It drizzled, then poured. This was weather that might take a few days to blow away. And I had just under three. Nice had been an afterthought for me while planning a trip to Spain and Corsica in May. I anticipated an easy couple of days eating, looking at paintings, and strolling -- in that famous dazzling sunshine. At the Nice tourist board, at the train station, my spirits lifted. I went to the tourist office to find a hotel room -- a strategy suggested by a friend who travels often in France. I liked the idea of traveling so spontaneously, but without reservations, would I end up in a fleabag, or worse, with no room at all?
My friend had not led me astray, I discovered although it wouldn't be wise to wait past 6 p.
The woman at the tourism desk was friendly, briskly professional, and spoke English. The ground floor was occupied by a restaurant that shared the hotel's name and its entrance.
My room, facing an interior courtyard, was on the small and dark side, but it was quiet and clean, tastefully done up with heavy gold drapes and bedspread. It had a nice mattress on the double bed and a private bathroom with a deep, tiled tub. With home base settled, I hurried downstairs to squeeze in a few late-afternoon hours of sightseeing, only to find another heavy squall in progress.
I headed in the direction of the old city, Vieux Nice, toward the Cours Saleya, a street that becomes a flower, fruit and vegetable market every morning except on Monday. At 10 it was thick with shoppers and tourists. Schoolchildren crowded around the stands heaped with glazed fruits -- plump figs, orange slices, cherries and lemons -- a Nice specialty. The air, still damp, smelled a bit like olive oil, mixed with lavender. Then I started exploring the labyrinthine side streets of Vieux Nice, which spread in several directions from the straight path of the Cours Saleya.
This part of the city is said to be little changed since the 's, and it seemed even older than that. Some streets were a bit too narrow and lonely, so I gave them a pass, especially since Nice has had street-crime problems the last few years. Eventually, lost, I found myself standing in front of a tiny restaurant that, at a.
Inside was a narrow room with perhaps eight tables, most already filled. This seemed odd, since it was still early. Curious, I walked into La Merenda.
What followed was one of the most memorable meals I've ever eaten. There is no phone you show up in the morning to make lunch and dinner reservations , and they take no credit cards.
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Since I had no reservation, if I had shown up 10 minutes later, I would not have gotten in. The knowledgeable waiter steered me to the crisp, dry house white and to an appetizer of fresh sardines, which arrived painstakingly boned; the flesh had been removed, minced with spices and a hint of lemon, then stuffed into the crispy grilled skin. It was fragrant with a vague aroma of brandy, laced with olive oil and had a peppery bite. I savored the last drops with crusty, homemade bread.
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After such a sublime meal, looking at beautiful things at the Matisse Museum seemed appropriate. The museum is about a minute bus ride from downtown Nice, in Cimiez, a hilly district that overlooks the city. The bus slowly winds up, and higher up, a precariously twisty road, through leafy suburbs lined with pillared great houses and rows of cypress trees. Near the top of the hills, alongside Roman ruins from about A. View all New York Times newsletters.
For a while I lost myself, drifting through gallery after gallery, enjoying the sensuous, clean lines of Matisse's late-life drawings and woodcuts. I felt better knowing that Matisse had sometimes been rained out in Nice, too.
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