Day 350 - Still Life in Nice

Trip Start Nov 07, 2010
Trip End Jan 01, 2012

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Flag of France  , Provence,
Saturday, October 22, 2011

I'm shaken awake, a pair of hands on my shoulders and the indecipherable sound of a French accent ringing in my ear. The scene around me slowly comes into focus as the blur of sleep leaves my eyes.  I’m on a train stopped at a station.  The sun is still hovering just under the horizon, not yet breaking the dawn of a new day.  My neck aches from being crammed against a window for god knows how long, and I have a coat thrown over my body as a makeshift blanket.  The man shaking me awake is the only other person on the train and he keeps repeating, "Nice Ville, Nice Ville..."  I made it.  It’s been almost 24 hours since I left Italy amidst a labor union strike, causing all regional rail lines to either cease service or be two to three hours late.  My plan to reach the French Riviera became an adventure as soon as I arrived at the station in Siena.  We sat for hours on an unmoving car before learning the cause of the delay.  Once it was apparent that we were going nowhere fast, I got out and started hopping lines - any train that would take me west.  No tickets purchased and no idea if and when they would connect, I must have boarded at least six different routes that day in my attempt to reach the French border.  Finally, twelve hours later I had reached Ventimiglia, the last stop on the Italian side before crossing over.  There was only one problem.  It was 11pm and the last train of the day had left an hour earlier.  I was stuck in the station until the next morning when the lines started running again.  Reserved to my fate of not making it to France until another seven hours, I found a quiet corner of the station, already packed with people in the same situation, curled up against my bag with every layer of clothing I had to keep the bitter chill out, and shut my eyes to see if I could find any solace.  It was a long cold night and the cement floor beneath me felt like I was sleeping on ice.  I woke up shivering half an hour before the first train departed and groggily dragged my weary body onto the platform and into the car.  That’s the last I remember before being jostled awake by some French stranger.  Exclaiming in foreign tones we had reached our destination.  “Merci, merci.” I mumbled as I gathered my things and walked out into the street.  It was a long hellacious ride, but I had finally made it, and all the way from Italy to France practically for free.  The drowsiness of sleep was wearing off and the ecstasy of being in a new country had my blood pumping.  I’ve never been to the French Riviera before, but tales of its beauty and style are legendary.  From palm tree lined avenues to topaz blue seas, the rich congregate here with their yachts and summer homes to shop and to eat.  The food was a spectacular fusion between French and Italian and there were as many pizza and pasta bistros as there were creperies.  The pebble strewn sands were still warm to the touch and the gentle white crest of the surf kissed the shores in a slow rhythmic pulse.  You could hear seagulls cawing and the sounds of the ocean from far away, like a perpetual soundtrack to the city, a sweet symphony coming off the bay. Climbing the old fort hill where Nice Castle used to stand, I had stunning panoramas of the entire landscape from mountains to sand.  Red tiled roofs splayed out into the distance, framed by the endless blue borders of ocean and sky.  It was a perfect picture of still life and I could see why masters such as Matisse and Chagall were inspired by her charms.  The rest of the day was spent ambling through the narrow alleyways of old town, gazing at churches, sipping lattes and enjoying my new surroundings.  It may have been one long weary journey to get here in the first place, but it was worth every painstaking second to sit back, relax and experience the beauty of Nice.

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