The View of Vieux Ville in Nice, France

Castle Hill view top

I climbed the steps on a sunny morning.  They started at the end of the Vieux Ville (Old Town) of Nice, France, one block in from the Mediterranean Sea.  I stopped every few minutes to take photos.  At every point the view was fantastic.

Castle Hill view
A view from the start of the climb up Castle Hill.

Castle Hill overlooks the Vieux Ville and the rest of Nice.  It is on a small peninsula splitting the Vieux Ville on one side and the port of Nice on the other.  In the Middle Ages there was a fort on the site that protected both the port and the town.

view of Nice port
Which yacht can I take for a sail?

The fort was destroyed in the 1800s and a park was built on the hill.  Today it provides a good workout for those running up the steps, or even for people like me who hiked to the top to get one of the best views in the Mediterranean.

Castle Hill view top
I made it to the top of Castle Hill.
Vieux Ville street in Nice, France
The narrow streets of the Vieux Ville of Nice.

I had been to Nice about ten years ago. I had stayed in a hotel by the yacht club on the south side of the modern city.  It was a decent place to stay for a few days, but it lacked culture and interest.  For this visit I stumbled upon a small apartment for rent located in the middle of the Vieux Ville.  It was in a building at least a couple of hundred years old.  The streets were very narrow and were lined with small shops, cafes, restaurants, and service establishments for the locals.

The apartment was on the third floor.  The stairway was a challenge to navigate, since it was narrow and steep. There was no elevator in the old building. The view from the window was only of the building across the lane, but I could look down to watch the local residents shop at the patisserie on the corner.

Building in Nice, France
A typical building in the Vieux Ville.

A few yards away from the doorway to my building was another street called the Cours Saleya.  This pedestrian street hosts daily markets.  Fruit and vegetables are sold in the morning, flowers in the afternoon, and arts and crafts in the evening.  Along both sides of the street are restaurants of all kinds, with some of them serving traditional Nicoise cuisine.  Sitting in an outdoor café, eating a fresh croissant, and watching the tradespeople and shoppers is a relaxing way to take a mid-morning break.

Roof view in Nice, France
The red tiled roofs of the Vieux Ville.

The neighborhood of the Vieux Ville is a delight to wander around.  The middle-aged women line up outside the butcher shop to buy the main course for tonight’s dinner.  Old men drink pastis, the local aperitif, at the bar while arguing about the football news.  Trendy young women flit in and out of the designer clothes shops looking for a good deal on the latest fashions. At night the tables outside the restaurants are full of diners.  Once in a while a young man on a loud scooter speeds past the startled diners in a haze of blue smoke.

This is a working and authentic neighborhood.  Local people go about their lives in their daily routines despite the occasional group of boisterous American college students searching the back streets for good pizza.

Promenade de Anglais
Perfect for a stroll…

Across the street from the neighborhood and stretching along the coast is the Promenade des Anglais (Promenade of the English). Before Nice was urbanized, the coastline at Nice was bordered by a deserted stretch of beach covered with large pebbles. Houses were located on higher ground well away from the sea, as tourists visiting Nice in the 18th century did not come for the beach, but for the gentle winter weather. The areas close to the water were home to Nice’s dockworkers and fishermen.

In the second half of the 18th century, some wealthy English people started spending the winter in Nice, enjoying the panorama along the coast. When a particularly harsh winter up north brought an influx of beggars to Nice, some of the rich Englishmen proposed a useful project for them: the construction of a walkway along the sea.

I walked the Promenade des Anglais every day of my time in Nice.  The Mediterranean Sea shined in a bright blue glaze in front of the pebbles on the shore.  Like most beaches on the French coast of the Mediterranean, even today there is no sand.  Instead, the beach consists of various sized rocks and pebbles.  Although the rocks are worn smooth, it is still quite a challenge to position the rocks in such a way as to be comfortable for more than two minutes.

That doesn’t stop the hundreds of sun worshippers from spreading out across the beach every day all summer long.  Some of the women wear no bikini tops.  This is France, after all.

Beach scene in Nice
Ouch! That rock is poking me.

Black Light Theater in Prague

Castle Quarter over the Charles River

I had never heard of black light theater.  I don’t go to the theater very often and when I do the lights are usually on.  But when I am traveling I like to do some things that I don’t do at home.  The guide book stated that Prague in the Czech Republic was known for magnificent Old Town architecture, a thriving art scene, and black light theater.  I thought it was worth giving it a try.

Prague's Ta Fantastika Theater
The Ta Fantistika Theater and the Charles Bridge

I remember black lights from when I was a teenager.  At the Minnesota State Fair, you could buy fuzzy posters of dogs playing cards, Elvis, or maybe a tiger.  Then if you had a black light in your bedroom, parts of the poster would glow in hallucinogenic colors while you listened to 1970s Aerosmith albums.

Black light theater works in a similar way, except the music is different.  The play is a combination of mime and modern dance, so there is no language barrier.  The actors wear costumes that glow in the dark under the black light.  There are also others on stage but you can’t see them at all because they wear fuzzy black clothes, gloves, and masks.  These hidden stagehands move props and assist the actors in performing stunts and controlling optical illusions.

Castle Quarter over the Charles River
The Castle Quarter across the Charles River in Prague

I went to the black light theater called Ta Fantastika, near the famous Charles Bridge on Karlova Street, in the Old Town section of Prague.  The show was called “Aspects of Alice.”  It purportedly was an artistic and poetic take on “Alice in Wonderland”, but I couldn’t see the connection.  In this play, the main character was a young woman, not a girl, and there was no Mad Hatter or other crazy characters.  Maybe I am thinking of the Disney animated film, since I have never actually read the book by Lewis Carroll.  I couldn’t quite pick up the story line.

The stunts were interesting at first.  The young woman was secretly hooked to a wire at times that lifted her into the air and allowed her to twirl and fly around the stage.  The stagehands moved candle lights and other props without being seen.  However, the illusions quickly got repetitive and the odd organ and piano music grated on my ears.

Prague river scene
The Charles Bridge on the Charles River

I was starting to drift off during the second act.  That often happens when I sit in the dark after dinner.  Although it was an uncomfortable chair, my head was nodding.  My attention lagged until the star of the show emerged from a giant day-glo apple with almost no clothes on.  She performed the next few minutes of the show topless.  I’m not sure how that fit into the Alice in Wonderland storyline. I never saw that in the cartoon.

I spent the rest of my time in Prague seeing the typical sights that the city is known for.  I walked through the Old Town Square with the 14th century Old Town Hall and the 500 year old Astronomical Clock.  From Karlova Street and the theater I reached the Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) over the Charles River.

Prague's clock in the Old Town Square
Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square

I strolled through the Jewish Quarter (Josefov), shopped for typical Czech souvenirs in the Little Quarter (Mala Strana), and visited the Old Royal Palace, St. Vitus Cathedral, and the Golden Lane in the Castle Quarter (Hradcany).  Since none of these places were bombed during World War II like other European capitals, the original architecture spans hundreds of years and many styles.

As I left Prague, I felt like I had visited EPCOT instead of a real major European city.  There were crowds of tourists from all over the world, things were expensive, and the buildings and streets looked too perfectly preserved.  Was I in an artificially generated tourist environment?  I wasn’t sure…

artwork in Prague, Czech Republic
I don't understand modern art