Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

It’s the middle of November, but it’s 66 degrees, sunny with the occasional breeze. An endless expanse of azure sprawls before you, clear blue waves becoming sprays of white foam when they crash into the craggy cliffs that you’re sitting upon.

Sounds a bit chimerical, doesn’t it?

But that describes my trip to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on Sunday. Nine other international students and I spent about 4-5 hours walking around the entire peninsula, which was an approximately 9 mile hike. However, the effort was well worth the trade-off: a spectacular, never-ending view of the Mediterranean Coast.

I know, you’re probably sick and tired of hearing me enthuse over how pretty the sea is, so I’ll just say that it has a beauty that my mediocre camera will never do justice.

On the short bus ride back to Nice, we were treated to an absolutely gorgeous sunset. I wanted to take a picture of it, but all my camera wanted to do was capture the bus window. (Although, let’s be honest, it was probably going on strike because I took so many pictures at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.) Anyway, I’ll attempt to describe the sunset: there was a backdrop of dusky blue, and the sun was illuminating a streak of clouds, which flared into a vibrant orange that gave way to a fiery rose, a soft lavender, and finally a pale blue.

Later, five of us sat down and enjoyed a meal at a Turkish restaurant in Vieux Nice, and when we parted ways around 7:20, I spent about thirty minutes sitting in the cold (okay, it was like 50 degrees, but still) waiting for the bus to show up, so I went ahead and typed out this entire blog post on my iPhone.

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Èze

Saturday, a group of eight international students and I explored Èze, a little hilltop village. We had some coffee and hot chocolate before visiting the church and then the Exotic Garden, which, admittedly, wasn’t all that impressive to me. It appeared to only be populated by sparse cacti and succulents—but maybe I don’t appreciate plants the way my plant-loving roommate back at R-MC does? However, the view was totally worth the 2.5 euro admission fee. (I will never cease to be amazed by the beauty of the Mediterranean Coast. Honestly, I could gush about it for hours.)

Part of the garden, as well as houses, mountains, and the sea:

Me posing awkwardly against a celestial and mountainous backdrop:

Bridge leading into Èze:

After we’d satisfied our desire to capture the landscape/seascape via camera, we took the Nietzsche Chemin down the mountain. Yeah, you heard me.

All.

The.

Way.

Down.

I mean, I’m not going to deny that the view of the surrounding mountains and sea was stunning, but would I repeat going down a thousand of those rough-hewn, treacherous steps again? Nope. (Tips for hiking: the longer your legs, the better. Also, don’t wear Converse.)

Finally, after a bunch of walking and pausing to take photos, we reached the bottom and ate a long-delayed lunch on the beach.

Next, we walked to Beaulieu-sur-mer, where we watched people play Pétanque, before taking the bus back to Nice. There, six of us sat down and ate kebabs, which were absolutely delicious, though my judgment may or may not have been influenced by the fact that I was starving and calorie-deprived and would have eaten practically anything. We sat and talked for about an hour and a half, and when we parted ways, I was lucky enough to reach the bus stop right before the 8:25 bus showed up.

Cultural Differences

I’m too lazy to make these into paragraphs, and I figure it’ll be easier to read them in bullet points, anyways. In no particular order:

  • If you struggle with speaking English in America, or have an accent, too bad. You get judged and shunned. I’ve had people here start speaking in English to me, but I haven’t figured out whether they’re doing it because my French is so atrocious they don’t want to listen to it anymore, because they’re taking pity on me, or if they’re being nice.
  • You can cross streets anywhere. You don’t even have to find a crosswalk or wait until the pedestrian light turns green. Just use common sense and don’t get run over.
  • My name gets pronounced differently—it’s more like Saréna. And nobody butchers the pronunciation of my last name.
  • At grocery stores, you don’t get plastic bags for free. You have to buy them or bring your own bag, and you have to bag your own items. Also, you can start eating or drinking something before you buy it.
  • People smoke a lot more. Sigh.
  • You can’t just walk into a bank—you have to press a bell, wait for the light to turn green, then pull open the door and walk into a room where you’re between the outside doors and the doors that lead into the bank itself. Then you press a second button, wait, and walk into the bank.
  • People here drive stick shift, so they have to be much more skilled at driving. I legitimately watched my contact parallel park into the tiniest parking space on the sidewalk with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on the clutch.
  • AC isn’t omnipresent. (We Americans are so spoiled.)
  • Classes only happen once a week, and they’re also really long. To me, dividing a three-hour class into one-hour periods over three days makes more sense than having a three-hour long class. By the next week, I’ve nearly forgotten what we learned, and I’ll admit that my attention wanders off after two hours (sorry, professors). And if you think that R-MC classes are disorganized, wait until you hear about how I have to change classrooms four times for one class. Or how class times are changed unexpectedly, without warning, and you don’t find out until the minute before class was supposed to start. Or how I’ve already missed 10+ hours of one class.
  • Notebooks are weird. I managed to find a pack of 5 composition-like notebooks (they’re softer, and stapled together rather than sewn together), and they’re lined like graph paper. While we’re on the subject of paper, the standard size is about 21×30 cm—a little bit thinner and nearly an inch taller than the standard US 8.5×11 inches.
  • Peanut butter doesn’t exist here. (Okay, I rescind that comment—tiny jars of Skippy exist in Monoprix for 4.59 euros, so they might as well not exist. I’m so eating peanut butter straight from the jar as soon as I get back home.)
  • The shower’s annoying. You press a knob in order to turn on the water, and have to keep pressing it because the water turns off after a few minutes. Like, I’m sorry I haven’t learned how to wash my hair with one hand, hold the shower nozzle with the other hand, and push the button with my third hand?
  • Keyboards on French computers are different, which makes typing difficult when you’re used to the standard QWERTY keyboard. They start with AZERTY, and you have to press the equivalent of shift when you want to type a number. I still haven’t figured out how on earth to make the @ sign with a French keyboard.
  • Sadly, public toilets are neither ubiquitous nor free. They usually cost 0.50 euros, and you have to actually hunt them down—you can’t just walk into a supermarket or gas station and use the bathroom.
  • You can bring dogs into supermarkets and onto buses.
  • Most of the time, when you go inside a small shop or boutique, the workers follow you like hawks, eyeing you like you’re going to grab something and bolt without paying. Also, there are so many stores in Nice that I swear it’d be impossible to visit them all in a year.
  • Men work at Sephora.

Ventimiglia

On Tuesday, two of my friends and I took the 1:52 train to Ventimiglia, Italy, a city that’s about 4 miles away from the French-Italian border. A round-trip ticket cost 11.40 euros, and the ride lasted about 40 minutes.

Upon arrival, we experienced some initial confusion with the map, closed tourist office, and unorganized transportation system, so we just went “screw it” and decided to walk around the city. We went clothes shopping, and then took a bunch of pictures when we found the bridge that traversed the Roia River and led to the old half of the city.

After some more map confusion, we managed to find two churches, and on our way back to the train station, we stopped at a pastry shop. The cookies and pastries there were absolutely delicious, and totally worth the struggle of not knowing how to speak Italian.

Now veterans of Ventimiglia, we found our way back to the train station without any trouble and took the 6:15 train back to Nice.

Thoughts on Italy? It’s gorgeous. With all of the colorful buildings and old architecture, Ventimiglia almost looks like Nice (I have the feeling that a lot of Mediterranean cities look alike), but at the same time, you can instantly tell the difference between an Italian city and a French one. Going back to the US is going to be so weird—I won’t be able to see the Mediterranean every day, and nothing in Virginia looks anything like the urbanism here.