In the early 1990s, I started going on more trips to Europe from my hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada.
I love my homeland dearly but I always had a gut feeling that Europe would be in the cards for me, it did take some time but I managed to get here to live full-time.
Since it was the early 1990s, there was, of course, no internet, calling was expensive and then there was the snail mail system. For myself, any information about a location in Europe I was interested in visiting usually came from something I had seen on TV, the local library, but mainly from friends that had recently been where I wanted to travel and seemed to be a fountain of
With that, and usually two jobs to save money for a trip that could last anywhere from a month to 3 months, I would plan out an itinerary the best I could.
One trip was to Greece where I stayed in Athens and the gay holy land of Mykonos which seemed to be teaming with major celebrities that year and full of outrageous parties.
In fact, I don’t know if I would have the patience to take an actual vacation and do nothing. I have to be learning about a location, get involved in the local lifestyle and am always planning something ahead. I’m the kind that will go to a beach and am an avid swimmer but after an hour I almost start feeling guilty and need something to do. Learning to fully relax is on my list to do.
I’ve always been fascinated by France, its history, culture, and language, and even to this day, I find the country to be completely intriguing.
I spent my first week staying in a fantastic apartment that a friend owned and who was out of town. It was an unusually large apartment in Paris and I knew at the time I could never afford something like it if I decided to move to the city one day, at least immediately.
Day and night I began exploring on foot every part of the city I could, absorbing as much as possible and slowly becoming accustomed to how I saw people living and was fascinated by it all.
Not long after, relatives who had moved to the Dordogne region of France from the UK as part of their retirement a couple of years before invited me to come to visit.
While visiting them, by chance, most of the people my relatives had gotten to know were all gay men. And it was actually lesbians who built their home, so I was instantly introduced to many people from the small LGBTQ community as “the Canadian” staying with relatives in France.
I’ve always admired my relatives and thought of them as mentors in many ways and their friends seemed to go out of their way to tour me around the region and give me the inside scoop on everything that was happening.
During a weekend trip to Bordeaux with my relative's friend Jean Marie, in conversation one day, he asked where I thought of visiting next in France. I told him I had met a woman on the ferry from Santorini to Athens that told me a bit about Nice and even suggested a hotel to stay at if I go and what to see and do.
Jean Marie thought it was a great idea and since I had the time, a few days after our trip, I took the train to Nice.
I sometimes wonder how I managed back then but others obviously did as well. I knew maybe ten words of French, there was no internet, mobile phones, or apps back then. I recall just having some handwritten notes and a map of France.
Tourism at the time didn’t seem to be taken as seriously or prevalent as now, get anything, even minor done just took longer compared to now, but since I didn’t know any different back then, it was just part of the adventure of traveling, making mistakes and taking things in stride.
I arrived at the main train station in Nice in the early evening of almost the middle of September.
Everything I read or was told was to not hang around the train station at night.
When I got off the platform and was leaving the train station, there were a few homeless people but it didn’t seem that bad.
There were not many street lights and there was an edginess as though trouble could happen at any moment. The night seemed almost steamy as though the
heat from the sun on the streets during the day was being released and there was definitely a sense of mystery in the air.
I was quickly falling in love with this place.
There was no tramline near the train station as there is now, and I wasn’t about to try and figure out the bus system, yet knowing that taxis were expensive, I didn’t care and thought it was the best and safest solution.
Thinking back, the cab driver took me the most direct route to the hotel, so although definitely overpriced, he didn’t take advantage as much as he could and he was very polite in pointing out places to visit in his broken English.
And I was to find out later that the Louis Vuitton boutique has been in the same location since the early 1940s and there are still images of it there during WWll.
Since it was almost low season, the hotel desk clerk gave me a great deal by giving me the biggest and best room in the place that was big enough for a family and at an even lower rate than a single room also because of the length of my stay. I was exhausted from the long train ride from Bordeaux but happy about the deal.
The first morning in Nice, was the opposite of how I normally lived in Vancouver, where I felt like sleeping most of the time simply because of the bleak weather. Here in the Cote d’Azur, even to this day, there is something about the energy of the sun coming up brings to the region that I am raring to go.
Nice then as now, is a relatively small city, that to me is safe with a downtown core that offers most anything you would need.
For example, back in the early 1990s, during the day, people went into Vieux Nice (Old Town), located by the sea to eat at the small selection of restaurants but it was also known that it might not be the best idea to explore that part of the city after 7 pm as the area was not as updated for tourists as it is now, nor as clean, but mainly because there were really no police security cameras in place and because of the maze of the narrow pedestrian streets, locals up to no good who knew the area could quickly mug you or pickpocket your wallet and take off and you wouldn’t know which direction they headed.
As for that nightclub, it is now a Lidl.
Being someone that always fights for the underdog, I thought there was something I could build upon here.