Nicer in Nice
I always wanted to go to Nice. Maybe because in high school I was in a musical, The Boyfriend, which took place on the French Riviera and had a song called "Nicer in Nice," complete with a scene of frolicking with beach balls.
I had an impossible time finding the meeting spot for my Blablacar. Blablacar is a ridesharing service where people post trips they're already taking to fill empty seats in their car and make a little money. I had asked my driver, Alex, four times to confirm the location at a "quai," which I was confused about. (A quai is a loading dock, platform, or wharf.) The meeting spot was on an empty street near one of the rivers, but you had to walk on/under multiple bridges to get to it. I tried for 1.5 hours on foot and still couldn't get there.
After a ridiculously expensive seven-minute Uber ride to the spot, my Blablacar, a van with a trailer attached, arrived. I entered the van to find two wide-eyed little girls greeting me happily in French, along with a slightly older boy, a dog, and a scruffy leather-clad man in the back. Mom and Dad were up front. It was a full house hitting the road to Nice, and it was my first Blablacar experience. The scruffy dude, another Blablacar rider, was very smelly and the barely breathable leather didn't help. I sat next to the two little girls in car seats. The mom told me that her and Alex had adopted the children from an agency she works for; one was three, one was four and the boy was eight.
We made a couple of stops for bathroom breaks and fruit. I spoke French to the mom surprisingly well, and the kids were cute and fun to joke around with - until the last 45 minutes, when we hit Carnival traffic entering Nice. One of them was just screaming everything that came into her head. When she screamed, the other one screamed. The boy whined when they screamed. Ouch.
Carnival de Nice is one of the world's biggest Carnival celebrations, and I arrived just in time for the parade. This year one of the floats was a "yuge" bright orange Donald Trump spitting water. It was really a fun event, with everyone in great spirits and dancing through the streets. Even though it was one of their largest events, it was not at all hectic compared to events like this in the U.S.
Weirdly, Nice reminded me of Vegas, but really Vegas reminds me of Nice. A lot of the old hotels in Vegas were modeled to resemble the French Riviera. Since I've taken many trips to Vegas for family meetups, and we usually stay in the same old hotel, I felt like Nice was very familiar. It was strange. The huge Italian influence is clear in both the architecture and food in Nice.
I Couchsurfed with a lovely German woman, Susanne, who has lived in Nice for about 20 years. She suggested I take the train to Menton for Fête du Citron, a large citrus festival held every year. There was a Couchsurfing meetup from Nice the next day. Menton is the last stop along the coast before Italy and is very proud of its citrus, particularly its lemons. Every year they make epic floats using up to 145 metric tons of citrus from Spain. Their own precious fruit is reserved for eating. There was hot lemonade, tea, crêpes with lemon curd or Grand Marnier and other citrusy delights. I got a lot of Vitamin C that day.
The theme was Broadway, with Broadway music everywhere and Broadway-themed floats. Awesome. The meetup ended up just being me and Sophie, the Couchsurfing organizer who's from Helsinki, Finland, and was spending a few months in Nice working toward her PhD in history. We got along really well and talked about everything from Broadway to pastries to politics. We attended the parade and the Jardin Bioves, a display of stationary citrus sculptures, then a Broadway-themed craft market with food and goods inside a theater.
I had just bought a bruschetta with olives (and George Clooney painted on the box) when we got back to Nice, when Susanne messaged me, worried that I'd gotten lost amongst the lemons. She was finishing cooking dinner and wanted to know where I was.
Yes, I basically ate a whole pizza before dinner.
Susanne cooked for us both nights, which I did not expect. The first night was Coquilles St.-Jacques, a classic French dish with scallops and usually a creamy wine sauce, but hers had a pumpkin sauce instead, and the next night was fish with vegetables. She has a deal with her fishmonger; he sells her cheap seafood on Saturdays once the afternoon shopping crowd dies down.
After dinner that night we enjoyed some limoncello I brought back from the festival while chatting about her travels with former Couchsurfing hosts and guests. We also chatted about the struggles of freelance work. She was really nice, and her apartment was impeccably clean. It was also really easy to get around Nice using a tram around the corner from her building. I hope to connect with her again!