. On our way through the Cour Saleya we bought some flowers and strawberries for Perry and some rouille spices for Lisa. Lisa also took quite a lot of photos so it was 12:30 by the time we got to Perry's.

We had not noticed the noon-day gun go off and Perry explained that the gun had been fired at 11am today, making a "poisson d'Avril" of the whole town.

View across the bayPerry proposed that we go over to Villefranche-sur-Mer for lunch so, while we put his flowers in a vase, Perry called for a taxi and we went down to the street to wait for the car. Perry sat up front next to the very talkative driver and the two conversed all the way to Villefranche. We lunched at "Achill's" in the old "Calypso" building right next to the Customs offices on the waterfront. We sat out in the very warm sun and had our lunch.

Perry and Lisa both chose Cannelloni with spinach and cheese on a tomato sauce which they declared to be delicious and both ate all of their very large helpings. I went for the linguine with rabbit in a creamy sauce and did not regret my choice either. At Lisa's behest we did not have wine. For dessert, Perry had his favourite lemon tart, I had a lovely tarte-tatin, and Lisa had lemon and strawberry ice-cream. Coffee all round completed the meal, as ever.

Perry wanted to head back to Nice right after lunch so we took the No. 80 bus from Villefranche. This little bus took a bumpy, twisty route back to Nice, keeping high up the hill away from the sea. Quite unlike the quiet, smooth, sea-side ride of the Renault taxi before lunch. At last we rattled into Nice and changed onto a No. 7 to complete our journey back to the port.

We stayed a little while at Foresta before setting off for Garibaldi. We sat in the sun over a couple of beers and then went over to the Garibaldi Monoprix to shop for dinner before getting the tram home.

Lisa made us a vegetable gratin with canned and fresh tomatoes, aubergine, courgette and onions with fresh Mozarella and grated Grana Padana. This was very richly flavoured and deliciously fresh tasting in spite of being baked for quite some time. Again, Lisa did not want us to have wine with the meal.

I did what little clearing up there was to do after the meal and then settled down for bed. Again I lasted about five hours with the splint before it became too uncomfortable to bear. Tonight, however, I didn't wake Lisa by snoring once I'd taken it out. That was a relief because my teeth felt very sore for several hours after I removed the splint.