Archive for the 'Nice' Category

Of parakeets

Posted in Journal, La France, Nice at 21:31

Many apologies for the silence. As a few readers know, I keep meaning to update, and then life happens. The most recent was of course 14 July in Nice. It was heartbreaking; affected me very deeply. I’m only just now starting to feel normal. I’d had TGV tickets to take care of my apartment there that same weekend, for which I was grateful. Being able to walk the Promenade and talk with other people in the city was a balm.

After returning to my Paris suburb, I started taking more evening walks. During one of them, a parakeet greeted me. My first reaction, due to the parakeet being so friendly, and it being the holidays, was that the poor thing must have been abandoned. A few friends mentioned, however, that parakeets in cities are somewhat common. So I decided to look more carefully on my next walk. It turned out I didn’t need to look very far, because Madam Parakeet found me on her own and introduced me to her partner.

Earlier this week their flock fweeped (parakeet for “chirped”) up a storm in a tree, and one did a lovely swoop over my head. This evening they were a bit more secretive, but I did get a beautiful shot of one flying from her perch.

Parakeet in flight

Fraise niçoise

Posted in La France, Nice at 12:24

On May Day the cats and I took the TGV from Paris to Nice, for a week and a half of vacation. It was the first time in two months that the kitties returned home, but they hadn’t forgotten a thing. Not twenty minutes after they were freed from their carriers, Susu was swatting around her favorite toy, and Kanoko had reclaimed his habitual perch on the kitchen bar. Both of them asked to be let out onto the patio, as always, when I approached the door.

Wednesday April 30th was my birthday – which was another reason I had decided on a Louvre membership. On top of being in Paris and having spent a lovely weekend filled with some of my favorite sculptures, at work on Wednesday I earned another “gift”: more professional responsibilities! I’m now Test Lead on the GDF project, adding communication and coordination duties to the usual Test Analyst responsibilities, which include managing a test repository, supervising testers, and reporting on progress. While it is still early on, only two months into the project, it’s increasingly enjoyable and looks to have the potential to remain that way for a long time. I’m loving Paris, both personally and professionally.

Back in Nice, today I strolled to my favorite fruit & vegetable shop on Avenue Borriglione. They had fat yellow lemons from trees in the hills of Nice, strawberries from Carros, beefheart tomatoes and Pink Lady apples from Nice, and Mona Lisa potatoes from farms I’ve visited in Provence (the 04 département). Once home I rinsed the strawberries and ate one. “Oh my goodness,” I sighed luxuriously, “why buy sugary pastries when you can find fruit this delicious.”

You’ll need to understand French for this video, but it’s a nice interview of a strawberry farmer in Carros, which is on the other side of the Var river from Nice. When he talks about going to the MIN, he’s referring to a professional market center in Nice, the Marchés d’Intérêt National where farmers bring their produce, and others buy it for distribution at markets or stores.

Greetings from… sweet-aired Nice

Posted in Nice, Paris, Travel at 17:19

You may have been wondering why I haven’t posted in the last two weeks spent in Paris. The answer is simple: I changed my blog password before leaving, and, naturally, forgot it.

This weekend I’m briefly back home on the Riviera, picking up such necessities as hi-fi speakers and spring-weight blazers. As an unplanned bonus, I am also gulping up as much mimosa-and-sea-scented fresh air as possible.

This last week in Paris was quite literally suffocating. We had terrible air pollution; so bad that for the first time in the history of Paris, public transportation was made entirely free for three days, starting yesterday. This was nice timing for getting to and from my TGVs! This morning I popped into the RER A at La Défense and was at Gare de Lyon fourteen minutes later. For free. Walking through open stiles in Paris city center is an experience I’ll long remember, after years of wrassling with the things whenever visiting.

Kanoko, Susu, and I spent our first week and a half in a cheap apartment-hotel in Courbevoie, at the northwest corner of La Défense. Thanks to friends, I quickly found a furnished apartment nearby! We moved in on Wednesday. The cats took to the new place right away. Both of them had a rough time with the hotel; the tiny, dirty window (grimy even after I tried to sponge it off) drove them a bit stir-crazy, and they huddled under the covers every day. Once in the new apartment, however, they took to their old habits of pigeon-gazing from the French balcony doors, and dozing tummy-up on the vintage couch.

As for me, I spent the first week focused on work, and the second desperately trying to stay healthy while losing my voice, throat, and sinuses to toxic air pollution (100 microns per cubic metre). I didn’t get much sightseeing done – as a result, readers haven’t missed much of my Paris adventure so far!

Before the smog settled in, I took this photo on my morning “commute”, a 15-minute walk to the offices I’m at. You can find a few more photos in my Flickr stream – more will come soon, and now that I have my blog password, they’ll be posted here.

Grande Arche de la Defense

Le Plan Vélo 2020 de Nice

Posted in Cycling, Nice at 14:37

Le Negresco with cyclist, November 2011

In November, while cycling home from my job in Cagnes-sur-Mer, I saw something no one wants to witness. On the Promenade in Nice, a few hundred metres before reaching Le Negresco, a SAMU (EMT) van was stopped next to the bike lanes, and two cyclists were on the ground, their bikes – one from our Vélo Bleu bike share – in a twisted heap. Neither cyclist had a helmet, and neither was moving or making a sound. I couldn’t look longer than that. I slowed down and signalled to cyclists behind me to do the same; only half a lane was free for passing the crash site.

Growing up in the Oregon countryside, our elementary schools in the 1980s had day-long courses where police and firefighters came to the school to teach us road, fire, and health safety. It made a lasting impression on me. I already knew how to ride a bike, but as a child, even when your parents explain rules to you, you don’t quite grasp that there are other people involved in your safety. This is normal: a child develops most healthily when their family provides a safe space, one the child does not see as “external”. When the firefighters and police came, they were other people – not family. I remember being struck by how important it was to have these other people to take care of you if you were in an accident, and how useful sensible road rules and regulations were. This is where my philosophy of “ride predictably” came from. It’s not just for your safety, it’s also for others. The road is a shared space, and behaving predictably means that everyone has a chance to use it in as egalitarian a manner as possible.

It doesn’t take long in Nice to notice that there are quite a few people who couldn’t care less about driving predictably. Red light? Accelerate. Pedestrian crossing at a light? Swerve around them. Yes, I have been swerved around and cursed at while crossing the street on a green pedestrian light – the cars had red lights. Motorized scooters drive on the sidewalk at full speed and will also curse at you if you tell them to use the empty road. In this sort of environment, it wasn’t too surprising to discover that a minority of cyclists behaved the same way. Except it was having a very bad impression on novice cyclists, namely bike share users. I spoke with so many people who said, for instance, “why should I signal or stop for pedestrians when drivers don’t?” Others who shrugged, “I don’t see any rules for cyclists, why bother.”

I thought about how my Oregon upbringing had made road cycling enjoyable and safe, looked at what was missing in Nice, and wrote city hall with suggestions. As well as praise. Nice truly has come a long way in the last five years, and the roads are noticeably safer. As the bike share program and bike lanes expanded, however, I saw grave danger ahead if self-centered driving and riding behaviors continued unchecked.

Last December I received a response from Christian Estrosi, saying he had taken my email into account and was tasking his road security department to look into the suggestions. Today I received a hand-addressed letter from the city. To my pride and delight, it was from the directeur de la stratégie de la voirie, or road security/strategy director. They’ve created the Plan Vélo to be fully implemented by 2020, using my suggestions, and more!

– All Vélo Bleu stations will be equipped with signs that detail road regulations and good cycling behaviors (they didn’t have these before)

– Vélo Bleu brochures will also include the same

La Fête du Vélo and La Semaine européenne de la mobilité will now include informational campaigns on cycling road safety. I had actually overlooked the bike festival in my letter, so was very happy to see that they thought to include it.

– Primary schools will now have educational programs for cycling, in which kids will be able to ride bikes with police officers along protected routes that have road signs and such, so they can learn in a realistic situation. Excellent!

They also assured me of their plans to continue extending bike lanes in the city, which is great news. Bikes make a positive difference in many areas – health, safety, environment, roads… I’m very happy to have been able to contribute to the development of cycling in Nice, and look forward to seeing the plan implemented.

Sleet and snow

Posted in Cycling, Nice at 19:37

 
Snow on the Riviera foothills - PrealpesSnow on the Riviera foothills – Préalpes looking west

I always check the weather forecast before committing to a ride. With all of our hills, mountains, rivers, valleys, and the Mediterranean, there are several microclimates in the area. It’s common for Nice to get downpours while places a few miles away stay entirely dry, and vice versa. The most reliable forecasts tend to be those from Météo France, but again, given Nice’s microclimate, there’s nothing barring the warmer Mediterranean from deciding to throw an impromptu party with cold snaps rolling down from the mountains. The best indicator – a tip shared by a dive instructor many years ago – is to look at what the winds are doing. If they start to get above 25kmh, something is afoot. I can’t overstate the importance of winds here. Again, the mountains and valleys come into play: while you’ll be relatively protected inside cities, once you’re crossing any sort of valley – for instance, the Var between Nice and Saint Laurent du Var – you will be getting strong crosswinds, often as unpredictable gusts. These are winds that blow cars a few feet sideways on the autoroute; they can do worse for lighter cyclists.

Yesterday evening, I checked my weather app and saw 5°C forecast for the morning, chance of light showers, and then the sun coming out for a 14°C afternoon. Winds at a kind-of-iffy 20kmh, but no gusts. Since Saturday we had been having thunderstorms and constant rain showers with moderate winds (30kmh), which had finally let up on Wednesday. As such long-term rains are out of the norm here, I felt reassured by Wednesday’s calm, the forecast, and 13 years of living here that all spoke towards a sense that “Thursday should be fine.”

I started out at sunrise. It was cold, but not freezing. As I rode to the Prom, a few drops began to fall. “Ah! Light rains, just as they said!” I thought. Once on the Prom, I enjoyed the fresh sea air, and flew along with a huge flock of swallows dancing a few dozen metres above. It was a lovely sensation watching their farandole du ciel as I rode along, nearly as free as they.

Then the sky got darker, rather than lighter. As I neared the bridge over the Var and took a drink from my bottle, I thought, “wow, this tastes like it just came out of the refrigerator! …uh-oh…” I keep my refrigerator quite cold. The rain got heavier, and felt icy on my legs – I don’t have knee warmers. I thought it was due to being out of the habit of riding in the cold. But when I reached Cagnes, the water in my bottle was even icier.

There’s a 75-metre elevation gain over just 450 metres as I near our offices: a 17% climb. For the first time I can remember in 30-odd years of riding bikes, I had difficulty controlling my front wheel. It didn’t seem to want to go straight. My handlebars kept trying to squirm out from under my hands. I was grateful to have put on my full-length gloves, which are really grippy. It was only after I had reached the warmth of our offices that I learned what I’d just ridden through: a freak sleet storm that had sent cars spinning on our hills. Only another hundred metres above our hill’s elevation, snow had fallen, and stayed put all day.

Snow on the Riviera foothills - Prealpes looking northSnow on the Riviera foothills – Préalpes looking north

So it was that my 300th road kilometre was baptised by ice. It’s not an experience I want to repeat! While it’s disappointing, I do think it would be safest if I hold back from commuting, which has to happen during the weather-sensitive sunrises and sunsets here until February has passed, and keep road riding for weekends. Going out after the sun has been shining for an hour or two is much more reliable here.

Cycling the Basse Corniche

Posted in Cycling, La France, Nice at 15:12

Panorama, Port of Nice

Last week I mentioned that many bike touring places here take you along the Basse Corniche, a relatively easy and picturesque ride. Still getting my legs into shape, I decided to take it rather than the more difficult Moyenne Corniche today, for a quick ride to Villefranche-sur-mer. I’ve done the Basse Corniche by car and bus (line 100 takes you from Nice to Monaco along that very route), and always thought the Moyenne and Grande Corniches were much nicer for views. I wasn’t counting on a bicycle making a large difference. I was very happily mistaken!

Above is a panorama I put together from three photos on my camera; that is the sort of thing you can see with a quick look over your shoulder by bike. No car frame or roof to block your view. When I turned the cap de Nice and came upon Villefranche, I nearly fell off my bike from astonishment at the unexpectedly incredible view. As it was, some tourists on foot heard a surprised cyclist exclaim, “wow mais c’est trop beau !!!” There was no way I could have captured it with my camera. To your left you have the Mont Boron rising up nearly 200 metres from sea level; in front of you the nearby hills and Préalpes form the backdrop to charming Villefranche; to your right, the blue Baie de Villefranche dotted with sailboats and the occasional cruise ship, more rocky hills plunging into the Mediterranean, and Cap Ferrat jutting into the sea. All of it visible without effort. “Breathtaking” is correct.

Baie de Villefranche

Church, Villefranche old town

Here is a closer view of the Port de Nice, which had a French flag draped over our WWI-WWII memorial for the WWI Armistice commemorations today.

Port of Nice, 11 November

Route from Nice city center
Overview: 20km/12mi round trip, 90 metres/295 feet elevation gain over the 2 kilometres/just over 1 mile between the port of Nice and the Cap de Nice, as well as between Villefranche and the Cap on the way back. That’s a 4.5% grade.

Map: my favorite is the IGN Nice-Menton “Carte de randonnée” n°3742, at 1:25,000, or 1cm=250m.

I went the easy way from Nice, namely, the Promenade des Anglais, and rode up the port. Do be aware that the bike lane along the port ends before reaching its north, so you’ll need to safely rejoin the road. Turn right to follow the north end of the port, and go straight through the lights to Boulevard Carnot, which is a steady, moderately easy climb. It does climb for two kilometres, so you’ll need to be in decent shape for it. I wouldn’t do it on a Vélo Bleu, they only have three gears and are quite heavy.

The bike lanes are a bit odd from the Cap de Nice onwards, but drivers are careful as it’s a heavily-cycled route. Remember to look over your shoulder before merging or turning, and you should be fine. While riding to Villefranche, also keep your eye out for cyclists riding the wrong direction – I crossed several. Understandable, since the climb isn’t easy, and they were clearly not from the area, but still awkward.

Once in Villefranche, you can follow signs that indicate Vieille Ville, which will take you to the old town. Keep in mind you’ll have to climb the narrow, winding roads back up to get out of the village. Roads back to Nice are well-indicated, and the Basse Corniche is the most easily accessible.

On your way back from Villefranche to Nice, you can ride on the road, near the rock face of Mont Boron. Cars are well-behaved here, and as paradoxical as it may feel, it is in fact safer than riding the wrong way up the shared cycle-footpath. Predictable behavior is always safer than something unpredictable, such as coming across runners or other cyclists while riding the wrong direction. On that note, wherever you ride, always signal your movements, even if it’s only to move to the left a few feet to avoid car doors. I straighten my arm and point down and slightly left for that. In France, scooters and motorcycles have the right to pass vehicles on the left, and they usually drive fast, so you don’t always hear them or see them. If you do a quick check behind you, then signal, and keep signalling until you’ve finished moving, you’ll be much appreciated by all. I’ve now ridden 250km on my road bike, a good half of it on narrow, winding roads, and have never yet been honked at or buzzed dangerously. (A few “?!?!” incidents, yes, but all of them predictable from a defensive cycling viewpoint. There has been one scary incident, but it was so off-the-wall that it could happen anywhere. In short, use your eyes and hand signals, ride predictably and defensively, and you should be fine.)

For a bit of a change on the ride back into Nice, you can go straight on Boulevard Carnot, and continue going straight on the wide street that takes you to Place Garibaldi. In other words, don’t turn left to follow the west side of the port; just go straight through that intersection. Place Garibaldi has older cobblestones, you’ll cross the tram line as well, then ride under the MAMAC, our modern art museum. Position yourself in the left lane: after the MAMAC, turn left onto the protected bike lanes that follow our new Promenade du Paillon, and watch the lights! They’re designed for cyclists, so if you have a red, stop: it will save you from left hooks. Enjoy – it’s a beautiful ride, our city has come a long way for cycling these past few years.

Promenades

Posted in Cycling, La France, Nice, Photography at 17:32

After falling to the flu that’s been going around these parts, I finally recovered enough this week that I had the energy to get back into the saddle today. It’s a holiday here, Toussaint (All Saints Day), and we have a brand new park, inaugurated just last Saturday. I took the opportunity to ride to the Promenade des Anglais, take in some autumn sea air, then pedal to the new Promenade du Paillon. It goes from the Promenade des Anglais, to the Acropolis, our events pavilion, following a portion of the Paillon riverbed. To build the park, our decrepit central bus station was demolished, and the park just above Place Masséna was redone. This created over a kilometer of greenery! The city has been publicizing it as new lungs bringing much-needed fresh air to that part of the city, and after visiting today, I agree with their characterization – it’s open, welcoming, and a beautiful connection of the more modern city to the north, and medieval Vieux Nice to the south. The city now feels much less divided along that axis, and much cleaner.

Promenade du Paillon

Fountains - Promenade du Paillon

Mist sprayers - Promenade du Paillon

Vieux Nice behind the mist

Acropolis entrance - Promenade du Paillon

Le vélo à Nice

Posted in Cycling, Nice at 20:57

Considering how enthusiastic I still am about my rediscovered love of cycling, this blog is well towards morphing into a “French Riviera by bicycle” theme. It’s nice to have a new activity that’s blogging-friendly; these past few years have mainly been filled with métro boulot dodo as the French saying goes. “Metro (subway), work, sleep”. I don’t actually take the metro, but it’s meant to rhyme, for which “bus” and “train” don’t quite have the same ring. However, bike does! Vélo boulot dodo !

Commuting has continued to work out well, it’s definitely a treat to be on the Promenade breathing the fresh sea air in the early mornings. I’m building up strength, and the 30-kilometer (20-mile) round trip is getting both easier and faster. It only takes 45 minutes either way, hills and stops included. There are quite a few lights along the Promenade, but with a cruising speed of 30-35 kmh, you can manage to get most of them green for a while. I was surprised that I started out with such a high speed on the flats. My goal is less to improve on that, since it’s already good, and more to increase endurance, as I would love to take longer rides on weekends, and, naturally, still have plenty of strength for weekday commutes. This will mean simple practice, as well as a focus on my core and pedalling form. In cycling it’s easy to get your legs in shape, but just as important to have strong core and arm muscles, since they help your balance and endurance. Bicycling.com has good core exercises for cyclists, for instance.

As for cycling itself, the city of Nice has maps of cycling paths available. It’s important to note that a lot of them are right-hand bike lanes, which in Nice translates to free-for-all parking spots. Cars here are still rather anarchic. For cycling it’s good to keep in mind that you can, and should, take the lane when there’s not enough room for cars to pass on your left. Stay in the middle and don’t go too far left, however, since motorcyclists and scooters often pass on the left anyhow. Le vélo on the city of Nice’s website has PDFs with tips for cycling, and Plan du réseau has PDF maps of cycling paths in and around Nice, all the way to Cannes in the west, and Monaco to the east.

Petite promenade

Posted in Cats, Cycling, Nice at 17:04

 
Prom, looking east

This morning I rode down to the Promenade, following two veteran cyclists. It wasn’t planned that I ride behind them, but it was nice to be able to watch experienced cyclists, since I was able to see how they managed traffic. They had a very similar approach to my own, namely assertiveness in the name of safety, as opposed to a more reckless aggressivity. Drivers have become much more aware of cyclists in Nice since the bikeshare programme began a few years ago; I have yet to run into any scary situations in traffic. So far drivers have always been more or less aware of my presence, and taken hand signals into account. I could hardly ask for better conditions to ease into road cycling.

I took these photos with my handheld Kodak, which isn’t as nice as my Nikon DSLR. However, the handheld fits into a back jersey pocket, where the Nikon definitely wouldn’t! I probably won’t take any photos on my weekday commutes, but do hope to enjoy some weekend rides with photo stops, like today’s.

Prom, looking west

Two weeks ago, Susu wanted to show off her matte black coat in front of my glossy bike. This one is with my Nikon, you can tell the difference in color range and quality!

Matte and gloss black

Vélo promenade

Posted in Cycling, Nice at 21:25

Due to electrical problems on the train lines this morning, several commuter trains were canceled, while others had delays of an hour to an hour and a half. Sensing our 40-minute delay might indeed turn into a longer one (as it did indeed!), a colleague and I risked taking Nice city bikes, Vélo Bleu, to the office. While it did mean getting there sweaty and late, it was a gorgeous ride.

The Promenade des Anglais got bicycle lanes several years ago. More recently, bicycle paths were added all the way to Cagnes sur Mer. While I haven’t tried further than Cagnes personally, they do apparently go all the way to Cannes now. In any case, the ride to Cagnes is a very pleasant one, with views of the sea, mountains, and local architecture overlooking the Mediterranean. It takes about five minutes to interpret all the steps to rent a Vélo Bleu for the first time, but once your information is stored, it is saved, and so subsequent rentals go much more quickly. Plus it only costs one euro per hour. The ride to Cagnes from the Promenade near Nice city center (just after Place Masséna) is about 11 kilometers / 7 miles, and there are bike share racks all along the way, so you can stop at beaches and pick up another bike later.

If you’re able to ride a bike, I recommend it highly! It’s a beautiful way to see the seaside Promenade, explore the cities and beaches, and take in fresh air, all while unbothered by the cohue-bohue of stressed-out motor vehicles. Completely at your own pace, on your own schedule! I’m looking forward to my morning commute tomorrow, for which I’ll be using my mountain bike as a temporary commuter. Temporary because it can’t take paniers, which I would definitely need in cooler weather, since I’ll need to take a change of clothes as well as packed lunch. It’s best to avoid heavy backpacks when commuting, since they can affect your balance; paniers keep the center of gravity lower, which is safer. As a new bicycle commuter, I trust my mountain bike much more than my not-yet-renovated Peugeot mixte, so we’ll see how things go, and whether a city bike like the mixte would work for my commute in particular, which has steep hills, or whether I’ll decide to get a secondhand road bike that can take paniers.

If you plan to ride just the Promenade, you won’t have any worries about hills! It’s flat as can be, with just one dip and rise at the airport. And our city bikes have front paniers on them; you can secure anything you put in the panier with the bike chain (the one that unlocks from the computers). They do only have three speeds, however, and you’ll want to double-check the tires, pedals, brakes, and shifting mechanism. The biggest problems I’ve run into with our Vélo Bleu have been the shifters… some of them look fine and yet there are speeds that won’t “take”, and you can’t really tell until you’ve already got the bike. I once rode through the city entirely in third gear, which isn’t much fun when you’re trying to start a hefty steel bike from a dead stop! But if you’re on vacation, do feel free to stop at another station, return the bike, and check out a different one.