Sunday in Nice France : Never on Sunday?
Read our previous posting “British Airways : Pure Enjoyment!”
International travel during weekends can often be very relaxing and hassle-free, with both airports and planes operating at much less than capacity. In fact, as we were going thru Washington Dulles Airport yesterday (a Saturday), I was reflecting to myself on how great an airport this was, from a passenger’s perspective, compared to most other airports around the world (and I’ve been thru many of them regularly over the years). One does not get the sense of being crowded at Dulles; there is that feeling of space, of room to spare, which is partially due to the architecture of the buildings and also due to excellent organization and capacity planning. The whole process of checking in, going through passport control and security, transfer to the terminal, access to the executive lounges, boarding, etc… is efficient, smoooth, painless (unlike so many other airports).
Today we landed at London’s Heathrow Airport, collected our luggage, caught a National Express transfer bus to Gatwick Airport, and had a wonderfully refreshing shower and breakfast at the British Airways lounge in the north terminal before boarding our flight to Nice. It all went very smoothly and without any delay or incident, remarkably so. True to form, it was raining and cold in London when we landed and during our fifty-minute bus ride to Gatwick; I assume the Brits simply wanted to make sure we knew we were in the UK.
Well, the French wanted to make sure we knew we had arrived on the French Riviera when we landed in Nice, cause they greeted us with blue skies, blue seas and a warm sun. The last ten minutes of the flight offered us a spectacular aerial view of the French riviera coast, going west to east towards the Nice airport. The number of sailboats and powerboats underway all along the coast was nothing short of amazing. Quite a nice way to arrive.
However, we were arriving in France on a Sunday afternoon, and that simple fact had triggered all sorts of memories for me, and not my favorite ones. When my wife and I moved to France for the first time, back in 1974, we arrived in Besancon, the capital of the eastern province of Franche Comte in the Jura, on a Sunday afternoon. We were booked in the hotel Frantel, rated then as the best hotel in town, with a top location along the Doubs river and providing a fabulous view of the city. That hotel does not exist under that name anymore; I believe it is now called the Mercure Besancon Parc Micaud hotel, part of the Accor hotel chain. We were scheduled to stay at the hotel for a month or so until our belongings arrived from the States and until we were able to move into the apartment which was waiting for us. After we had checked in and settled into our room, we went down to the hotel restaurant to have dinner only to find out that the hotel restaurant was closed, the one and only restaurant in the hotel. I went over to the reception desk to obtain more information. Well, as I was told, it was Sunday and the hotel restaurant closed on Sundays, and oh, by the way, so did room service. I was puzzled; what did hotel guests do on Sundays in order to eat if both the hotel restaurant and room service are unavailable? Did they all go out to other restaurants in the city? Actually, so I was told, restaurants in the city also closed on Sundays! A suggestion was made that I might try to see if the restaurant at the casino next door was open. So we hopped into our car and drove over to the casino. Nope, that was also closed. How about a fast food restaurant of some sort? No luck there either, since there were absolutely no fast food restaurants in the city of Besancon in 1974, not one. Surely there must be some place to get food to eat, I said to my wife as I started driving around the city looking for a place, any place, that was open. Finally, after an hour or so of driving through Besancon, and that means it was already around 9pm, I came across a place which was open. It turned out to be a bar of some sort, but they did have a couple of sandwiches and food platters amid their offering, so we ate our dinner there.
The next day, still amazed at that experience, I related the story to my new work colleagues at the office. They were curious to know where I had been able to find food on a Sunday; I told them that the restaurant or bar was called the Kronenbourg.
You must have gotten the name wrong, they said, there is no such restaurant or bar in town. It was there in big bold letters in bright neon colors, I replied. My colleagues started smiling and laughing before explaining to me that what I had seen was the name of a beer sold at that location. Kronenbourg is the name of an Alsatian beer (which has become better known since then, and now appears on many bright neon signs all over Besancon), not a restaurant name. To this day, I don’t know the name of the place where we ate!
Ever since that fateful Sunday, I have been a bit leery of arriving in France on a Sunday, and that was the case today when we showed up in Nice. I had done some prior checking as part of my trip planning and I knew that grocery stores were closed on Sundays (a few are open on Sunday mornings) so I was already expecting that our first grocery shopping would occur on Monday. I also knew that most restaurants were closed on Sundays; this left room for hope, since I had read about a few places which supposedly would be open. And the world had changed since 1974, I kept saying to myself, fast food not only had arrived in France, it was doing very well and fast expanding if you will forgive the play on words. Would the Nice McDonald’s be open on Sunday evening? I wondered. And if it were open, was that what I wanted to do for my first meal on the French Riviera?
Being cautious and prudent, we had decided to pre-eat our dinner at the British Airways lounge in Gatwick; it was noontime there, not dinner time, but our jet-lagged and over-fed tired bodies did not know the difference. The lunch spread in the lounge was enticing, with, among many offerings, a warm tasty tomato soup and a salad bar that included quiches and bean salads. Afterwards, I thought, our stomachs would be able to handle the starvation of a Sunday evening in Nice.
Actually, I am not being totally honest here. For several weeks now, I had put together a plan for our first Sunday evening dinner in Nice, and it consisted of taking the five minute walk down to the beach from our rental apartment. There are five beach restaurants along the world-famous Promenade des Anglais beach in central Nice; my research indicated that the best one was Blue Beach, located right in front of the best hotel in Nice, the Negresco Hotel. Blue Beach happened to be open on Sundays and to be located about a five minute walk away. I already imagined myself eating a salade nicoise or a spaghetti aux fruits de mer on the beach with the sun setting on the sparkling Mediterranean sea and the Promenade des Anglais behind us; I had verified that sunset would be at 8pm today, perfect timing since that is about the time when dinner starts getting served in southern France. Sounds like a great plan, doesn’t it?
Well, guess what was waiting for us when we boarded our London to Nice flight? A charming stewardess who immediately said: Mrs. Gagnon, I see that you ordered a special low sodium meal, and Mr. Gagnon, I see that you ordered a special seafood meal!
Read our next posting “Nice France : My kind of town!”
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