Despite a Saturday spent thoroughly absorbing the classical beauty of Nice – its parks, beaches and promenades – Sunday was full of even more stunning and unexpected surprises, both culinary and cultural. The day began with a bit of chaos, however, as Naomi and I had set our alarms for 10 am, forgetting this was the exact time we were supposed to be checking out. 😛 After being told that it was time to vacate the premises, we had to run out the door with wet hair and zero makeup (which Naomi pulled off much better than I did!) But in the end it was all for the best, because we had ambitions plans to walk to the Musée Matisse, which sits on a hill overlooking Nice about 35 minutes away from our hostel. During this entirely uphill walk, we passed through what appeared to be the Beverly Hills of Nice, where nearly every house was a really an enormous historic mansion surrounded by palm trees.
The Matisse museum sits in a large park that includes the remains of an ancient Roman amphitheater, the Nice archaeological museum, and a historic monastery. But once we got there, all we wanted to do was eat breakfast. Luckily there was a snack shop in the middle of the park, with a wide assortment of pastries. My eyes zeroed in on a green pastry with powdered sugar on top called tourte de blette, which somehow looked very traditional. Naomi warned me that blette was a kind of vegetable, although she couldn’t remember the name in English, but I had committed myself to buying this odd-looking pastry. Luckily when I took a bite the vegetable flavor was pretty subtle (a lot of it was masked by the powder sugar and raisins), but I did discover through the Internet that blette is actually Swiss chard, and that tourte de blette really is a Nice delicacy. So I was quite pleased with myself for discovering a food that is simultaneously a dessert and a helping of vegetables – I would eat vegetables much more often if they always came wrapped in sugar!
After eating our breakfast we finally made it to the Matisse museum, which we both found very impressive. The museum displays Matisse’s life and work in a very clear, chronological way, and shows how much of his art was inspired by the city of Nice, where he lived for the last 37 years of his life until his death in 1954 (he is actually buried in a nearby cemetery). My favorite part of the museum was definitely the children’s studio, where a group of French 6-10 year-olds had created absolutely hilarious renditions of Matisse’s work (which honestly didn’t look much different from the originals!)
After leaving the Matisse museum, we came across the Monastère de Cimiez, where we discovered, hidden away to one side, the mummified remains of a woman! I have tried to do some research about her online but I cannot figure out who she was. But she must have been someone important!
Our second objective for the day was the visit Nice’s Russian Orthodox cathedral, which opened in 1912 with the help of Tsar Nicolas II. It took a lot of walking and a bus ride to get there, but it was well worth it. I had never seen a Russian Orthodox church in person before, but it looked just like I imagined it would, with red bricks and lots of colorful onion domes. The inside was even more beautiful, however, and even though I noticed the “No pictures” sign on the way in, I couldn’t help but snap a few illicit photos before being stopped by a stern-looking Russian woman.
More than the sheer beauty of the paintings and icons, I was struck by how many of the visitors – many of them clearly Russian – were using the cathedral as a place of worship. Many of the churches you visit in France are filled with tourists outside of mass hours, but here the men and women (who were wearing very traditional veils and long skirts) were either actively praying or maintaining the cathedral, cleaning the wax off the candlesticks or vacuuming the carpets. It felt like we had been transported to another time and another place, which was a moving experience in and of itself. It was definitely one of of the highlights of the trip!
We had one last item on our to-do list before catching our train back to Paris, and that was to eat a real Salade Niçoise! We figured our best bet was to head towards the ocean, where we settled on an inviting beach club that featured this indigenous salad prominently on the menu. As most of my friends and family can attest, I am not a big salad person, but this salad was different. It was actually a full, fresh and delicious meal, and paired with some white wine I felt like a total salad convert. 😛 We had such a nice time lounging by the ocean with our salads and wine, that it made the prospect of returning to Paris increasingly depressing. Luckily we were able to put that out of our minds for a bit longer. After our long lunch, we watched some very brave kids go parasailing off the main beach and then walked back to the old town, where I bought some postcards and another scoop of ice cream from Fenocchio (this time maple pecan!) Then we slowly made our way back to the hostel, picked up our stuff and boarded our train home.
On the train ride back to Paris, Naomi showed me that, according to Facebook, it was the three year anniversary of us becoming friends! I remember the moment that she and I became friends incredibly well, because Naomi was the first friend I ever made in France. 🙂 I was sitting in the Sciences Po garden, trying to connect to the WiFi to let my Mom know that I was still alive, but struggling to understand how the French banking system worked (which, to be honest, I still don’t fully understand), when Naomi came up to me and asked if she could sit with me. I was so happy that anyone wanted to talk with me in my jet-lagged, emotional state, and I feel so grateful that we have remained friends ever since. 🙂 So how appropriate that for our friendiversary, we unknowingly organized an epic trip to the south of France together! My future husband will have to work pretty hard to top this anniversary, that’s for sure! 😉 ❤