Travel addict MK and her sister Bern came to Nice for the first of (MANY) 40th birthday celebrations this year. We had an amazing time, pretty much doing nothing but lounging and chatting and letting the sun hit our faces and tasting delicious things. It was absolutely divine, and much needed on all sides – for me coming off a six-month job that hijacked my life, and for MK and Bern who’d been digging themselves out of the constant East Coast snow this past winter.
I’m going to be saving the logistical stuff for the BootsnAll France Travel Guide, so go there now and sign up in the orange box on the right-hand side to receive those pithy missives in your inbox – but I can tell you here about our lunch in Ventimiglia, Italy.
See, this is what’s so great about the French Riviera: You sit around being fabulous and lazy, and then go to Italy for lunch. Who wouldn’t want to do that, always? Love.
Anyway, so we hop on the train and skip over to Ventimiglia. And I’ll admit it here: I got nervous. As longtime readers know, Ventimiglia is my layover town when I take my 67 trains from Montpellier to Rome and back. I feel like it’s “mine,” and I have come to look forward to the few hours I have there, alone, watching the sea and eating my socca or a panino from the market.
But it occurred to me that the feelings I have for Ventimiglia are intensely personal, combining my love for train travel, traveling alone, border towns, and stepping foot in Italy for the first time in my trip (or a last goodbye until we meet again). Maybe it would suck to an “outsider” – not as a foreigner, surely, as I am too, but to someone who, well, is not me.
I’ll admit something else here as well: I often feel this way when people come to visit and I take them places. Why, I have no idea – these are friends and family, people with whom I ostensibly have something in common, and they’re on vacation so they are pretty open to loving whatever they’re doing at any given moment. But I am constantly surprised when I take someone to a restaurant, or a day trip, or a spot I love, and they love it too.
I was just reminded of this, actually, as I was approving comments for some older posts this morning – I’m still getting comments on my Frascati and Orvieto day trip posts from people who not only went there, but who followed my directions to the letter – and loved it. I can’t tell you how surprised that makes me. I’ve always thought of my pleasures/obsessions as weird or quirky. I’m frankly thrilled that so many people feel the same way.
Also, I’ve been having a weird series of dreams recently in which people don’t like me. WTF?
But! I digress. Where were we. Right, Ventimiglia, with me all verklempt that MK and Bern were with me in a place I usually visit alone.
The street that leads from the train station to the beach was awash in Italian flags – an unusual sight. No other country I’ve visited has the devout admiration for their own flag like America does. You don’t see Italian (or French, or Spanish) flags flying on anything but governmental buildings. I asked an old man on a bench if there was a festa, and he said there was a gara – a competition. Sure enough, we walked on and the road was blocked; it was the finish line of a bicycle race. Well, actually, the finish line was a ways down the road; we were at the point where the cyclists actually dismounted their bikes.
We could see some cyclists coming, so we waited there to see the action. And as they approached, we realized they were kids! Probably not older than 13 or 14, and some seemed younger still. The “fans” we were among were actually their family members. Each kid dismounted and Mom, Dad and siblings surrounded them with hugs, congratulations and, naturally, asking them if they were hungry.
And these kids were decked out, too. It was like a Wes Anderson film. They had the top of the line equipment, and although everyone around them was going apeshit, they remained serious, unsmiling, still focused on the race even though it had finished. What a strange event to have happened upon.
We left the race and headed over the footbridge, with its luchetti d’amore – the padlocks young lovers affix to bridge railings as a symbol of their undying commitment to one another – and its stunning view of the still-snowy Alps on one side and a stunning Mediterranean on the other. Oh, and swans.
Our goal was a restaurant I had read about, and seen, that was right on the beach. Like three Goldilocks we passed one restaurant, then another… and arrived at the one that was juuuuust right. It wasn’t like the others, or really any seaside restaurant I’d seen in Italy: weather-washed wood, white linens and sparkling wine glasses; it was like walking into a high-end place on Cape Cod.
We were the first ones there, and were seated at a high table on an indoor terrace with cantilevered windows that blocked the wind but let in a breeze. And we proceeded to order, and then eat, one of the most interesting and delicious meals of our entire trip. As always, the pictures tell the story:
Fully satisfied and high from the experience, we made our way back through the Wes Anderson movie – now the young cyclists were packing up their gear, still serious, the families still hovering and proud – and onto an afternoon train.
But our day wasn’t over yet.
Stay tuned for part two of our fantastic day!