Nice. Jour 5

Bonjour! Our last quite regular morning in Nice started with some decisions to make on what to do that day. We could go to the neighbouring Monaco or spend the entire day exploring more of Nice. That was the opening day of the European Football Championship here in France and we thought it might get chaotic with traffic and we’d already been in the fairytale-like Monaco so we opted for a day here in Nice. Refraining to see the royal splendour of Monaco – just like that…

Place Massena had already got decorated for today and looked even more beautiful on that perfect sunny morning. I had another cheeky wet walk through the cascades in Le Jardin Albert-I seeing more locals casually strolling or reading newspapers. A beautiful morning in the South of France! We felt instantly part of it as we went to the Apollo fountain and realized that the world-famous Cours Saleya market we saw a sign for was just around the corner. In 1897 the first wholesale flower market in the world was opened here. Before we checked it out, we dropped in one of the shops along the coast selling some small gifts and perfume. Our noses were in need of a souvenir de Nice as well as our vision and mind as they nurture each other collaboratively.

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After we’d dropped off our purchases whose enticing smells did a great job inflaming our sensations back at the hotel, it was time to see the market and breathe the smell of Nice more profoundly. Yes, there’s a post-office just at the entrance and I have a few cards to post! It was very interesting to do something locals would do and try my limited French that certainly gave me away but it wasn’t meant not to. The market itself was a life-size landscape blooming with overwhelmingly gaudy colours of flowers of all sorts. I wish I could get some to give Mum who is hugely fond of any sort or shape of floral elegance. I’d rather just admire them than make an effort planting them. The air was infiltrated with the smell of lavender that put a very romantically scented touch on the pile of my memories to inspire me to decorate my room in the Provence style.

That felt more like a morning of a character of some medieval novel going through their routine grocery shopping. Markets are immense parts of a local culture. Food on sale was plentiful as well. Apricots, apples, cheeses… I couldn’t resist trying a local speciality that has to be eaten here in Cours Saleya. That was typical street food of Nice called Socca – a hot pancake seasoned with paper baked on coals. The one I got was huge but my sister wasn’t willing to try it as well so I had it all to myself! It was very substantial as street food is meant to be! Being here made me wish I could once step out of my house, get myself to this market, buy some fresh ingredients from one of these people I would definitely know by now and cook something very nice back home. We love to dream while travelling! These Provencial dreams infiltrate our mind just as lavender does our senses!

We decided to get back to explore the largest Orthodox Church outside Russia that was here in Nice away from the city centre. For that we had to go back to the Avenue Jean Médecin and walk to the railway station (Gare de Nice-Ville). We stayed for one night in this area on our first time here. Of course this part of the city wasn’t too fancy and there were some suspicious-looking people walking by. It was a bit tricky to find this area and we could see more apartment buildings and obviously non-French people here. There were signs for the church but it wasn’t in our view. The afternoon was getting very hot but we kept walking this less attractive part of Nice. Eventually we did find what is actually now part of our country’s property and it looked so much like Russia. I knew I would be there the following day and wasn’t keen on that but I wanted to experience what it would be like to see it here. The Russian nobility had a good taste for holiday destinations. It was easy to be a patriot from here I guess.

There was a monument to Tsar Nicholas II and some more busts. It felt a bit cynical to be here for a Russian. We didn’t feel like entering the church as we would expect we would find a lot of fellow Russians there and might get some looks from them. This is what I find very oppressing about the Orthodox religion.

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We just basked in the sun instead and walked back to Promenade des Anglais. We didn’t want any more homeland to this afternoon in Nice. We stopped by for another rest in a park with huge palm trees where my sister didn’t feel like staying long due to a group of homeless people nearby. Well, we were getting spoiled as back home we wouldn’t even take any notice of these people who weren’t being disorderly. Just around the corner we came across another reminder of Russia that was a grocery shop with a matreshka at the entrance. Our people are notorious for being bad at adapting to their foreign surroundings…

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It was time for lunch. We went a bit extravagant and chose a place overlooking the Mediterranean. I ordered some gnocchi (dumplings) that I had been happy to try in Rome. We found a bottle of wine at the astounding 600 euros on the menu! The wine we were having that afternoon was a whole lot cheaper! It was a very pleasurable afternoon we spent watching people coming and going before it was about to get more chaotic in the evening. My sister took advantage of free bread they offer here and asked for a few helpings. It was quite challenging to catch the waiter’s eye (whom she found particularly handsome and I agreed) and we wondered if there had been anyone trying to leave without paying their bill as it was so easy to get lost just into the next corner. Was that something that crossed only Russian minds…?

Afterwards we sat a while at the coast and I was sad this time tomorrow I would be back home and there would be no more imposing view of the Hotel Negresco dominating our vision. We sat pensively playing with stones and throwing them into the sea as we watched a very caring father taking his older son (a future male beauty) for a swim. It wasn’t hot enough for that, but the boy didn’t mind and neither did he say anything when his father left him all alone to obviously take the younger boy to use the bathroom. We had to discreetly take a picture of this cute young man. A lot of these handsome men seem to make excellent fathers! We watched some more kids playing in the playgrounds put up to celebrate the start of the Football Championship and we had no doubt that the only loud child would be Russian and he was! They might need these handsome fathers that a lot of them sadly don’t have… As we kept walking, we came across our Belgian colleague with a suitcase in his hand and he instantly recognized us. He would break a lot of hearts back in Russia…

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We went back to the hotel for a bit to refresh as the streets were getting filled. In the elevator we came across another male beauty I wish I had been far enough to take a photo but he was just too close in this tiny isolated space. It’s a shame I couldn’t broadcast this image to people back home – they would be very jealous! They would be anyway if they knew how much handsomeness I had been exposed to throughout the course of my stay here in Nice. I’m very skeptical of people saying that looks don’t matter that much. In Russia it sounds more like a consolation as one might end up single forever (which is deemed as a major failure in our country) if they make this a prominent criterion in choosing a partner. But what is wrong in wanting beauty in your life – just seeing a smile on a handsome face is enough to light up the soul with that flirty life-boosting spark! Humans crave and thus gravitate to beauty in all of its shapes and forms. I guess girls like myself who have very handsome fathers and their romantic and sensitive minds from them tend to romanticize male beauty. So excusez-moi if there have been too many accounts of niçoise males on this trip. This is one thing I’ll always be on the lookout for even when I’m old and grey as those ladies I saw at the restaurant the day before (as long as my eyes can see and my soul get inflamed).

As we got back to the promenade area, we thought it was a perfect time to climb the Castle Hill (Colline de Chateau) and the adjoining Castle Park (Parc du Chateau) and get a closeup of postcard views of Nice showing the Bay of Angels (La Baie des Anges). That was a rather sweaty walk up but we kept stopping to get different perspectives on the view and each time what we saw was purely splendid! There is no more castle here as it was destroyed in 1705 as ordered by Louis XVI. The view I got took my breath away and stole a huge segment of my memory to be stored there forever! Wow! We were about to take a picture of us here when we saw a man rushing towards us. We thought something was wrong but he turned out to be eager to take a picture of us and thought we were English!

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As we went down, we saw French people waving national flags and getting ready for the game. We decided we would stay in the beach and hear the reactions from there enjoying our pique-nique of fruit and wine. There were so many airplanes in the sky that evening and I was standing with my feet in the water watching one gliding by – romantique! France won that night and we did get to watch the final minutes of the game on a large screen in Place Massena and I got joined by a French man providing very emotional comments and the only thing I understood was a French swear word and something we would call “core vocabulary”.

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As I was finishing on my sister’s sandwich, I got a few looks from people in a festive crowd and admired watching a group of young men admiring young girls walking by – that’s what it was originally supposed to be and all got twisted in the process. I was high-fived by a guy in the crowd and it was fun! No one got disorderly and the police presence was very significant. I couldn’t get enough of our final night here. I’d got used to hanging out in this squire every night sipping on my coffee and people-watching breathing this revitalizing Mediterranean air… I congratulated the hotel receptionist and his handsome friend on their win! It’s amazing how sport brings people together. I miss you already, Nice! Bonne nuit!

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My capital

The way to the dream wasn’t going to be a short one… First we needed to take a train to Moscow which is about 500km away from Voronezh. In the capital we would meet our travelling guide and the rest of the tourists who would join us on our journey. We would then set on a train trip from Moscow to the city of Brest, Belarus which would take us about 14 hours. This is where our coach trip would get underway. If all went as planned, then we would cross the Belarus-Poland border and… would actually be in the dream (i.e. in Europe)…

Actually for me the trip started as we got on a train to Moscow… This was when it finally dawned on me that that was it, there was no way back and what seemed an alluring dream, then a beautiful plan was now my reality… It felt really scary to get on the road, to feel the way travellers do, experience life in the way they do… As I was looking at my city through the windows of the train, I was wondering whether I would be ever coming back again… It wasn’t that I felt homesick before I actually left but the thought of going on such an extensive trip for the first time ever was incredibly overwhelming… Maybe in moments like these you really need to be secure in the knowledge that there is a place where you belong and you would definetely be back whatever trips and journeys life takes you on… Anyway, firsts always feel scary and cause one to think in quirky ways…

I always feel uncomfortable and quirky on trains (which might effect my thinking as well)… I was on a sleeping car only a couple of times and I knew this could well be my least favourite part of the trip… I just hate to be on a sleeper with a bunch of other people… It feels much like an invasion of privacy (in Russia we don’t make much of it, though) with all these people going about their daily routine in the space of a small sleeping car… It might look like the Big Brother Show or something… It’s just something I can’t explain because even though I’m not used to having a lot of space to myself in my day-to-day life, being on a train and sharing this space with other people makes me sick… More like emotionally sick with me having to watch these people and them watching me… It just makes you wonder how fate works bringing together all these different people travelling for their own different reasons… It feels like so many lives and fates are cluttered here… Were we all really meant to be at the same time in the same place like that?

So our trip officially started as the train set in motion… The only thing I like about trains is to hear the sound of a train’s wheels touching the rails… This rumbling sound alone is so serene and calm and so Russian to me… (I know it should be pretty much the same in the rest of the world)… So here we were listening to this sound and basically doing nothing apart from playing cards (this is what Russians do if we have some time to kill time on a train…). I was getting my head around how on earth I was going to sleep on this terrible, revoltingly pristine lining on this bunk bed a countless number of people had laid in… On the plus side, I knew I was this one trip away from coming back to Moscow… It’s been a long long time and I was eager to experience my capital again… I was on a brief visit there about twelve years which was actually the only trip I had been on… So coming back to Moscow was like revisiting this time (not that I miss it but I just enjoy letting my brain take me down a memory lane which is always an interesting and in a way self-indulging experience) and see how the city had changed or I had changed in the way I see it… Lying on a bunk bed felt like lying under the train itself with the wheels beating in my temple… I was tossing and turning and let my imagination take me far far away, to all these places where a dream becomes a reality, where I see, feel, hear in a new way… I was wondering where exactly we were as the train took us further and further away… I need to remind myself that I was still in Russia and my actual trip hadn’t started yet… But our country is so big and diverse that travelling from its one end to the other would be a journey in itself and who knows – it might even teach one to see, hear, feel differently… I might someday find that out but only after I get this dream of mine come true. I was certain I would change in the process…

As a matter of fact, a trip to Moscow might feel as a trip abroad for some. It’s a fact that a capital and all its grandeur and magnificence don’t really sum up the country… Neither does Moscow sum up Russia… If Moscow is the heart of Russia, it means that it has so much more different kinds of blood pumping through it thus making it work with twice as much effort… This is how I see this difference between Moscow and the rest of Russia… It’s like Russia on an exaggerated scale blended with glamour, prosperity and pursue for the dream of prosperity for thousands of people coming here daily… I know it’s wrong to begrudge Moscovites their right to take this place for granted because it makes us seem truly provincial and makes them treat us in a patronizing way but it’s something that we can’t help really…

This is how I felt as I got off the train after a sleepless night and started taking in the capital and listening to the big heart of Russia beating with twice as much effort. I was ready to experience new things and even my bag that was heavy as much as I tried to empty it of all the things that I decided I could do without as I was packing back home did not stop me from feeling all these emotions… To my disappointment, things seemed the same as I left them back at home – people, streets, even the overcast sky seemed to follow us all the way from Voronezh…

I was terrified about the trip on the Metro (underground or tube depending on where you are in the world). We don’t have it here in Voronezh and the thought of travelling from home to work which seems so habitual to many people in the world was overwhelming…. But it wasn’t that bad after all and I even managed to do some people watching and wondered whether they could say that we were not locals or not and whether I could guess which of them were locals…. It was again fate bringing people from different background and sometimes places together in the same space… The Metro proved to be a quick and comfortable (something we are not used to here) way of travelling which took us to the centre of the big heart of Russia… I felt like the grandeur and beauty of Russia’s large heritage was within an easy reach as we were approaching the building of the Bolshoy theatre and seeing to the monument to Karl Marx on the way (which I remembered seeing in a travel guide book when I was small).

 

It felt like some opera music was about to play with people in fancy clothes and big smiles appearing from everywhere to get swept away by the power of art… I wanted to take a mental picture of everything – fountains, people, the vibe of the early morning capital.

I felt my heart trembling as I saw a glimpse of the Red Square from far away. This is sure the place not to be missed if you are in Moscow. It’s like travelling to London without seeing the Big Ben. The hotel where top celebrities stay at, the building of the Duma – everything felt surreal… The highlight of the trip was definitely the Red Square. The word “Red” means “beautiful” in old Russian. I virtually had to hold my breath before actually stepping in on the Square… It was like getting ready to take a dip into the ocean of emotions… Standing there I could actually feel the sound of blood pumping through the heart of Russia… It’s the image of Russia that we are grown up… It’s not the Russia that we see through our windows, it’s the Russia as an entity, as something massive both politically and geographically. It’s the place we remember from historical footages where so many crucial decisions were announced to the whole country listening in…

And, of course, it is the place for Victory Day parades with soldiers rumbling across Red Square bringing together people with a living memory of the devastating war and the emotions of people like myself who were lucky enough to be spared the sufferings of the time. There was so much history there that it made me want to cry… As I was walking down the square, I felt like it was a safe place to feel proud to be Russian and embrace a Russian in me. I felt privileged to be standing there and to be a sort of a memory card connected to all the variety of the feelings ranging from joy to sorrow felt here, all the events taking place here. It was a vague feeling but intense enough to make me emotional and say to my sister and friend who didn’t seem to be as impressed as me “Look around you!”. I felt incredibly proud to see all those people from around the world (especially from Asia) taking a guided tour of the square. I couldn’t believe that all these people came such a long way to experience the capital. It was incredible to look at their faces, hear them speak other languages. I knew I would be like one of those tourists the next day if (fingers crossed) I arrive safely in Poland. I had a feeling that here (in what I had to remember what was my own country) my first international got to a good start. It felt like Russia on the grandeur scale with me suffocating with history and seeing Russia the way people in the rest of the world see it. It was an iconic image of Russia. It was like a mirage to me which I felt physically. I wanted to come up to these foreigners and say “Love or hate it, this is Russia. We are ready to share it with you!”. I really felt like sharing just the way I’m sharing my feelings now…

I remember throwing a coin near the monument to Zhukov when I was to Moscow twelve years ago to come here again… And I did… I remember taking pictures of these places on our old photo camera which is now history… A lot has changed in the city itself or it’s rather me and my perception of the world around that changed…

I have one more thing to remind me of Moscow… It’s my Cheburashka T-shirt. Cheburashka is a character in a very popular Soviet cartoon. I have several Cheburashka toys at home as well. Cheburashka always brings out a child in me. And it was how I felt in Moscow, like a child who was so excited to see, feel, hear things…

It was an emotional day in Moscow and I think that it really got me ready for what would be my first trip abroad… It made my feelings more acute, enhanced my vision (the contact lenses were on of course). I was longing for more and said goodbye to Moscow only to come back here again as I got on the train to Brest… It was all REAL…