Nice. Jour 4

Bonjour, le beau monde! A pretty sunny day and a boat ride to the Île Sainte-Marguerite to present our report was waiting to inspire us to enjoy our everyday life dotting somewhere a few days ahead. A repetitive breakfast menu was très bien for us as per usual. We were to walk again to the port to embark on our voyage to where we’d already been lucky to be as part of our coach trip to Europe. The largest of the Lerins Islands, this island was famous for its fortress where Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned. It was about an hour’s boat ride from Nice. We got there just in time to find our American friend already there. Another nice conversation in English added more confidence to the morning. It turned out we had forgotten to pick up our poster from the conference venue! Well, luckily, we had some kind soul pick it up for us – people seemed incredibly helpful here! We quickly got on our beautiful boat and got ready to get up close and personal with the Mediterranean sliding through its gentle waves with azure here and there – everywhere! We took a comfortable seat to enjoy “the performance” and were a bit later joined by an Italian! Bene! We spent the entire ride talking (I wish I had brushed up on my very limited Italian back home) about Rome (his home city) and how I was in love with it after a bellissimo week I’d spent there. Travels offer so much to talk about and make connections! We even happened to have the same favourite places in the belle Italian capital! Some of my stereotypes of Italy were actually reinforced and others dismantled. You can’t escape Italy while in Nice, can you? It’s walking right here behind you in graceful strides (probably in a pair of stilettos)! I could notice a bit of a fashion show on my right as I saw the famous Breton stripe worn by the owner of the brown eyes to make me release a sigh of admiration. I was speaking to an Italian looking away to take in the handsomeness of a French! Me! A Russian girl! The sun was beating down, but I couldn’t take off my light jacket as I had got a sunburn the day before during our jaw-dropping coastline walk. Azure, azure, azure! I remember you and I’m looking!IMG_20160609_091239

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I was able to recognize these soothing views as we started approaching the island. That was where I had my first dip in the sea three years ago! What a coincidence! Little did I know I would ever get here again but with a different agenda! As we were walking up the hill to the Maritime Museum where the conference was to be held surrounded by the smell of eucalyptus and the sound of birds singing (that was exactly what my memory preserved as a souvenir of the place), I stroke a chat with that female British professor from Birmingham. She was all smiley with a rucksack on her back! I wished her luck for her key speech a bit later on. I was astonished at how approachable and down-to-earth Western professors are! She seemed genuinely happy to talk to someone like me. And of course the American professor found us too to continue our chat! Before the opening report by the British professor, we had a while to stroll the area. It looked so deserted and calm and we could see Cannes in the distance. Belle is the word! A bit rural with casual workers in their overalls but very clean and beautiful!

The room where we were seated in the Maritime Museum felt damp and about halfway through the British professor’s speech I found myself nodding off even though I was interested in her talk. She joked that everyone must be looking forward to the aperitif. Before we had a chance to enjoy it, we were all taken to marvel at the views of the Mediterranean from the lookout tower. Splendid!

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We have the apéritif waiting for us and we walk to a lovely court in the shade for that. Are they serving us home-made sweet wine? I have to love whoever made this one! As one of the organizers saw me with a glass with ice cubes, he came asking me to add a few to his wine. He was so immaculately dressed in an elegant straw hat that I was afraid to leave a smudge on it while I dip in his ice cube into his glass. We carried on our chat with the American professor who seemed to love our company a lot. I was wondering what our English felt to a native speaker. Emotional talks are most engaging and it’s fascinating how when it gets to a point when something concerning your country comes up, you seem to start losing control of your English as some profoundly lingering emotions start coming into play compelling us to call potatoes “our second bread”, referring to “a vegetable garden” where we grow them, etc. We can’t rip our national selves apart from whatever languages we choose to speak. The lunch itself was very tasty with a selection of potatoes, rice, roasted meat. As I stood up from my seat to get another helping, I felt a bit dizzy, which made me aware that I must have helped myself too much to the wine and I had a report to make afterwards. It was in fact a combination of the wine, the scenery and our conversation that got me tipsy in the first place. We all got so relaxed that the last thing on everyone’s mind was listening to more reports. Finally, it was time for some cheese that we had served with more fresh meat. I just adore cheeses and those were homemade! The American tried to have a discussion about their origin with people serving the tables and needless to say, he failed to do that as none of them seemed to have any command of English. I managed to talk to the female British professor more and she asked me if my students used corpora for our classes as she was one of the leading specialists in corpus linguistics. Well, I was happy she had no idea what kind of students I mostly have to teach…

It was finally time to make a presentation and our American ami was the one afraid to miss the action as he was to make one as well. I was happy to be able to get the owner of the brown eyes solve some technical issues. There was a lineup of reports, some in English, some in French. When my turn came (the American professor actually introduced my report and even made an effort to pronounce my family name), I was slightly nervous but strangely enough, I felt very inspired and bewilderingly confident as I was presenting my report which I started with a little introduction in French. That was another combination of factors that contributed to this feeling arising in me. I wasn’t presently in Nice that is named after Νίκη, a Greek goddess of victory, but I felt so victorious! We all need something and someone to give us wings to levitate! Why on earth can’t I feel like this back home? I have yet to figure out whether it was me preventing myself feeling the way I did back then on a daily basis or the environment which certainly has a certain impact on what we are. We had a few discussions with other participants during the poster session. Everyone seemed incredibly laidback and friendly. Is science that intimidating? We made acquaintance with the guy we were too shy to join for lunch our first day. He was a PhD student from Belgium and was very nice! One doesn’t have to be a nerd to be a scientist. I certainly have the environment to blame for my twisted perception of science. Our awkward poster attracted some more attention. When the session was over, we folded our poster and made it outside to take a brief stroll before our boat was due to arrive. It was getting menacingly cloudy and we didn’t walk too far. It was such a solitary and peaceful place which was the last I had expected to visit again. Tall trees, green grass to sit on and watch the sea and hear more French conversations. That was a perfect retreat for someone visiting Nice.

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Before we embarked on our boat, we had a quick chat with the British professor who now knew about my cherished dream of visiting London. That was his first time visiting the island and he was amazed it wasn’t for us. My sister had forgotten her jacket in the venue and it was after we had one of the organizers chasing us with it that she realized she had. Soon after we’d embarked on our boat, the sky was about to burst into loud tears of rain.

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The sight of the owner of the brown eyes lovingly and admiringly peering into the Mediterranean with a French flag waving in the background was able to amaze even my sister. Handsome men certainly belong here to match the surroundings! The grey skies finally culminated into a pouring rain. Here we were in the storm in the Mediterranean!

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My sister feared she would catch a cold as we only had our umbrellas that we could barely keep from being blown away to keep us dry. It wouldn’t stop raining when we arrived back in Nice. I caught sight of the owner of the brown eyes lending his umbrella to a lady…. Yes, people seem to match their surroundings. The rain stopped before we reached our hotel but the wet streets were almost empty. My sister was feeling hungry as unlike myself, she didn’t get to eat much throughout our conversation with the American professor due to what she called “an excessive cognitive load” she had to deal with struggling to speak English over such an extensive period. Obviously, we did have to stay inside in the next few hours and it was already an early evening so we thought we needed to choose a place for our meal. I changed into my warm Breton stripe blazer for the night. We went to the same restaurant we went to on our first evening here. All the diners were inside now that it had just been raining. The interior of the place was splendid and bohemian. We asked the same waiter who served us on our first ever meal here in Nice to recommend us some wine and that was the second best wine I’d tried here. We were actually done with the conference now and decided to use our last full day here on our own instead of trying to find Université Nice Sophia Antipolis Université where the last session of the conference was to be held. It was getting sad to be leaving so soon… The amazing and huge portion of mussels I got made parting with Nice seem too early to ponder. A group of senior ladies and a gentleman were seated at the next table and were loving their meal as well. I always admire how older people I see on my trips are capable of enjoying their time travelling and making retirement seem such a leisurely thing to finally do whatever you never got to do before you retired. When they asked the waiter “What music is playing?”, they summed it all up for me – retirement doesn’t have to be about having your children and grandchildren at your back begging you for any kind of help or begging your children to give your grandchildren to give your life back its worth. It’s about the older but wiser you enjoying small things in life like this wet evening here in Nice over a glass of fine food and wine… I taught my sister how to ask for the bill in French and hearing her say “L’addition, s’il vous plaît” put a genuine smile on the waiter’s typically French face. “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” I totally agree with Nelson Mandela on this…

We went on our late-evening promenade taking a different path to the Promenade des Anglais to see more of the backstreets of Nice and ended up in a sounevir shop that was still open. I couldn’t help getting a little painting of the iconic view of the Hotel Negresco and holidaymakers casually strolling. I collect these small paintings endearingly to shake up my visual memory when it’s too blurred by my everyday reality. It was a wet walk along the sea and it was rather chilly. The moist air made the smell of fish at some of the restaurants, which took us back to Varna, even more beckoning…

There were people enjoying their meals, entering some clubs. As we were walking by one of the dining places, I saw a very beautiful young couple dressed perfectly and looking so romantic together. I wish I could have them on a painting to put up in my room to remind me that romance isn’t dead… We walked some more around the Opera Theatre area (Opera Nice Côte d’Azur) admiring the French style and beauty and Eiffel Tower toys in the window-shops. We end the night near the Apollo fountain watching more beautiful people. May tomorrow be pleasurable and long! Bonne nuit!

 

Nice. Jour 3

Another “Bonjour”! But as travels do have this miraculous power to transform, this one had a more dreamy edge to it and at the same time it was more assertive as we were really accommodating to the ville and the feelings it was so subtle and gentle in producing. We did need more temps to relish the dreamy embrace of our niçoise sleep and we got this chance when we had decided to skip the early conference sessions that were in French anyway. So that added a slightly cheeky to our late morning. More mornings – more transformations…? The breakfast was the same again and the croissants and the coffee were equally bien.

We had a walk all the way to the hotel where the conference was taking place and we tried to time it properly to be there just in time for the report by the British professor we were honoured to meet the day before. The city was very tranquil and slow but now this apparent sleepiness seemed to have a less dreamy edge to it and we had our business to attend to again. We were enjoying this “busy sleepiness” after all as we were walking through Promenade du Paillon with its water-shooting cascades and a huge sign reminding us of the Euro 2016 coming up just two days later! Theatre National de Nice right was in front of us and I’m already in love with these typically neoclassical Italian red ochre buildings with green shutters on my right, Nice Cathedral (pronouncedly Italian) on my left, they were a mixture of dreamy and assertive for me and in a weird cosmic way they seemed like me as well! My fashion choice was azure for the day though and it would be dead easy to assume where this inspiration came from. That was the art of adapting at work! A very typical sharp yet serene sound of a typical tram in Nice that got me scared the first time I was here three years ago. Had I actually been here before? I wasn’t quite sure apart from the fact that I remembered where the supermarket was (that came very handy indeed). That was a completely new feeling with the city and definitely a more involved and intimate one.

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Off we step into Place Garibaldi and mentally make another courteous wave to the neighbouring Italy. There are all types of people walking by, happy and not very much so, but generally they seem more cheerful than back home. We didn’t have much time to take wrong turns as pleasurable as that would have been. We did have time to enjoy the same bougenvillas from the previous day and just marvel at this morning landscape we were essentially part of.

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Port Lympia with its mountainous scenery gave a slightly different feel to what looked more like an exquisitely executed painting rather than someone’s reality. I remember this sight from my previous time here and how it seemed to make a sharp contrast from the Old Town but this time round it appeared to provide a perfect addition of the azure scenery. Is that us walking this gorgeously amazing area with real people drying their laundry and having conversations in the street…?

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We arrived just in time for the talk by the British professor. We joined in the rest of the participants in the backyard area for some coffee and were lucky to have a chat with the professor himself. I told him about my dream of visiting London and how challenging it was to make it happen and by the looks of it, he seemed too overwhelmed to even feel sorry about that… He complimented my English and that gave me such a huge boost that I really wasn’t sure if I could succeed in accommodating all these happy feelings inside me without letting them slip into the azure space. My aesthetic senses were nurtured by the same male beauty I caught sight of across the backyard showing off a more casual but equally enchanting outfit. Yes, I did some research the day before and found out that was a scientist! Is that a dream with too much going on in it? Dreams don’t tend to be so elaborate and therefore we forget them while we still feel a recently interrupted sleep lingering on us. I wasn’t going to let that slip – ever! The British professor whose accent was charmingly flowing thanked us for stopping by and making his nerves better. I was really humbled by that – who was I for him to be thankful to…? He had no idea about my tentative relationship with science but here it seemed like a holiday romance passion that no one cares to go into explaining and speculating about, it’s just there to be captured by the soul and body or at least either of these… There were more people willing to talk to me as well and that gave a renewed hope of being able to strive to belong somewhere I was too shy to set my foot. I was starting feeling unwell again from the cold I’d caught back in Moscow and the heat of the early afternoon started getting into me as I was sitting listening to the British professor giving a talk about his study of lost languages. I just couldn’t let this stupid cold prevent me from making the most of the moment I had no idea would ever arrive!

This time lunch was to be served in a stunning terrace overlooking the Mediterranean – yes, just like that! That was a casual buffet lunch that offered a selection of beautiful seafood. We made sure we got our table and after I came back with some roasted ostriches and sandwiches (trying hard not to get hold of too much), I found my sister talking with another British professor who was to give her report the following day. I smiled at the sight as my sister and her looked like a hunter and a prey respectively! This way my sister made sure the company would be nice and that’s even more important than the food! Just before we knew, we had the American professor I had a conversation with the previous day rushing to our table to join us! That was a sign for me that the talk we had didn’t bore him! Nice! So that was going to be the four of us here in the basking Mediterranean sun they had to put up a shield to protect us against while we were deeply engaged in our conversation and the azure sea on the right! For an instant, different social and educational backgrounds didn’t seem to matter to me! And yes, as the American professor mentioned, Corsica wasn’t quite too far! We talked about the origin of our family names, our countries’ policies and the American was certainly the most vocal about that with his sunglasses over his eyes! The British lady was very courteous but friendly sipping on the tea she had brought in a thermos. What a divine cultural and linguistic practice for me! We were the ones most engrossed in our conversation and we had forgotten about the food and when I went to see if there was any left, there certainly wasn’t… It’s a shame because the seafood was the best ever even though I’m not a fan! Well, at least the conversation made up for that and made me yearn to get beyond the boundaries of my homeland. Travels have this victorious edge to them!

We were too elated and a bit hungry to stay any more so off we went along the endlessly azure coastline! I felt a bit like on my first day here but this time I felt like peering into this most beautiful meaningful azure emptiness of the Mediterranean to get it imprinted on my vision forever! That was such an effortless thing to do! We went down to the beach and saw some people sunbathing. I’ve never seen so many shades of blue even though I’d already been here! They were certainly worth coming back for! I think even my sister got that sentimental and dreamy feeling as we posed for some photos getting a few looks from some men who seemed just too young!

 

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I was overwhelmed with how much I loved my sister for making it possible for us to come here! Another too belle to be true moment to experience for us! It was getting too hot and that stopped us from going up to the hill and getting some views from there. Instead, we ended up in a gorgeous park offering spectacular views of the coast. Does anything have to be said to this…? I’d already forgotten about feeling slightly unwell and I knew I would when treated to THE view! Another overwhelmingly serene moment of being content to be alive sitting on that bench overlooking the Mediterranean! I’m actually happy with words failing me in my recollection of the moment…

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We walked back to the Port enjoying a few more lovely views on the way. We were desperate to get something to eat and found a low-key place with a wonderful view. We opted for the plats du jour which was a very nice deal. We were brought a large plate with a seafood salad generously sprinkled with olive oil, which I noticed was a typical thing to do here. We were craving for some champagne which ended up costing us just as much as the meal including a huge tiramisu (which literally means “lift me up” in Italian) that originated in the House of Savoy that used to rule Nice before it was taken over by the French. Well, life’s too short and with a victorious feeling shooting through our veins we needed champagne to top it off with! Cheers to us and the view on the right! Tiramisu if I’m dreaming!

 

After about an hour of this very reposing and relaxing meal, we made it back to the hotel and it was getting cloudy again. Another walk to the Old Town through the port looking a bit menacing against the grey azure sky brought us accidentally into a church overlooking the port where we stopped by for a while. L’église Notre-Dame-du-Port gave me another oddly spiritual experience I was craving for remembering those I had in Italy and Bulgaria. The church was deserted and being inside and taking a moment to look into the statues’ faces was magical!

As we walked a bit more till we reached Place Garibaldi, it started raining. Here at the junction of this area with the Old Town Nice felt a bit more like an ordinary city with people doing their shopping, getting on a tram.

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It was until we reached Nice Cathedral and saw a mostly wonderful typically Southern things – orange trees with actual oranges hanging on them! That had to be one of the highlights of that trip! I was standing here in the rainy Mediterranean sky and looking up at these beckoningly beautiful oranges that were too high to reach out to! I felt a kid in me wishing I was tall enough to touch them! I was astounded and didn’t mind the rain dripping to land on my skin. These oranges were no less indicative of the relaxed Southern lifestyle than the Mediterranean itself! We kept walking through Le jardin Albert– I, Nice’s oldest public garden and admired some Italian statues here. We made a short cut to the hotel and stumbled across another Italian place we thought we might visit later.

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As we got home, we couldn’t wait for the rain to stop. In the meantime we watched some TV and I admired how some men I saw there were just as handsome as those I’d seen in the street! It stopped raining just as abruptly as it started and took us back to the rue along the shopping street of the Avenue Jean Médecin, Mayor of Nice from 1928 to 1943, till we reached Basilique NotreDame de Nice, the largest church in the city. That was something characteristically French and magnifique! I took my time to peer into the characteristic rose windows of course!

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There were a few construction sites nearby and just around the corner we saw what was recommended as the best crêpe place in Nice (the French equivalent of a pancake) but it had already been closed. After a bit more promenading that we were getting increasingly good at, we ended up walking not far from the Hotel Negresco and got some wonderful fruit (as we couldn’t get those oranges in front of the Nice Cathedral that I fell in love with) from a dodgy Chinese grocery. They were gorgeous! More contemplations, reflections about that talk with the American and British professor and how I could possibly make a change and find that missing piece. We spent a few hours here not saying much just peering into the French sky…

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Back at Place Massena where we came for the daily portion of people-watching, we were a bit ashamed by our national character as we heard a group of fellow Russians singing the famous wartime song “Katyusha” being the only disorderly crowd in the square. This song alone is capable of generating a contagious burst of patriotism. Why on earth do they have to make such a disgrace of themselves singing it and thus drawing the police attention as the security was tight in the run up to the Football Championship. Another bunch of ugly drunken faces… No, I wasn’t feeling homesick at all! They wouldn’t keep it down even after the police warning and as it would be back home, there was soon a group of Russian women trying to flirt with them. No, let’s forget about that and walk a bit further not to get this lovely evening interrupted! Well, of course Russians would always spot each other in a crowd and we knew we would be asked by these ugly guys as we walk by why we didn’t join in their singing… We didn’t bother to answer. We ended the night with a cup of café in our hands away from the disorderly Russians. We were to make our report the following day! Bonne nuit!   

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Nice (E Un Poco Italia). Jour 2

A brisk and Provence lavender-scented “Bonjour!” Bonjour, le monde! There’s something genuinely divine and life-boosting about every morning you wake up somewhere new with no or a rather vague idea of the surroundings where you’d just spent the night. It’s a bit about taking risks and letting the cover of a foreign night embrace you just because being here during the daytime felt très bien et reposant. No need to say I slept like a log that night. I was so keen to wake up from the douc embrace to let my smile from the day before radiate into the belle even though very confined space of our hotel room and take it all the way down to the lobby where our French-style breakfast was waiting for us and then all the way through the lovely sweetly lazy rues of Nice.

I was a bit anxious about attending the conference so that didn’t feel like my typical morning on a holiday, because what it usually does is have my seeing, hearing and feeling device sharpened. It’s not until you take a leap of faith that you learn if being brave does actually pay off in the end. The surroundings were sure to make this leap feel effortless and flowing. Am I dressed appropriately for the occasion coming up? Do I even need to worry myself too much with what kind of figure I cut in front of everyone? Do I even need to bother with these and a blurry haze of thoughts shooting through my head? Anyway, it was time for le petit déjeuner! The breakfast served in the hotel lobby was going to give my palette another brisk feel of the country that is world-famous for its finely exquisite breakfasts. The last French-made croissant I tried was the one I had in Paris and to be honest, there seemed to be too much oil put into it. Let’s just have what we want to be a lingering and tentative bite of the one I have lying in front me. No, it is actually quicker than that as there’s that urge in my palette that compels me to take advantage of this gastronomical blessing and consummate it without too much or any foreplay. Having the eyes of the hotel guard on me as I’m relishing the delight of having real French croissants and coffee is something I told myself not to fuss about. It’s just that back home we don’t find ourselves in a situation like this and nor do we have French food for breakfast.

We had to have a taxi to the hotel where the conference was to be held booked. According to the map, it was not too far from our hotel but the day before the receptionist had no idea as to where this place could be. Later that day we had to ask another hotel receptionist who I would agree with my sister could well be on the cover of a fashion magazine in Russia probably without changing into something more fancy. He wouldn’t be my first choice though if I was an editor of such a magazine – sounds quite unrealistic, but while you’re here, you find yourself craving to do anything that would involve being part of this casual and serene male beauty show. To someone living in a country like Russia, to me male beauty might seem like something that isn’t ever readily available to enjoy but rather something that it normally takes a miracle to encounter as part of your daily routine. Here in France you have all these gifts from above splashed around the space so generously and bountifully that you might originally fail to catch sight of something you wouldn’t even dare to ask to come our way on a typical morning back home. I was due another très grande dose of this delight I’m robbed of every day of my ordinary life later on that trip and on that day as well…

Anyway, we had our taxi waiting for us outside. Getting this French-style handsome receptionist to book it for us was linguistically challenging and I don’t really know why my desire to make use of my (limited) French fluctuated the way the mood of an average woman does throughout a day. Sometimes it makes for an extremely delightful linguistic comedy to watch misunderstanding having us resorting to some really amusing ways to communicate. This guy had to use a calculator to type the exact time for our departure. I had no idea why he had to do that in fact. Listening to him speaking French nervously on the phone made for another linguistic sweet dessert that we had time to savour. What would reactions to this guy dressed in a T-shirt with a characteristic Breton stripe be back home? This stripe was going to be a profoundly imprinted memory of that trip as well… It was only a while later that it actually occurred to us that what didn’t look much like a taxi was just a private car that he arranged to arrive for us to charge us a few extra euros. Well, I should have made use of my French to avoid being cheated on. But before we were aware of that, here we were driving through the streets of the early morning town, me with our poster in my lap. That was the most beautiful taxi ride in my life made up of the gaudy natural landscape of azure and green that inspired the likes of Paul Cézanne. And did it inspire ME? Well, you know the answer to this one!

Le Saint Paul Hotel near the Grotto of Lazaret where the conference was to start about 30 minutes later looked like a sublime and idyllic place overlooking the Mediterranean, sleepy but cheeky and brisky enough to excite fantasy. What a morning! Est-que c’est rêve? Non, that was so truly and despicably real! Real enough for me to close my eyes and to open them again to see persistently the same landscape being here and signaling my azure reality. I was standing here facing it in what I thought would be an appropriate outfit for the conference and the poster in my hands together with layers of tape with some of them making some important data on it hard to read. I felt I had been taken a few centuries back as I was strolling the area surrounding the hotel. What a serene place to be and to pray obviously as there was a small chapel here that reminded me of Italy. Well, this place was certainly beautiful enough to have me convert into believing in the belle et tranquille charme de Nice. Thousands of dull or hurried mornings seem to be worth getting through just to have one like that. It did seem a bit like a film set as well where my soul and all of my senses did all the acting but needed no audience except the azure eyes of the Mediterranean.

 

 

Another grande charme was waiting for me as we entered the hotel lobby that offered splendid views through its glass walls. You have to be conscious of the sweeping power of male beauty here and that was when I felt I was blown and swept off guard with a look into another pair of brown eyes. It was as if someone had invaded the privacy of my dreams, retrieved some images and enhanced them to be the image I was facing there in that hotel lobby. What would a male model be doing here handing out conference badges? With all the preoccupation with fashion the French have, well… Do (such) handsome males attend linguistic conferences? I had to repeat our family name again as I’d forgotten about any linguistic boundaries between me and the male beauty for a while. We had our awkward poster to put up and who did I choose to ask to do that…? This gorgeous male creature taking this poster with his hands shaking holding this fragile thing – that was awkward indeed.

The conference hall was getting filled with people and before the conference opening, we had some time to refresh with more coffee at a peaceful backyard with a lovely little fountain (another reminder of Italy – Ciao mia bella!). With all kinds of beauty enslaving my brain, I certainly needed a bit of tranquility and I found it here on a lovely armchair surrounded by mostly French-speaking people. To break the ice, one of the ladies turned to me and said “Joli!” and gave me another moment worthy writing about. I said “Sorry!” and totally ruined the linguistic ambience of the moment. Why did this word have to slip my mind?! “Beautiful”, said she awkwardly. “Yes, it certainly is!”, said I feeling like someone who has just failed a real-life language test I didn’t subscribe to take. “Oui, joli!”, said I to myself peering into the impeccably azure sky practicing what I preach during my classes. Is science that pleasurable or is just the place that is so joli…?

Just as we had our clumsy poster put up by the owner of brun yeux, we saw the stars of forensic linguistics enter the conference hall and the first thing they saw as they did so was… Yes, the poster (very wisely put by these nervous hands)! The first one was a British specialist in authorship attribution and he behaved so very stereotypically British awkwardly and apologetically pointing to the formula on the poster that was noticeably blurred by layers of tape. He was the one who seemed embarrassed by that layer of tape sticking to his finger! Well, Britishness… Just before we knew it, another star in the field made an appearance and he was American! Now I could see the difference between the British and American torn apart by the Atlantic. The American professor was very typically assertive and seemed to have had the British colleague even more embarrassed. I was the one to see those tangible differences come into play! Me! I was proud of my sister, who was really rejoicing to have made these noted people’s acquaintance, trying to have a conversation with both of them. She deserved to be heard and listened to by NATIVE speakers of English as well! The intellectual wit and capacity have a superiority over slips and errors.

During a few opening speeches, we realized that not much English would be spoken and as much as I was eager to get into the francophone mood, I understood that listening to French as romantic as it is for the consecutive hour was wearing me out “linguistically”. There are sometimes mountains too high to climb “linguistically”. But the brown eyes came and went through the speech. Merci, bruns yeux! Then there were some quick instructions in English about where the next sessions will be and it was time for lunch.

We decided we would skip the session before lunch and just stick around the place. As we were sitting at the conference hall, I saw the American professor we met earlier in the same room working on something. “Go talk to him” I thought as grabbing chances seemed such an effortless thing here surrounded by the azure sea and a gentle breeze. It was such a life-boosting feeling to be talking to him without actually thinking that English wasn’t really my first language – did it even matter at all? It was nice to get his reaction to some ideas I had for my research I might try to get a chance to do in the USA if things work out well. Yes, teaching is hugely unrewarding these days, but sometimes we shouldn’t forget that we can be heard and listened to (every once in a while). I was content I’d taken this chance! It didn’t hurt at all!

The lunch was to be served in a lovely dining room. We spotted a friendly young guy to try to join for the meal but we got a bit too shy. We found ourselves being served a very elegant-looking dish and wine of course. There was French being spoken and we got into our own linguistic comfort zone and spoke our language very expressively when I heard a man sitting across the table asking me in perfect Russian “Would you like some more water?”. I jumped with astonishment and said in English “You can speak English” and by this got into the international comfort zone. He must have been listening to what we’d just been saying! This French man was another conference participant and was married to a Ukrainian woman and had a huge fascination with our language. Strangely, that made him less of a foreigner to me and we spent the following hour talking about the differences between the Russian and French, how Russian tourists seem to be the only people who dismiss Paris and its romance calling it filthy and dirty and how Nice isn’t all nice and belle once charmed by it, you make a decision to settle here. Well, I hadn’t been here long enough to take that on board. Look at all those shades of azure (and the brown eyes at the next table)!

After we’d enjoyed our French lunch, we didn’t feel like staying for any much longer to listen to French reports so we decided we would walk to our hotel and drop off some conference stuff that was a bit too heavy to carry around. Carrying heavy stuff hadn’t originally been planned but the view, the view! As we walked, I couldn’t help being fascinated by the Port Lympia, its backyard streets, more bouganvillas clinging on lovely houses. I will drop off all this heavy stuff and get a chance to take all of this in again!

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It was pretty easy to find our way back to the hotel walking by more lovely houses getting a bit jealous of whoever was living there because they all shared the best and très belle azure neighbor who they could see, feel, hear and smell in those walls! Piazza Garibaldi, named after the hero of the Italian unification who was born in Nice (yes, one more reference to another neighbor they can be envied to have here!), had a distinct Italian feel to it with cosy cafes and was a junction to Vieux Nice where we were staying. Certainly this walk inspired us to take a few more like this one later on…

After trying to figure out how to get our phone connection back and taking a while to do so, we went out for a light meal that we thought we might want to get in the same street we did the day before. It’s a very liberating feeling to be walking the streets after you’d already been here as opposed to when you’ve just arrived all sweaty and exhausted. Now it felt as if we were locals going about their business but ours was very pleasurable and relaxed one. It felt a must to check out a local L’Occitane en Provence shop. It was amazing to be in an authentic one and smell all those amazing beauty products without thinking they were made somewhere in Russia and sold at the price of a real thing. It was hard to choose what to buy because who knows if we will ever be able to be in such a place again. The guy at the check-out counter was very funny and slightly feminine as he asked me to pass him an extra product I got as a gift for him to ring it off. He even sprinkled my shopping bag with a touch of a perfume – again in a very feminine fashion! Merci!

It was now time to find a place to eat. I found myself craving for some pizza (yes, Italy was meant to be part of that day that was turning cloudy). There was a pizza place and it was obviously and evidently run by Italians as we were instantly warmly and cordially welcomed to enjoy our meal here by an insatiably enthusiastic old Italian gentleman! Am I in Rome again…? I craved for some cheese as well of course and went for a quattro formaggi pizza. In the meantime we saw the owner of the place multitasking the Italian way – walking from table to table checking on the visitors, flirting (si, Italia…), joining a group of customers for a drink and then another one! I think no dish served here could represent and give us a taste of Italy better than this signore did! He single-handedly took me back to his homeland! The pizza was bello of course and just big! My sister isn’t a fan of cheese that the pizza was so abundantly and generously topped with so she shared a lot of it with me! Cheese overdose! And across the road of this busy street I see another male beauty who was just a humble waiter of another café! Another kind of overdose! Another “too handsome to be true” moment! Behind us we can hear Americans speaking and note how they aren’t too bad to look at either. The Italian signore keeps multitasking and comes back from a nearby shop with some beauty products that he’s proud to display! Are we in Italy…? Merrily and happily filled, we leave the place with a big “Grazie!” and approach that waiter to see that at least he wasn’t so heavenly and divinely handsome as he seemed from that table. He was just very handsome, that’s all! Yes, very handsome is becoming just normal for me. And I’m only a bit over a day in…

We decided to get our dessert and wine at the beach and dropped in a very appetizing place selling macarons – a traditional French sweet delight. They were like a rainbow of colours on this cloudy early evening! We stacked on some wine (dry unfortunately) in the Monoprix shop and that was just us, our beautiful food and the sea till the sun went down! I think no time would be too long to be here! There are no more fireworks in my heart celebrating me and my life but just a very relaxed and serene feeling of happiness all over me sizzling and bubbling synchronous to the sea waves. J’aime bien!

 

 

 

As the night starts settling in and so does the feeling of sheer happiness, we join in the happiness of a relaxed promenade the way English people who were the inspiration behind the construction of Promenade des Anglais did. Not much has to be said really. Let’s just be British on the outside courteously strolling and discreetly looking around and Italian on the inside keeping ourselves from bursting into tears of joy of being here and now! The lit façade of the legendary Negresco Hotel! We are part of a very subtle yet pronounced Southern French chick! Let’s be quick learners and keep strolling in this newly acquired classy fashion of ours.

We wrap up the day with more doses of male beauty we settle to watch in the same place near the Apollo fountain in Place Massena. I could get used to the feeling of French wine in my blood, the Mediterranean air in my lungs and the look of French faces in my eyes…

 

 

Another conference day is coming tomorrow, which definitely means another portion of beauty and who knows how many more the following day will bring… Bonne nuit (Buona notte would do as well)!

Nice La Belle (Part 1)

As grateful as I am that I’ve had a chance to discover travelling to make it my heart’s top desire, I feel even more blessed to have someone I’ll always love more, someone who makes it possible to see places that it would be insane for anyone to fail to write about. Of course, since I became a traveler, I’ve always been on a mission to hear, see and feel things in a new way (I’ve been attempting to do that in the comfort zone of the home surroundings ever since as well). But that trip was certainly going to have a bit different agenda. I was going to see whether I was actually capable of exploring the world within the scrutiny of a scientific lens, which to me seems utterly barren of feelings. What happens with feeling in a new way then? How can such an overwhelmingly beautiful and bewilderingly puzzling thing as human language be dealt with in such a prudent fashion as it is by linguists? Anyway, it should be and quite well as the fact that we are merely capable of contemplating and postulating about it suggests. Anything beautiful is such as long as it inspires and anything puzzling is there to be investigated just to make us astounded at the sheer beauty and complexity it has inside it to inspire whoever dares to investigate it even more.  Is the sheer wording of this enough to make me sound like someone whose science career is doomed…?

I have absolutely no idea what kind of galaxies conspired and in what fashion they did to make it possible for my sister and me to go on a conference in linguistics where I was going to see whether me and science has a tiny bit of a chance for a future together. I’m not quite certain if it was too late in my life to even start pondering this and if anyone who definitely makes a good match with the scrutinous scientific lens would even put it the way I did just now. I must blame it all on the place where I was blessed to have my sister take me! Nice – it can’t be true! Let alone that I had been privileged to get a glimpse of the Côte d’Azur once and now… again? Me?! Those galaxies seemed to be in love with me just as much as I am with the azure beauté de la Côte d’Azur. Oui, je parle un peu de français. Maintenant… I wish I had been taught to speak French and at this point of my professional life I’m completely aware of the responsibility we must take for our own language instruction … Juste un peu. Well (or rather “Alors” as a puzzling cross-lingual interplay in my brain has me tempted to carry saying), someone still struggling to be certain about science due to the lack of clarity in defining it and teaching herself what was going to be a very limited French was going to Nice! I felt my sister was a lot more deserving to be there in the first place as she has a very harmonious working relationship with anything that has to do with science and sadly, that doesn’t run in the family really. But as long as she was willing to share this piece of azure tranquil happiness with me the way sisters do, I was happy as I knew whenever I felt I wasn’t, I had to remember I had her to be grateful for.

“Nice – nice or not nice?” was running through my head as I was sitting contemplating about the galaxies, French and recapitulating my experience there and the effect of being there once had had on me so far. Every single time we’re away from home has an overwhelmingly far-reaching effect on us in ways we might not realize as we are sieved through the monotonous razor of the daily drudge. Somehow without me being aware, Nice had an unfinished business with me. Of course, a lot comes down to money, an opportunity but I’d like to think about something else guiding travelling paths we choose to take, something totally out of our intellectual and emotional reach. It might come across as a fairytale but as we grow older and sometimes wiser, we would find ourselves craving to believe in one even more. My fairytale was all going to be of the colour azure, the shade I would laugh off the thought of ever encountering again. Apart from the colour I had yet to piece together in my vision, I was going to plunge myself into a new type of the sea when I mingle in a totally new social setting. I was only to discover that people are even a “huger” (making excessive even more excessive) part of travelling and discovering and we do need fellow humans to enable us to see, hear, feel and to think in a new way. Oui, certainement!

Even my Mum, who with all due love and respect is totally sceptical of my passion for languages and even less so for travelling, randomly mentioned that she had been wondering what on earth had been keeping me from learning French. Really, what was that evil nasty thing? Do our mothers have a way of saying things that trigger a whole lot of thoughts, aspirations and expectations of the world around us? Believing in fairytales, which we were told as part of motherly love we have as tokens in our souls, I embarked on my little mostly night-time French classes. Very tentatively and timidly. I was in no way going for a deep and lusty French kiss, just a coy peck to get my mind around the way the language works. It was a linguistic delight and a blast to watch myself and questioning the way I was making these little steps in shaping up my new “interlanguage”. I really have a zero recollection of doing that for English. What a shame!

Trips have a way of starting long before we physically leave the customary comfort of our homes and it might take just one trip to take you on countless more. It felt sweet and stereotypically romantique, the music of French and my emerging ability to create my own imitation of it. As painstaking and elaborate language learning might get, I never cease to believe in its miraculous power like that of a living being to encourage, to discourage and well (stupidly romantic, I know) to enamour with every little grammatical twist. If French was holding a potential of a sizzling love affair, I’d already made my petites steps towards it rather than hiding or shutting myself away. It was about time to let that trip changer ma vie and bring a new shiny azure Francophone flavour to it. Was Nice nice after all? Who am I know to even dare to pose that question to myself? Me?! Really!

As we had an early morning flight, we thought it wise to arrive in Moscow just a day before and use it as an excuse to explore our capital’s charms a little bit more. I’m very much aware of how visiting my capital before an overseas trip builds up the excitement for seeing, hearing and feeling something new and in fact has me thinking that sometimes I don’t even need to leave my country to do that. If it wasn’t for travelling abroad, I might have never got to develop any relationship with my capital at all. I do remember my first visit here when I was about ten and how intimidated I was by all that hustle and bustle and how I had a cry on the train there because I was so fearful to leave my own little home place. I always find myself wondering what it was that has changed me into someone who’s now so willing to leave and would rather shed a tear if I haven’t hit the road for long to make me depressed and unable to be somewhere I used to be so reluctant to leave. Life and everything we do as we go through it has a very extraordinary and mysterious way of transforming us. Anyway, Moscow has this wonderful power to transform me as well. Is this a country within a country? It well might be, but there’s something so reassuring and persistent here that would always prevent us from feeling like tourists here. I have yet to explore this feeling I get whenever I come. Even though it was June already, the weather was really nasty with just a few sunny spells throughout our stay. That made me even more incredulous about where we were going next. As much as the excitement of going somewhere might seem to slip away the more you travel, it makes you thankful more for those moments that looking back seem so huge and significant just like every little thing that we might fail to get the essence of as it is happening here and now. Curling my hair at the hotel to let what hopefully would be a warm Meditarrenean breeze run through those curls the next day… Little moments to treasure…

As an increasingly keen traveler, I just love airports! I couldn’t wait to arrive at the Vnukovo airport for the first time ever as we were driving through the cold streets of the early morning Moscow. That was just the thought of getting somewhere a lot warmer that made that temperature hardly bearable! That was a really small and rather deserted airport and I couldn’t fail to recognize a spot that was filmed in a very popular Russian movie at the time called “Crew” telling about a beautiful and heart-wrenching love story between pilots. Every trip has to have a little cinematic feel to it, doesn’t it? Even though this particular story allegedly took place at the Sheremetyevo aiport which  might have not been available for filming. There is something that airports generally seem to share, but that had been my first very quiet and peaceful morning with us sipping on our coffees sat facing the Turkish Airlines advertisement and dreaming of the warmth and some breeze not particularly of Nice but anywhere in fact.

There had to be something posh or rather pretentious (because that’s Russia) about someone on a plane to Nice! There was a couple in the aisle in front of us talking about their children living in Cannes. What a lucky bunch of people they were! If it wasn’t for the conference we were attending, we wouldn’t certainly have afforded a trip to such an extravagant location. But it worked out for us and on that particular day we were on that particular plane so it’s not just the bitter “c’est la vie” sometimes.

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Arriving at the Côte d’Azur airport was going to be spectacular as it was just near the sea coast and we could get a glimpse of Méditerranée from the plane and it seemed as if we were going to land just here. The tranquil blue skies, alluring palm trees – was I merely dreaming? I wish we all got a change of scene like that as a reward for dealing with persistently dreary spells back home. It should be not by chance that in the European languages I have a bit of knowledge of, there is the same word for something you see in your sleep and what you aspire to get. C’était un rêve and I was awake to experience and embrace it! A few noticeably French male’s faces as we make our way to the passport control. Is it a bit too early to even start noticing? Not really especially when the sky is so azure!

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The first thing we felt as we exited the airport was how hot it was! Dressed in our blazers, we must have looked a bit out of place in this beautiful part of the world. We didn’t have to walk too far to get a typical Provençal view of bouganvillas gracefully clinging on the walls of the buildings in the area. I knew the South of France was going to open up to me a bit more this time. As we were to find our way to the city centre, I felt an irresistible urge to make use of my very limited French against such a beautiful backdrop. I felt so good about being able to say this little but so meaningful “Parlez-vous anglais?” as I asked about where the bus stop was. Of course I could have said a very simple “Do you speak English” and by saying this, I intended to get into the comfort zone of this international language that I teach for a living. But making a bit of effort to avoid using this impersonal phrase especially in a country with a language that belle seemed to go a long way. I was able to get a few lovely French smiles as a welcome to Nice when I said this. Even dealing with typical French strikes and resulting transport delays wasn’t annoying at all.

Waiting at a bus stop for a good half an hour was something we didn’t mind at all, because as a reward we got to see an increasingly international crowd and their reactions to the wait. The bus that really took its time to arrive got packed and getting on it with our suitcases was a bit challenging. I geared myself up for what I thought would be more like a typical bus ride for me (except for the view) but I quickly found a place where I would be fine standing because unlike most buses here, there was a soft surface to lean my back on, which really amazed me. Miracles didn’t cease as I was trying to make my way to the only vacant seat I saw at the back and leave my suitcase in the middle, a gentleman reached out and snatched it out of hand and put it next to the seat I was going to take! I don’t know whether that was his physical strength or willingness to help that impressed me more. All I could say was “Merci!” That seemed the most appropriate thing to say to that.

Even though the bus was packed, people kept being polite as they got off at their stops and only the sound of a few loud fellow Russians made it seemed a tiny bit like home. We made it to the city centre about 20 minutes later and the view, the view! The one not to kill but to live for! To live to see if you haven’t yet! Just like at the thought of going to Nice again I just had a laugh and turned away as I got a glimpse of the alluring azure coast stretching on my right! What am I doing here with a feel of the Moscow cold timidly lingering on my skin…? My clothes were totally out of place and I couldn’t let that go. “Do you remember we were living in that house during one of our vacations here and then in this one?” I heard the fellow Russians saying. Well, Russian people do get around. Well, some of them anyway. The beach was very queit and there were just a few people here, probably locals just enjoying a typical niçoise afternoon. A ball splashing lazily in the water at a distance, people talking… Très belle! Will I get to practice my limited French? What would the city feel like this time? Will Nice be nice for us and to us? A string of questions running through my head…

I vaguely remembered Place Masséna, Nice’s central square, and that was where we had to get off. I miscalculated the distance and we got off a stop earlier. As much as I was loving to be here and enjoying the peaceful tranquility of the central Nice lined with petite comfortable shops and cafes, I wasn’t loving carrying my suitcases over the cobbled pavement. A city like this is to be taken easily and joyfully during a lovely promenade but not like this. I was happy I was able to read a few signs and I was a bit proud of myself for opening myself up for French a bit. As we were walking, we got a little taste of what the next few days would bring and there was certainly a lot to look forward to. As the European Football Championship was to kick off a few days later and France was to host it, we saw a huge Euro 2016 sign right in the park and that made us feel part of something we wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. Why was it so hot? It had to take some getting used to. We had a bit of a difficulty finding our hotel, which was supposed to be just around the corner. Taking a few wrong turns had to be part of our adventure. Place Massena – it’s me walking here again! Me!!! That’s Europe for ME again!

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We did find our hotel a few arguments later. It was really small, but the location was superb and now we could definitely appreciate that! I did attempt to speak to the receptionist in French and guess what – she understood me! I mean as a language teacher with fairly enough common sense, I knew she would, but speaking French after learning it for about a month and that was me again! French people are notoriously bad at speaking other languages rather than their own, but this lady was quite fluent in English as well. As she was busy with some paperwork for us, I told her that “Il fait plus chaud ici à Nice et à Russie il fait….” And here it just slipped my mind! “Froid?” “Oui, froid!”. That was amazing, wasn’t it? You don’t have to learn a languages for ages to be able to have this sort of a conversation about the weather. My students often make me forget about that…

Our room was very small but who would mind that in a place like this as long as we were safe in the knowledge Méditerranée was there! That was just what I imagined living here in one of those little apartments we could see in our window would be like. I chose to ignore some missed calls on my phone just to find out I had no connection at all and neither did my sister. That wasn’t fun at all and we argued for a while over what we thought could have caused that. I think we might have caused a baby in the next room to burst out crying in the process. Hearing two Russians arguing must have been a phonetically traumatizing experience and we’re sorry about any inconvenience this might have caused. There was no more time for arguing as the belle Meditarrenean evening was waiting to be experienced and we were so hungry we thought we could start eating our elbows!

A change of clothes was essential and making wrong fashion choices is particularly easy after you’d just been on a flight. Seeing and being seen was going to be enjoyable here. A meal was no less essential after the fashion choices had finally been made. Of course back home you promise yourself you will be avoiding touristy places around central squares but you would end up in one anyway. The city centre here is quite small so we thought we would go for whatever wouldn’t seem too extravagant for our budget. Unlike Italy whose influences you wouldn’t fail to note here as Nice used to be part of the Kingdom of Sardinia back in the 19th century, catering staff here wasn’t too pushy and you could read into the menu carefully. This lovely street just around the corner from Place Massena was so picturesque with all these lovely cafes! A quintessential European experience! We chose a nice place that wasn’t too crowded but had a few diners that seemed to be Asian. I could just sit here watching people walking by. Yes, that was France indeed! I had to figure out a way to keep watching that wouldn’t seem too impolite. I instinctively ordered some “shashlyks” which is a traditional Russian barbecue dish and I was curious about what the local interpretation would be. And the wine to go with it! Certainement! With the food ordered, I could forget how hungry I was and looked into a random window in front of me and thought of not thinking about where I sure knew I would be now if I wasn’t where I was. This beautiful feeling of the first day of a trip is something to savour and hold onto. Cheers to that! I even forgot to try to speak French now, I was just too happy to think of which language to speak in fact! The food was just merveilleux! The tender meat sprinkled abundantly with olive oil (very Provençal I guess). I even took hold of a few portions of the Dijon mustard because I’d been told by a French friend who lives there that had to be tried. Evenings like these are to be lived for! The more you get around, the more you learn to appreciate good places and food on your table.

Now it was time for an evening promenade! As we were walking, I hope I was just hearing things when I thought I heard someone say “Russian”. Yes, we do like to dress up but that’s just what we felt like doing living in a country like that I’m afraid. We seemed to remember where a Monoprix supermarket was so we decided to stock up on some snacks to take to the beach. Cheese, cheese, cheese! Yes, there was as much of it as it was here the first time I came! One might spend some time reading on what sorts are a must to try but once you get into a supermarket, you forget all about it. I was certainly having some real French cheese that night and that was all that seemed to matter at the time! It was so good the tourist season hadn’t started yet and there weren’t too many people outside so we could linger in Place Massena right next to the Apollo Statue and even have a “moment” with this place, which meant taking a mental image of random architectural details and let your mind set off fireworks to celebrate being alive.

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The sea! Méditerranée! Que tu es belle! Is there anything to say at all… I remember enjoying that same view two years ago right here in this spot. As France had had unusually low temperatures for the season, we were likely left just to enjoy the view of it rather than swim… It was time for a picnic French style facing the belle Promenade des Anglais, the central pedestrian area that came to be admired by the Englishmen in the 19th century and hence the name. It was so classy to be here and finally eat my cheese, which my sister said smelled like a pair of socks. I wouldn’t say that was out of this world (and the expectations are always up high in a place like this) but it certainly added to the flavour and ambiance of the night at the seafront. I certainly knew I could spend hours on end just sitting here eating this cheese, sipping on my wine and most importantly, watching the sea and letting it work its magic on me… The breeze and the curls – it had all finally come together!

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As we were cherishing the moment making it a memory to last, we saw two black guys walking by. It is not that I’m racist or anything, but of course we do have some stereotypes and expectations of people based on their looks and it’s not just about the skin colour. I did notice that these guys seem to pay a lot of attention to females walking by. As I was reflecting all of that, I saw them suddenly turning back in order to approach us. At least they didn’t seem to pose any threat so I thought we could do with a quick chat. I wasn’t quite ready to have a full-blown conversation in French at that point as these guys didn’t really speak any English. That was going to be a lot of fun! I did manage a few simple phrases and with each single one I cared less and less about how many mistakes I was making and how horrible my French sounded. It isn’t just about showcasing the way you think “r” should sound like, you know. I told them about what I did and at least one of them could manage some English and that helped a bit. I don’t remember exactly how it came up but I mentioned to them that it was Alexander Pushkin’s, our famous writer and poet’s, birthday today. “Un célèbre écrivain”. Well, sometimes I felt they didn’t understand or pretended not to. I did understand the word “charmante” used to describe me. That was one very bizarre conversation but they seem to come your way when you least expect them to. We had to start leaving because we didn’t think we were not comfortable with carrying on with it. The guys weren’t happy about that (especially one of them). I heard one of them saying something to me as we were leaving but I turned back to smile and say “No” to whatever it was. Yes, you have to be prepared to make use of your language skills with whoever and wherever you have to.

The Promenade, the famous Hotel Negresco lit up against the tranquil Meditarrenean sky! We are in France! Nous sommes à France! Oui, oui, oui!!!

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We walked to Place Massena to see the famous art installation just along the tram lines featuring seven statues that are lit in random colours each representing an ongoing dialogue and interaction of cultures. I didn’t get to see them at night during our first visit and that was just magnifique to be sitting here in this square filling up with people and marveling at an Italian feel it got. It was certainly not what a similar Parisian experience would be like. And another type of treat was to follow as well. Humans! Yes, they are essential to making all these unforgettable memories! Here male beauty came in all sorts of forms and shapes. That was the central meeting point and you would see bunches of young men coming here probably to hang out together and they were so affectionate kissing on the cheek or hugging each other instead of saying a simple “Salut”. How endearing that was to watch them here in what I felt like calling “a piazza”. The vibe was so great! I did need to find a way to stare without making it too explicit. That was like a casual fashion show right here in front of the Apollo Statue in the heart of Nice! After a few bohemian and relaxed reflections, it was time to head back to the hotel as it was already past midnight and we had the conference to go to the next day. Yes, staying focused on it was getting increasingly difficult! As we were walking, we did notice another pair of male fashion gods strutting their superb style and had a laugh about what kind of a reaction they would produce at my all-female university department! All I knew was that they wouldn’t go unnoticed! As we were just to turn the corner, I saw a pair of very beautiful brown eyes of one of these young men looking at me and I heard their owner asking me if I spoke English. I still have no idea why I said what I did but I said “No!”. I wasn’t just used to such handsome men coming up to me like this and I thought he was asking if I spoke French and I felt I was done with it for the night after that random encounter with the black guys back at the seafront. Despite my “No!”, we carried on our conversation and the other guy even attempted to say something in Russian when we said where we were from. It turned out they were looking for a club, poor souls. I know it might not be something a lady would be encouraged to do but I thought I had to compliment how gorgeous they looked and then I went on to say something that would have us laughing long after that went like “Our men don’t look like that!”. I have no regret I said this! They certainly don’t! That’s just one thing that’s horribly wrong with them. In response, that guy with huge brown eyes said “Me? Really?” Those were my exact words when I found out we would be travelling here and little did I know I would be having a conversation like this! How on earth don’t they know? He did sound genuinely amazed by my compliment and that’s what they are for anyway! I think we left them both standing there speechless when we told them we were scientists attending a “conférence”. They might have felt part of some intriguing scientific experiment now because we didn’t seem to look like scientists to them. We do have our own expectations of people… We turned the corner leaving these two male fashion gods standing there contemplating what had just happened. Back at the hotel, I just lay on my bed staring pensively at the ceiling contemplating that as well and how so surprisingly easy it was to have our all this handsomeness as part of your evening. My sister proceeded with putting together our poster for the conference for the next day and could have probably scared that child next door again. People here don’t make it easy to think about science and instead leave you with a cheeky smile that won’t go away until your dizzy head finally hits the pillow. I’m sleeping here in Nice. Me?! Oui! Bonne nuit!

 

Varna (Final Day)

I wish it could be just another beautiful morning here in Varna but it certainly had some blues to it as it was our last morning here! Yes, it did come round incredibly fast! Yes, as ridiculous as it might sound in everyday drudge, I can miss mornings and I am lucky I have a few to in fact. I will miss leaving this bed, walking by the check-in desk knowing there is something there to make me smile – in the air, in a stranger’s face, in the sea breeze… It was all just fine and why did it have to end? I will miss even not enjoying the Bulgarian cheese at breakfast I guess…

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Of course this bright brisk morning was to start off with some swimming and can one ever get enough of that especially knowing that the next day it will be no more… I’d spent 23 years of my life not seeing it and why does it make it even harder to part with it now and carry on with my life without it… Well, because from the moment I laid my eyes on it, the sea was going to be in my life forever – in my dreams, in my mind’s eye. Sea and Varna – I was enjoying this combination as I was again astonished at how safe it felt to be here even for a poor swimmer like myself. The world looked so much more peaceful as we rented an umbrella on the beach as it was high time to become a bit more health-conscious now! I could sneak around from under that umbrella at least till September! Can I just hide here like a Russian bear and can September (the most horrible time of the year) never come at all… Probably, the answer is no but please, can the sea make September and the months to follow a bit more sunny and cheerful? Probably, the answer is yes! To swim, to look, to hear – what a massage to all the senses that keep me alive even though sometimes they all seem so dumb in September and the months to follow… I already know a few typical Bulgarian names as parents keep calling for their kids on the beach, I already know that a man screaming «Царевица, моля» says “Corn, please” and I already have some with me here, the one I bought from this lovely old man with very funny feet as they are the first thing we see from under his stall right across the road from where we had breakfast every morning. It is nice to connect but disconnecting is so hard… It is not goodbye yet and we will be back in the evening of course!

 

After lunch we decided to spend our last afternoon here catching up on what we might have missed during the last week as tourists do. Back at the hotel, I realized I will miss my own tanned reflection in this bathroom mirror and the way the maid used to fold our night gowns as lovely Bulgarian roses every morning so I took a photo!

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We walked by the Maritime Museum in the Sea Garden, which we realized we hadn’t explored too much. Our mission was first to visit The Roman Thermae of Varna which were a bit tricky to find. That was more backyard Varna for us as we were trying to figure out the narrow whirling streets that led us further away from the sea. Yes, of course Bulgaria isn’t a rich country after all…

The largest Roman baths in the Balkans looked like a very remote and intimate place to visit. They were constructed here in the 2nd century AD and of course it brought back a swirling combination of my memories of Rome and the image of Bulgaria I was having in my head. We were the only visitors here on this hot summer afternoon! Yes, connecting with the ancient history could be challenging but as someone who had been to Rome, I just took my time. We are in the biggest ancient building complex here in Bulgaria! And we are there all on our own! The beating down sun might actually assist in taking your mind all the way back when this place was used as it was originally designed to be. A piece of land being able to make us reflect and imagine beyond what we can actually see – that was a bit of Rome for us here in Varna.

The next stop was the Ethnographic Museum of Varna. I chose to visit it instead of the Archaeological Museum which seemed easier to find as I’d never been in this kind of museum before and I was hoping it would offer me an insight into our shared Slavic soul. It was in the building which was a bit hard to spot. It was built in the 2nd half of the 19th century which marked the period of the Bulgarian Renaissance (not to be confused with the one massive and mind-changing movement in Italy). We actually had a bit of trouble getting inside and it was the first time we had had to call a staff member to open the museum for us! It was a nice home-like Slavic experience and I really mean it! I felt like a hopeless intellectual visiting a museum on a hot summer afternoon at the Black Sea! The lady at the ticket office was kind to offer us some fact sheets and our tour began. I was really moved to see some typical scenes of Bulgarian life on display here. People wearing traditional costumes, sewing, fishing, ploughing, getting married – all the little detail depended on which part of the country they came from. It was something inherently coherent for us, i.e. very Slavic. I am not too fond of a rural lifestyle at all but there was something so reassuring and soothing to see it here. Are we really foreigners in Bulgaria… Well, we left still feeling a bit pensive and with a few lovely souvenirs to take back home! Slavic culture is marvellous indeed in its own very home-like way, like the Cyrillic alphabet that we had got accustomed to seeing on a holiday!

It was now time for a bit of a shopping spree as we headed off to the Grand Mall not far from the bus station. It was a nice experience but there was nothing too exciting about it except that we got some more typically Bulgarian things to take back home. What I did appreciate was a Bulgarian yogurt I realized I hadn’t tried yet. The world-famous bacteria lactobacillus delbrueckii subspecies bulgaricus was so tasty! My stomach agreed with that as well! The taste of Bulgaria…

It was now time for a proper goodbye swim as the evening was settling in. Gasping for air on a hot day, filling one’s stomach with food after a period of starvation, counting down minutes like a prisoner visited by a loved one, lovers sharing another goodbye kiss after another… That was how I felt towards the sea that evening. I was touching, splashing it with my hands to give them more memory of how it feels till I am lucky enough to feel it again. No, it will never be enough! Opening our drinks on a fence, watching cute dogs being walked and people being so casually happy… A perfect seaside evening that I will pray will have again – happiness is so simple and fine here in Bulgaria!

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It was time for a goodbye night-time meal that we were going to have at our favourite Sea Terrace Restaurant and considered it pure luck that we had managed to find a perfect spot to get a perfect view of the sea at night (you can’t see it properly except the lights reflecting off its peaceful surface but you are safe in the knowledge that it is here and so is your happiness of being here as well). It couldn’t get more perfect than that till we were told by a waiter that they were experiencing a bit of a problem in the kitchen and thus would not be serving any more that night. No! We were really upset that wouldn’t be as perfect as we had pictured it would be… Right, we had to opt for our second most favourite place to enjoy our meal. It was all great anyway and so was the fish and the wine (but not as tasty as the ones we could have had back up at the terrace). More things for us to come back for… We certainly didn’t want the night to end and decided to get our lovely view of the sea at a French restaurant at a cup of steaming coffee and a cheese plate. Cheese and the sea – is there too much happiness? Now let’s add a bit of an aristocratic feel to a Bulgarian summer night!

An exaggerated feeling of self and happiness as we enjoy our last night-time promenade – the lit fountain in the park, people playing dominos, children playing. That was going to be my part of Bulgaria… As well as that armchair-shaped stone structure at the exit from the Sea Garden where I remember sitting knowing that was something to remember thinking about – Bulgaria, summertime and the sea… More and more people-watching till there finally comes time to withdraw and start thinking of getting back on the road back to normal… Back at the hotel, as I was waiting for my sister while my sister was taking a bath, I switched on some local radio and found myself totally bewitched by some tunes that were playing one by one as if a part of some enigmatic mantra with a very sensual Turkish flavour. There was an overdose of some inexplicable magic coming into my ears that night, a sweet Oriental romance. Was that the sentimentalism of my last night or images so badly underrated Bulgarian men that I knew I had to part with among other things… That was one very unexpected taste of the Bulgarian delight that sent unwordly swirls of sensations and thoughts into my last sleep here…

At about 6 a.m. next morning we took a taxi and said goodbye to Varna and the sea which wasn’t seen from here. You are there on the right and here I am saying goodbye… I hope I will see you again… That was the end of our week in the country we never knew we would get to visit and probably never considered foreign enough to visit. Were we Slavic siblings, rivals or just worlds apart? Ironically, as with lots of things that might take a lifetime of thought and experience to comprehend, it is a combination of everything. Of course for me Bulgaria is now more than Kirkorov’s birthplace or a former Soviet Republic that is still struggling to get integrated into the European community… It’s rather something more personal like my first impressions of Varna that changed into something more positive and upbeat and of course and, me being me, it is also the smell of a rose I can feel as a I use my beauty products every night. All I know is that when times get tough, Bulgaria is there to enjoy and try to figure out. You can never come back none the wiser… Yes, you become more personally aware of why financial meltdown gets people out of here as well and it’s really a shame that Bulgaria seems to find itself at a crossroads again but I know for one thing that now that I feel more involved, I will hope that whatever way it goes is a prosperous one. Slavic people can fight back, that’s our path and destiny after all. I would sure come back for a more acute taste of our complex Slavic identity, my language, my alphabet and so much more… and the sea of course! Благодаря ти, България!

 

Golden Sands (Златни-Пясыци) (Day 6)

We were going to spend our sixth day here in Bulgaria on another day trip. This time we were bound for the famous Golden Sands resort. I think everyone with a clear memory of the Soviet era might have an idea of this place being rather glamorous and designed for the privileged few. Since this resort was opened in 1957, it has welcomed lots of VIPs from the former Soviet Union indeed. Even though we didn’t opt to spend our entire holiday here as we would imagine the place would be too dull and touristy for us looking for a more authentic flavour, as people born in the Soviet Union (we had our foreign passports to confirm that), we were curious to see what it was all about and what was really the colour of the sand?

It took us a while to figure out how to get there. The Golden Sands were about 20 km from Varna. Here you have a very comfortable and value-deal option of catching a taxi as it can be just ridiculously cheap! I think we just couldn’t believe getting a taxi could be that cheap so we decided to catch a regular bus instead. It was a bit longer and sweatier ride than we had expected and the views were sometimes dull as we were driving through some very local neighbourhoods. Bulgaria is indeed a country with a distinct rural taste. But they have the sea, which we got very quick glimpses of on our way. As we arrived in the Golden Sands, we didn’t notice anything particularly stunning or fascinating about the resort, but just a deserted small green area. Our first and primary stop here was the Attraction Park “Aquapolis”, one of the largest aquaparks in Eastern Europe! I was really craving to embrace a kid in me and get a full-blown experience of being in a place like that for the first time in my life! The place originally seemed a bit crowded and my sister wasn’t particularly excited to get inside. As with everything concerning travelling, I was praying it would all turn out fine in the end! Before being admitted inside, we were to go through the security check, then get the keys to our locker where we would leave our stuff. As I said, there’s nothing appealing about this, but it just had to be done. As we got it all out of the way and I was struggling to ensure my sister it would be totally fun, I saw annoying lots of children around and that had me wondering if the aquapark was the best option at all or would I have been better off not exploring my childish self in this rather adventurous way? People around looked as if they were really having a good time laughing and letting themselves go as they were using different kinds of facilities available here.

We decided we would take it one thing at a time and started off with the Black hole. As with anything physical, I was feeling a bit insecure as I was frightened I might come across as completely awkward and would not make the best of this beautiful sunny afternoon here right across the road from the Black Sea. But the minute I descended into this pitch-black hole swirled by splashes of water, I let go of all my inhibitions. For an instant, I thought I might have taken a wrong turn and might end up somewhere in the Bulgarian water pipes – I literally had to gasp for breath and getting back out and seeing the daylight I felt I’d just been on one immense adventure confronted both by fear and curiousity! My first thought was how my sister had handled this same black hole as she could get a bit claustrophobic at times. To my astonishment, she was perfectly fine and looked like she really loved it! As with any drug, we found ourselves yearning to go at it again and we did and this time it was a pure adrenaline rush and there seemed a bit more air for my lungs to breathe with as I was squeezing through this tight watery space full of curves! We had to get a little break on our lounge – now we knew how people doing extreme sports getting their kick out of this whole thing, it really gets you hooked! We thought it was too early to move on to more extreme and challenging entertainments that we watched others having a blast with. It was explicably funny for us to listen to a group of Ukrainians next to us and no, it didn’t have to do with current political disputes but purely the language. As people born quite near the Ukrainian border, we grew up listening to a dialect, which was a combination of Russian and Ukrainian and hearing only the second part of this bizarre linguistic craft was a bit hilarious. Again, no offense and no politics!

We took our rings further to experience two river torrents (Wild River and Niagara). Descending the first one, I thought I was actually falling off a cliff right into the pool! There is something primeval and animalistic about this human-made experience! Just me, my fear and water! Wow! The second river torrent was like a walk in the park, very slow and relaxing. I had to constantly check on my sister to make sure she was having a nice time and she did! There seemed to be a bit fewer kids around now and it was so good! We could also swim in the large pool all along the perimeter of the park and even though we felt incredibly dumb trying not to get stuck in our rings and bring minimum disruption to the movement of people around, we were really into it! Both kids and adults in us were exhilarated! Everything around us was nice, modern and clean! Well done, Bulgaria! I felt all of this had just to be part of our first ever seaside holiday as we were just basking in the sun in the pool that was getting deeper and deeper as you went further! As neither of us could swim, we had to get back to where we knew it would be perfectly safe to be. I must have got a massive skin burn by now but I didn’t care! It all seemed part of the fun!

At this point we thought we had mustered our courage to have a go at a more extreme Slalom track where we would have to descend into water at an increasing speed! We saw different reactions of people to it but one thing we thought we knew was that it would be safe even though challenging of course! We had to practise the position we would be instructed to take as we got ready to descend down the track. It was (a tiny bit) scary as I looked down at the whole park from up the track which I think was about 10 meters long! Initially it was fine as I was slowly descending down the track with my arms and legs spread but about halfway through I felt I was going down at a 900 angle and I thought I’d never felt so out of control in my entire life! Everything just flashed before my eyes – the Black Sea at a distance, the people down there (probably watching me and other three people in the adjoining tracks and making judgments of my physical vigour)! With a sudden thump, I was thrown back into the pool! What a bumpy and adrenaline-intensive ride! Was my sister OK? Yes, she had just had as much fun as me! What is it about this feeling of being out of control and not being able to back out once you’ve decided you were up for this? We instantly decided we would want to do it all over again and we did! As equally out of control as I was, I felt I could at least be in control of how I was feeling going down and descending back into water! We did it! Twice! Feeling totally fearless, we decided to have another ride in the black hole this time on the same ring together and it was a perfect blast as we were going through all the curves again screaming at the top of our lungs getting a bunch of fellow Russians behind us totally intimidated! They must have loved it as well as their comments suggested! I wasn’t courageous enough though to face my fear and try the famous Kamikadze that has one descending into water off the astounding 18 meters! Looking back, I wish I had because otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here regretting missing out on what would certainly be a huge adrenaline rush that would have my blood pumping savingly and primevaly through my veins. Well, probably some other time I will be ready to let my life slip out of control for what might seem an eternity just to find myself thrust back into where we all ultimately belong – water!

As we wanted some time on the beach as well, we left the aquapark feeling complete and content to have tried this! We were a bunch of adrenaline-seekers!

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And here it was – the Sea again! It looks pretty much the same here in the Golden Sands but the panorama is a bit different as you can see the entire seafront lined up with rows of diverse hotels and apartment blocks.

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It took us a while to figure out where the main street was as what we saw around us was more like a deserted area rather than a popular sea resort. We were hungry at that point and didn’t walk around for too long before we chose somewhere to have a meal. There was plenty of choice of course and as this area was a bit out of the way of the sea, it was reasonably priced contrary to what we had expected here. Now we could see scores of visitors dressed in swimwear languishly basking and walking. We were happy we didn’t get much of that back in Varna. The waiter spoke good Russian and wondered if Bulgaria really seemed like a foreign country to us. What I noticed was no hostility at all towards Russians here. It felt it was more about what we shared rather than what drifted us apart. Yes, there is no denying we might have been feeling less of foreigners here than groups of Germans at the tables next to us. There was an onion soup, an immense portion of small fish (still nothing can beat that one we had in the Sea Terrace Restaurant in Varna) and a bottled cocktail we don’t get back home which was just spot-on on that saultry late afternoon. You just can’t care much about calories here and fortunately, the price tag won’t prevent you from that! After a very substantial meal and people-watching, we got down to the beach. Yes, there was a lot of going on at the seafront cafes filled with a more international crowd mainly made up of students. Some Germans were singing their hearts away to the national anthem. The vibe was very upbeat – just like I had been imagining. We did find a spot on the beach (we’d never had to worry about that in Varna). Yes, now the sand – I don’t know whether it was my imagination that coloured it a subtle shade of gold for me or there was some rationale to this purely romantic name that of course was meant to boost visitors’ numbers. The sea felt a bit warmer and I knew I would stay in there because I might get chilly if I got in and out as it was already a late afternoon. It is Bulgaria – a lot of fancy hotels with lots of swimwear drying in the balconies, lounges lining up the coast and the replica of the Eiffel Tower in the distance which is a seafront café, someone flying a kite, skydiving… I don’t think I would have loved to spend my entire holiday here but it just had to be seen and experienced. We made our way back to the bus stop about two hours later. There was a never-ending line of stalls selling pretty much everything and yes, there seemed to be nothing more to the Golden Sands than that. We decided to get stocked up on some fruit to eat back in Varna because they looked just amazing and that would be the first time we could try watermelons that summer! And of course a few bottles of that cocktail! It was a while until our bus arrived and before it did, we had to be persistent with a taxi-driver who was really pushy trying to offer us a ride back to Varna in combination of English and Russian. About and hour later we got back to Varna after seeing some more dull landscapes which differed from a fancier seafront property. I was thinking Bulgaria was doing fine trying to make a living of what the nature had to offer.

Back at the hotel, we did help ourselves to what we had got in the Golden Sands and that first try of a watermelon was nice! Now it was time to get dressed up for a night-time promenade – it feels amazing to get dressed up for something other than work and nurture my feminine side that makes it so appealing to see and to be seen (against the backdrop of the sea). Slivnitsa Street and the whole area around it was buzzing as the night approached. I think at this point it became so familiar and came alive with the memories already made and cherished that I hated to think the next night would be our last one here… We decided to check out a fish restaurant overlooking the sea that we were planning on visiting. There was some understanding with serving the food as only about forty minutes later did my sister find out from the apologetic waiter that her meal “isn’t good” so she would have to order something else. Well, it was nice we could laugh about it and fellow Russians kept the vibe alive singing all very familiar songs at a karaoke bar across the road. There was also a certain bohemian feel to the evening as I was watching a group of people at the next table. It is a very vivid and diverse combination of everybody and everything that makes up our travel memories… There was more people-watching right across the loud music clubs and bars that I admit I felt like joining for a while (I was still not too old I guess but probably old enough to think it was a part of me that wanted to nurture my adolescent self). We saw a crowd queuing up to get into a club and it was truly a beauty show as the girls there were so elegantly and alluringly dressed (something for us to learn!) At a disco bar we would walk by every night we saw a group of beautiful couples dancing and it was another feeling and it was incredibly romantic to watch them speak a very enigmatic language of dance! It’s one language I will never learn to speak but would it be too sappy and romantic if I say that sometimes what you would dismiss as overly romantic and cinematographic could be real right in front of your eyes… When a movement can speak volumes… Right across the road I saw a dance of a slightly different nature as there was a young black guy dressed immaculately and genuinely smiling as he was just having fun to some club music playing. I will never forget his wonderful smile, a mint suit and dance – for me it epitomized the feeling of being at a sea resort on a lovely summer night and feeling and being young! We would often remember that guy and he had his lesson to teach us that night as well… More people-watching to wrap up the night, coffee on a bench overlooking the hotel watching a girl desperately trying to get all the men walking by (there did seem only men walking by) to check out a bar that was just next to our hotel. Poor Bulgarian men, there are just too many of them… It wasn’t a good night for two guys looking absolutely horrified as they exited the bar a little while later but it was certainly for us! Good night and no goodbyes yet!

Балчик (Balchik)

Our fifth morning in Varna went just fine. We felt like at that point of our trip we wanted to explore a bit outside the city and decided we would check out Balchik (Балчик), which is about 50 km North of Varna, just close to the Romanian border. What is interesting about this particular place is that there is the Residence of Queen Mary of Edinburgh, the wife of the Romanian King Ferdinard I, and surrounding it there is a very large botanical garden. We were curious to see what it was about the views there that fascinated those royals so much. Originally we were planning to go there with a tour agency and actually found this agency in the familiar Boris I Boulevard but after a few considerations decided we could tour this town on our own using the public transport. I wish we had decided to earlier in the day so that we would have had more time to spend in Balchik. Getting to Varna’s bus station (Автогара) wasn’t difficult and of course the buses they use have a certain Soviet feel to them even though they are cleaner and a bit more modern. There was nothing impressive about the bus station building but nor was there anything threatening or merely offputting unlike back home. We got our tickets fast and about 15 minutes later were on the bus to Balchik. It is really nice to be able to have these routine experiences in a new country. I can’t say our ride was particularly scenic because I noticed that a lot of houses on our way needed some renovation and actually it was the Black Sea that somehow helped some money coming in because quite a few people invest in property here. Whenever I got a glimpse of the Black Sea, I got really excited! I never lost touch of where I was! Overall the whole relief of this part of the country, which I assumed would be more mountainous, in fact really resembled the one back home. We got a view of the famous Albena and St.Elena and Konstantin resorts which are a little way off Varna and we knew all along this kind of places wouldn’t be good for us as there wouldn’t be much to do there. They didn’t look particularly exciting from what we’d seen anyway.

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About an hour later we found ourselves in Balchik that came across as a very queit little place. We seemed like the only tourists here! We checked out the bus schedule and realized we only had a few hours here till the last bus back to Varna departed. We checked out the souvenir shop (it’s a must for me to get something to take back home from wherever I travel). We found out that the Palace is a 30-minute walk and we weren’t really excited about that on that hot afternoon. The area wasn’t much marked but we found our way around.

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The sea, the sea! It was all around! I knew that would be the reason enough for me to love this place! In Varna you need to walk to the beach to see the sea but here it’s just everywhere, all the life gravitates around the sea! It felt as if I was walking along the Black Sea which was flirting with me dizzying glittering against the clear blue sky.

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Standing on a pier here I felt I was just in the middle of the pure grey blue water (does it even really have one?) and no, I didn’t feel like jumping like those forty Bulgarian girls did off the Kaliakra Cape during the Ottoman rule because they were desperate not to give in to the Turks (well, you get all kinds of influences here). I was sorry we wouldn’t have time to get there and enjoy a spectacular view from this legendary place. It might give us something to come back for some day though… It was a really beautiful and scenic walk with the Black Sea on the left and snow-white hills of Balchik on the right!

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Of course I took advantage of the view and posed for some photos! The sea does look good on me and scientists argue that we all tend to look a bit more alluring when we are around something/someone we are attracted to! Just waves and waves of happy vibes were everywhere in the air!

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There weren’t crowds of people around and as we kept walking, I felt a bit jealous of people who owned all this property lining up the coast. Beautiful housing and beautiful cars is something I should probably be advised against looking at ever because as I am perfectly aware I might well never have either of these, they make me feel slightly uneasy and chagrined… And of course we could see the Palace in the distance – so here we were! Well, it didn’t look imposing at all, just a “quiet nest” as it is sometimes referred to but I wouldn’t certainly fail to see the appeal of living up there. On our way here we were cordially invited by some restaurant owners to come have late lunch at their place because, well, here it is the same way there and back!

 

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We got tickets to see the rose garden of the palace and its interior. Well, now it came again – the floral symbol of Bulgaria! You could see a never-ending line of roses of various colours here – yes, and they were there overlooking the sea! The Balchik Botanical Garden can even be rivalled by one in Monaco! It was really spectacular and somewhat “girly” to tour this place! Smell and touch, smell and touch! It felt that lots of people all over Bulgaria have contributed to keeping this place running and blooming so gracefully and delicately. Every rose was marked with a sign but of course I remembered none of the names. Red ones were the most fabulous for me (I was definitely turning into a red lover here). I think one can spend the entire day in this floral paradise… Smelling and touching!

But we didn’t have too much time to spend here before the last bus back to Varna was due to arrive so we went straight to the Palace. There was nothing extraordinary inside it except for the view of the Black Sea through one of the little windows. The last stop was The Royal Wine Cellar. The famous “Snow Wine” is produced here. Grapes used for producing this wine are only harvested in early winter when the first snow comes and hence the name. They also produced one of fig and raspberry. We were generously offered to try all three by a very friendly Russian-speaking owner. I still feel the sensation on my lips after I’d had a bit of The Snow Wine. It felt so amazing on my lips and in my mouth, as if it was the wine I’d been waiting all my life to try! The wines we’d had here so far were mostly dry and that wasn’t totally to my taste but that one was just meant to be tried! What a beautiful taste and feeling! Take life easily and slowly and sip on a beautiful wine… I wish my idea of happiness was just that in my everyday life that I’d completely left behind. Of course I couldn’t resist getting all three of these wines to take back home! Just when things don’t feel right, they would help me to regain my feeling of happiness!

 

All we had time for is a meal before we went back to our “home” 50 km away. It was a very lush meal at a restaurant overlooking the sea where the waiter was ready to show off his skills in a number of languages including Romanian (yes, we were not far from it after all). Another helping of tarator (summer soup), lovely fish and a tiramisu – life is certainly beautiful even if you weren’t born into royalty! A walk back to the bus station seemed quicker and well, it was one very quiet and deserted bus station that brought us back to the 1990s!

We seemed the only people here and for a while we had trouble finding the ticket office! We did find the lady who was working there and she spoke some Russian, which was nice. It was interesting that a town with a palace could have a Soviet-nostalgia bus station! As we were sitting there waiting for our bus, we heard a tune by a famous patriotic Russian band “Lyube” playing on this lady’s phone and that set us off laughing but we had to keep our feelings in check! Do Bulgarians have a fondness of the Russian patriotic songs? It felt as if we heard the subtle noise of rye here in the Black Sea all of a sudden… As I got my last glimpse of a typical Balchik backyard right across the road from the station, I thought of Greece, which was also not infinitely far away… About an hour later we got back to the centre of Varna whose outskirts did look a bit intimidating again and had to remind ourselves that we have the sea here! We had to use the public transport to get to our hotel and had a little misunderstanding while paying the fare and that got my sister grumpy again. Well, I guess that’s a part of travelling and learning, even here in a Slavic country, with the Cyrillic alphabet…

We spent the evening swimming a bit, walking more along the central Varna, watching some very talented street performers and trying a new restaurant. It was just wonderful and very crowded! I knew I shouldn’t probably have been enjoying some fish and wine from New Zealand (it couldn’t compare with the one I’d just had in Balchik) at around midnight but that was what we deserved and felt like doing – let’s just live and take life slowly! Cheers to life and the Black Sea!