Thursday, 18 August 2016

Nice - Beggars Belief

As July ends so too does our time in Marseille. We're moving on to Nice for the next six nights. I know, we flew to Nice six days ago but let me explain. We wanted to see Marseille, but knew that it was going to be too far away to take a day trip from Nice and besides, we wanted to spend a decent amount of time in Marseille. Nice was always part of the plan and, having flown to Nice, we then have to fly back home from Nice. So the best thing to do was to get the train down to Marseille from Nice, have six nights there before taking another train back to Nice, staying there for six nights before flying home. Got it? It works, honest.

Since this is a long journey (around two hours 40 minutes) we are back on the nice trains. That's nice with a small 'n'. However, any hope of having the spacious compartment to ourselves is obliterated by the presence of a hugely irritating young man in a Manchester City shirt with the name 'Aguero' emblazoned on the back. He looks to be somewhere in his early 20s. It is quite possible that he spent the majority of his childhood having no clue about the existence of Manchester City, but that's what billionaire owners will do for you. Aguero can't keep still. He shuffles around in his seat endlessly and stares at people intently in between taking extremely short phone calls and generally messing about with his phone.

Soon we are joined by a group of about six people of a similar age to Aguero, who targets one of the girls among them for the full-on stare treatment. It's slightly creepy but I'm not sure she has noticed given how engrossed she seems to be with whatever she is reading on her own phone. Most of the others fall asleep. If Emma and I were not here this girl could be under serious threat from the fidgeting, leering Aguero. He gets off the train at Cannes, where we hope to spend a day later in the week. I can't shake the feeling that we will run into him and he will annoy me again. That is if he hasn't been arrested for his top level leering by then.

Thankfully there are no suicide attempts on this train journey, so we arrive in Nice just after 3.00pm. We take a taxi to the hotel (past the shop with the word 'SEX' written in large blue letters across the front). We'll be staying at Hotel Mercure, the first thing about which to note is that it has a small step up to the entrance. The staff hurriedly carry a small ramp out to the front and promise that they will be available 24 hours a day to make sure that I have access to the hotel as and when I need it. Which is all very well, but in the end we tend not to bother them with it. If we are leaving the hotel I can bump down the step myself, and if we are heading back inside I just need a little shove from Emma. Still, it's a trifle naughty of them to claim full accessibility if that accessibility depends on hotel staff rushing out with a ramp as it no doubt would do for many other guests.

This first thing we do and probably the first thing that anybody does when arriving in an unfamiliar place is go for an exploratory wander. If you have a television, the internet or a local newsagent it will not have escaped your notice that Nice suffered a heinous terror attack on Bastille Day. That's just 11 days before we flew out to Nice, and only 17 days before we return today. We are staying right on Promenade des Anglais where Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel deliberately crashed his lorry into the crowd over by the beach before shooting at the police and being shot dead himself. Eighty-four people were killed in the carnage, and an 85th was to pass away from their injuries before we landed back in Manchester.

Opposite the beach there is a park at the centre of which is a pile of tributes to the victims. Cards, messages and cuddly toys all cover the middle area of the park where a constant stream of visitors mill around paying their respects. I decide it would be inappropriate to take any photographs so you'll have to take my word for it when I say that it is both moving and unbelievable. Unbelievable to think that something so utterly shocking could happen right here in such a beautiful place which at the moment just looks so peaceful. Credit is due to the people of Nice. Were it not for the tributes and the odd quartet of armed soldiers (who were visible in Marseille also) then you would never know that their city had suffered so much. They just get on with the daily business of enjoying the total majesty of their home town. There's no edge to the atmosphere. Bouhlel has not taken away their freedom. I don't feel unsafe at any point.

We turn left off the Promenade, pass through an arch and find ourselves on a busy street loaded with bars and restaurants. We stop at one called 'Atmosphere' which has lime green canopies and waitresses who like to dance to awful music which they crank up to Spaceballs-esque 'are you nuts?' levels of volume. We discover that Nice is no less expensive than Marseille. It costs €4 (around £3.35) for less than half a pint of lager but it is extremely pleasant to sit there in the sunshine soaking up the surroundings. Perhaps that's it. Perhaps it is a sunshine tax that they place on beer in the south of France which we will never have to worry about in the UK.

We carry on browsing the bars and restaurants, passing one promising live music every night called 'Akathor'. There'll be more from that place as the week goes on but for now we head back to the hotel for a quick refresher and then head out down the main street where Hotel Mercure is situated to see what else we can find in the way of evening entertainment. We stop at a bar called 'Red Kaffe'. While we are enjoying our still overpriced lager I notice an old lady loitering around on the street outside the bar. The bars sprawl out on to the streets in this area so she is just metres behind me. She approaches the people on the table next to us and asks one of the girls for a cigarette. The girl looks a little surprised but she obligingly takes out her packet of cigarettes and hands one to the loitering old lady. At that point the owner of the bar comes out and says something to her. It sounds like he is politely asking her to stop bothering his customers and move on away from the front of the bar. She's probably a homeless person or some kind of beggar. The bar man will have seen this sort of thing many times before, no doubt. It's rife here. We had one experience in Marseille when a young boy approached our table in a cafe and gestured to us to give him some money. He was accompanied by a woman who was probably his mother. I don't know what is more tragic, the fact that people use their children in this way or the fact that they feel they have to. They were not the only ones. Day after day in Marseille we would see the same two or three people hanging around cafes and bars trying to persuade people to give them their money. Looks like things won't be any different in Nice.

The old lady responds angrily to the bar owner's request, shouting at him and gesticulating. The argument continues for a while and I'm half expecting four armed soldiers to turn up and settle it with their huge machine guns. Which is not a euphemism. Then, just as the begging old bag is reluctantly walking away she aims a floating missile of sputum back in the direction of the bar. It's Rijkaardian in its audacity and outright foul rudeness. It misses my head by a matter of centimetres and comes to rest in a wretched pool of vile greenness in a spot just behind my rear wheels. At first I thought she had got me. It was that close to the side of my head. If I had a mullet like Rudi Voeller's she would have scored a direct hit. Being bald has been helpful on this occasion. The bar man rushes over all frenzied apologies and offers of piles of tissues to clean up any stray gob that might have found its way on to me. Thankfully there isn't any and we just sit there and finish our drinks in stunned amusement at the whole affair. What a perfectly pleasant way to end our first day in Nice.

Despite the owner's apologies and his helpfulness, we don't return to Red Kaffe for the rest of the week.

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