Le Baou de Saint Jeannet

Posted in Journal, La France at 20:44

 
Le Var devant le Baou de Saint Jeannet

Every weekday morning I’m reminded how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful part of the world. My daily commute takes me across a tall bridge from which we see peaks in the Alps go by, and then we descend the hills of Western Nice to the Var valley. We cross the Var river, and in the light of the rising sun, we see the rock formations behind Carros and Saint Jeannet. The large rock face is called the Baou de Saint Jeannet, and is one of the most recognizable landmarks of Nice Ouest – Carros. There are trails in the area that are quite popular with runners and cyclists.

I took these photos with my little handheld panoramic camera from the bus, a Mercedes that has enormous windows. Although many of us sleep through the early morning ride, a lot of people stay awake for this stretch, just to watch the natural spectacle of the sunrise over our beautiful mountains, our heads all turned the same direction.

Baou de Saint Jeannet

Heritage days

Posted in Education, La France at 21:17

Avenue Marius Raveu

Over this past weekend in France were held the journées du patrimoine, heritage days. Many museums and historical sites were open for free, and some had special tours. I once again sacrificed outings for my thesis, mainly because I’ve been to most of the places already, although I have yet to see the inside of the Villa Arson. Improving the French language in my thesis before printing it today was much more important, however! My defense is scheduled for next week – I am starting to feel more nervous, but also looking forward to talking about my research and writing.

After printing and binding my 155-page tome (volume), I went to deliver it, having taken the afternoon off to do just that. I got off a few bus stops too early, so decided to walk to the Université de Nice to deliver copies of my thesis to the two jury members’ mailboxes rather than take the bus. UNice, as it’s also known here (not spoken UNice, but written), has several campuses in Nice, as well as in Sophia Antipolis. For literature and languages, the faculté (college) is at Campus Carlone, located on a hill. I started at the Fabron musée d’art naïf and walked up a narrow road with switchbacks. It was nice, as it ended up being my own sort of heritage day! I had been unfamiliar with that part of Nice until now, and enjoyed visiting.

Above is a street plaque I crossed. I searched for Marius Raveu online, and found the best information gathered together in this French WWI history forum. Raveu flew bombing missions in WWI, was awarded the croix de guerre and continued as a civilian pilot afterwards, “beating several records”. He died in an airplane crash at the end of 1925.

I also passed a few beautiful villas, including one with gorgeous iris frescoes beneath the eaves (taken with my smartphone, so the quality isn’t great, but you can see their complexity by zooming in). I love these under-eave frescoes here.

Hermes’ cars

Posted in La France at 11:20

09/04/2011

As of yesterday, licensed drivers in Nice can now get around with pay-per-use electric cars, dubbed Auto Bleue and decorated with wings. One of the stations is near my apartment; all of us in the area are delighted by the concept. Currently, it costs (“les tarifs” on the website) 25 euros to sign up, for which you have to provide a scan of both your driver’s license and a second form of valid ID, then:
– 8 euros for one hour
– 20 euros for four hours in the morning (if you first take the car between 7am and 9am)
– 20 euros for five hours in the evening (if you first take the car between 7pm and 9pm)
– 50 euros for a full day (if you first take the car between 7am and 9am)
– or, for 50 euros a month, you can use the service for a total of ten hours in the month, beyond which it’s 5 euros an hour. (You have to sign up for a minimum of 6 months for this offer.)

The price includes the electricity, mileage, insurance, and round-the-clock assistance from the car – they come with a GPS – or by telephone. Beyond that, you also save on in-city parking, since you can hook it up at any of the 14 stations in Nice, as well as at a station in Cagnes-sur-Mer and another in Saint Laurent du Var. The drawback being, of course, that you do have to return it to a station, so if you wanted to use one for a daily commute, it would only be practical if you worked near one of the spots. New stations will likely be added, as they’ve done for the Vélo Bleu (pay-per-use bicycles). The Auto Bleue website also points out that “Le coût total moyen d’une voiture particulière est de 5360€/an, pour une petite voiture à essence. (source ADEME.)” Translation: “The average total cost of a personal car is 5360 euros per year, for a small gas-powered car.”

That total cost of ownership, along with parking headaches and crazy Riviera drivers, are why I don’t have a car. I take the bus, tram and train everywhere, for a total monthly cost of 25-35 euros. That’s 15 euros/month for the bus I take to work, plus 10-20 euros/month for city tram and bus usage. It’s hard to be convinced to shell out 5360 euros/year when I only spend 420 euros maximum (35 euros x 12 months) to go practically everywhere I need and want, plus I never have to worry about repairs, accidents, insurance, parking, registration, or gas stations! Indeed, I’ve become so accustomed to getting around by public transportation and my own two feet, whether walking or bicycling, that I can’t yet think of a personal use for these new electric cars, other than taking home large purchases. But I live alone; I can definitely see how practical the Auto Bleue will be for families and even couples, as well as business people who come to the Riviera often enough that it could replace a more-expensive rental car.

09/04/2011

Walkabout in Nice

Posted in La France, Nice at 17:46

Earth and sky

Today the Fnac, which is a French chain of stores that sell multimedia, books and music, held a “photo marathon” in Nice. I signed up a few weeks ago, thinking it would be nice to get some challenging ideas, plus registration was free. The day started at 9am, and we were given three themes on which to shoot photos, one every two hours. There were three hundred of us in all, and we had to turn in two photos per team (I was a one-person team, most were two-person) after the two hours. The prizes were some Canon cameras; I forget which since I didn’t participate with winning in mind (plus I’ve always preferred Nikon). All participants got a free cinema ticket, which is nice with movies so expensive to see nowadays. The themes were “le reflet dans tous ses états” (“reflection every which way”), “de haut en bas, de bas en haut” (“from top to bottom, from bottom to top,” which I translated to keep puns on “haut”, up, and “bas”, down, also being able to mean items of clothing), and “politiquement incorrect”. I was a little disappointed that they were so generic, since I’d been hoping for topics specific to Nice, but it was fun nonetheless.

The photo above is not one submitted to the contest, but is similar to one that I used for a theme. I took other non-theme-related photos as well, since it was a beautiful day today. At the Villa Arson, which is a museum on a hill in the north of Nice, there were two huge, ancient olive trees; I photographed one of them. Olive trees can live for more than a thousand years, and considering the size of that one’s trunk, it’s likely to be at least a few hundred years old. A bit younger and livelier, a friendly kitty let me photograph her/him after I introduced myself. After leaving the Villa Arson, I noticed two neat homes nearby.

Hyvää juhannuspaïvää

Posted in Gardening, Journal, La France, Nice at 11:20

Light catcher
Juhannuspäivää is the name Finland gives to midsummer. On midsummer day, Finland and the Scandinavian countries have huge communal parties that are immense fun, and so on 21 June I always have warm thoughts of Helsinginkeskus (Helsinki city center) overtaken by youths in graduation sailor caps, dressed in overalls and, well, drinking. Lots of drinking. For at least 24 hours straight.

This is my patio as it looked a few moments ago. In a month or two I’ll finally get my tax refund and have paid off the majority of the non-mortgage loans I had to take out in order to furnish my apartment last year. (My previous apartment was a furnished rental, so I had practically no furniture of my own and, especially, no appliances.) To pre-celebrate, yesterday I got myself something I’ve wanted for the longest time: a deck chair! It’s a solid oak frame, sold by Habitat and on sale once a year — which happens to be now. Once the tax refund has well and truly arrived, my next purchase will be a small oven, since I’m going mad without one. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a gluten (wheat, oats, etc.) and casein (all animal milks) intolerance, which means I can’t just order out for pizza, for example, and nor can I buy regular pies and cakes. Gluten- and casein-free baked goods are sold frozen and require an oven to cook them. Homemade pizza, freshly-baked lemon and apple pies… I can hardly wait.

Meanwhile I’m making do with delicious market finds. Today there were vegetables grown in Nice for sale, so I got some courgettes trompettes (flower zucchini) and an aubergine. I also got a type of melon I’ve always wanted to try, called le puits d’amour, “the love well”. Last week I tried a Charentais Carlencas melon, which was the most divinely delicious melon I have ever had the pleasure to savour.

I do have an update on my mentally ill, abusive neighbor: a few months ago she once again put crap (literal crap) on my patio and screamed at me, so I called the cops on her. Three VERY large gendarmes (national police, not local) took statements from another neighbor, myself, and the culprit. Two of the policemen had a private chat with her. When they returned they were visibly unnerved and said she was clearly off her rocker and among the most abusive people they’d had to deal with. The good news is, whatever they said to her had a strong effect: ever since, she hasn’t dared to speak to me, much less touch my patio (apart from some benign things like broken pens and paintbrushes). It has been wonderful to be able to use my patio. I do still keep a close eye on the kitties, of course. Her divorce should be final soon, and according to the police, she’ll have to move, since being unemployed (and unemployable in her mental state), she likely won’t be able to afford to buy out her husband’s half to her apartment. We’re all hoping that’s the case.

Colorful boats

Posted in La France, Nice at 20:01

Boat colors, port of Nice
I also went to the port yesterday, going on foot along the Promenade. Unbeknownst to me, there was a show of cars for the Jean Behra rally, so I was glad I had walked rather than taking the bus.

Nice’s port is lined by colorful buildings and all types of boats can be found there, from cruise ships to NGV (high-speed boats to Corsica) to ostentatious yachts licensed to ports such as Nassau, Cayman Islands and London, to a lineup of school sailboats to small wooden boats painted every color of the rainbow. The two in the closeup here are shown from further away in this picture. I also liked this lavender and bright turquoise boat, as well as the funnily-named M’en bati. In Nice there’s a saying, “m’en bati, sieu Nissart” — “I don’t give a flip, I’m Niçois”, joking with Nice’s strong sense of individuality. Nice was not part of France until 1860, and even that cession was — and still is — strongly debated. Although it’s extremely doubtful that Nice’s inhabitants would ever actually declare their independence, the idea is discussed, and to this nine-year resident’s ears, often seems more like an affirmation of their uniqueness than a true call for secession. (In that sense it is much like Pacific Northwesterners griping about similar issues — see the “Free Cascadia” icon in my sidebar!)

Nice’s Russian church

Posted in La France, Nice at 17:10

Eglise Russe (8)
As I mentioned yesterday, I walked to the Russian Orthodox church not far from my place this morning to take some photographs. It was a beautiful day; the church was lovely. You can see all the photos I took of it here. I arrived just before 10am and had a wonderful surprise: the bells started ringing. But they didn’t just ring the time — they played an incredible piece of music that lasted for several minutes! I highly recommend visiting on a Sunday at 10am if you enjoy music, because it was among the most amazing experiences I’ve had. I took a mobile phone video of part of it, but it’s much less impressive than in reality. Do note, however, that you won’t be able to go inside the church on a Sunday morning since they have their services then.

On my way from the church to Nice’s port, I passed our famous hotel, the Negresco, and snapped this picture of it against one of our gorgeous deep blue skies:

Negresco

Riviera views

Posted in La France, Nice at 19:44

Saint-Honorat, monastère fortifié
A quick catch-up post: a month ago I had the chance to take a helicopter ride over the Bay of Cannes. We had fifteen minutes in a Robinson R44 (four-seater helicopter) and flew to the nearby Îles de Lérins. Six years ago I did something similar in a small plane, where we flew over the Estérel from Cannes airport. That time I got to fly, but not this time, though I did get some gorgeous photos.

One of the photos was of trains along the coast that looked like miniatures from above. Not long afterwards, I found the fun tiltshiftmaker.com and tweaked that photo to truly look like a miniature train scene! I did the same to a train over a stone bridge I shot in Tende two years ago, and to a photo of Nice’s port that I took last autumn. That last photo is the same one I use for the title header here — I love how it turned out.

Tomorrow I’ll be going to the Russian Orthodox cathedral, which isn’t far from my place, and then to Nice’s port to better shoot some small boats whose colors caught my eye last week (I only had my mobile phone at the time).