Why I enjoyed Nice more than I thought I would – Part 2 Highlights and Must-Dos

The Stats

We were in Nice for five nights and four days, travelling on BA from Gatwick.We stayed in the port area via AirBnB – for more details, see Part 1 It’s completely impossible to park in the tourist area of Nice, so we didn’t even try to hire a car. Instead, we did a lot of walking, used public transport, which is plentiful and cheap if a bit bumpy, and had one memorable Uber ride. We also did a cycle tour which I cannot recommend enough if you want to escape the bustle for a while. What’s more, you’ll get a guided tour, and a workout thrown in for free.

The Highlights

1. The Old Town

Exploring the streets of the old town (La Vieille Ville) on the first day, buying fresh fish and vegetables from the market for our dinner, and sitting listening to a great clarinettist serenading on the street as we sipped our coffee crème.

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Place Pierre Gautier

2. The Hill

Climbing the hill between the port and the old town and finding a Jewish cemetery, castle ruins, a lookout point over the town, and a whole hidden park perched on the top of the hill.

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View of the rooftops of the Old Town (La Vieille Ville) from the hill

3. The Garden

11 acres of garden at Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild on Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, with its main parterre laid out like a ship: the gardeners were made to wear sailor’s uniforms and hats with red pom-poms to remind the owner, Beatrice, of her extensive travels. Allegedly.

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View of the main parterre, or French garden, designed to look like the deck of an ocean liner (ship).

Different themed gardens included Japanese, arid, water – complete with musical fountains – a rose garden, and my favourite, a Provencal hillside rich with scent: lavender, rosemary, helichrysum, eucalytpus, and pine, basking in the midday sun.

Part of this trip’s charm was an Uber ride to the garden: a Jaguar XE rolled up outside our modest apartment, complete with squishy leather seats and a driver wearing a dark suit and tie. A small taste of how-the-other-half-live, for sure.

4. The Hillside Village

A trip to the hillside village of , a bit of a tourist trap, but worth a look and a wander. I enjoyed the elevated walk around the outer wall, although Chris felt it a little vertiginous and stayed firmly on the ground.

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The hillside village of Saint Paul de Vence

We also visited the Fondation Maeght just up the road:  set on a wooded hillside, the setting is really quiet and tranquil. The building is in-your-face 1960’s – modern, post-modern, I’m not sure of the correct term, and the art includes works by Miró, Chagall and Giacometti. 

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One of the sculptures at the Fondation Maeght. High art or just plain weird? You decide.

5. The Cycle Tour

Favourite of the holiday has to be the cycle tour we took with Nice Cycle Tours.  We opted for the 4-hour Riviera tour, as we couldn’t get onto the city tour early enough in the holiday. I am not a keen cyclist and the idea of four straight hours on a bike did fill me with a certain anxious tension (terror). I need not have worried. The bikes were e-bikes, which ride like a bike, with gears, but also have a battery-powered electric motor which kicks in with an assist as you pedal. It makes so much difference. I managed the four hours without any trouble, and it was such a blast!

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The start of the e-Riviera Bike tour, using e-bikes assisted with electric motors

Jenny, our guide, was from Brighton which was great, as she gave us lots of interesting info in English along the way. We rode out of the port and up into the ridge of hills which separates Nice from neighbouring picture-postcard town of Villefranche. After negotiating traffic, bollards and men with large packing crates full of water bottles (I only nearly fell off once), we found ourselves away from noise and bustle, amid olive groves and low brush and gorse-type vegetation on a road that no-one uses. All was silent, the air still and warm.

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View from the top of Mount Boron, down into the picturesque town of Villefranche, adjacent ot Nice on the French Riviera. Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is to the right.

Stunning views, a free-wheel down into Villefranche for a picnic lunch, and then all too soon back to the city.

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The picturesque seaside town of Villefranche

6. The Food!

I had forgotten how good French food really is. We didn’t have a bad meal once, and most were really, really good.

Check out L’Agrume, newly opened I think, from its lack of internet presence, on Place Garibaldi. The square is enormous, surrounded by buildings with trompe d’oeuil masonry detailing. We went here for lunch and as we were in Nice, I just had to try the Salad Niçoise. Made with fresh tuna, it was the best I’ve ever tasted – the orange, carrot and ginger smoothie was pretty amazing too.

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Definitely the best Salad Niçoise I have ever tasted. In Nice, obviously. L’Agrume, Place Garibaldi.

We also tried:

Les Garçons on Rue Rosetti, in the heart of the old town, is literally run solely by garçons of varying ages. Many tables are crammed into a tiny space decorated in industrial chic, walls with painted crumbling brick and graffiti, and large dangly metal lamps. It was warm, noisy, full of people, and the food was tasty, burger juices running down my fingers. I liked it.

Le Cafe des Chineurs, Rue Cassini, on the edge of the gay district, another hipster hangout, with quirky artefacts strewn around the place: sewing machine tables, old ornate metal backed chairs, 20s and 30s paraphernalia, full of shabby chic.

Chez Papa on Rue Bonaparte, one of the busy restaurant streets behind the old town. We were squeezed in at the last moment on a Saturday night, which was much appreciated. Chris ordered beef, I ordered tuna, but when it arrived I understood that ‘mi cuit’ means raw in the middle, so we did a swap (he likes sushi) which confused the waiter. Raw tuna notwithstanding, the food was great.

7. The weather

Although not guaranteed at this time of year (late October), we were lucky. Unflagging sunshine, and warm enough to sit outside until it got dark.

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Some fairly spectacular sunsets too.

Up next:

Why I enjoyed Nice more than I thought I would – Part 3 The Internal Journey

See my website www.anniegaphotography.co.uk/nice for more images or contact me for licensing. All words and images ©Annie Green-Armytage. You are welcome to re-blog and link-share on social media with full accreditation; no other reproduction of any kind permitted without written permission.

Why I enjoyed Nice more than I thought I would – Part 1

First Impressions

To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it all that much. We were booked to go to southern Spain when the sudden demise of Monarch Airlines intervened. So Nice was a last minute scrabble around looking for a cheap flight to somewhere vaguely sunny and warm that wasn’t with RyanAir (who were also threatening more cancellations). We settled on Nice with BA via the flight search engine skyscanner, and it turned out to be a great choice (although when did BA start charging for food and drink??)

Nice itself is busy – lots of traffic, particularly right next to the famous Promenade des Anglais, but it makes up for this in a wide sweep of beach – more than 7km long – looking out onto a sparkling, seriously blue sea. It’s not called the Côte d’Azur for nothing. We stayed in the port area via  AirBnB and had found an apartment at the top of a 5-storey building. The port was as noisy as you would expect a working port in a busy city to be, but the apartment had great double glazing and the view in any case, made it all worthwhile. 

24260A tiny balcony had room for a tripod or a breakfast table but not both at the same time. Once I had learnt to tune traffic and the occasional pile-driver out, some of my best moments were spent, cuppa in hand, sitting on the balcony as the morning sun flooded in over the opposite hills, watching boats chugging in and out of the harbour. Some were tiny, some not so much. 

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A thumbnail history: Nice sits on the French Riviera, at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, close to the Italian border, and it got its name (originally Nikaia) from Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, after a particularly triumphant battle sometime around 350BC. It was an important trading port for centuries, and also a target for pirates and other warring factions, including various French and Italian clans. Its heavily fortified citadel was originally perched high on the hill, until it was besieged by the French in 1705 when this was demolished. Subsequently the old town (La Vielle Ville) came into being, nestling at the base of the hill and in 1860 became definitively French at the Treaty of Turin.

Its so-called ‘Belle Epoque’ began around the turn of the century when the great and the good came to take the waters and also, by the 1930s, to race cars (so it’s always been noisy.) Countless celebs have made their homes hereabouts: Renoir lived here, Queen Victoria spent her summers here, and other A-listers said to be currently in residence include Bill Wyman (Rolling Stones) and Elton John (we rode past the end of his driveway – allegedly – on our bike tour of which more in part 2).

24265.jpgAs we explored the city, and sat in comfy sofas in beach restaurants, both Chris and I felt echoes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the ‘smart set’ of the 1920s and 30s – he located ‘Tender is the Night’ partly on the French Riviera.

24263.jpgThere is a sleekness to many of the passers-by missing in other destinations, and vestiges of that opulent, here-today-gone-tomorrow way of living, embodied not least by the string of casinos along the Promenade des Anglais.

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What I really enjoyed, though, was the sense of enjoyment in life which seemed to emanate from many, although not all, people, tourists and residents alike. It was infectious.

24267.jpgUp next: Part 2 – highlights and must-dos.

See my website www.anniegaphotography.co.uk for more images or contact me for licensing. All words and images ©Annie Green-Armytage. You are welcome to re-blog and link-share on social media with full accreditation; no other reproduction of any kind permitted without written permission.

Skomer’s birds, and how I found out I don’t want to be a wildlife photographer

The wildlife on Skomer island is amazing. I love the landscapes and the wildflowers, and (most of the time) the stripped-down lifestyle, but a large part of the magic for me is being able to walk out of the front door and see a small-eared owl hunting over the heathland, or hear a curlew calling from one of the ponds.

24021In fact, wherever I go, whether it be the coast of California or my own back garden I am drawn to the living world, from humpback whales to red admiral butterflies. So it makes sense that I should seriously consider concentrating on wildlife photography, right? As it turns out, wrong. Having bought a large lens (Canon 100-400mm II) plus a 1.4 extender, and a weatherproof storm cover I realised a basic design flaw. In me, not the lens I hasten to add.

This is hopefully the only thing I have in common with Donald Trump but I have very small hands. And my camera (a Canon 5D mk iii) plus lens plus converter, is heavy and cumbersome. After two days of using this combination more or less non-stop, my thumbs and wrists had the equivalent of shin splints. I am considering swapping to a super-telephoto compact but they all have very small sensors – apparently you can either have a full-frame sensor OR a big optical zoom but not both (unless you know differently in which case please let me know!)

 

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Puffin (Fratercula arctica) with sandeels in its beak, taking them back to its chicks in one of the burrows on the cliff top at The Wick.

In addition, I am a really impatient person. My undying admiration goes out to all those who perch motionless on a ledge for five hours, or even stay down crouching or on one knee for longer than a few minutes. Neither my body nor my mind can cope. Muscles start creaking and I get bored and wonder what I am missing out on elsewhere. 

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Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) hauled out on the rocks at the Garland Stone.
Meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis) on bramble stems, Skomer Island, Wales.
Meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis) on bramble stems.
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Great black-backed gull (Larus marinus) among the wildflowers: red campion (Silene dioica) and bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta (syn. Scilla non-scripta). 

I also like context. I like including the landscape, the habitat, a sense of place in my wildlife images but it seems like that doesn’t work well for ‘proper’ wildlife photography which is all about the creature close-up, particularly for small repro in social media or even this blog.

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Large colony of guillemots (Uria aalge) with a few kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla), nesting on the cliff ledges at High Cliff.
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Puffin (Fratercula arctica) sticking its tongue out next to burrows on the cliff top at The Wick.
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Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) perched on the remains of a drystone wall guarding a nest nearby. Red campion (Silene dioica) in the foreground. 
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Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) with grubs in its beak, perched on a rope and post at The Wick.
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Razorbills (Alca torda) in the sea and on the cliff at North Harbour. A puffin (Fratercula arctica) oversees from higher up the cliff.
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I’m coming to get you: Puffin (Fratercula arctica) walking next to burrows on the cliff top.

Finally, as I’ve mentioned before, I like discovering new places and exploring different cultures. So the defining moment for me came when we boarded the boat back to the mainland. We met a guy disembarking, loaded down with heavily camouflaged gear. ‘That looks like serious intent,’ I said.

‘I’m looking for the Skomer vole,’ he said. The Skomer vole is notoriously difficult to find apparently, living in the heathland undergrowth which covers the island and only emerging for brief scurrying.

His wife chipped in resignedly: ‘I really, really hope he finds it this year. This is his seventeenth attempt. Then maybe we can go on holiday somewhere else.’

Memorable Marrakech

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I just got back from spending a week in Marrakech, learning about travel photography (as opposed to general photography which I have been doing for most of my professional life). I have to say it was one of the more intense weeks of my life. A barrage of sights, sounds and smells – in a good way (mostly); from the main square, Jmaa el Fna, with its cacophony of traders and snake charmers, to the darkened corners of covered souks, where as a lone woman, it definitely felt like there was safety in numbers.

 

Mule and old man with load of sacks on a trailer making their way through the souks of the Medina (old walled city), Marrakech. The streets are too narrow for cars and vans so goods are often transported in this time-honoured way.
Mule and old man with load of sacks on a trailer making their way through the souks. The streets are too narrow for cars and vans so goods are often transported in this time-honoured way.

I was there with my OH as part of a group, led by Stephen Studd www.digitalphotographyholidays.com exploring how my garden and landscape work could translate into a slightly more adventurous perspective. Turns out it’s not that different, but there are subtle distinctions: more emphasis on the simple and graphic, for example:

Wooden (cedar) door with painted panels of formal trees in pots, behind intricate white archway at the Palais Bahia, Bahia Palace, Marrakech.
Cedar door with painted panels, behind intricate white archway at the Palais Bahia.
Detail of mosaic tiling at the Palais Bahia, Bahia Palace, Marrakech.
Detail of mosaic tiling at the Palais Bahia.
Detail of bolt and lock on door with flaking paintwork, at the Palais Bahia, Bahia Palace, Marrakech.
Detail of bolt and lock on door with flaking paintwork, at the Palais Bahia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My ‘best bit’, though, was learning how to approach total strangers on the street and asking permission to photograph them. Previously, on various holidays, I’d always wimped out and missed the images. Stephen was very patient and very empowering – the essence (in my mind anyway) of a great teacher.

Old man wearing traditional white skullcap and djellaba covered by modern day coat, sits in the doorway of his shop in the souks of the Medina (old walled city), Marrakech. The shop has faded red wooden doors in rough pink plaster walls,and a window with assorted tangled embroidery threads, plus a packet of cigarettes.
Old man wearing traditional white skullcap and djellaba covered by modern day coat, sits in the doorway of his shop in the souks of the Medina (old walled city), Marrakech. The shop has faded red wooden doors in rough pink plaster walls,and a window with assorted tangled embroidery threads, plus a packet of cigarettes.

We took a day out in the nearby Atlas Mountains, and here the landscape came to the fore.

Sun breaking through the early morning mist just outside Asni, in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains outside Marrakech.
Sun breaking through the early morning mist just outside Asni, in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains outside Marrakech.

My favourite part was arriving footsore and weary, at our Berber guide’s home, where his wife and mother had prepared the best tagine I have ever tasted. It felt really special to be an invited guest, right down to the customary washing of hands before we all dug into a common plate with bread and fingers.

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Hassan (Coco) and his family on the terrace at their home in the Berber village of Imlil, in the Atlas Mountains outside Marrakech. Imlil is 1,740 metres (5,710 ft) above sea level.

And I guess this was the measure of my experience. The sights and sounds were amazing but talking to the people: course members, souk traders, riad staff, people in cafes and restaurants, made this week truly memorable.

Children on their way home from school in the late afternoon, walking through the narrow streets of the Medina (old walled city), Marrakech.
Children on their way home from school in the late afternoon, walking through the narrow streets of the Medina.
Old man in traditional Moroccan Djellaba and white skullcap with barrow of mint for sale in the street in the souks of the Medina, Marrakech.
Old man in traditional Moroccan Djellaba and white skullcap with barrow of mint for sale in the street in the souks of the Medina.
Man wearing traditional Djellaba and Qob (hood) sitting under pink plastered archways outside the former school, Medersa Ben Youssef in the Medina (old walled city), Marrakech.
Man wearing traditional Djellaba and Qob (hood) sitting under pink plastered archways outside the former school, Medersa Ben Youssef.
See my website www.anniegaphotography.co.uk/Marrakech for more images or contact me for licensing. All words and images ©Annie Green-Armytage. Re-blogging and link-sharing on social media is permitted with full accreditation; no other reproduction of any kind permitted without written permission.