|A view from Vence|
For my 73rd birthday, I wanted a special adventure, and that's exactly what happened. My destination: the hill towns of St. Paul de Vence and Vence, where the artists Matisse and Chagall lived and left their mark. Matisse lived in Vence from 1943-48, where he designed the now famous Rosary Chapel, including its vibrant and colorful stained glass windows. Chagall moved from Paris to Saint Paul in 1966 and lived there for nearly 20 years. As two of my favorite artists, I wanted to pay homage to them where they lived and created their art.
To reach the two towns in the hills above Nice without a car is a tricky challenge. My guide book stated that I could catch bus 655 to St. Paul from Parc Phoenix, near Nice's airport. However, when I arrived by tram at the the Parc, a sign stated that I would need to take another city bus to the town of Cagnes sur Mer in order to get the 655 bus. OK, I did that, along with several other travelers seeking the same destination. It was a bit convoluted and time-consuming, but doable.
|Entering St. Paul|
I arrived about 9:30 a.m. in picturesque St. Paul, perched atop a hill and touted as one of the most beautiful villages in the French Riviera. I enjoyed walking through the narrow, curving streets that meandered up and down and around the town, admiring the artistic placement of plants beside and above doors. The crowds were minimal as I made my way to the other side of town to visit Chagall's tomb and check out the view from the top of the city walls.
But all too soon, I heard the rumble of numerous voices and spied a large tour group headed in my direction, a sure sign that the tranquility of the town would soon be compromised. I spent the rest of my time in the quaint village avoiding ever-increasing groups of people as they flooded the town. But I still managed to enjoy the beauty evident in the vines of ivy and blooming jasmine draped over doors and climbing walls, as well as the mosaic designs on the cobblestone paths lining the streets.
In fact, I was a bit mesmerized by the playful patterns of flowers in the stones, taking numerous photos of them. By noon, it was getting hot and crowded in town, so it seemed a good time to move on to Vence, which required another bus ride.
|Talk about blooming jasmine!|
At the bus stop, a young woman from India joined me to await its arrival. She was traveling on her own in Europe for the first time, and we struck up a conversation that helped pass the time. When we got to Vence, we were a bit taken aback, as it was a sharp contrast to St. Paul. It seemed to be a large city that in no way resembled the quaint village we'd just come from.
|France's smallest cathedral, in Vence|
I had heard that fewer people visited Vence, and I could see why. We managed to locate the Tourist Info office, picked up maps and helpful directions to reach the historic center. Then we parted ways, as she was eager to quickly view the town, then move on to visit Antibes and Cannes the same day. I had no other plans, so decided to take my time seeing what Vence had to offer. I came across a patisserie with outdoor seating, and ordered a serving of a Nicois specialty, pissaladiere. It's made with a flat crust, caramelized onions, anchovies and black olives. It turned out to be quite tasty!
After lunch, as I perused the map indicating points of historical interest, I decided to focus on finding the smallest cathedral in France, near the center of the old town. Little did I know that it has a mosaic created by Chagall, of Moses being found in a basket among the rushes by the Pharaoh's daughter. It was a delightful and meaningful surprise!
|Chagall's mosaic of Moses|
There's another great work of art in Vence, the Rosary Chapel that Matisse designed, including its colorful stained glass windows. I had hoped to visit the Chapel, as it's only open on certain days, and I was there on the right day.
|The Rosary Chapel that I missed seeing in Vence|
But several other impediments were in the way of my goal. For one, I'd twisted my knee somehow and it was starting to hurt, so the 20 minute walk uphill (and 20 minute return downhill) to the Chapel seemed unwise. Added to that, I'd have a two hour wait until it opened. And it was getting quite hot. So, despite the fact that it was one of the main reasons I'd come to Vence, I decided to head back to Nice. Fortunately there's a direct bus from Vence to Nice, so it was a much shorter and simpler return trip, and one-third of the cost. (Still inexpensive, as bus and tram rides cost only 1,50 euros and include transfers.)
|Matisse's stained glass windows enlarged|
Back in Nice, I rested in the apartment for several hours, then headed out to Vieux Nice to have a special birthday dinner. I chose an outdoor Cafe in Place Rosetti, and ordered Moules Marinieres with Frites (mussels cooked with wine, onions and parsley, along with French fries), accompanied by a glass of Rose wine. There were so many of the mussels, I was unable to finish them! However, after an espresso, I rallied enough to stop again at Fenocchio for gelato, choosing the flavors of rose and fleur d'oranger. A delicious way to top off a wonderful birthday adventure.
|Moules Marinieres avec Frites|