Staying in a faux boat and almost losing my laptop
After our whirlwind adventure in Morocco we land in Nice in the evening. Originally we planned to catch the bus from airport to Airbnb but there was construction going on and when we followed the signs to the bus station in the other terminal, we discovered that it’s closed and realized that the stop was moved to the shuttle stop where we were initially dropped off at when we changed terminals.
As we hurried back towards the shuttle stop, we glimpsed our bus approaching and broke out into a run. While I was running I felt the strangest sensation on my back and realized that somehow the backpack was falling open – as if the zipper broke. I yelped, panicking as I felt the laptop section swing down and I awkwardly tried to hold it with one arm while attempting to remove my backpack altogether. Fortunately the velcro strap has kept both my laptop and ipad in the sleeve and Carl helps me get out of the backpack. Another couple ran past us and tried to flag the bus but it didn’t stop for us. We all exchanged looks helplessly. With no other choice, we took a taxi. So far, metro and train stations have been fairly straightforward, but bus stops have proved a little more difficult throughout our travels.
There’s more construction as we ride into the city, apparently Nice has been working on a new tram system since 2010, so the street for our AirBnB is blocked off. The construction combined with the darkness and the lack of directions for the apartment had us wandering a little bit but eventually we’re able to get a hold of our host Olivier. As he walked us into the building, he told us the building’s history, which later I realized was to set up expectations because when he opened the door it was tiny-tiny! The apartment used to be a workers space, he says, four people would live together in this small space. To be fair, Olivier has tried to provided everything you might need: a makeshift kitchen and even a washer, though it took a full two days to dry our clothes as we couldn’t leave the windows open and the space was so cramped.
During our stay, Carl starts to feel unwell and we end up spending quite some time in the loft bed. Luckily we’re both short and able to sit up in the bed without bumping our heads on the low ceiling. We pretended that we were in a ship cabin, and it really did feel that way with our laundry line strung out and taking up all the room; the constant creaking of the ladder as I climbed up and down.
Faithful bunnies and a French blunder
Our first full day we head out to the train station to try to book the rest of our train travel. We attempt to take the tram to get to the train station, but there’s some students’ march demonstration so the streets and the tram are blocked. We wind up just walking to the St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral, a beautiful albeit typical Russian Orthodox church. I’m much more fascinated by the bunnies that roam the grounds though, and we spend a little time watching them hop about.
From the church we walk to the train station and book the next couple rides we have into Lyon and then Switzerland for the coming weeks. After settling that bit of business, we head back towards the AirBnB, stopping in the Promenade du Paillon, enjoying the lush park with its reflecting pool fountain. The day is warm and everyone is sitting around soaking up the sun, the deep blue of the sky reflecting on the water. The mirror shatters as the jets erupt water up into the air and kids race across the fountain, taunting each other between the jets.
It’s the perfect day for taking lunch outside, so we wander down the street and happen upon Le Sud where tons of people are sitting outside. We order the cheeseburger and tagliata steak, both very tasty though rather expensive. I end up too full, unable to finish my meat and fries and make the mistake of asking the waiter to pack my leftovers, earning me a strange look. After the fact, I learned (via Google) that the French do not keep leftovers and while I can understand it I cannot agree with this. I’ll accept the shame that I couldn’t finish the meal while it was freshly prepared, but it was too good to simply throw away.
On our way back we pick up a fresh baguette, a new apple variety pomme chantecler, some cheese and some local wine for dinner to accompany my leftover steak and fries,très élégant, I know. The giant yellowish green apples turn out very dense and juicy but not as crunchy as I was hoping for. Because Carl is still mainly drinking tea with honey, I basically drink the whole bottle of wine by myself. Embarrassingly I end up a little too buzzed to climb up and down the ladder the rest of the night!
The best Socca in Nice
The next day we decide to stay out in the fresh air, so we venture out for some signature Nice food. We walk down a couple blocks to a local favorite, Chez Pipo, known for their socca. As we step inside we’re enveloped in cozy red brick and an open kitchen area where giant flat pans for socca sit over these barrel shaped stoves. From our table we can watch them as they spread the chickpea mix across the pans and then scrap and flip them.
Our waiter recommends trying their mini pan bagnat, essentially burger sliders, which are not bad, but everything else we tried was much more unique and scrumptious. As it was our first time, we ordered their plain socca to get an idea what it’s meant to be like. It was an instant favorite with its super thin layer of fluffy goodness inside but light crunchy exterior. The pissaladière, a Nice original that resembles a sort of bread topped like pizza, was soft, sweet and savory with melting caramelized onions. The surprise was their sweet Swiss chard pie, which was soft and chewy and not overly sweet, almost like a deluxe Fig Newton bar.
After such a satisfying lunch, we decided to check out the beach side and took a leisurely walk along Promenade des Anglais, a main street that follows the coastline. It’s almost warm enough to walk without a jacket and I enjoy the sun on my face, knowing this warmth will likely be the last for us in a only a short while.
We slowly make our way back when we come across a narrow almost alley like street, Rue Pairolière, that’s crammed full of shops. We notice a socca spot with a line wrapped around the corner: Chez Rene Socca. It’s unlike us to say no to a snack, so we fall in line standing beside the counters offering other ready made dishes, none of which really catch our eye. Instead we end up watching some pigeons cautiously approach some spilt leftovers in the middle of the street, constantly thwarted by people stepping onto the leftovers unaware.
As we near the ordering window we spot a variety of pissaladière, one with mushrooms on top and boy I’m a sucker for mushrooms, so we order a couple different ones. While we wait, we peek into their space and see that they put their pans of socca into a pizza oven instead. The high heat gives them a crispier outside, but it’s not as evenly cooked as Chez Pipo. Sadly, they put our pissaladière into the oven for only a quick second so it was still cold when they handed it to us.
We’re obligated to enjoy the snack with a drink in their seating area, so we try some Grimbergen beers, which turn out refreshing. Even though you’d think that we can hardly think about more food, our very next thought is to grab one of those flat funny looking sandwiches, a spianata, that we spotted next door at Spianata Bolognese. Don’t panic, we bought one to take home for dinner. Unfortunately the meat was too salty to me, so I didn’t find the sandwich too special.
The most beautiful part of Nice
Our last full day in Nice was spent going up to the Jardin du Monastère de Cimiez. Luckily the demonstration marches only lasted the two previous days so we were able to take the tram up a good portion of the walk. The final leg was a hilly trek up a number of stairways tucked in this quiet residential area. We opted to skip the monastery itself and just wander through their gardens, which was definitely worth the trip out all by itself. There was a humble but stately arched gateway, peaceful pathways shaded by green topped trellises, and a ton of roses, though many already dormant. At one end we leaned over the wall to gaze out over the top of Nice, the city bathed in sunset yellow gold. On the other end we climbed some stone stairs to a dark forest-y area where a couple dogs chased each other and some older gentlemen played bocce ball in the middle of the pathway.
With the sun well on its way down, we quickly made a short tour of the nearby Arènes de Cimiez Garden. We passed families taking strolls or packing up picnics until we reached the ruins of the Cimiez Arena, where yet more families were hanging out. Children climbed over the stones while mothers watched with one eye while chatting amongst their groups. A pair of kids attempted to fly a kite in the middle of the arena floor but there wasn’t enough wind. It was beginning to get cold though, so we started to make our way back to the tram station, calling it a night.
All in all, a short and mild handful of days in Nice. In early December the weather was still mild and the city was fairly quiet – the beachgoers aren’t around and Christmas festivities haven’t started yet. While we found Nice food special and tasty, there didn’t seem to be too much other activities for the winter season and recommend visiting during a time you can better take advantage of the seaside ambiance.
We stayed just outside of the port in “Studio Mezzanine Nice Port”; a super tiny apartment that was refurbished from what used to be an apartment for workers back in the day.
Olivier is a great host, very proactive with communications and was very available during our stay. He offered to arrange for us a cooking class with a nearby restaurant and made many recommendations for places to eat, extremely helpful all the way up to and through our stay. The place is a great location, just be aware that the street is currently undergoing some construction so there was some noise related to that.
Also note that the Nice airport is undergoing some construction as well, and the recommended 98 bus stop has moved to the same spot as the Terminal shuttle stop. The space is very, very small. We are both 5’3 and there’s just enough space for us to sit up on the bed without hitting our heads on the ceiling, and just enough space to sit on the toilet facing forward. If you’re any taller, you’ll have to adjust yourself to use the space. The bathroom floor is astroturf..which was a little disturbing. The backyard is a shared enclosed courtyard – there was quite a bit of noise and smoking out there so we mostly kept the window shut.
Olivier did offer an airport pick up for 50 EUR, which is more expensive than just taking a taxi, which was a flat rate 38 EUR. All in all Olivier has fit everything you might need into a very small space, if you’re travel sized or you’re just looking for a good base to sleep, this is a good spot!
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Vaccinations: Routine Vaccinations
Mosquito problems: None while there
Problems for tattoos: None
Traveling as a woman: Standard Precautions
Getting Around in Nice, France
Nice is fairly walkable and public transportation didn’t seem that convenient while we were there. However you can save a little buy buying a 10 trip for 10 EUR which can be shared amongst multiple people.
Currency: 1 EUR = 1.15 USD
Tipping in France not necessary, but appreciated. Tax is already included in their pricing, so the price you see is what you pay.
$60-80/person: This was for 3 evenings in Nice with a private Airbnb apartment. We mostly ate out for lunches and dinners as the space was a little too snug to cook and bought public transportation tickets but wound up walking a bit due to the tram interruptions.
Some typical costs
- an order of socca: 3-4 EUR
- lunch at Chez Pipo: 15 EUR
- lunch at Le Sud: 15-25 EUR pp
- AirBnB: $33/night
Promenade du Paillon, Plassa Carlou Aubert – Lovely outdoor space with a large reflecting pool and fountains and a play area for kids.
Le Sud, sud-brasserie.fr/fr, 10 Avenue Félix Faure, $$-$$$ – lovely outdoor seating space, try their cheeseburger or tagliata steak!
Chez Pipo, chezpipo.fr, 13 Rue Bavastro, $ – Very affordable and local favorite for socca. It was the best food we had in Nice – try their various socca, pissaladière, and the sweet chard pie for some unique and delicious plates. Portions are on the smaller side so don’t be afraid to try multiple things!
Chez Rene Socca, 2 Rue Miralheti, $ – Very affordable, ready-made corner restaurant good for traditional home-cooking like plates. You order and pay at the counter and try to find a seat in their courtyard. If you sit down you are obligated to buy a drink from their bar that manages the space. Make sure that they thoroughly heat up your order as the pissaladière is not so great when it’s cold.
La Spianata Bolognese, 1 rue Pairoliere, $ – small spot right next to Chez Rene Socca to get the typical flatbread sandwiches called spianata.
Jardin du Monastère de Cimiez, the gardens are free to walk around. It has a great view of Nice and it’s connected to the larger Arènes de Cimiez Garden, both are lovely areas to spend the afternoon.