Tuesday, May 30, 2017
   
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Resolution: Don’t let terrorists win

I HOPE ALL my readers made a New Year Resolution NEVER to let terrorists dictate where they choose to go on holiday or travel on business.

I am, of course, thinking in particular about the atrocities in France last November which badly affected the citybreak business of Paris. My friends in the city’s tourism industry are only now getting over the slump, hoping against hope that Springtime in Paris will cast its magic spell as it always has done, every year since the Nazi Occupation ended in 1945.

I have been encouraging them as follows: As a busy professional copywriter during the Troubles and beyond, I compiled nearly a hundred websites, print brochures, guidebooks and other promo stuff for all kinds of local tourism initiatives extolling the delights of their part of the REAL Northern Ireland. So I know what it feels like to have the heart kicked out of me every time terrorist activity in those areas was given blanket coverage abroad, driving tourists away in droves.

However, once in a while I received a shot in the arm (no joke intended) by meeting the only tourists who could never be deterred by (a) violence (b) constant rain or (c) awful 1970s food. Yes, the ANGLERS. Not only anglers, but coarse anglers,too, meaning that they were only interested in catching— and putting back unharmed — the bream, roach and rudd that Ulster’s native fishermen have never been much interested in (apart from our esteemed Editor of Travel News!)

I used to meet scores of them, mainly in Fermanagh on my pike angling weekends of yesteryear. One big group from Leicester came over every month; they were never deterred by bombings, scares, helicopter surveillance or warm lager. One of them told me about the time they were caught in an IRA gun battle while fishing a competition on the River Erne near Belleek. “We were never stopped by the terrorists and still weighed-in our big catches,” he emphasised. “We will never let fear of terrorism win while we can still catch tons of fish in wonderful waters. That’s all we care about!”

Attitudes like this mean that Paris has nothing to worry about in the long term. Remember what my literary hero, Ernest Hemingway, used to say: “Everyone loves two countries; the one where they were born…and France”. D’accord…I agree.

NICE Destination of the Year (in spite of everything)

WHILE WE ARE ON the subject of trouble-hit French tourism, let me nominate the Cote d’Azur as my DESTINATION OF THE YEAR. I urge my readers to make their bookings ‘toot sweet’, as my Granda Rea, a WWI Corporal, pronounced ‘toute de suite’ when I sat on his knee to hear about the days when he was ordering his platoon to do something immediately.

Karen and I returned to Nice, our favourite autumn resort, a matter of days before the Paris outrages but just in time to have our stay ruined by local weather which was so bad that President Hollande declared a National Emergency! We suffered tempestuous winds, rainstorms and floods that killed 27 people nearby; mudslides and high tides destroyed coastal businesses, houses, care-homes and hotels as well as sweeping away hundreds of cars and buses.

We were OK at the start, being used to lashing rain and getting soaked to the M&S labels on our undergarments back home, but things got really fearsome on the Saturday we were supposed to fly back to Belfast. Firstly, the overloaded airport bus was stuck somewhere, and we couldn’t get a taxi because many drivers feared losing their livelihoods in a flood or mudslide. After getting a lovely cafe manager to keep calling the main cab company with a hard-luck story for over an hour, we suddenly spotted a cabbie preparing to go home early because of the atrocious storm. Our luck was in — he had to drive past Nice Cote d’Azur International en route to his house near Cannes, so we very happily paid €30 (plus a nice tip) instead of the €12 bus fare, to be driven in style to Terminal 2 Departures Building.

Little did we know then that Nice Airport was to be our ‘pied a terre’ and easyJet our ‘chef de cuisine’ for most of what I now call our Lost Weekend…

Camping out in Airport Lounge Instead of 5 star Luxury

I AM NOT detailing here how the Airport and Airline coped with a crowd of 200+ disgruntled Ulsterfolks, plus a similar-sized bunch of Geordies, when the Belfast and Newcastle flights were suddenly cancelled late at night due to the adverse weather conditions that had been building up all day. In short, we all had to be put up overnight.

Let me just say that neither the local airline staff nor the airport authorities were used to such eventualities and were seemingly insufficiently trained to cope with emergency mass stopovers like this; they were overwhelmed, but remained polite in the face of noisy impatience displayed by some of the passengers who made me ashamed.

After midnight, Karen and I were delighted to be allocated an overnight room in a famous five-star hotel on the Promenade des Anglais by the easyJet station supervisor himself. He was writing out room/transport/meal vouchers by hand for passenger after passenger. Alas, when we went outside to get a taxi for the half-hour trip, we were confronted by scores of angry-looking fellow-travellers plus their damp luggage, who had already waited in vain for buses and taxis that didn’t show up for ages.

We went back to the Departures Lounge and found a wee corner where we each erected a camp-bed and unpacked a so-called ‘blanket’ which had all the warmth of an oversized dish-cloth. Karen managed a couple of hours’ sleep — in spite of multi-lingual Public Announcements every 10 minutes that should have been turned off.

However, my Girl Guide-sized camp-bed was never designed for the comfort of someone like me who has had two Total Hip Replacements and a Spinal Fusion/Clamping operation (A Ward Sister in Musgrave Park Hospital once told Karen that all the titanium inside me gave me a scrap-metal value of around £280!). I had to sit up all night and half the next day in an uncomfortable airport seat, until we eventually got back home more than a day late.

We had to fly via Gatwick because the plane we were originally intended to be on was scheduled to be the last of the Summer Season flights on the easyJet Nice-Belfast direct service.

The bad weather had caused it to be diverted to Marseilles, the nearest big airport, but nobody could tell us why it couldn’t come to Nice the next morning when the sun was miraculously splitting the palm-trees, and take us all straight back to Belfast. I read in a Travel News e-note recently that easyJet now has an App to help passengers locate their aircraft; too late for us!

My fair-minded wife Karen insists that I mention that easyJet gave us four meal vouchers, each generously valued at €22.50, totalling €90. Unfortunately, the café in Departures Lounge served only basic snacks like filled baguettes, pies, pastries and croissants, so we were able to afford enough cheese/ham/tomato rolls to keep us going until we arrived home…

Paradise on Le Prom Before the Rains Came…

THE STORM THAT made the end of our stay in Nice so memorable — for all the wrong reasons — came literally out of the blue after four days of glorious Riviera sunshine that was giving the Bay of Angels its unique shade of turquoise.

We had chosen Nice for our autumn break partly because the city was celebrating the Year of the Promenade des Anglais, with dozens of exhibitions and special events throughout the season as part of a concerted campaign to have its globally famous boulevard-by-the-sea — known by Niçois natives as Le Prom — declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site (such as our own Giant’s Causeway).

We arrived just in time to see some of the museum exhibitions before they were replaced at the end of the season. We also caught some sporting events such as the amazing International Triathlon Championships where lycra-clad athletes cycled along the celebrated thoroughfare before running across the adjacent beach to plunge into the Mediterranean for a frenetic swim. I have never seen such fit men and women — even in France, where obesity rate is still under 10 pc, in spite of being the Good Food and Drink Capital of the World. (Read the reasons in the bestselling “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano).

We watched lots of action along the Promenade from the Roof Pool Garden of the apartment we rented from www.GO-NICE.com This was the third time we booked a flat in Royal Luxembourg 2, the impressive apartment building next door to the Casino, overlooking fashionable Lido Plage (my favourite place in the world for a seaside breakfast).

GO-NICE is a busy rental agency run by Londoner PAUL MANION and his lovely partner MARILYNN. After sampling all kinds of Riviera accommodation over the years — from swanky international hotels like the Carlton in Cannes (we slept in Woody Allen’s bed) to intimate B&Bs in Cap Ferrat and Old Nice — we have grown to appreciate the freedom of renting a flat. After trying one or two other apartments in Paul’s portfolio, we preferred the central location of this one, even though it is smaller than most of us would like.

It has free wi-fi and a decent TV which Marilynn came round from her nearby office specially to help us set up (simple fault: I had forgotten to turn on the router!)

That personal service makes G0-NICE special, but what makes this flat extraordinary is the easy access to the Roof Garden with its world-class panoramas (bring binoculars!), adult swimming pool and kids’ paddling pool. A few gulls use these freshwater ponds to quench their thirst and cool-off, but they are not noisy or aggressive.

Ten Trew’s Tips to enhance your break around NICE

A BELFAST CONNECTION with Nice is highlighted in my first Trew’s Tip,the elegant MUSEE MASSENA, a former palace —surrounded by a tropical garden — where ornate exhibits tell the city’s history. I discovered that important paintings,books and artefacts connected to Napoleon — including a death-mask moulded by his doctor plus a portrait of his paramour, Josephine — were gifted to the French Nation by a Belfast couple.

JOHN and ANNA JAFFE bought an imposing white villa on the Promenade des Anglais in the late 1800s to house their magnificent art collection and materials belonging to their hero, Napoleon. John, brother of Sir Otto, Belfast Lord Mayor and son of Daniel J. Jaffe who founded the city’s Jewish community, moved to the Riviera for health reasons. John’s celebrity guests included Renoir, who lived in neighbouring Cagnes in MAISON RENOIR (now open to the public — if you’re lucky) and Marcel Proust. Our next Trew’s Tip is in nearby Rue de France, the Michelin-starred restaurant KEINZO MATASHUMI, which is the Chef’s own name.

I don’t know what is the Japanese for “Unbelievably good,” but our €50 dinner was a triumph of fusion food creativity, with every one of our eight dishes being a surprise for the taste buds with lots of crunchiness, chewiness, creaminess, foamyness, saltiness and maybe even Loch Ness! Karen pronounced her glass of Chateau Montfauchon, Comtesse Madelaine, a red Cotes du Rhone 2013, “elegant and complex — like it says on the bottle.”

My all-time favourite restaurant in Nice is LA ROTONDE, the family brasserie in the celebrated NEGRESCO HOTEL, with its carousel of wooden horses which, unfortunately, no longer come alive every 15 minutes following a refurbishment. Set Dinner is still great value around €30. On the other side of town is Karen’s personal favourite CAFE DE TURIN, a fabulous seafood plaice…sorry,place… where we took two hours to finish a mighty platter of raw and cooked shellfish. Our oysters were the biggest-ever and I have kept the shells as ashtrays in case I take up smoking again after 32 years and 241 days…

Trew’s Tip for the world’s best-value bus journey is a day out from Nice for a couple of quid. For €1.50 You can ride on the right-hand side of the bus to enjoy the Mediterranean coastline all the way to the Italian border beyond Monte Carlo; you disembark and pay another pound to return towards Nice, but get off at EPHRUSSI de ROTHSCHILD GARDENS at Cap Ferrat.

A treat awaits visitors in mid-February when these remarkable gardens resume daily opening to greet the arrival of spring on this sheltered cape. Do not miss this additional Trew’s Treat — a platter of four dainty macaroons and tartlets plus excellent coffee for €5 on the sun-soaked café terrace. Sheer bliss!

For self-catering couples who could not be bothered to make breakfast, head down to PAIN & CIE which sounds like a clinic, but is a trendy bakery/café in the famous COURS SALEYA where different markets are held daily. Bread is oven-fresh, the jams home-made and coffee OK — but the service may be a bit slow because it’s always busy.

On a sunny morning, aim for Trew’s Tip Number Ten, the LIDO PLAGE beach-club where you can soak up some beams over a Continental breakfast right on the sands until lunchtime.

Bon voyage!

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