Arts and Culture, Food, Travel

Nice. It’s really nice indeed.

Surprise! The duo have hit the road once again, and this time, they’re here in the south of France. Waking up at 5am in the morning when it’s cold and dark outside is not much fun, but when one is heading to Nice, well… anything is possible with a little determination.

After the last horrid experience on board a train running late while they had a flight to catch, they prayed to the rail gods fervently that nothing will go wrong this time. As it was, they already had 8.5 hours to look forward to. At least it was a direct train from Metz to Nice, without having any changes, and they scored first class tickets in “espace calme” (quiet space) for the ride; the Turtle managed to get some sleep, correct her student’s test, write a little poetry, eat breakfast and lunch, watch 2 episodes of Doctor Who, and chat with the sweet lady behind the bar counter when she bought an undrinkable cup of coffee.

Tip: If you’re thinking of travelling by rail in France, think about booking as far in advance as you can; reservations open 90 days before your date of travel. Choosing ungodly hours of the morning will save you a TON of money, for the duo scored those first class seats for a cheaper price than those in second class for not only a later train (leaving Metz at 10am), but second class for the same train because they grabbed those tickets before the prices went up.

The hotel they chose was walking distance from the train station, which would have been helpful if the two of them were not lost in their own world. They missed the street they had to turn down, and walked in a big circle. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day and walking around was pleasant, but not as pleasant as what was to come.

The hotel they are staying in is called the Quality Suites La Malmaison on Boulevard Victor Hugo. It could be classed as a boutique hotel, and although there are small renovations going on at the moment, one quickly forgets this minor inconvenience because of everything else. The girl at the check-in was friendly, efficient and full of useful information. How often does one show up to the reception, only to be ignored, or treated as booking #1031? Well, this isn’t the case here, she quickly learnt that the Turtle is a runner, and what types of museums GodzillaPin would be interested in visiting. It’s like making a new friend! As soon as she heard that the Turtle writes travel reviews, she pulled a couple of strings and got them an upgrade. Score!

Tip: Checking-in outside of the normal hours can sometimes facilitate in a room upgrade. We had that experience with an early check-in at Surfers Paradise, and again for a super late check-in at Paris (yes, incredible). Sometimes, if the hotel is underbooked and you are really nice with the receptionist, you may earn yourself the upgrade, while sometimes, if the hotel is overbooked for the level you paid for, they have no choice but to bump you up if you are late showing up. Either ways, it helps to be NICE to these service staff, who are human beings with feelings, and work a very stressful job. Rapport works two ways and they appreciate sincere and genuine friendliness on your part. Who knows, you may get an upgrade.

The fun didn’t stop there, for they headed down to the bar for drinks. The Ninja Turtle made a passing remark on the way up about needing a drink, and the barman said “if you come down in a few minutes, I’ll have tapas ready for you”.

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Speaking of Thomas, our lovely barman, there are just some things that elevate a good experience into an excellent one. Thomas is this hotel’s secret weapon. Not only does he indulge his culinary bent by fixing up free aperitifs (he calls them tapas) for the thirsty drinkers, he is very ready to talk. In the short 45 minutes we were there, we learnt that he was a local, which qualifies him as an expert in the best places to eat, and what counts as authentic Niçoise cuisine. We will share more on this soon.

After happy hour, we went back to test the Jacuzzi bathtub before heading out for a night stroll. Like the other bigger cities in France, Nice is a lot livelier than Metz at night. While walking around, they noticed tourists and locals around, strolling around the Promenade des Anglais…

Where evidently something big is about to happen tomorrow.

Where evidently something big is about to happen tomorrow.

And on the other side of the Promenade…

The big fancy beautiful hotels with amazing architecture.

The big fancy beautiful hotels with amazing architecture.

When hunger got the better of them, they walked into a little eatery called Bell’Italia on Boulevard Gambetta, by sheer virtue of the fact that a dish on the specials board caught the Ninja Turtle’s eye. It was one of the local specialties mentioned earlier by Thomas. So in they went…

Where under the watchful eye of Marilyn Monroe they tucked into saffron sole and beignets de calamars.

Where under the watchful eye of Marilyn Monroe they tucked into saffron sole and beignets de calamars.

The waiter surprised the duo by presenting them with a digestif (post-meal drink), on the house. It was a lovely surprise that went down so quickly, they only remembered afterwards that they had forgotten to take a photo of it. Upon playing a guessing game with the waiter “is it guava juice?” “nope” “is it strawberry juice?” “nope” “is it raspberry juice?” “nope”, he finally relented and told us it was pomegranate juice with vodka. The mind boggled.

On the way back to the hotel after dinner, they were seduced by a display of fruits and purchased a Tunisian orange and Spanish strawberries. The middle-aged man who ran the little epicerie shocked them both by saying “seventy-four cents”. Yup, everyone speaks English with a smile here.

So, this wraps up Day One in Nice, where frankly, GodzillaPin and the Ninja Turtle are simply astounded by how very very nice people are over here. They wonder if it’s got something to do with the warmer weather, although they suspect that it’s hard to be unhappy, living in Nice, where it’s very very nice.

Tip: If you want to visit France but feel intimidated by possible language barriers or snooty service, consider visiting Nice. The people here make a far bigger effort to speak English (although it will help if you speak a few words in French too), and they are very very nice. We promise.

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