Saturday, March 26th 2016
Yesterday had been pleasantly warm but the sky had been grey much of the time. When we awoke today, we were pleased to find the sun shining as this view from our hotel window shows.
It seems that the circus is in town though we have no plans to visit it.
We set out to look for a cafe where we could have breakfast. The first item of interest we saw was a work of art in the Acropolis Gardens that we missed yesterday.
The work is by Claude Gilli (1938-2015) who was born in Nice and was a member, appropriately enough, of the École de Nice (Nice School) art movement. It was commissioned by the town of Nice in 1985 and is entitled LA COULEUR SE DÉVERSANT SUR LE PAUVRE MONDE (‘Colour pouring out over the poor world’). It took me a while to work out exactly what was represented. It seems to be three black pots or buckets (bearing the name ‘GILLI’ in relief), each pouring out a stream of paint which collects below in a pool. This shows that the stream of red paint has broken off and is absent. The sculpture fits with Gilli’s Pop Art leanings and he made several sculptures on the same theme.
This fine building bears the business name of Costamagna but we can also read the founder’s personal name, Charles Véran, engraved on the façade. The firm was inaugurated with the building of this showroom in 1907 and specialized in building materials. The company has points of sale throughout the region and this showroom specializes in furniture and fittings.
We discovered this small theatre, called Théâtre de l’Eau Vive (‘Theatre of Living Water’). The name sounds vagueloy religious but I can see no sign that its activities are religious. It provides a lively schedule of all kinds of live entertainment for both children and adults. In addition, it cates for ‘events’ such as weddings. I do not know anything about its history or when it was founded.
As I mentioned yesterday day, Nice presents an eclectic collection of building styles. France doesn’t seem to have an equivalent of the English Heritage register of listed buildings (or, if it has, I have yet to find it), and it is therefore not always easy to find out about individual examples that obviously deserve further investigation. I suspect that if the Villa Tyndaris were in the UK, it would be listed, catalogued and described, but all I can find on it are estate agents’ listings and notifications of auctions! This pretty little gem of a building currently provides offices for a group of avocats, roughly equivalent to barristers in the UK. I’m guessing from its style that it was built in the latter part of the 19th century and its name suggests that it was once a private dwelling – whether a permanent home or a rich man’s holiday residence – but that part of its history has so far eluded me.
This splendid almost-palace has revealed a few clues to its history. The clock with its opulent decoration and the pediment bearing the dates 1921-1923 are later additions, put in place when the building was converted to become the Chamber of Commerce. Before that, it rejoiced in the name of Villa Bouttau. Two clues to its history are that in 1893 it was the address of the Comte Emeric du Chastel and that in a year unknown to me, Duchesse Anastasia of Leuchtenberg (also known as Princess Anastasia of Montenegro) came here to celebrate her birthday with a dinner attended by a glittering array of titled persons. At the end of the Belle Époque, the house came up for sale and was converted to its present role.
This house too present a little mystery, though a linguistic one. Its appearance, quite different from the usual style in Nice, suggests something medieval, perhaps a dwelling made within city walls. A peculiarity is that part of the ground floor is actually below ground level, and that is why the door is short and why the window sills are virtually on the ground. Originally comprising only one floor, the house was extended in 1980 by the addition of an upper floor. This is of normal dimensions, creating a strange contrast with the lower part which seems squashed. The house is known locally as the Maison des Nains (‘House of dwarfs’), but its official name, displayed on a metal plate, is Mas du Sablonat, and herein lies my mystery. The name is in Niçois Occitan (Provençal) but while mas is easy to understand – it means ‘house’ or ‘farm’, so presumably ‘house’ in this instance – I have no idea what sablonat means. I expect to find out, however, and when I do, will post an update with the answer.
We were looking forward to photographing the main railway station in Nice, called Nice-Ville (‘Nice Town’) to distinguish it from its second station called Nice-Riquier (Riquier is the district in which it resides). We were disappointed to find that it was largely hidden by builders’ fences because refurbishment work in in progress. The station opened for business in 1864 but the date under the clock – MDCCCLXI – 1861, is presumably the date when building work was completed.
We would return to the station later, as I shall explain, but in the meantime went to look for food as we had not yet had breakfast. We thought we were more likely to find good cafes near the station. We were wrong. We ended up in a fast food outlet with mediocre coffee and soggy croissants. There was a consolation, however, for…
…we discovered Nice’s main post office. The fact that it is quite unlike any other building in Nice is already enough to make it stand out but, in addition, it is a remarkable piece of avant garde architecture and beautiful in its own right. Built in 1931 by Guillaume Tronchet, it is distinguished by being built of brick, something rare in Nice. In fact, according to one source, it is the only example in the town. This circumstance gave rise to a rather strange urban myth. According to this, someone in the administration mixed up the plans for the post offices in Nice and Lille, as a result of which, Nice ended with the building intended for Lille! There is, of course, no truth in this legend. Tronchet, who spent the rest of his life in Nice, created his landmark post office for the town.
We had been planning to visit Monaco and thought we might as well do so now. We returned to the station and bought train tickets from one of the multi-lingual ticket machines.
The journey from Nice to Monaco’s only railway station, Gare de Monaco Monte-Carlo, lasts 22 minutes. Monaco is bordered on three sides by France and on the fourth by the sea. It has an area of 2.02 square km (0.78 square mile), so it is no surprise that all the trains that call here are run by France’s SNCF.
Finding our way out of the station at Monaco was the first challenge. We followed the exit signs up several levels and eventually emerged into the open air.
Though we did not realize it at the time, this was a mistake. Or perhaps it would be kinder to say that we had been misled by the signage.
We wanted to be down on the seafront, not up here but up here was where the exit signs had led us. (We later found there was another exit lower down.)
We set out to find our way down to the sea. What followed was like one of those bad dreams where you have to get to a destination but just can’t. Every route we tried ended in a cul de sac. We saw quite a lot of Monaco, admittedly, but not the bits we wanted to see.
We found ourselves overshadowed and confined by high walls…
…and lost among terraces of tall buildings. There were moments when we thought we would not reach the sea but would have to give up and return to the station.
We eventually found ourselves at sea level, separated from the harbour only by the Olympic-sized swimming pool of the Stade Nautique Rainier III. We could have gone around this but by now were feeling in need of refreshment.
We wandered up the pedestrian-only Rue Princesse Caroline and found a restaurant where we could have lunch. We know, of course, that Monaco is the haunt of the super-rich and that it provides the services and entertainments that such people want at the sort of prices that they expect to pay but if you thought that this meant you would have to pay over the odds for a simple lunch then you would be wrong. We had a good meal at reasonable cost. (In Monaco, in case you were wondering, French is the official language and the euro the official currency.)
If we had had more time, we would perhaps have explored Monaco more thoroughly though I doubt whether we would have found more to interest us (not being in the super-rich category) than we found in our brief stay.
Taking a deep breath at the thought of the long and steep climb before us, we turned for the station.
It was therefore a happy surprise and welcome relief to discover the lower entrance to the station, the one we should have come out of in order to get to the harbour. There was even a travelator (moving walkway) to speed us along!
We once more conversed with the ticket machines, this time stating our destination as Nice-Riquier, a station nearer our hotel than Nice-Ville. In Monaco, as in France (and other European countries), it is not enough just to buy your train ticket. You also have to engage in a little ceremony called composter (date stamp). Before travelling, you have to poke your ticket into a special machine which stamps the date on it. Without this, the ticket in not valid, so be warned.
We disembarked, as planned, at Nice-Riquier, a suburban station very much like those found all over London and elsewhere in the UK. From here we walked to the hotel where we were glad to make tea and take a good long rest.
In the evening we returned to the Félix Faure, the cafe we discovered yesterday, for supper, and then took a little walk around town, enjoying the different view provided by night time illuminations.
Opposite the Jardin Albert 1er (mentioned yesterday), on the other side of Place Masséna, is a long park called Promenande du Paillon. It includes a water feature called Miroir d’Eau (‘Water Mirror’) with 128 water jets or fountains which are illuminated at night, as you can see in the photo. This water feature is of a type that has become popular in recent years (there is a similar one at Somerset House in London, for example), in which the jets are spaced widely enough to allow people to walk among them without getting too wet. This evening there were people here among the illuminated spouts.
The name Paillon is that of one of the rivers that runs through Nice and discharges its waters in the sea. Sadly, the Paillon is covered over for most of its passage through the town (and it in fact runs under the park that has taken its name) and makes a brief appearance when it meets the sea at the Promenade des Anglais.
We walked some way along the sea front at Quai des États-Unis, enjoying the contrast between the illuminations in the streets and building and the darkness of the beach and sea before returning to the hotel for a night’s rest. Thus ended our second day in Nice.