THE SUN CAME OUT on my last full day in Nice, and so did the people. On the streets, in the cafés, on the beach, even, in full-on sunbathing mode — it’s as if a switch was thrown somewhere that changed a sleepy city into a lively one.
I wasn’t languishing in cafés or on the beach, of course. There was too much I wanted to do. This morning I headed to the Vieux Ville (Old City) again, because I hadn’t really had time to grasp its extent on my Monday visit to the antiques market.
Today, Wednesday, the flower market was in full swing, above, in the same space, Cours Saleya, as it is several days a week (Saturday is the largest of them, I’m told; on this day, there were about twenty vendors). There were blooms that are hard to come by in New York, at least in the quantity and range of colors found here: mimosa, freesia, anemones. All well-priced, seemed to me.
Then I let myself get a little lost in the back streets, where they really do hang laundry out to dry from the windows of 500-year-old dwellings.
Nice was part of Italy until the mid 19th century, and that became apparent to me as I looked into beautiful churches and visited a small gem of a historic house, Palais Lascaris, below. It’s a wide, yellow-painted townhouse on Rue Droite, one of the narrow streets of the old town, a nearly intact example of how a noble urban family lived in the 17th century.
The vaulted ceilings and frescoes of the central stairwell and the elaborate plasterwork throughout are incredible enough, but even more striking are the painted ceilings, done in the late 1600s by artists of the Genovese school.
There are furnishings and tapestries of the 17th and 18th centuries, and an important collection of 500 antique musical instruments, above.
I climbed steep flights of steps in the Vieux Ville and emerged eventually on Place Garibaldi, the city’s oldest square, below. Built in 1773, it’s ringed with yellow-painted arcaded buildings, whose startlingly uniform window moldings turn out to be, on close inspection, trompe l’oeil (and they really do).
Below, in the Café Turin, a venerable seafood place on Place Garibaldi.
I forged on, determined to try socca, the thin chickpea pancake that’s a Nicoise specialty. I arrived at Chez Pipo, below, before the place even opened, at about 11:30, so I got to watch the first batch of the day being made. The chick pea flour is pressed into a big round pan and put into an open wood-burning oven, then turned constantly with a long metal tool until it’s done. It’s served in hot slices. Was it good? Yes. Was it worth walking halfway across town for? Well… yes, for the experience.
And what a day for a walk. My socca search had taken me into the old port area, and as I looked back at the distinguished red and yellow buildings encircling the port, below, an unoriginal thought occurred to me: “This is really a beautiful city.”
The only thing remarkable about that thought is that I hadn’t had it in the prior three days of gray rainy weather. To revel in itself, Nice needs sun.
By 2 o’clock, I had walked more than five miles and was exhausted. I went back to my hotel, Villa Victoria, where I’ve been exceptionally comfortable for three nights, to recoup. But at 3PM, I popped up again: I wanted to get to the Musée Matisse, above, in the Cimiez district, a neighborhood of immensely grand apartment buildings perched in the hills above Nice’s downtown. A public bus would take me there, but the stop was several long blocks away, and I decided to splurge on a taxi.
Twenty minutes and twenty euros later, I was in yet another Genovese-school 17th century villa, next-door to the deteriorated but evocative remains of a Roman arena, above (in which locals were playing petanque), where Matisse spent the last three decades of his life.
I’d seen the big Matisse paper cut-out show in New York in January and thought perhaps I was Matisse’d out, but this was a different view of his work. Far from comprehensive and lacking many of the great paintings, which are in other museums worldwide, it is a more intimate side of Matisse, spanning his career from his youthful efforts of the 1890s, when he copied classical works, to bronze figural sculptures I’d never seen, to sketches that reminded me how Matisse was the master of expressing gesture and feeling with just a few lines.
My farewell-to-Nice dinner was with new friends at Voyageur Nissart, a low-key place near the train station frequented by locals and tourists alike, and known for its Nicoise specialties like my red mullet with eggplant and tomato, below.
Onward, now, to Menton, on the Italian border, for a night or two, and then into Italy itself. Must brush up on some new vocabulary.