Sunday, February 20, 2011


For all of the glitz and glamour associated with the French Riviera (or Azur Coast) as the French call it, Nice is a pretty quiet place in the winter. In January and early February it has a calm, unassuming, feel about it. The locals are in their glory because there are no tourists (or at least few enough of them that they meld pretty well into the general population). Winter is the season where Nice shows its roots. On the street corners and in the cafes and shops, one hears a blend of Italian, French, and the local Niçoise dialect as people order coffees and pick up bread from their favourite bakery. The Niçois love to spark up conversations, ask questions, and laugh out loud. To say they have a joie de vivre would be an understatement.

It was the perfect season for a young family with great expectations. Julie and I were restless when we arrived. Memories of our honeymoon in Europe came to life when we arrived and my memories of living in Nantes and backpacking everywhere brought back a renewed excitement to travel widely and see everything. Of course we're not a young childless couple anymore. We're not free to do what we want when we want, and our hopes of travel to small medieval villages and beautiful cities were quickly dashed. What were we thinking? We have a baby who naps three times a day and a toddler who gets bored after a half an hour on the bus. We would definitely have to scale back expectations.

And of course we realized we would be limited before we ever left home. It's not as though we hadn't thought of sleep schedules and children's needs. We had chosen old Nice precisely because we knew we wouldn't be very mobile. I guess sometimes it actually takes seeing reality first hand to accept it. Our heads knew what was possible, but our hearts weren't sold. We tried going out of town a couple of times, but the trips were complete disasters, leaving us deflated and wondering what we were doing in a place like this when we couldn't get around to see it. Kids don't let you forget that parenting is a full time job, even when you are in an exotic place.  Emily still wakes up several times a night and we have to listen to her cry while nervously tossing and turning or biting fingernails, and just this week we all came down with a nasty stomach bug that kept us out of commission for most of the week.

We've now slowed down to match the pace of where we are. We're enjoying Sunday afternoons at the beach with all the other families and mornings at the market picking out fresh cheese and produce for lunch and dinner. We've found a wonderful city run centre for parents and children where Chloe can read and play and take part in weekly activities, and we've managed to find every park in the city - something unrivaled by most tourists, I'm sure. Chloe's also in a program called the Kids Club (more on that another time), and I've found French classes to take so that I'm prepared for language exams when I get back to Ottawa. And of course the weather here is lovely. I think that's why Chloe took to France without a moment's hesitation. She's no fool, unlike her parents.

Winter in Nice reminds me of fall back home. It's short, brisk, and calm. It's a time to reflect and get life in balance. That's what the Niçois seem to do with it, and that's what we've been doing. We're very blessed to be here, to be learning and exploring, even if it is locally. Chloe is speaking lots of French, she likes museums (a 3 year old, who'd have thought?), and she loves the beach. We're basically doing what we set out to do, as much as is possible. We're living in Nice. We're having a family adventure. Clark Griswold would be proud.

Winter is coming to an end and spring has started. The tulips are up, some of the trees are in bloom, and Carnaval has begun. Suddenly the streets aren't quiet anymore. There are tourists everywhere, filling the streets of the old city and lining up at the Gelato stands. The locals are slowly going back into hiding, or maybe they're just melding with the tourists. There's a new energy in the air. You can feel it just walking down the street. Carnaval is a big deal here, and marks the end of the off-season. Now that we're settled and confident in our surroundings, we have a little more energy too. We're making plans for small, manageable adventures to other places, baby sleep tent in tow (more on that later). But I'm very glad we arrived during the quiet period. It gave us an appreciation for this ancient city and its people we might not otherwise have had. The Carnaval will end, of course, and there will be less people again. But we won't see those quiet, unassuming little streets of the old city again on this trip. That Nice has passed.

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