Monday, August 29, 2022

Behind Gay French Riviera

To provide a bit more context for my future postings, I thought I would offer up some more information about how I first came to the French Riviera in France. I don’t usually write posts this long but for some reason, I felt like letting it all out.

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.

To get a break, I then took the ferry to Santorini, which was stunningly beautiful, and didn’t seem to be overrun by tourists just yet. I loved it but after about a week, I was getting bored, which can be due to my nature of needing to do something constructive.

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.

From Santorini, it was a quick stop in Athens again before heading to France for my first visit.

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.

I told the taxi driver to take me to Rue Paradis. I could see on my map that it would be a short ride from the train station and was located by the sea in a pedestrian zone area, according to the new friend I met on the ferry in Greece who suggested the hotel there, she told me it was a safe, tourist type of location.

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.

To my surprise, my stop was outside a Louis Vuitton boutique and as he took my bags out of the trunk, he pointed to my hotel which was next door to the Louis Vuitton.

My first thought was if Louis Vuitton has a store here, the area can’t be that bad.

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.

My hotel was what I expect for it being a 3-star at the time, but over the years it quickly went down to a 2-star, and the service and look of the hotel got worse. The hotel eventually closed completely down at least 4 years ago and is riddled with rumors of what will be happening to the building given its prime location.

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.

I had nothing planned except for venturing around Nice that first day, and I couldn’t get ready fast enough to hit the streets and beach. Having always been good with directions, I figured out the lay of the land in no time.

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.

Although Nice is set up far better and more convenient these days, with a greater selection of shops and overall much cleaner than back then, there was still something interesting about it all.

And it seemed easy to meet people, also like now and even with my very limited French back then.

If there was something I hadn’t discovered yet on my own, I would be given advice on almost anything, such as areas to avoid and why, and also what more I can see and do.

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.

Now Vieux Nice is filled with visitors day and night with a melting pot of restaurants, shops, and bars to choose from, plus the varied street market on the Cours Saleya.

Since I had been checking out the LGBTQ bars and nightclubs in Greece and Paris, this had me wondering, where was the gay community in Nice?

One would see who I assumed were gay guys on the street but being gay didn’t seem to be as open LGBTQ-wise as it is welcomed now.

Again, because there was no internet, doing some searching around and word of mouth seemed to do the trick.

At one point, I was shopping at an obviously gay clothing boutique at the entrance to Vieux Nice. The store was quite large and I loved some very unique items available, it helped that the very handsome owner started offering up information about the local gay community, mentioning that it was a small group where everyone seemed to know each other and were supportive and friendly.

He gave me a couple of small flyers he had about what establishments were available, when is the best time to go, etc. In total, there were about 3 nightclubs, two that were not open as often, a couple of porn shops, and a small bar.

I tried to attend which place I could in Nice when I wasn’t busy exploring other places like Cannes and Monaco during the day but to be honest, on this first visit, I wasn’t that impressed with the nightclub experiences.

One club was way the hell out of the center of the city in a practically residential area, expensive to get in with not many people on any visit, and is now two family-sized apartments.

Another place was in the downtown core near Avenue Jean Medecin in a place that was at one time a theater/cinema but then it had these large clear glass windows in which you would literally see the neighbors next door hanging out their windows watching to see who was going in and out of the club, and what they were doing once inside the nightclub.

It’s like they never heard of blacking out the glass or even putting up curtains and again, this club was never busy. This was also a transgender escort area at the time, a very small group who were always very friendly.

As for that nightclub, it is now a Lidl.

Close to my hotel in the pedestrian zone was what could be considered a real nightclub, it was very up-to-date and quite large for the city but because there were even very few places for young straight people to go, they also went to this nightclub too simply because the music was better, so not totally gay but modern inside with great beats. This property is still a nightclub to this day but for heterosexuals and on about its seventh version of a nightclub.

I had already been spoiled by Mykonos and Paris so it could’ve been my mood back then not being so impressed, but I did realize that Nice was a small city and you could definitely tell the LGBTQ community was at least trying and growing.

Being someone that always fights for the underdog, I thought there was something I could build upon here.

I was already in love with everything about the French Riviera, even the bullshit hustler aspects of the region which I find add to its charm. That sunny place for shady people deal. I can most certainly tell you that living here is far different than just being a visitor and it’s like a game that I cannot play enough.

I was hooked and so the Cote d’Azur became a place I was obsessed with for every reason imaginable. It was my escape from Canada, where the limits seem endless, with the freedom to really develop into the person I want to be, even with its challenging times, I love it.

Over the years, I continued to do my research on the region and have slowly built up a network of connections from every career and background, and on every visit, it seemed the LGBTQ community expanded and evolved more with the times.

Seeing there was no real presence online for those wanting to visit this part of France, for fun, I made it a mission to provide as much information about not only the LGBTQ community but beyond for everyone. Living here for years now has made it all that much easier with zero regrets.

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