Budapest (Day 4 and Goodbyes)

One more sunny start to our final “regular” morning here in the capital of Hungary. I was now aware of how much I would miss this lovely breakfast of a tasty selection of sausages, cheeses, and not to forget that divine-tasting triangle-shaped pastry that went down so well with the visitors that the waiters kept bringing more and more fresh supplies of those. My taste of our Budapest mornings is largely composed of this delicate sweet crispiness…

Before we headed out all the way to the conference venue where we were to participate in the poster session, we had some time for a morning stroll along the familiar area in the city centre. That was when it hit me obviously I hadn’t had enough pictures of me taken in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica around which there were preparations for what looked like a wine festival, and the Parliament of course. When does a point come when you actually get tired of this building that is imposed by your vision…?

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The walk we were embarking on took me back to our first day here. It’s amazing how time takes on a different dimension while travelling and you don’t look that much at your watch (unless there is another activity on your schedule) but rather measure it with the level of connection you have developed with a particular piece of architecture, street or its corner… I felt if I had had more time on my hands to stay, it could be the right time to take my relationship with the city up to the next level, but there wasn’t much time either to keep reflecting as we had two hours left to get to the conference venue. This time we hoped the walk would be a bit more pleasurable, because we would be walking on the other side of the Danube along the Margaret Island (Margitsziget). It didn’t quite look like an island, rather an oasis of greenery amidst Hungary’s capital city.

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Budapest’s largest park offered a great refreshing change of the scenery from our first walk along a row of dull residential buildings. Parks haven’t yet captured my heart entirely, as I am more fond of architecture and little electrifications of the heart and mind it sometimes provides. I can’t say I found something particularly extraordinary about this park, but I would say it was a relaxed and calm one to walk. People basking in the sun, children having fun, a water tower at a distance, some fountains in a few conspicuous places as well.

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This walk felt considerably shorter and it wasn’t long before we reached the Árpád Bridge that was empty of any pedestrians as the sun was beating down. When we saw the conference venue, we knew we were already desperate for some shade.

The poster session was quite relaxed and low-key. Our poster featuring a photo of our country’s president captured some attention and being able to speak with a few native speakers and some more people from around the world was fulfilling. One lady from Malaysia wearing a burka was particularly friendly and that got me amazed at how much more there is we can learn from these casual encounters with people coming from cultural backgrounds that we are sometimes too scared to even embark on exploring. Speaking with a few Russians showing off about how they weren’t too happy with the hotel where we were staying wasn’t anything much to learn from.

We left the conference venue about two hours later knowing that our mission had been accomplished and there was no more need to look at our watch till the day was over! We decided to take a slightly different route back to the city centre and were exposed to some parts of the city that were a bit more upbeat than those residential areas we saw on our first afternoon but certainly less vivid and lively than the city centre. I wasn’t sure there were any more tourists walking along this neighbourhood. These streets aren’t something a tourist would particularly come for, but they make for a nice change of scene that you think you only arrive here for.

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We even saw a couple of old-fashioned shoe shops as we were approaching the Margaret Bridge with a very clear and distinctive view of the Parliament. Just after we quickly walked past it was when it was decided we would let time take on another dimension and just pause here on a bench overlooking the Parliament that left no room for anything else except the clear blue sky and the Danube. Tomorrow we were to get on another flight back to Russia but for another adventure. I was so right to take time to get a visual memory of what clear blues skies look like… That had been great three days here in Budapest and it was about time we had started picking the memories back up expecting nothing new to come our way. Just to ponder on the sketchy memory of the country, the city and the conference… I felt I had reinforced my connection with the Parliament building as I was sitting gazing at it from across the Danube embankment.

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What followed was more like a summary of the memories we had made up to that point. The grandeur of the Chain Bridge and the massive lions guarding it at both sides, a few posh houses overlooking the Danube on our right, a few advertisements featuring the national flag…

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I was starting saying my goodbyes now as we were crossing the Chain Bridge – to the emerald blue Danube, to the Buda Castle on the right, to the Parliament that was growing smaller but no less spectacular on the left.

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The evening was slowly setting in and it was time for our farewell dinner at one of the restaurants just steps away from the magnificent St. Stephen’s Basilica. The place was quite easy to find and the waiters wearing national clothes were very friendly and efficient despite seemingly limited command of English. The food was a bit too pricey and the choice not so wide-ranging, but the evening was the one to remember. A group of Americans at the next table were very vocal and assertive and kept questioning the waiter about the ingredients in one of the dishes pushing his linguistic skills to the limit as he showed up a few minutes later showing them some photos from the Internet. Poor Hungarian waiter! I ruled out that the first goulash soup I had here was the best and the one I was having at the moment had to be second best. What was equally divine was the Tokaj wine! Cheers to Hungary! Seeing the back of the shirt of one of the waiters that read something like “Are you hungary? I will help” made me chuckle. “Hungary” and “hungry” are too shamelessly similar not to feature that in an advertising campaign. There is something inherently primeval and not quite refine to the feeling of hunger but if you are, Hungary will get you covered for sure with its steamy soups and pickles! It was nice to watch a group of local young visitors and the same waiter at linguistic ease. Another American at the other side asked for help figuring out how much Hungarian money he had on him. Yes, these banknotes are tricky at first! We were taking it slowly so we walked leisurely back to the Chain Bridge to see the buildings lining up the Danube embankment lit up. There were even some chairs you could take and that reminded me of a beach. They were all occupied it being a warm summer night, but I didn’t mind sitting on the pavement getting my last night views of the spectacular Budapest. It felt comfortable and beautiful here.

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We made a slow walk back to our hotel through the familiar streets to stop for a final round of drinks at the same place we did the night before. The waiter that miraculously caught my eye the other evening wasn’t working and that was a tiny bit disappointing, but the drinks were cheap and good. What would that be like to frequent a lovely bar like this in a modern European capital like this one… It was our last sleep here in Budapest. Our last morning here was serene and slow as we had enough time not to be in a hurry but not enough to go out any more. Exchanging a few glances and a quick chat with one of the cute waiters I had seen through my other breakfasts here gave me something extra to smile and to miss about this trip. My humble “köszönöm” as he took my plate got him thinking I was Hungarian. There has to be something magical about this word indeed! We spent the remaining forints on a few more souvenirs at the hotel lobby and made an elderly couple we encountered in the elevator a bit jealous. I kept smiling through our peaceful morning ride to the airport and at one point I saw a photo of Leonardo DiCaprio and his mother featured in one of the advertisement boards in a deserted field and that gave me a light-hearted chuckle. We were bound for Moscow, but that wasn’t it yet and that felt a bit strange.

It all seemed to have gone too quick but reasonably slow to realize it had happened to me – Hungary and its capital city of Budapest. I had no idea if I would ever return at any point. For all I knew, I was very highly unlikely to ever ponder on starting learning any Hungarian. But I didn’t fail to find what I came here for – a few more brisk memories to nurture my heart and mind. Köszönöm!

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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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)!

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!