Turning 30, riding the bus, and going back to school

After a summer of non-stop travel and excitement I am settling back into the apartment in Nice and trying to stay put for a few months.

It is quite a change to be back and to be adjusting to the pace of life in the South of France.

I spent so much time in the US, in New York, DC, Portland, Arizona and San Francisco where I camped and celebrated weddings and Birthdays, and got lots of quality time with friends and family, it is bizarre to be absorbed back into my somewhat solitary life in Europe.

But the Englishman and I coordinated our flights back to Nice and there are few things better than seeing a familiar, smiling face at the airport after a transatlantic flight.

Our long-awaited reunion was quite a nice way to spend my 30th Birthday.  The Englishman did his research, and we added a new restaurant to our growing list of favorites in Nice.  We started the week with a visit to “the last romantic place in the French Riviera” also known as Coco Beach Restaurant.  This place is as classic as they come with photos of a young Bridget Bardot and Robert De Niro and the like lining the wood paneled walls.

The amazing thing about Coco Beach is the sweeping views of Nice and the Mediterranean from the outdoor deck.  The restaurant is situated right on the water on the city’s eastern edge and we were treated to a full panoramic view of the Nice with its lights twinkling as the sun went down.

The celebration continued the next day, when the Englishman surprised me with a plateful of my favorite pastries from La Lorraine – the fancy bakery a few blocks from the apartment.  Next we went on my favorite walk on the gorgeous pedestrian path along the St. Jean Cap Ferrat peninsula, followed by a lovely afternoon spent lunching and sunbathing on the beach in Villfranche Sur Mer. Finally we sat down for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in Vieux Nice: La P’tite Cocotte.

All in all, he nailed it and helped to usher in a smooth transition from my twenties to my thirties.

But all good things come to an end, and our visit ended much too soon.  He flew back into the heat of late summer in Ramallah, and I started preparing for my upcoming French course at Nice’s Sophia Antipolis University.

The first event on my course schedule was the placement exam, bright and early last Monday morning.  Even though I know that the purpose of the test is simply to place each student in the right level, making it impossible to fail – I couldn’t help feeling nervous.

I joined in with the rest of the city and did some back to school shopping, selecting one red and one blue notebook and a few pens.  And with that I was ready to be tested.

I had only been up to the campus once before, when I registered, but had a good idea of where it was.  So after weighing my options of getting up earlier and walking or riding a bike, or sleeping in a bit and taking the bus, I decided on the bus option.

Conveniently there is a special bus that goes directly to and from campus and the train station.  Just to be sure, I went to the transportation office on Saturday to check where the bus comes and to pick up a schedule but the clerk sitting behind the desk in his neat uniform couldn’t tell me with any specifics where the bus picks passengers up, just that it is at the station.

I figured it would be obvious, so I made my way to the station in the post-dawn cool.

But as I looked around, I couldn’t find a bus stop with the all-important U on it.  The station is reasonably large and there are about 20 different bus lines that it serves.  Each one is helpfully marked on the side of the various stop coverings scattered on each side of the street.  I saw the 98 and the 99, which service the airport, the 23 the 17, the 100 and heaps of others, but not a single U was visible.

I walked around aimlessly for a few minutes and tried asking a few people for help, but apparently no one in Nice knows where the elusive U picks passengers up.

I then watched as 8:00 came and went before resigning myself to the fact that I would be walking to school after all.  I certainly wasn’t wearing the right shoes – as I had thought I’d be sitting comfortably most of the way there – but there was no time to change, so I ran-walked the 40 minute journey with blisters forming on my heels.

I am a person who loves to make plans, but I learned long ago that it is rare indeed that things go according to them.

I still got to campus with time to spare and took a few wrong turns before coming across amphitheater 68 where I found about 50 odd students sitting and talking.

I sat down next to an Asian woman who looked about my age, and we started talking while we waited for the exams to begin.  It turns out that she is actually quite a bit older with a teenaged son and is a renowned acupuncturist and acupuncture professor from China.  She told me she moved to France earlier this year after marrying a French acupuncturist and they run a clinic in town.

On the other side of me a tiny young woman from Thailand joined the conversation and told us that she also married a Frenchman and moved here three months ago.  She said they live way up in the mountains and that she is finding life here boring so far since she can’t get a job, due to her lack of French.

I am so excited to make some friends here and It’s fascinating to hear what has brought my fellow students to Nice.

In the days since the exam – which consisted of what I assure you was a ridiculous scene of me trying to describe a collection of drawings to my teacher in French (think along the lines of: “the boy is with the shirt” to explain a picture of a boy getting dressed) – I have been reacquainting myself with the city.

I was ecstatic to learn that early fall is vide grenier (clearing the attic) season in Provence and there are more flea markets going on here each weekend that I can get to.  So far my favorite finds are a lovely big enamelware pitcher, a beautifully rustic, turquoise, ceramic mortar (still searching for the pestle) and a collection of vintage French children’s books, which I am hoping will help with my studies.

One more day of freedom and then I will be back in the confusing world of verb conjugation, and the many French tenses.  Passé compose here I come.

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