Eze again

The main dining room of Comptoir du Marche. Believe it or not, this may be the largest of the Crespo restaurants.

After dinner the night before at our third Crespo restaurant, Comptoir du Marche, which hit and even exceeded the heights we expected (Lynn’s pork cheeks were from another planet), we planned to hit the road again for another city bus ride up the mountain to the medieval village of Eze, which is located on the planet at the geographical oddity of 43 degrees, 43 minutes, 43 seconds of latitude.

We had visited Eze the first time we came to Nice some 20 years ago, so we were eager to see if it had retained its charm or had changed with the times. The short answer is that it has not changed.

The Nice city bus 82 makes an hourly trip to Eze and beyond. The bus station is well into the back of town where we don’t generally go, so we took the tram and transferred at the Vauban terminal. It’s a good two block walk from the tram stop to the Vauban terminal, and it is not signed. We almost gave up and turned the other way until I spied several buses lined up to start their routes. Sure enough, the 82 was right there, with only about a dozen people waiting to board, and we departed right on time.

Three stops later, the 82 was jammed with tourist pilgrims in search of medieval culture. They poured on from two major stops right after the Vauban origination point, and we were mighty happy we boarded at the beginning.

The view of the modest apartments overlooking the Mediterranean from Eze.

The ride up the mountain offers the usual stunning views of the coves along the Mediterranean coast dotted with mega-yachts at anchor as if sprinkled from the hands of the gods of the super rich. So many, you can’t count them as the bus trundled up the mountain, passing the anchorages east of Nice in Villefranche sur Mer and other little communities of the mega-rich. The apartments and villas are cut out of the rock, perched to overlook the toys floating in the sparkling clear waters so far down below. You can breathe the money in the air.

The Eze Village stop on the 82 route is just a single post in the street. But everyone knows to get off there, and we recognized the parking lot and main entrance to the village, even though it has been nearly 20 years. Indeed 20 years do not much change a town that dates back to the Phoenicians.

The simple facade of the church holds an ornate Baroque interior within.
Baroque enough for you? It’s not even that old by European church standards.

Eze is small; you can walk through it in less than an hour. We climbed up the narrow streets to the church, Notre Dame de L’Assumption, a very modest affair as European churches go. The plain exterior was built starting in 1764 and encloses a Baroque interior that is sorely in need of restoration. The signs ask for donations, because a million euros are needed to restore the fading frescoes and the crumbling plaster walls.

Along the way up and down the narrow streets, we were forced to follow, stop and work our way around groups of tourists from another continent who are the plague of European travel everywhere we have been. They move in groups, they take countless selfies, they even take selfies of each other taking selfies, they think nothing of blocking en entire street, and they permeate every city, town, walk, promenade and attraction we have visited over the last two years.

You might say they are not our favorite.

Golden Goats are too good (and expensive) for us.)

Eze has two major hotels, the Chateau de la Chevre D’Or (Golden Goat) and the Chateau Eza, which was the former home of Prince William of Sweden from 1923 to 1953. Both are five-star hotels with room rates and menu prices to match. I tried to recall which one refused us service in 1999, but either one of them certainly could have and probably was justified in doing so.

We stopped along the way down to slake our thirst, as it was that odd hour of late morning when it is too early to eat lunch but the first hint of hunger is starting to show up. A beer is the perfect answer.

I checked my handy app for the bus times, since the 82 only runs once an hour, and it looked like a bus was only minutes away to take us back down to Nice and a nicer, cheaper lunch. I was misinformed. We thought the bus came at 12:10: it actually stopped about 12:50. In the meantime, the 112 bus showed up, and after everyone at our bus stop climbed aboard, I realized that bus went down to Nice too. But it was not on my app, nor on my map. So we waited.

Lynn plows into her pizza at La Plassa, a most pleasant restaurant in a tiny square near our apartment.

By the time we returned to the city, we were truly hungry for lunch and stopped off at our little La Plassa restaurant to split a delicious pizza and a plate of roasted peppers washed down with a pichet of red wine. The perfect way to finish a half-day journey and prep for a mid-afternoon nap.

But it is almost time to leave Nice. We fly out tomorrow on EasyJet, a cheap ticket and expensive fee airline. Their web site frustrates me trying to check bags online, knowing that the fee will be higher at the airport. But we will just have to deal with that tomorrow.

Meantime, there remains one last bit of business in Nice, our daily walk down the promenade. It’s a short one this time and not a little bittersweet. There is a magic to the Nice waterfront that is unique to Nice. As much as we love Barcelona and the walk around its marinas, there is nothing quite like a stroll down Promenade des Anglais and Promenade des Etas Unis overlooking the beach of large gray smooth stones and crystal blue water. The sky was somewhat hazy today, which probably sends a message.

Part of the interior ambience of Wayne’s Bar.

To finish off our latest (and certainly not last) visit to Nice, we hit the high spots. First, cocktails at Wayne’s, speaking English to perfectly English speaking bartenders from Latvia, South Africa and God know where else. They seem to gravitate to Wayne’s.

Then it was off to a farewell to Nice dinner at Chat Noir/Chat Blanc, where Giorgio and Sylvia in tandem but alone serviced a full house of diners on a Friday night. Lynn’s dorado was delicious and my steak with gorgonzola was equally pleasing. We kissed goodbye, all of us, and promised to see each other in about a year.

Au revoir, Nice. Until next time.



We waited, we went, we returned–wrong town

St. Paul de Vence is a medieval village an hour up the mountains from Nice. We had visited there last time we were here, but it had been winter, and the town was pretty much closed up. So we decided to invest a couple of euros for another trip up the mountain.

The 94 bus runs from the edge of Vieux Nice along the Promenade, then up the mountain through Cagnes sur Mer and finally to Vence, a trip of more than an hour. Foolishly, I had forgotten to check the departure times, and we arrived at the 94 bus stop ten minutes late, having spent those ten minutes in the local La Poste sending a postcard back to the U.S. The 94 bus has the second-longest intervals of all Nice transit, a whopping 45 minutes. So we waited in the park, watching the tourists and Nicoise walk by.

The trip up the hills is bumpy on the city bus but runs through the heart of Cagnes sur Mer, one of the many small towns along the Cote d’Azur. It’s always interesting to see the residents in their native habitats, not just along the beaches and in the bars and restaurants. The streets of Cagnes sur Mer are lined with car repair shops, clothing stores, cleaners, hair salons, small grocers (epiceries) and all the retail establishments that keep a town running.

Sure doesn’t look medieval, does it?

The 94 route ends at a multi-line bus terminal, where passengers are let off to wander into the town of Vence. No sign of the medieval village we had visited the year before.

We walked down the street, hungry since it was mid-day by now, and found a square full of restaurants. We chose a simple looking one that offered–what else?–pizza! The smiling hostess welcomed us to our table and offered the menu, but she was followed by what appeared to be the owner, who was none too pleased to get an order of only one pizza and two beers. And one tap water, for which he could not charge. It may have been a language problem, but he basically set our table for one.

Narrow streets and old buildings, but just not St. Paul de Vence down the mountain.

Pizza and beer consumed, we went looking for the medieval village that is supposed to be there. Finally, we turned down a narrow alleyway, and thought we recognized some features of what we had seen a year and a half ago. It was somewhat like the St. Paul de Vence we had visited, but somehow different, less interesting, less quaint and more commercial.

So after a short excursion into the old city,  we walked back to the bus terminal to catch the 94 back to Nice. Another nice ride down the hill to the sea.

When we returned to the apartment, Lynn did a bit more research–after the fact–and learned to our surprise that we had taken the wrong bus. The 400 bus goes to St. Paul de Vence, not the 94, as the map said. Oh well, we didn’t see what we had before but saw something we had not. I swear the regular city bus took us to St. Paul de Vence 18 months ago. But not today.

This is the entire kitchen that cooks meals for the front room, the back room and the sidewalk tables at Bar des Oiseaux.
Bar des Oiseaux used to be a comedy club, and the decor is pretty much unchanged from those days.

So we washed down our regrets with some beverages from our favorite Cave, then walked to dinner at Bar des Oiseaux, our favorite among Armand Crespo’s restaurants. They gave us the same table we had enjoyed last time in Nice, a two-top right looking right into the open kitchen. Watching four guys cook and prep meals in a tiny space is a show in itself.

And the food was every bit as wonderful as we had remembered. We started by sharing a veloute of artichoke with truffle oil that was nothing less than sensual in texture and taste. We ordered it to share, and they brought it out in two bowls (no extra charge for splitting an order here), accompanied by toast points slathered with pate. Adults only here.

Lynn ordered the pork confit that fell apart into shreds of deliciousness, and I had what amounted to a seafood medley over little pasta shells. The featured item in my seafood was a large slice of perfectly grilled monkfish that complemented the flavors of octopus, clams, other little undefinable but savory seafood bits. We ate our dishes down to the last pasta shell and pork shred. No take home here tonight. As we left, the chef leaned over the counter to shake my hand in recognition of our appreciation of the show. We felt like regulars. Which could happen.

As a footnote, we learned that Armand Crespo is opening a wine and cocktail bar (a true rarity in France) just doors down rue Barillerie from our apartment. We’re already making cocktail plans for our next visit to Nice.





Marseilles is the second largest city in France, reportedly the oldest (although Paris was a thriving community in Roman times), and the largest French port on the Mediterranean. It is grittier, more culturally diverse and of course much larger than Nice. And it’s a two and a half hour train ride along the Cote D’Azur from Nice.

We had intended to go to Marseilles last year, but never got around to leaving Nice, where you can wander all over the area for a euro on the city bus. This time, we were determined, so I had booked train passage and a hotel before we ever left the U.S.

We simply following the normal weekday morning rush of workers in the two-block walk from the tram to the station. Alongside is under heavy construction to create a covered walkway for passengers to transit from the tram to the station, a welcome amenity in the case of inclement weather.

Nice’s train station is so typically French and so typically 19th century. There is something about train stations that I love as much as there is something about airports that I despise. Train stations are immediate; people rush to catch their train at the last minute. Airports are forever; passengers are herded through security well in advance of their flights and wait like cattle for their plane to arrive, load and leave. Embarkation that takes hours in an airport takes minutes in a train station.

Train stations are also centrally located. Even so, the cab ride in Marseilles after an aborted Uber attempt cost 15 euros to get to our hotel which was located on the main street leading to the Old Port a block off the waterfront. By contrast, once we knew, we took the Metro back to the train station for 3.30 euros, including a ten-centime charge for a new card when I could not find our old transit cards.

Our Hotel Escale Oceana was a three-star lodging. In France, the difference between a three-star and a four-star hotel is the amenities. In a three-star, you get plastic cups in your room. In a four-star, you get glassware for your wine, porcelain cups for your coffee. That’s about the extent of the difference. And breakfast will be better, bigger and much more expensive at a four-star hotel.

Our bed was most comfortable, and our room overlooked the busy Blvd. Canebriere with a straight view right down to the Municipal Opera house.  We were exactly one block from the Old Port, giving us ample access to the boats, the tours and the restaurants.

Putting our knowledge of tourist traps to good use, we eschewed the restaurants facing out to the Vieux Port and bought beer at a little bar one block behind. Our beers were cheaper, colder and came with Marseillais commentary from our bartender/proprietor, a funny French Archie Bunker if there ever was one.

The view of Vieux Port from the tourist train.

Marseilles fancies itself the tourist destination, but it has some ways to go before it reaches the level of sophistication as, say Nice, Paris or New Orleans. The little tourist train did not accept credit cards. And our route—unannounced—stopped and put us off for 40 minutes at the old Charity Hospital, which is now a museum.

If I had been certain we were stopped for 40 minutes, I would have rushed through this exhibition, which I had read a while back was quite interesting.

The exhibit was on Jack London, and I would have visited, except that Lynn heard our stop would be 14 minutes, and I heard forty minutes. I know the difference between quatorze and quarante, and the driver clearly said quarante, which is 40. So we cooled our heels in the little courtyard looking at the spa that uses little fish to nibble on feet and staring at the the graffiti, which here is on a monumental scale.

Graffiti in large European cities goes monumental. Thankfully, we don’t see much of that in Nice.

The train ride finally returned to Vieux Port, so we eagerly jumped on the next item on our customary list of things to do on the first visit—take a boat ride. We signed up for the late cruise to Chateau D’If out past the harbor. Although it was clearly cocktail hour, the ticket seller told me that no alcohol is sold on the boat at all—it is forbidden. (I know that to be utter BS—we have been on more than one tourist cruise in France where the bar opens as soon as the passengers board.

The cruise out to Chateau D’If is fine, but the commentary was only in French, leaving us to guess at the narrative. It was a nice boat ride, but we didn’t learn much.

Our friends at Chat Noir had recommended we try Toinou, a seafood restaurant that happily was located only two blocks from our hotel, because we were starving by dinner.

Toinou is more than a seafood restaurant—it is a seafood experience. Part open air market, part cafeteria, part restaurant but all seafood and gargantuan amounts and variety of it. For instance, they offer at least eight different types of oysters and each type can be ordered in petit, medium, grand or super-grand. They offer at east three different types of mussels too, and even display Alaskan king crabs and Maine lobsters. Those last two are not cheap. Nor is the shrimp, which always gives us so much pleasure and amazement , considering what we pay at home.

We walked our trays down the line like a Piccadilly of the sea. I immediately and eagerly requested an order of fried Mediterranean anchovies, plus a dozen petit oysters from the Etang du Thon, just southwest of Marseilles and at the end of the Canal du Midi, where we have cruised before.

Lynn plows into her mussels and frites. The crab soup was served in the glass coffee mug. The rosé wine was delicious, and you can see what was left of my oysters from Etang du Thon.

Lynn opted for the crab soup, an order of mussels and, of course, frites. We had to overcome a bit of language barrier, as the attendant explained that frites did not come with mussels, but must be ordered separately. We knew that. We were not in Belgium.

All in all, Toinou was a treat and if you ever find yourself in Marseilles, not to be missed.

Up the next day early, our plan was to visit the huge Cathedral de la Major the fort St. Jean, then take the 60 bus from there to the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, which overlooks Marseilles city and port from a tall hill that was built by King Francis I to protect the city from invasion and actually served as a military garrison until well into the 20th century.

Well, one of three isn’t too bad. Fort St. Jean and the cathedral were closed on a Tuesday so we went up the mountain on the 60 city bus to Notre Dame de la Garde. But first we stopped for lunch a block off the Vieux Port walkway in a tiny café, where Lynn ordered the richest Quiche Lorraine she had ever tasted, and I plunged into the daily special, which was beef daube over pasta. Neither of us could finish either order. With two beers, the total tab was 18 euros.

Golden mosaic domes to rival San Marcos in beauty if not scale. Very difficult to see are the rows of hanging boat models, some very contemporary.

Notre Dame de la Garde is worth the trip. Even though the church itself is only about 150 years old, it stands on the site of a ninth century chapel that Francis I deemed insignificant for a location so critical to his empire. A golden statue of the Virgin Mary literally crowns the church overlooking the harbor. Inside, the Romanesque-Byzantine architecture features domes of golden mosaics that could rival San Marcos in Venice.

Even more interesting are the boat models that hang from the ceilings along the length of the nave and the many maritime paintings that are massed along the walls of the side chapels. Notre Dame de la Garde was the marker for incoming sailors, and they paid their respects at the side chapels of the church.

The 60 bus ride back to Vieux Port takes a slightly different route through town, since many streets are narrow and one way. Lynn’s fear height gauge told her that the ride down was more precipitous than the ride up, as the bus careened around corners of streets designed for horses.

We checked out of the hotel and walked across the street to the Metro, which took us all of five minutes and 3.30 euros to get to the train station. The two and a half hour train trip back to Nice was as quiet and pleasant as the one over, and we enjoyed the last of our bottle of wine craftily “snuck” aboard with the entire neck of the bottle protruding from the top of Lynn’s mom bag.

Back at our apartment for dinner we sought out La Plassa restaurant that we had enjoyed a couple of times before. It did not disappoint, as Lynn ordered the beef flank steak with gorgonzola sauce with vegetables, potatoes and salad for 15.50, and I had the spaghetti vongole for 14.50. With a pichet of wine (which is all we needed but oddly all they offered), the total bill for dinner was 38.50 euros. Homecoming was delicious.


A rainy day of activity

Saturday started rainy, but that didn’t stop us or even slow us down. We toted up quite the list of accomplishments (for us, anyway):

  1. Visit to Marc Chagall Museum
  2. Drinks at the fabled Hotel Negresco
  3. Dinner at Les Garcons

Before the rain slacked off, I ran around the corner to our excellent patisserie, where they bake their own breads, for one of their fresh, buttery croissants and a pain au chocolat, one of Western civilization’s more decadent breakfast treats.

Once the rain moved off to the Mediterranean, we ventured off to find the 15 bus to take us up Cimiez to the Marc Chagall Museum, which had been closed for renovations when we were last here in Nice.

Finding the 15 bus stop proved to be something of a challenge. The nearest stops for 15 are all in the main downtown part of Nice across from the park and promenade from Old Town where we are living. The bus map is not terribly clear.  First we walked too far down the promenade before turning into downtown, so we had to walk back several blocks. As we finally walked up to the bus shelter, the 15 pulled up but barely slowed down, much less stopped to pick us up, despite Lynn’s attempts to wave it down. So we had to wait another ten minutes for the next bus on the Saturday schedule.

The next bus took us up a scenic drive to the hills of Cimiez for less than ten minutes to the Marc Chagall Museum. This is an unusual attraction, as Chagall designed the building during his life to showcase a series of large paintings he created about major elements of the Old Testament. The master personally supervised the construction of the place, including a large mosaic  on an outside wall overlooking a reflecting pond.

The main gallery of the Chagall Museum displays paintings specifically created for the space.
The pieces of the mosaic blend in this photo to create the effect of a huge painting.

Because the scope is limited to the paintings Chagall created specifically for the space, the museum is relatively compact and easy to get through in about 90 minutes. The audio guide that is provided free with your entry ticket explains the meaning and background of each of the major paintings in some detail. At only 10 euros per person, the Chagall Museum is well worth a visit, especially if you find yourself on the way to or from the larger Matisse Museum farther up Cimiez.

After lunching in the snack bar of the museum on a sandwich so big we easily split it and a couple of beers, we waited for the 15 bus to take us down, having just missed another by no more than 30 seconds. This time, we planned to disembark at a different stop that would leave us closer to our apartment. Instead, we got off one stop too early and found ourselves walking through another section of downtown before entering the comfortable confines of Old Town. Some discussion arose between the two of us about who called which stop.

Visitors line up to have their photos taken with the hash tag sculpture, further promoting the city’s profile.

Before returning to the apartment, we took our daily walk along the promenade up toward Castle Hill to see Nice’s hash tag sculpture and watch a fleet of antique wooden boats finish their weekend races.

Antique wooden boats sail toward the Nice harbor at the end of a day of racing in the Med.



Our dinner reservations at Les Garcons were set for 7 p.m., so we planned to walk down the Promenade de Anglais to Le Negresco about 5 p.m., have a drink in the fabled bar, then head back to Old Town with plenty of time to make our reservations. That plan worked just about to the minute, because the walk to Negresco and back was a little longer than we had planned, even though we have made that walk many times before.

That is 26 euros of a vodka and soda in front of Lynn. No extra charge for the soda, and the munchies were good though not great.
The lobby chandelier was originally commissioned for Czar Nicholas II, who was unable to accept the piece due to the unforeseen consequences of the Bolshevik Revolution.

The Negresco bar features rich, dark wooden paneling, soaring cove ceilings, huge paintings and large windows overlooking the Promenade des Anglais. The hotel no longer allows people to walk in off the street and tour their art collection, which is, to be polite, an ecletic amalgam of contemporary pieces and second-tier  portraits of 18th century French nobility. Still, the Negresco is a landmark along the Promenade in Nice, more notable for its past than its present.

Drinks at the Negresco bar are ridiculously expensive: Lynn’s vodka and soda was 26 euros and my Scotch and water was 15. That’s $31 and $18 U.S. Compare that to:

  • Cocktails at the Algonquin Hotel in New York–$18
  • Bellini at Harry’s Bar in Venice–18 euros
  • Bloody Mary at the Ritz in Paris–24 euros (but that comes with a show of making the drink)

What makes the prices at the Negresco bar so stunningly extravagant is that you can get a room in the hotel for about 200 euros or less in January and about 250 or less right now, still at the end of high season. The 41 euro bill for two drinks was nearly what we would spend on a delightful, delicious dinner at Les Garcons the next hour.

At Les Garcons, I reveled in what the menu termed a veal medallion, aka a veal filet mignon, without question one of the finest veal dishes I have ever tasted. The waiter was a bit pushy in recommending a wine selection, but they had a Morgon on the list, and I was not to be denied. And be careful about ordering water–they charge for still water, the only restaurant we have seen in France that does so. Usually when you choose still water, you get tap, which is very good in France, so good that in Paris they label it.  At  Les Garcons, you have to ask. Still (no pun intended), Les Garcons is one of the very best restaurants in Old Town Nice.

Less provisioning, more wandering

By Day Three, we had provisioned for the basics but still needed a few things for in-home cuisine. So off to the market in Cours Saleya, just steps from our apartment.

This is what 5.50 euros will get you in the Cours Saleya market.

Lynn shopped for vegetables and fruit to prepare a dinner of sausage and peppers plus salad with homemade dressing. Here was the bounty: a huge head of delicious delicate lettuce, tomatoes, peppers larger than we ever see in the U.S., garlic the size of a satsuma, lemons and an onion–for 5.50 euros.

After depositing the vegetables at the apartment, we walked around the corner to the boucherie for sausage and to the pasta store for a couple of sheets of homemade ravioli. There, the clerk insisted we must buy two sheets, even though one was easily enough for us. But at 1.40 euro per sheet of 24 ravioli, who could say no? Besides, she would not take no for an answer.

Finally, we were ready for exploration, despite the fact that we had traipsed across Old Town at least three times in the last two days. Our target now was Castle Hill to see if the elevator was now open. It was, even though it had been sealed off the night before.

The long walk to the elevator at Castle Hill offers a pictorial chronology of Nice from Roman times through the city’s vote (accused of being rigged) to join France in 1860.

The Castle Hill elevator (ascenseur) is free, accessed down a long hallway decorated on the walls with displays of the history of the fort, which is essentially the history of Nice, going back to Roman times. The most significant moments in modern Nicoise history were Napoleon’s conquest of the city in 1805 and the city’s accession to France in 1860.

As I read the display about Napoleon’s conquest, it occurred to me that if the Little Emperor had not interfered so drastically, Nice would still be Italy, Barcelona and Catalonia would still be an independent country and New Orleans would still be French. Hmmmm…….

Near the top of the hill is a small snack bar, where we gratefully slaked our thirst with a couple of cold 1664s while gazing at the view below and across the hills of Nice, which run right up to the shoreline.

By the time we worked our way back to the ground level and wandered into the heart of Old Town, we realized it was nearly 3 p.m. and time for lunch. No wonder we were hungry, despite our hearty breakfast of Lynn’s eggs and lardon. So we stopped at the street-side cafe for salads, Nicoise for me and Italian for Lynn. Both were excellent and both were huge. At 9 euros each ($10.80), it’s about the same price as the U.S. but much fresher and much larger.

Fortified for more exploration, we decided to walk over to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, which we had never seen. After about a half hour of trudging through the streets of downtown Nice, we decided that the Orthodox Cathedral could wait for another day. It was definitely not as close as the map had indicated.

So back we went to our familiar streets of Old Town. By now, it was ice cream time, and long lines formed in front of every gelato store, of which there are literally dozens. The French do love their sweets. We see the same thing in Paris, and they don’t think twice about enjoying a cone before lunch sometimes.

Lots of patrons…
…Lots of choices. This is actually only one section of the store nearest our apartment.

Eschewing the ice cream, we finally headed back to the apartment for some of Lynn’s finest cuisine. And a bottle of wine. Both turned out delicious.

The mistress of #1 Cours Saleya at work.

I have been told that this blog sometimes sounds like a series of food reviews. If that is the case, so be it.


Provisioning, Day Two–and Day Three

One of the differences in traveling when you live in an apartment as opposed to staying at a hotel is the need for provisioning, which is one of the many advantages of calling a place home. Typically, our second day is provisioning day, and this trip is no exception, except that we kept doing it all day–and the next.

Three visits to MonoPrix, the Target of France. One quick run through Spar, the little grocer near our apartment. Procuring vegetables at the Cours Saleya market. Sausages at the boucherie around the corner. Cheese and raviolis at the ravioli store around another corner. (Different corners; it’s hard to describe Old Town Nice, except that it resembles Old Town Barcelona and all of Venice.)

And of course, two trips to the wine store, fearing we may run down to anything less than a full bottle in the apartment.

Thus was spent our first two days in Nice. It makes for a most pleasant experience of being a resident and not just a tourist.

On Day Two, we circumnavigated Vielle Vieux Nice at least twice, from the spectacular Promenade on the Mediterranean, through the nearby park, across Place Massena, then all the way along the tram tracks to Place Garibaldi and MonoPrix. Along the way, we bought a lunch of pizza (it’s everywhere in Nice, which is more Italian than French) and a beer that we carried to our apartment for a relaxing break from our excursions.

Giorgio, proprietor of Chat Noir/Chat Blanc, with his hostess Sylvia, who will be leaving the restaurant soon for very personal reasons.

By the evening and a short nap, it was time for dinner across the street at our old friend Giorgio’s Chat Noir/Chat Blanc restaurant. Giorgio shook my hand when I walked in to ask about reservations. None needed. We arrived at the so-early 7:30 p.m. dining time and met Sylvia, the fetching waitress and girlfriend of Giorgio’s former partner Nikko. Giorgio informed us right in front of Sylvia that she would be leaving soon so she could concentrate on having a baby with Nikko, as she is approaching the ripe old age of 30. She smiled at this revelation, but did not disagree.

Chat Noir is a tiny place, only 12 seats inside and about as many outside, with a downstairs room for private functions.

Dinner was as excellent as we had remembered, and just as quiet. We sat inside to chat with Giorgio and watch him cook, while Sylvia tended to the one table of patrons sitting outside. By the time we left, one other table had filled. Presumably the local crowd would start to filter in about 9:30 or so.

The sidewalk joints fill up all day long and well into the night with tourists who think they are getting an authentic dining experience.

Sylvia and Giorgio gave us restaurant recommendations for Marseille, then we bade our good-byes for a late evening stroll to see the restaurants lining the sides of Cours Saleya. Most were packed. It is amazing to me and always will be that tourists will flock to restaurants that line major paths like Cours Saleya in Nice and Las Ramblas in Barcelona to eat overpriced processed food that is shown on a sandwich board or photos rather than walk one block in for a genuine local dining experience that is infinitely better by being prepared personally by a chef who cares.




Dinner at Antoine

No, not that one. Antoine’s  Restaurant is in New Orleans. Bistro Antoine is one of the three Crespo restaurants in Old Town Nice, each one of them great in its own unique personality.

Antoine is the least cordial of the three, most formal in atmosphere and attitude. But it is closest to our apartment, just a block away and right down the street from our wine store. So it’s the logical choice for our first dinner out. We walked over from provisioning grape to make a reservation for the evening, which is absolutely necessary unless you are French and even many who are.  Recognizing us as Americans, first the waiter said yes, but Mrs. Crespo (we think) said no, then she relented and gave us a table for two outside at 7 p.m. We were grateful for the early hour, since we were jet-lagged.

Wonderful terrine for entree, with Antoine’s signature smoked fish dip in an old sardine can.

Antoine’s signature amuse bouche is a smoked fish dip served in an old sardine can with the top partially peeled back. Accompanied by a glass of olives, the spread was delicious. We followed up with an order of terrine lepin (rabbit), which was big enough to eat our fill and still take some home for a snack the next day.

Since we were sitting outside, we were treated to the show of people strolling along the street, stopping at the Antoine awning, staring at the menu board, gazing quizzically inside and finally screwing up the courage to ask for a seating. Inevitably, English-speaking people, especially Americans, are politely but firmly told “non.” A few favored French-speaking walk-ups are offered a table in the garret upstairs at 8:45, the normal early dining hour for Europeans. The rest of the supplicants are sent off to search for food elsewhere. This restaurant (as are the other two Crespo establishments) is small, packed and really doesn’t care if you eat there or not.

They profile like no one’s business. In the U.S., they would be sued the first night of operation. We felt fortunate to be honored with a seating.

For the record, the food is excellent and a great value. After our paté, Lynn enjoyed an order of duck breast, and I gobbled up the flank steak served in medallions, all washed down with a delightful bottle of Lyonnaise wine. All for 67 euros, or about $80 total. The wine was the most expensive item on our check at 27 euros. I could so live here.




Nice, Day One

After much internal anguish over Jose, our flight to Nice took off more or less on time. The winds shifted right after we boarded the plane, so we were forced to wait on the tarmac until new runway instructions were delivered to the pilot. Our departure was thus delayed about a half hour.

Surprisingly, our flight was less than half full, so most of the passengers in the main cabin filled into the three-seat middle section and laid out flat for the eight hours ahead. Being accustomed to sleeping on boats scrunched up in odd shapes around sail bags and deck hardware, I simply curled up across our two seats when Lynn went in search of another row.

Day dawned beautiful in Nice as we circled low over the Mediterranean and landed right past the bluest of blue water. Passport control was smooth and quick (we were the only international flight arriving), but our luggage was separated. My bag finally came out looking somewhat worse for wear, as something had chewed on the luggage tags pretty hard.

Our cab ride to our apartment took us right along the now-infamous Promenade des Anglais, site of last summer’s terrorist attack. Bollards now block vehicles from the broad walkway along the boulevard, a day late and some 80 lives short. Surprisingly, the cab was fairly expensive, 36 euros, for such a relatively short trip. Even more surprising was that our driver actually spoke some English; that in my experience is a rarity.  I was down to a 50 euro note, because the airport ATM would not take my card for cash. No harm, no foul, but my habit of holding on to some international cash proved provident.

We walked the entire length of the Cours Saleyas flower and food market toward our apartment, too far, as it turned out. Our Pebbles Apartments representative, the lovely Grace from England, walked down to meet us and lead us back to our lodging, which was more in the middle of the market rather than the end, as I had thought.

What an elegance entrance. But inside is truly an exquisite apartment.

In fact, although our apartment entrance is on the market side, it is actually almost directly across the street from our old place on rue Barillerie and Chat Noir restaurant. There is an entrance to our building from rue Barillerie, which we will likely use this week, rather than walk through the work and prep area of the restaurants on the market side.

The apartment itself is exquisite, if a bit odd. The shower/bath tub and sink are in the bedroom, and the toilet with another small sink is in the laundry closet with the washing machine. (I will write a treatise one day about European laundry and dishwashing appliances. As soon as I figure them out.)

After a brief orientation, Grace departed, leaving us welcoming gifts of lemon cookies and a bottle of Provencal  rosé. As we entered, she was reminded how beautiful she is by one of the restaurant workers outside our main entrance. She really is beautiful, and probably did not need the validation from the hired help.

We chose to take a quick nap before venturing out, discretion before valor. But shortly thereafter, we were on the streets of Vielle Ville Nice, in search of basic groceries and a cash machine. On the way, we stopped at Bistro Antoine to make dinner reservations at the ungodly but so American time of 7 p.m., which was the only time they could accommodate us anyway. Antoine is one of the three restaurants owned by Armand Crespo, each one of them excellent and all among our favorites. Antoine is the most formal, but also the closest, so makes the perfect first night dinner. Tomorrow will be Chat Noir, when Giorgio the proprietor returns from visiting his son in Marseille. Later in our stay we will visit the other two Crespo establishments, along with a couple of our other favorites. There is no need to be adventurous in restaurant selection when you have experienced the best already.

Our first-day quest led us to Wayne’s, the English speaking bar where we had spent so much time last visit. Tom the Australian bartender was still there and remembered us after we re-introduced ourselves. We gulped down cold beers and an order of frites to carry us over until dinner. We will return to Wayne’s more than once, especially on Sunday for the obligatory Bloody Mary.



Onward, back to Nice

After four glorious days in Newport watching Southern Yacht Club decisively win the NYYC Invitational Cup on our first try, I spent two gut-wrenching, stomach-turning days fretting about Jose just off the coast of New York.

I would tell the tales of the fraternity house in Newport, but what goes on in Newport, stays in Newport. Suffice it to say that SYC won with the highest differential, the lowest average finish score and the only team to fly the Golden Spinnaker every day possible. This was at least as good as the Saints winning the Super Bowl. The big difference was that Lynn and I were part of the owning syndicate.

Glenn and Tracey (he’s on the right!) visiting the Coronet at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport.

The only downside was the nearing presence of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Jose, churning around just off the coast of North Carolina, but inexorably crawling up to Long Island and New England. Our friends and fellow IC visitors in Newport, Glenn and Tracey Knoepfler, planned to drive up to Martha’s Vineyard after delivering us to the Providence train station for our very pleasant three-hour trip along the coast to Penn Station and NYC. Glenn and Tracey will feel Jose’s effects more than we will. But that will just add to their adventure.

Regardless, I tossed and turned for two nights until we arrived at JFK to confirm that our flight to Nice was departing on time. First was the fear that the flight would be canceled, leaving us with no place to stay in New York and an unused night in our apartment in Nice. After a couple of aborted phone calls with Delta, I was assured–if not completely convinced–that the flight was scheduled to leave on time and would not be canceled.

But on Tuesday, I checked the flight status and learned that the originating flight from San Francisco was five hours late arriving in New York. After an Uber trip of an hour and a half to JFK, we checked in to learn to our relief that our flight would board and leave on time, notwithstanding the five-hour delay from San Francisco. Evidently, any West-Coast passengers heading to Nice will arrive a day late. But not us.

The night before, we had taken our grandson Grayson to dine at one of our favorite New York restaurants, db Bistro Moderne, one of celebrity chef Daniel Boloud’s more casual locations in the heart of Manhattan. It is literally next door to the Algonquin Hotel, where we stopped in for a pre-dinner cocktail and a chat with the ghosts of the Round Table just a few doors down from New York Yacht Club.

This is the keeper trophy that has been on display in the lobby of Royal Thames Yacht Club the last two years. Obviously, it’s too big for any of their trophy cases as well.

(Side story here–I could not resist walking into NYYC and asking if their Invitational Cup trophy had been returned to the Manhattan clubhouse. It had not, depriving me of the sinful, hubristic pleasure of taking a photo of me with the permanent trophy, as I had done with the keeper trophy in Royal Thames earlier this year. It’s ours now. And our great friends at the Thames couldn’t be happier unless they had defended.)

Grayson seems to be doing just fine in his first year at Parsons. He is quite the sophisticate, ordering an Old Fashioned before dinner. I asked him where he developed a taste  for such things, and he answered simply, “Galatoire’s.”

Dinner at db Moderne was its usual greatness. We started it all off with an order of roast peppers, generally called padron peppers in Spain. Lynn enjoyed her scallops (well done) with roasted cauliflower. Grayson and I couldn’t resist the duck tortolloni.  Our entrees took a long time to come out, and the waiter explained that one of the dishes had to go back to be prepared again. Better late than bad, and he compensated with a tasty flatbread to tide us over. Our wine selection was a Magellan Langeudoc, one of the best values on the list at $49.

We bade our goodbyes to Grayson so he could take the subway back downtown to his dorm and repaired ourselves to the Hotel St. James on 45th St. between 6th and 7th avenues. To be polite, the St. James is not the Algonquin. But it is cheap by New York standards and offered me a room for $229 in the thick of Fashion Week and the U.N. General Assembly.

Because of this, the traffic in New York is choked, even by Manhattan standards. The “don’t block the box” rule has been suspended, as has the prohibition of horns. Diplomat and police cars are everywhere, as mighty potentates from impotent, itty-bitty countries clog surface arteries at every intersection. This is their New York vacation, paid for by their abject subjects. The Uber ride to JFK took an hour and half.

So here we sit in Delta’s Sky Lounge, sipping wine and eating snacks (lunch), waiting for our flight to leave for Nice at 8:30 p.m. The Sky Lounge is packed. Many flights to Europe leave in the evening. We are esconced at a table near the bar. Life is good. Nice awaits, less than 12 hours ahead.