Thoughts On Nice – Re-Discovering The French Riviera

A walk towards the Mediterranean

When I “landed” in Nice in my tiny Fiat back in the 70s, I could not avoid being mesmerized by a city so charming and majestic, so full with the colours of its people, of its painted façades. I learned to love the oozing perfumes from the flowers of its gardens, the pungent smell of its spices and the subtle aroma of its herbs: so much different from the Paris I adored.

Nikaia as the Greeks called it when they first set foot on these shores some 2600 years back, is now a blend of gentle climate, African influences, Mediterranean experiences and a trail of an Italian past still engrained in its people, their accent, patois, gestures, warmth.

As, in a more recent past, I ventured out of my hotel in Nice, I looked up at the plane trees lining both sides of Boulevard Victor Hugo: so majestic and maternal in their huge embrace. They reminded me of the same old plane trees that still line the ancient roads of my Po Valley, planted back in the 18th Century when Napoleon colonized it.

I remember climbing them, admiring their patched bark, gathering the fallen twigs to light up our stove on dark winter mornings. I used to play hide and seek behind their huge trunks, climbing them and enjoying them so much in my happy distant youth; in a way it was like coming home.

Waking down towards the sea, past the Negresco Hotel and the Palais de la Mediteranée, I could not refrain from thinking that the breathtakingly splendid Promenade des Anglais used to be, only a couple of hundred years ago, a short, bumpy narrow path built for the enjoyment of the British Aristocracy who swapped the winter chill and the rainy weather of their Northern Isles for the gentle climate and the beautiful surroundings of Nice.

And there it was, the Mediterranean Sea, the centre of the ancient universe, languidly staring at you.

No longer as blue as the French poet Stephan Liegeard described it in 1887 “la Côte d’Azur”, but still warm and inviting, perhaps even now enjoying a Blue Flag status.

Like an ancient pagan ritual, gravity defying breasts and sculpted legs were on proud display to uninterested passers-by, hoping to steal the last precious rays of an already distant sun. Joyous dogs were trying in vain for a good foothold on the round beach pebbles, flattened by the rhythm of tidal waves.

I gazed towards the landing strip of Nice Cote d’Azur Airport; where were the fishermen? “Helas” long gone was the time when Nice’s all embracing bay was known as “la Baie des Anchois” – the bay of anchovies, by “divine” intervention, now known as “la Baie des Anges” – Angels’ Bay, or was it a sound marketing ploy?

My gentle walk was an enjoyable luxury despite my casual clothing. I was now under the spell of a sea of aristocrats, nouveaux riches, playboys parading the promenade in their immaculately tailored outfits. I could smell their joie de vivre, but could it have been a designer perfume? I also heard their indistinguishable proud walk mimicked by their poodles trotting beside them.

They no longer paraded their diamond encrusted jewels, their signature Scarves, their camel leather shoes nor their distinctive Panama hats to shelter their balding heads. It is now cool to show off perfectly bleached teeth, tailored implants, superbly tanned skins, bulging watches, the latest sport shoes and to whizz around in funky gyropodes.

Nice’s Carnival had come and gone, but I could still see faces and aging wrinkles masked by not so skilful surgeons. Like in a circus, properly outfitted youngsters were displaying their skating skill, others, on state of the art bikes, were whizzing in and out of their marked path in a joyous confrontation with the last standing belle époque “heroes”.

It was time to go back to my rugged plane trees and to leave behind the beautifully regimented palm trees, the exuberant exotic flowers and those carefully manicured lawns.

Apartment Renting in Oaxaca, Mexico

Renting an apartment often presents a nice alternative to hotels or hostels for travelers staying in one location for a few days or longer. Hotels and hostels are more common than apartments, of course, but apartments should be considered.

Renting an apartment for a week or longer offers several advantages to staying in a hotel or hostel. One key advantage is cost: a nice apartment will just about always be cheaper if not far cheaper than a comparably nice hotel room. A second advantage is that an apartment almost by definition is far larger than any hotel room, and this is more important the longer the stay. Returning to a hotel room day after day where the only options are sitting on the one chair or lying on the bed gets old fast.

A third advantage is that an apartment has cooking facilities, which allows for additional savings; eating out daily adds up quickly. Additionally, people who have special dietary needs might prefer their own kitchen. Finally, one subtle advantage apartments have over both hotels and hostels includes allowing one to feel just a little less like a tourist and a little more like a local. Emerging from an unmarked building onto the street has a different feel from exiting a hotel.

Hostels can be quite inexpensive, and sometimes cost as little as an apartment, but that low cost comes with a price: shared dorms, bathrooms, and kitchen facilities. All can be shared, or sometimes a private room can be rented with a shared bath, or a private room and private bath can be rented with a shared kitchen. But the increased privacy costs more. Many people aren’t keen about sharing close quarters with strangers. This might be acceptable for more adventurous travelers (indeed, I shared quarters with strangers when I was younger) but most travelers want a nice, clean, quiet, and private place.

However, one advantage hotels and hostels have over apartments is that they tend to offer more service, including a desk clerk on duty most of the time, daily room cleaning, and so on. Apartments tend to be less directly service oriented. On-site manager, garbage removal, drinking water, sheets, towels, etc. might or not be part of the apartment package; you need to ask.

In Oaxaca, there are apartments that specifically cater to travelers and tourists, often associated with a hotel. They are prepared to deal with foreigners who don’t speak Spanish very well, and they also are likely to repair things that break and return your damage deposit when you leave. (Oaxacan landlords don’t necessarily do either!) There are other non-hotel affiliated apartment rentals that cater to the foreign traveler, but they aren’t always easy to find.

Finding them is not easy because there aren’t very many good ones. But here are a few tips that might help.

The first useful step, if you don’t have any local Oaxacan contacts, is to check the Internet. There are several good apartments listed that cater to foreigners and have nice, clean, tastefully decorated apartments at reasonable prices. Most are small, but they will be nice or at least nice enough. Arranging accommodations in advance is a huge relief to a lot of people, who then are able to focus their initial days or weeks on something other than trudging around looking for an apartment.

Info to seek — what is included in the price (gas, electric, city water, garbage removal, etc.), how much is the deposit, is there high speed Internet, kitchen furnished, maid service, and so on. Noise, access, security, pets, etc. Also inquire about the water tank capacity, a cistern, and its size. Apartments without adequate cisterns, especially during the dry season (Spring), can be very uncomfortable.

Be aware that apartment hunting after arriving in Oaxaca usually isn’t quite as easy and straightforward as in the US. In the US, many apartment buildings have an easily visible sign facing the street with contact info, and often basic info like how many rooms, baths, etc. And a quick phone call yields any additional basic info you need to decide if a showing is worth the time. In Oaxaca, signs out front are usually handwritten and have no info besides the phone number. So you often end up wasting time calling someone to discover it’s not worth seeing. If someone answers the phone. And if that person happens to know something about the apartment. Sometimes it takes multiple calls to get basic information.

Because there is no central listing of available rental apartments that I know of in Oaxaca, reliance on ad hoc listings is necessary. Newspapers have a small number of apartment rentals in their classified section but they tend toward the expensive. (This is not all bad: most gringos probably should look for more expensive apartments because the cheap ones are cheap for reasons prohibiting much gringo interest.) The Oaxaca Times, for example, could be checked on line before arriving.

A second place to look after arriving in Oaxaca is in the apartment listings at The Oaxaca Lending Library, on Pino Suarez just south of El Parque Llano. This is probably the best place to look, especially for nicer places that are gringo friendly.

After that, it’s pretty much walking around the streets and hit or miss. This last method is very time consuming and can be unpleasant and frustrating, especially when hot outside. I’ve looked at dozens of apartments with this method — it’s hot, apartments are far apart, sometimes the owners are 15 minutes late, etc. Often you can see within a nanosecond that the unit is nowhere near what you would consider — their definition of two bedrooms isn’t close to what you would call two bedrooms, the kitchen is grimy, etc. The primary advantage is learning the streets and neighborhoods and practicing Spanish. But gems are out there, however few and far between.

By all means consider renting an apartment if you are staying more than a few days, and especially if staying a week or longer. The extra space and the cost savings will make the search well worth the time.

Cheap Apartment Decorating Ideas

Most apartments likely have the disguise and feel of a well resided home. Apartment living is a great way to save money and it gives you the freedom to move around, as you desire. Entertaining in a well-designed apartment will make you feel good and will most likely make you enjoy living there. Cheap apartment decorating ideas will help you avoid being broke; while lavishly stylizing you’re apartment for that next big gathering or simply for you- to make you feel good about living in an apartment.

Paint: Many apartment complexes have rules about not being able to paint the inside of your dwelling. If they do, it’s probably a boring white / off white color. To avoid the plain bare walls you can paint you’re furniture instead. Be creative and paint an old table, wood chairs or an end table a bright color. Paint is cheap, easy and a cost effective strategy to bring color into your home. Another idea, go to a yard sale, swap meet or discount store and find colorful cheap artwork to hang on your boring white walls to bring out the zest.

You could use curtains as a way to decorate you’re plain walls without painting or wallpaper. It gives the look of luxury and gives the illusion you have windows behind drapes. Use long drapes that hang from the ceiling to the floor to give height to the room instead of a tiny window or just plain blank wall.

Carpet: Apartments normally don’t come with polished hardwood floors many of us dream about; they usually have carpet with three generations of living already built in. Most will have a few stains and you will usually have to live with it. However, there is a solution to the problem and its called area rugs. Area rugs are great for covering stains and boring colored carpet. The best places to find area rugs for cheap are online at Craigslist, Pier 1 and Cost Plus. Area rugs will be your best friend when living in an apartment.

Small Spaces: Apartments are normally small cramped spaces. Using mirrors is a great way to make your apartment feel larger and give it a homey feel. You can find all different sizes of mirrors at a swap meet and/or thrift store. You can find large ones to cover an entire wall if you want, but I prefer many different sized framed mirrors. Framed mirrors give a little extra pizazz and a more extravagant look then plain border-less mirrors. If you like conformity, you can paint the frames the same color or use different colors and/or stain them to your liking.

Dining area: In today’s high tech world many people telecommute for work. If you’re living in an apartment you may not have the room for a home office. If you need a workspace, one idea is to get rid of the dining room table and replace it with an old farm table or console table that fits the area. This will give it an industrial look and provide an adequate workspace. Instead of dining chairs find some folding chairs that can be folded and stored under your bed. I would use a nice ergonomic desk chair with wheels while working. This will give you the opportunity to use the table as a desk or as a dining table when you have guest.

Furniture Placement: If you’re room is large enough you can “float” the sofa in the middle and add a console or low dresser behind it. This can provide a nice barrier between the dining and living area, as they are usually shared spaces. You may have to move it around a bit to get it the way you want it. You may even put up a nice room divider behind the sofa to break it up even more.

Shelving: Shelving can be used in any room of your home and it provides a nice placement for you’re what knots or general storage needs. You can use baskets, mason jars and/or any nice containers to sit on the shelves. You can get inexpensive shelving at Ikea, swamp meet or discount store. Floating shelves are really nice and can add an extra flair to any room.

Greenery: Plants are a great way to bring life into you’re apartment. They look great and actually have health benefits. Plants help clean the air, control humidity and help reduce noise levels. Plants also improve the “energy” in your living space. Feng Shui actually mentions plants improve your homes chi. Place plants in areas you want to emphasize.

Lighting: Most apartments are dark and dreary, proper lighting enhances the decorating scheme in any room. There are many light sources available ranging from lamps, natural light to salt crystals. Natural light is the best source when possible. It’s the most cost effective solution on the planet. Given the very nature and style of apartments natural light may not be available or provide enough light for you’re needs. Lighting a room is often the hardest thing to do. Over lighting can have people shielding their eyes when they walk into a room and a room with no light will have people squinting to see.

Decorating an apartment can be a challenging task. There are limits to what can be done and rental rules you must follow. Cheap apartment decorating ideas can help you design the perfect apartment you will love. Please visit my blog for more design ideas and inspiration.