February. The days are cold and there’s snow on the ground. Talk is of Carnival in Nice – of doffing winter clothes, breathing in the Mediterranean, soaking up the sun – and partying. Judy from Newark and I have some plotting to do. (Pat from Philadelphia left after the first semester.) Hitchhiking worked pretty well during our Christmas adventure, so. . . .
We plan on a week trip and a minimal budget – a day of travel each way (if we’re lucky) and 4-5 days in Nice culminating in Mardi Gras – Fat Tuesday – climax of the two-week celebration. Nice hosts the oldest celebration of Carnival – dating from the 1300s. It changed from a private event of costumed balls to a public celebration, including parades, in the 1800s. Now it draws hundreds of thousands of visitors tired of winter and ready to let loose in keeping with traditional carnival excess. It’s name comes from the words carn levare – put away the meat – and it’s a final indulgence before the strictures of Lent.
Our trip to Nice takes most of a day. We thread our way through the snowy mountain passes that surround Grenoble, heading South with a variety of friendly and non-threatening rides. My first glimpse of the Mediterranean – and palm trees – is a thrill as we travel along the coast road through Cannes. The air is soft, the fragrances too. We are on the Riviera and we luxuriate in its warmth.
Nice is packed. Somehow we find a cheap room in an off-the-beaten track hotel. We dump our backpacks and head for the Promenade des Anglais – the walkway along the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels) that is Nice’s waterfront. We breath in the perfume of the sea and lift faces to the sun. This is what we came for.
The parades follow the Promenade des Anglais and culminate in the Bataille des Fleurs (Battle of the flowers) and the Mardi Gras blowout. The ‘battle’ is one-way and pretty tame, with gorgeous, scantily clad girls throwing flowers into the crowd. Lots of the parade floats feature giant heads made of paper mache, many are caricatures of politicians.
Though Nice is packed the crowds are happy and very friendly. While getting a bite at a cafe, a group of four medical students from Spain joins us. They are very cute and more than happy to practice their English. They walk us back to our hotel and, over my protests, Judy invites them up. (Judy is never one to think too far ahead.) Not surprisingly, they assume this as an invitation to get to know us better, and it’s only after considerable effort that we herd them out the door. They are in good humor and so are we. It’s a Carnival encounter.
And then it is time to head back to Grenoble.
It takes a while, but not far outside Nice we are picked up by two trucks headed North. We gratefully climb in – one of us per truck. Their route through the mountains is slow and they announce that we will stop for the night at a small mountain hotel. Judy and I have dinner and retire to our room. Shortly, there is a knocking and then a banging on the door – our truckers – who become more and more upset when we do not open it. The banging goes on for quite a while. When we go down to breakfast the next morning we are relieved to find that they have left.
The trucker experience gives us pause. Given our budgets, can we come up with better transportation options for our next adventure?