I’ll preface this piece with a Spud Hilton line I heard at several TBEX travel writing conferences, “Nobody wants to read about your travels.”
For me, the aspect I so often have a hard time determining when trying to get a sense of place is the disconnect between travel guides sharing highly rated hotels, restaurant suggestions and places to visit with the reality of getting around a city in fluid motion. I am usually walking on the ground and seek a sense of place in different neighborhoods of a city I visit.
For example, the top three attractions or restaurant recommendations or highly ranked hotels on TripAdvisor for a city might be miles apart. Some travelers have a to do list for a destination and check it off. Taxis, Uber, public transportation whisks you from place to place, often with little connection between the tourist destinations and the neighborhoods. That is not my travel style.
First I pick an overall destination, like Nice, where there was a hotel deal I wanted to take advantage of given my travel budget, stash of hotel points to burn with good redemption values available in the city, and current loyalty promotions offers available to me for earning more points and hotel nights.
From the hotel, I tend to walk the area and get a sense of place. I find restaurants when I am hungry and pubs when I want a beer, generally without checking reviews until I am already eating and drinking.
Otherwise, I simply hang out checking out the street vibe, enjoying parks and neighborhoods and observing people, places and things. Sometimes I go to a museum, sometimes I shop, but my most prevalent activity is walking around and hanging out feeling the vibe of a different place than my home in Monterey, California.
My travel style lends itself to observational reporting and photography of places in a linear movement fashion, with an objective to offer a sense of place for readers.
With more time I would have hit all three of the TripAdvisor top attractions in Nice with Castle Hill, old town Vieux Nice and Promenade des Anglais all in the same vicinity. If I planned my 4-hour walk around TripAdvisor, then I could have walked those places in the time I had. But, I walked randomly in directions that took me near all three destinations and a right turn up Castle Hill instead of continuing along the Promenade or turning right into Vieux Nice instead of left into Carabacel would have taken me to old town Nice.
I often say when traveling, “I see what I see”. I missed the top two ranked TripAdvisor attractions in Nice, but I enjoyed hanging out in other locations of Nice, so all was well with my afternoon adventure experiencing Nice, France.
Monaco to Nice by Train and Days Inn Nice Centre
The train from Monaco to Nice cost €3.90 through an automated ticket vending machine. I went to France with €25 in my wallet and left four days later with about €8 still in my pocket. Almost all my transactions in France and Monaco were credit card purchases. I only used cash for a couple of takeaway cafe meals and the €6 Nice airport bus ticket when I left.
Days Inn Nice Centre is about six blocks west from Gare de Nice Ville train station. This hotel night in Nice was my first stay to earn 7,500 Wyndham Rewards bonus points with a MasterPass payment booking on a €67.50 room. I completed a second stay to max out the promotion bonus with another €67.50 hotel night at Ramada Plovdiv, Bulgaria two nights later.
Days Inn Nice hotel had real European city character from an old wrought iron elevator to a wrought iron balcony in my basic room. Hotel review and photos to come.
My seventh night in Europe and Days Inn Nice was the first hotel room I paid full rate for on the trip. Six other nights were paid with points or cash and points discount stays with two nights at Marriott Riviera costing $115 in 2016 with a charity auction winning bid, an 80% discount on the comparable hotel room rate.
So far, for 6 hotel nights in Europe, I had spent $30 cash + 30,000 IHG points for InterContinental Warsaw, 8000 Best Western Rewards points for BW Nice So’Co, 8000 Choice Privileges points for Clarion Prague City and redeemed a Free Friday Club Carlson promotion night for Radisson Blu Alcron Prague.
Days Inn hotel room was basic with no refrigerator for my food and beer, still slightly chilled from the hotel refrigerator at Marriott Riviera La Porte de Monaco. The receptionist mentioned a nice 6th floor patio. I checked out the patio and drank the two beers before they warmed to 73F ambient temperature and became unpalatable.
Nice in snapshots
Nice is a big city with nearly 350,000 residents. Tourism is a major industry in Nice as the second most popular destination in France with over 4 million visitors. The weather, air and light are big attractions. Four hours walking around Nice one afternoon and early evening enchanted me.
I spent the night in Nice three nights before, but at 9pm by the time I checked into Best Western So’Co by Gare de Nice and walked to the beach, the city streets seemed mostly deserted.
A few guys hanging out in doorways, mostly Middle Eastern and North African in appearance, and motorbike engines revving past loudly at close proximity to sidewalks on residential apartment block streets were the only action I saw on many city blocks.
Cars were parked so tightly together on the streets, I wondered, how does anyone move their car when they need to drive away? I could not even slip into the narrow spaces between cars for entire city blocks to cross the street. Nice was not inviting to me that first night. I wanted to get to Monaco early the next day.
After two days walking Monaco, and back in Nice around 4pm on a warm and bright sunny afternoon, I headed out from Days Inn Nice Centre and walked in the general direction of the beach.
La Ronronerie Cat Cafe would have kept me captive for a couple of hours, if my wife had been with me. She spent two hours in a cat cafe in Vilnius last year as I pushed away cats wanting to eat our meals. Too much like our home, but a nice environment for cat lovers seeking feline attention.
Cat cafe staff welcomed guests inside.
French People Smell Nice
Once I found my way onto a pedestrian mall with hundreds of people walking around, my initial impression of Nice was French people smell nice. Since I had no particular destination, I randomly followed the smell of scents I liked. There were so many people on the streets that I had no idea whose scent I was attracted to as I walked around gravitating to lovely scented air.
Shopping districts and street cafes were seen all around, trams and buses and cars and delivery trucks and noise. I desired more open space and the sound of ocean waves.
Jardin Albert I
Jardin Albert I is one Nice’s oldest public gardens running from Promenade des Anglais to Place Massena and Old Town Nice – Vieux Nice.
On my first night in Nice I found myself at Le Meridien Nice across the street from the beach and once again I arrived at the same spot near Le Meridien Nice from a different direction. The address of Le Meridien Nice is 1 Promenade des Anglais.
Promenade des Anglais
Promenade des Anglais runs about 7km along the coast from Nice Airport in the west to United States Quay in the east. Wikipedia states fashionable English aristocracy enjoyed wintering in Nice in the late 1700s and early 1800s, when Nice was part of former Italian kingdoms. Aside from 1792-1814, Nice was primarily a part of Italian kingdoms until the Treaty of Turin in 1860 placed Nice within the domain of France.
Promenade des Anglais is the main symbol of Nice. Originally financed by English who desired a beach promenade in what had been working docks and stores along the shore.
Promenade des Anglais was the site of the July 14, 2016 Bastille Day terrorist attack when a truck killed 84 pedestrians and injured 458 others. Fortunately, I did not think about that once as I walked the Promenade simply enjoying the environment and scenery.
Promenade des Anglais changes name to Quai des Etats-Unis in the eastern portion, where most of my photos were taken. The name was assigned in 1917 in honor of the United States entering World War I as an ally of the French.
Walking on the Prom was relaxing with people doing many different things from reading or cycling or exercising or sunbathing or drinking and talking and simply hanging out.
Place du 8 Mai 1945 is where the Promenade rises and takes a bend around Castle Hill to the Port of Nice. #ILoveNice sign there provides a viewpoint for the sweep of Baie des Anges-Bay of Angels.
In the distance is the peninsula of Antibes, 12 km west of Nice and the historic Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc is at the end of the peninsula, about 18 km from Nice Airport.
My photo is taken from a barrier preventing access to Nice Lighthouse. Obviously you can travel along the quay if you want to rock climb.
Port du Nice
Parc de la Colline du Chateau – Castle Hill
If I had read TripAdvisor Nice – Things to Do, I would have learned Parc de la Colline du Chateau is the top tourist attraction in the city. I did not walk up Castle Hill. Instead, I walked the Promenade again people watching.
Walking back into the city I found myself at Place Massena.
Promenade du Paillon
If I had followed a map, I would have stayed on the promenade and walked around Vieux Nice. I ended up walking around Carabacel photographing interesting looking buildings until dark.
I learned from a French Carabacel wiki translated to English, Emile Bieckert (1837-1913) was an Alsatian brewer who made his fortune with the first brewery in Argentina and purchased a large portion of the hill in Carabacel.
Rays of light shining on a building at the top of the hill attracted me, but direct sunlight was gone by the time I walked up the hairpin streets of Carabacel hill to reach Emile Bieckert street.
Palais l’Hermitage was apparently a luxury hotel at one time, but it was gated with a ‘private’ sign.
Some nice views from the hill though looking over old town Vieux Nice.
Back at the Days Inn hotel room with a hot Veal Italiano meal from Carrefour Market for €6 and leftover brie and bread from Monaco, I checked in for my Aegean Airlines flights online to fly Nice – Athens – Sofia the next day, which provided sufficient time on a 4.5 hour layover to visit downtown Athens for a quick walk around in another place I had not visited before.