Nothing special in Nice and angry Ukrainians in Avignon
After our day of crusading in Carcassonne, we made our way to the beachside city of Nice. Located on the Southwest of France, Nice is close to Cannes and the tiny Principality of Monaco. And while we were in Nice, both the Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Grand Prix were on. So you'd think Nice would have been a pretty happening place while we were there. Nothing could be further from the truth.
For some unknown reason, we just couldn't get into Nice and we lingered around in a three day funk. Maybe it was the weeks of travelling catching up to us. Maybe it was the not so friendly French folk who were becoming more annoying than reality TV. Or maybe it was the fact that Nice was just another city with similar - but inferior - shops, cathedrals and food. Truth be told, we can't really put our finger on it.
Despite the flat feeling, we still managed to find a few bright spots. A day trip out to Villa Kerylos and Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild made for some handy photo snaps and an insight into the lives of the tastefully rich in the early 20th century. Villa Rothschild was the residence of Baroness Beatrice de Rothschild of the famous Rothschild banking family and was surrounded by gardens that would have had Don Burke pining for a comeback episode of Burke's Backyard (although "hoo roo France" doesn't quite have the same ring to it!). Villa Kerylos, on the other hand, was built by Theodore Reinach and modelled on the villas of the elite class in Ancient Greece. With every room decked out in murals and sculptures dedicated one Greek God or another, the Villa contained more images of greatness than the halls of Victoria Park!
The trip took a turn for the better with our next stop in Avignon. A neat little medieval commune tucked snuggly behind huge city walls, Avignon brought us back to the vibes of Carcassonne and San Sebastian. And the sunnier weather made it all the sweeter. Even the people seemed warmer in Avignon - we made friends with a waitress called Olivia who was about to embark on a travelling adventure of her own in July. Actually, come to think of it, some of the folks in Avignon were so warm, they were positively burning up. And not it a good way.
Whilst watching the European Champions League final at a local bar we noticed a group of Ukrainian lads who were going through alcohol like it was going out of fashion and they were the new trendsetters. Although with their skinhead haircuts and flannelette shirts, I'm not so confident of their ability to dictate the latest tastes on the runways of Paris and NY. The lads were going off like Miley Cyrus' clothes and I kept looking around for camera crews to reassure me that they were just filming the sequel to Romper Stomper and that people couldn't be possibly be that intimidating in real life. More on these fellas later…
The highlight of our Avignon stay was the Palais de Papes (Popes' Palace) and the Pont d'Avignon (Avignon Bridge). The Palace was the papal residence and the seat of Western Christianity in the 14th Century and remained so for almost 100 years due to turmoil and tensions in Rome - most likely over the limited set list of songs the organists had to choose from (hey, I'd be pretty mad too if I had lived in an era that never experienced Whitesnake and Def Leppard).
After the Palace we made our way to the Pont d'Avignon - the bridge which inspired the legendary French song, Sur le pont d'Avigon (On the bridges of Avignon - yeah I had never heard of it either til we went there!). The bridge was built between 1177 and 1185 (around the time Dustin Fletcher was playing under 12s) and was almost entirely destroyed when Louis VIII laid siege to Avignon. But the stubborn people of Avignon continued to rebuild and repair it until the middle of the 17th century. And just to prove it's no ordinary bridge, the locals had a chapel built into the bridge (as you do) - the Chapel of St Nicholas. Alas, not even divine intervention could save the bridge as the constantly flooding river below continued to destroy its arches over the years. All that remains now are four humble brick arches from the original 22.
Another highlight came whilst wandering through the main town square and discovering a vintage games expo. Turns out there's an association in Avignon that recreates simple and classic games from yesteryear (mostly board and strategy games such as Connect Four and other cool games that we couldn't translate from French to English) and sets them up in the town square for people of all ages to come and play. Jess and I spent hours playing the various games and kicking the little kids off when they were hogging a particular game that we wanted to play. They could come back next week. We couldn't. I'm sure they'll understand once they stop crying.
After two days in Avignon, our exit was less than smooth, As we packed our bags to catch a 6am train to Paris, we were startled by someone yelling on the street and thumping the on the door of our hotel. I peered out the window to see one of the Ukrainian lads hollering for someone named "Viktor" to let him into the hotel. He was blinder than Stevie Wonder and didn't look like he was going to greet Viktor (or anybody, for that matter) with a hug. He then proceeded to attack a bicycle parked on the street - pulling spokes from it and bending the bars WITH HIS BARE HANDS! And we were going to just step out onto the street with our 20kgs backpacks and walk right past this cat??? I DON'T THINK SO!
After waiting as long as we could, we had to exit the hotel and get our train. I made it clear to Jess that if Mr Bikebender downstairs wanted to enter the hotel while we were leaving I wasn't going to try and debate the issue with him. I mean, everyone knows I'm very argumentative but nothing is more persuasive than a bloke who can rearrange your organs so that solid food is no longer an option. As we approached the door we heard the sound of a key entering from the other side and saw the door handle turning. I'd be lying if I told you that at that moment my life didn't flash before me and I didn't give birth to a Snickers bar. Standing in front of us were two more of the Ukrazies but these two were all smiles and greeted us with a hug and handshake and wished us a safe trip to Paris!! And the bikebender?? We found him around the corner slumped over a table from the local café passed out, or dead. I wasn't going to find out.
Next stop: Paris.