Sunday, July 7, 2013

Day 3: Nice diary - The tourist and the tart

Eventhough I didn't get to sleep until half past 1 last night, I still woke up at 6.  There was no use going back to sleep, so I went out for a jog heading eastward along the promenade towards castle hill. It was so peaceful. When I headed back, I went down the beach and touched the water. It was my way of exchanging pleasantries with the Mediterranean sea, as I did with the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico when I moved to Florida from the Pacific.

One thing that makes this sea different is its sound. Because of the pebbles, whenever the tide crashes on the shore, it makes a distinct sound of rolling stones (not the Mick Jagger tunes).

I headed back to the hotel to get ready and went to the conference.  Around noon, I went to lunch at Au Moulin Enchante with one of the conference speakers. I ordered the sea bream, which is one of the most popular fishes on French menu here I am told. The fish was good, but the sides and the wine fell flat. After last night's wonderful meal, I held this place at a higher standard given the 4.5 rating online. My take: 3.5. 

Here in Nice, the establishments are open until late. So, although the conference did not end until the afternoon, I still had enough time to roam. I decided to embrace  being 'the tourist', and hopped on the petit train. Sure, it was a little embarassing, but no one knows me here anyway. Joie de vivre! The train costs 8 euros, and takes you around the East side of Nice, passing Old Nice, Place Garibaldi and Castle Hill, all while you listen to a recording in a language of your choice regarding the history of la bella Nizza.

Le Petit Train de Nice

Monument of Garibaldi faces Italy. Born in Nice, Garibaldi was responsible for the unification of Italy.

In the flat city of Nice, one area stood high - Castle Hill. It used to be a fortified site, but now there's no longer a castle which was destroyed in 1706. Instead, one will find a cemetery for Catholics, Protestants, and Jews with ornate tombs. On top, there is also a playground and a picnic ground. The top of the hill offers views of the bay of angels on the right and the Nice port on the left as you face the sea. If you turn around, you see the bustling Old Nice below, and the alps at the background.

A cannon is fired exactly at noon everyday on the hill.  As the story goes, this originated when a high ranking official requested to fire the cannon everyday at noon to remind his wife, who likes to take walks during the day, that it is time for lunch. A bit extreme, eh? Firing the cannon has been carried over ever since and has now become a tradition in Nice. How would you like to be called to dinner with a cannon?

Although I couldn't go to Marc Chagall museum since it's a bit far and closes early, I decided to go to the small Molinard perfume museum near Cours Saleya. Had I known ahead of time, and what the schedule was, I would have signed up for the perfume making workshop. For 40 euros, you can make your own blend of perfume, the museum will keep it in file so if you run out, they can remake the blend and ship you a bottle. The museum was still interesting.  Although small, you learn a lot about perfume making and where the floral scents originated from. Obviously, most scents come from Europe, then Africa and Asia.  Two scents originated from the Philippines - Ylang-Ylang and Patchouli.

Since lunch was not exactly satifying, I walked around Zone Pietonne (pedestrian zone) and found a boulangerie patisserie that had a sitting area, from which I can enjoy listening to the street musicians.  I was intrigued with a pastry that seemed to have greens in it in the middle called Tourte de blettes. The server had a hard time translating it, but finally came up with "spinach, but sweet". He also said that it's a specialty in Nice, and that you will not find it in other region of France, including Paris. So I decided to try it, and found that it's not spinach, but rather swiss chard. This swiss chard tart is interesting. Aside from swiss chard, it had pine nuts and apples, and the pastry is topped with confectioner sugar.  It's definitely different, I may even try to make it one time.

Enjoying Tourte de blettes with my trusted companion

I walked around for a few hours more to buy some presents, marzipan and chocolate. The macaron in Nice are not as good as those in Paris, but I couldn't resist getting a small box for my dear hubby. After that, it was time to go to my dinner meeting with my colleague, which was really more social than formal. We went to a restaurant that was tauted to be "as local as it can get". L'Ovale  offered a great prix fixe menu. And since I haven't had a real Salad Nicoise, I decided to try it there.  I was not disappointed.  They also had a great duck cassoulet, which I couldn't even eat half of because it was such a huge portion.  Another reason I couldn't eat as much is because I began to have a headache from the cigarette smoke from the person behind me.  We moved to a different table, and the person next to us lit a cigarette too. I guess I've been spoiled here in the United States, and no longer used to being surrounded in a cloud of smoke. In the end, I couldn't even touch my dessert. I wanted to have it to go, but in Nice, and perhaps in Europe in general, they're not really big on taking home food.  You enjoy it in the restaurant, you don't bring it home. Anyway, they did not have a box for us to bring our cakes in, so I tasted a teaspoonful, and left the rest. If only Eric was there to share it with. 

Cassoulet de canard
Tomorrow, we go home.

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