When I first started thinking about going away this March, rather than waiting for May as I usually do, I was looking for a break from Canadian winter, a season which, the more I experience, the longer and more miserable they seem to get. I carefully planned the timing – March 14 to April 1 – so that winter would be over and spring well established by the time I got back.
Did I get it wrong! Barely two weeks after I got back the storm – which many are calling a HISTORIC WINTER STORM – hit. Blinding snow. Freezing rain. Black ice. Over 500 car crashes. The OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) pleading with people to stay off the roads. Trees crashing down onto power lines, causing power outages for thousands. And now, three days later, we’re being warned to keep an eye out for chunks of ice and snow falling from the CN Tower. And flooding. So, instead of the post I thought I would be writing after my return, here is a look at of one of the greatest of life’s simple pleasures – sitting outdoors in the sunshine. Which, according to the meteorologists, we will eventually see again here.
Colourful Menton is just a couple of kilometres from the French border with Italy. Its mild climate and extraordinary sunshine – more than 300 days per year – have made it a popular winter sojourn for centuries.
The wide, sandy beach was getting a clean-up for the beach goers who would soon arrive.
In the meantime, lunch outdoors in one of the town’s many squares is a pleasure for locals and visitors.
After lunch, a nice long walk – or a lie down – along the pebbly beach on the west side of town.
A lovely place to wait for your bus.
One of my favourite hilltop towns was Bordighera (bor-dee-geh-ruh), a short bus ride east of Ventimiglia, the first town you come to when you cross the border into Italy. Claude Monet liked it too. Renoir had brought him to the town and he liked it so much he stayed on, making paintings that now hang in some of the greatest art galleries.
Although much has changed since Monet’s day, the vibrant colours and lush vegetation that he captured in his paintings still make meandering around the town a delight.
Following the Sentiero Monet, a path up into the hills above the town, shedding clothes as I went, was bliss. BTW – I’ll write about Bordighera and all the other places I visited more ion this trip later. A una data da destinarsi. At a date whose destiny is yet to be determined, as the Vatican Gardens agent replied when I first tried to book a visit. (‘The Popes’ Garden, March 15, 2015) But that day in March, my favourite part of Bordighera was the promenade.
There were some clouds, but there were also lots of patches of blue sky and for the first time I wished I had my sun glasses with me.
This restaurant along the promenade was one of many fabulous restaurant recommendations I was given by one of the young women who run the B&B in Ventimiglia I stayed in at the beginning of my trip.
I barely looked at the menu. What I wanted was what the young woman sitting at a table nearby was having. I ordered a glass of vino bianco del posto – something from the area – and sat back and watched the waves.
On the menu it is listed as ‘Il nostro crudo di mare secondo gli arrivi.‘ Our raw seafood according to what arrives. All I can say is that what arrived that day was delizioso!
Sitting at a table on a wooden terrace by the sea, surrounded by blue skies and the sound of the waves. A (perhaps deceptively) simple pleasure.
One day while I was staying in Villefranche-sur-Mer, a small fishing village about 10 k east of Nice, I took the train to Cagnes-sur-Mer to visit the house where Renoir spent his last years. I’d been there before and there isn’t really much to see, but it’s one of those places you feel compelled to return to.
Copies of his paintings were set out among the olive trees where he had set up his easel.
Beyond the ancient olive trees, the farmhouse.
It’s important to get off the train at the right ‘Cagnes’ station, because not all of Cagnes-sur-Mer, literally ‘Cagnes on the sea’, is on the sea. Despite its small size, there are three Cagnes. An upper Cagnes called ‘Le Haut-de-Cagnes’ – which is so haut there is a free navette , shuttle bus, whose real purpose I suspect is to discourage visitors from driving up to the ancient settlement and clogging its treacherously steep and narrow lanes. Lower down there is the main town, Cagnes-sur-Mer, and finally, down by the sea is the medieval fishing village of Cros-de-Cagnes. This of course is all terribly confusing for unsuspecting visitors. And Cagnes isn’t the only village I visited with name issues. One day I decided to visit a medieval hamlet in the mountains. On every site I looked at it was called Roquebrune. I was in Monaco visiting the Japanese Garden, and it took a bit of asking around, but eventually I found the bus stop for Roquebrune. To make sure, I asked a local who was waiting at the stope. As luck would have it, he too was going to Roquebrune, in fact he lived there and would let me know when we arrived. The bus headed up into the mountains – and then it headed back down to the sea. To the bus stop in Roquebrune! I went over to the Tourist Office and explained to the young woman that I was looking for Roquebrune, which according to the many sites I had looked at was a medieval hamlet in the mountains rather than this place by the sea. She looked at me with sympathy. I was not crazy. The hamlet I was looking for did exist and it was in the mountains nearby, but it was called Roquebrune Village. For the locals of course such details are self-evident. Anyway, back to the delights of sitting in the sun.
The other reason I’d come to Cagnes-sur-Mer was to see the new, exorbitantly expensive harbour, which is in Cros-de-Cagnes, the part of Cagnes-sur-Mer which is actually by the sea.
In the shelter of the new harbour, there were lots of real, working, fishing boats as well as four that looked like no fish had been anywhere near them.
Along one side was a beautifully wide, walkway where some people were basking in the sun on benches that I assumed were part of the harbour’s lovely renovation – although 30 million euros did seem a bit steep – while others, who had brought their own chairs and table, were playing cards.
More card players, with their chairs and table, arrived as I stood there watching.
On the other side of the harbour there was even more activity. Four boule courts. Here too some people had brought their own chairs, but there were also lots of benches where the players – who included quite a few women, something I’d never seen before – relaxed between throws.
Closer to town, was Cros-de-Cagnes’ Promenade de la Plage. It wasn’t as wide or as long as the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, but it seemed very popular with the locals – there didn’t seem to be any tourists – too early in the season perhaps – who ran, cycled and met up with friends.
Or just sat and watched the boats for a while.
But Nice is where I saw sitting in the sun taken to an entirely different level.
Where there is a sculpture in honour of an outdoor chair, you know you’re in a place where sitting in the sun is taken seriously.
Early in the morning there are lots of empty chairs.
But as the day goes on, they fill up. Even on a cold, windy March day.
The iconic – I know, a vastly over-used word, but it really does seem appropriate here – blue chairs decorate the entrance to a beach-side restaurant.
It’s a long walk from one end of the promenade to the other, so even the plain, white benches that are scattered along the walk are quickly taken up.
I watched in disbelief – is this actually allowed? – as this fellow set up his own personal spot for relaxing in the sun.
For some people the best place for relaxing in the sun is down on the beach. The wall makes for a good back rest and I was surprised at how much stronger the sound of the waves was down here.
I was also surprised at the number of people who were not content just to sit in the sun – although by their tans they spent time doing that as well.
For me the most magical time to sit in the sun was at the end of the day.
Every night of my stay in Nice I sat on the pebbly beach – it’s not too uncomfortable if you wiggle around – and watched as the setting sun lit up the crests of the waves with hints of pink.
Hints of pink that grew darker and darker until the sun disappeared behind the mountains to the west and I went back up to the city for dinner.