Stuck in the second tourist destination in France

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By Christopher Elliott

The Washington Post

Nice, France, is a city in suspense. Its hotels are on board, its restaurants are closed and its residents are confined to their homes 23 hours a day.

I made a detour here on my way to Italy in mid-March, hoping to avoid a complete lockout. But a few days later, COVID-19 slammed France with unexpected ferocity, and the whole country turned into a red zone.

Today, my rented apartment in the Jean Médecin district is a cage. French police and army patrol the streets. My three teenage children and I are only allowed out of the home for one hour a day. Curfew begins at 8 p.m.

How did we get there? This is a question I ask almost every morning while I am pacing around my cell.

French troops patrol the streets of Nice during the isolation of the coronavirus. The military was deployed on Operation Sentinel after the 2015 terrorist attacks; they stepped up their presence during the COVID-19 epidemic.
Christopher Elliott / Washington Post

Locked in Nice: stuck in the second tourist destination in France

French troops patrol the streets of Nice during the isolation of the coronavirus. The military was deployed on Operation Sentinel after the 2015 terrorist attacks; they stepped up their presence during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Christopher Elliott / Washington Post

It was supposed to be our last family trip before my eldest son left for graduate school. I planned a year-long adventure to show the children the Europe I grew up in. I wanted them to travel the Alps with me, to see the Colosseum in Rome, to eat a krapfen in my favorite Kaffeehaus in Vienna. I could continue to write and because my children were home schooled, they could continue their studies while we were abroad.

And for the first two months in Lisbon and Porto, it worked. But then, on the train from Barcelona to Marseille, we learned that Italy had closed. I made the decision to reroute on the French Riviera and rent an apartment in Vrbo for the rest of the month.

In Nice, the museums closed shortly after our arrival. Next week, bars and restaurants have closed. The mayor then tested positive for COVID-19. And in a few days, the city went from a dynamic Mediterranean tourist destination to a police state.

Strict limitsFrance is one of the coronavirus hot spots in Europe, with more than 159,000 cases. You can’t leave your apartment without a certificate – a signed form that says you buy groceries, exercise, or go to work. You can print the form, write the information on a piece of paper, or create an electronic document on your phone. If the authorities catch you more than a kilometer from your home when you walk, you are liable to a fine of between 38 and 135 euros, or approximately $ 41 to $ 146 in US dollars.

“There are worse places to be stuck,” a friend told me after we arrived.

A sign greeting buyers of the Monoprix grocery store in Nice explains the measures it is taking to prevent new coronavirus infections.
Christopher Elliott / Washington Post

Locked in Nice: stuck in the second tourist destination in France

A sign greeting buyers of the Monoprix grocery store in Nice explains the measures it is taking to prevent new coronavirus infections.

Christopher Elliott / Washington Post

Well, it depends on your situation. I am in an apartment with three teenagers. The boys (ages 15 and 17) take online lessons at the University of Arizona. They also learn several languages, including Portuguese, Spanish, French and Japanese. My daughter, 13, is in grade 9 and works with an online tutor four days a week. When we speak, that’s what we’ll do after that. Should we return to the States? Or stay in Europe as planned, end our trip?

The best part of being trapped in an apartment with teenagers is that you never run out of food. They are constantly at the nearby Monoprix supermarket to restock our supply of cereals, fruit and fresh baguettes. Teenagers are like hummingbirds, eating twice their weight in a day. This is only a slight exaggeration.

The worst part? No, the eye is not rolling and “Daddy, you don’t understand” answers all the other questions. The worst part is not knowing if their in-ear headphones are on. To find out, just ask them a question. Silence means that headphones blow up music or language lessons.

Children are not afraid of getting caught outside. Their paperwork is always in order and they quickly adapted to the strict rules of social distancing. In addition, their French is much better than mine.

Come to think of it, no one seems too worried about the police. This is because this confinement is not only only French, but French from the south. Every day, while on my government-sanctioned walk, I see the police in the same places: near the main thoroughfare along the beach, the Promenade des Anglais; on the main shopping area of ​​avenue Jean Médecin; and in the town squares. Avoiding a checkpoint is easy, and the police make little effort to enter the narrow streets of my neighborhood to find scofflaws that resist locking.

Aren Elliott, the author’s son, wanders around Nice’s Jean-Médecin district when the coronavirus closes.
Christopher Elliott / Washington Post

Locked in Nice: stuck in the second tourist destination in France

Aren Elliott, the author’s son, wanders around Nice’s Jean-Médecin district when the coronavirus closes.

Christopher Elliott / Washington Post

In the early days of imprisonment, the streets seemed unusually empty, like those of a studio visit to Warner Bros. People have taken the threat of a pandemic as seriously as anywhere else. But it didn’t stay that way long. A non-essential chocolate factory defied the lockout last week. Yesterday, I passed a bar which had opened its door with a crack. Inside, I could see people enjoying a beer.

Although the authorities barricaded the beach, this did not prevent some residents from crossing the line. I watched a woman pass under the strip and stroll along the water as the pedestrians across the road nodded approvingly.

This is a nice lock.

Stay or press?My certificate leaves me just an hour outside. I wish I had more. Spring in Nice is an event to enjoy at least once in your life. A Mediterranean breeze carries the heavy scent of orange blossoms through the city. The overgrown gardens have delivered a tide of purple and red flowers. You hear them before you see them, thanks to a deep hum of insects quietly feasting on nectar.

The people I meet fall into two categories: masked and maskless. Those with masks move quickly, often crossing the street to avoid me. Non-mask wearers stop to talk to each other and don’t seem to care if you get too close. Most of the Niçois without a mask are elderly or homeless, but I also see young people without protection. Last week, I saw two men shake hands in public. In a world obsessed with social distance, this is the ultimate sign of the challenge.

The US Embassy in Paris sends me an email every few days, warning me that I should be ready to stay abroad for an “indefinite” period. But for how long? The French president has announced that the foreclosure of France will end on May 11. My lease expires a few days before. Should we stay in Nice and wait until “everything is clear”? If we continue, do we go to Italy or do we double in England, which is more familiar but more behind in its recovery of COVID-19?

Or are we going home? It’s tempting, except that I sold almost everything I owned – including my car and my house – before embarking on this odyssey. If we came back, we would have to start again. I don’t even know where we would go.

The main abandoned shopping district near boulevard Dubouchage in Nice after the closure of the coronavirus.
Christopher Elliott / Washington Post

Locked in Nice: stuck in the second tourist destination in France

The main abandoned shopping district near boulevard Dubouchage in Nice after the closure of the coronavirus.

Christopher Elliott / Washington Post

Right now, there’s the predictable daily routine of 23 hours in an apartment. There are walks on abandoned avenues, scented with orange blossom, visits to the bakery and supermarket, and other conversations with children about our uncertain future. I hope when it’s over, they’ll come back here to see the France I remember – not in this beautiful prison.

A dark time for the tourism industryNice is the second most visited city in France, after Paris. But its hotels, restaurants and tour operators are closed indefinitely, and there is almost no sign of life.

“We have never faced such a situation,” says Denis Cippolini, president of the Nice hotel and restaurant association.

For the past few days, I have been looking for evidence that the tourism industry is preparing to wake up on the French Riviera. I hardly find any.

Tour operators and hotels are closed and sometimes on board. There are scaffolding at the Radisson Blu Hotel near the beach, but it’s hard to say if it’s still in use. A team works on the roof of the Locarno hotel in the Thiers district. But otherwise everything is calm.

“Everything is dead,” says Caroline Conner, a sommelier who organized vineyard tours from Lyon, France. “I loved my business and my clients, and will come back to it when tourism wakes up. But many of my fellow tour operators cannot survive this long. “

The tour operators drank French wine and sympathized with a Facebook group that had been closed since the lockdown began.

“Things are really terrible,” she says.

His survival strategy: go online wine education on his website, winedinecaroline.com.

One of Nice’s wine specialists, Viktorija Todorovska, has also adopted virtual wine training to help them get through this drought. On her site, siptasteshare.com, she started posting videos with advice on everything from buying wine (“Don’t buy wine on the label”) to storing wine (“Always at refrigerator, even red wine ”).

She looked more optimistic when I contacted her. The Tour de France, although delayed, should still start in Nice this summer. In late April, she and a colleague are planning an online cooking and wine experience that will feature the French Riviera and other regions of France, following the route of the bike race.

“I hope visitors will return soon,” she said.

I decided to inquire with my tourist contact in Nice, Caterina Prochilo. When I arrived in town before the lock, she and Todorovska met my family at Cours Saleya market and presented us with socca, a pancake made from chickpea flour. I remember Prochilo was outgoing and optimistic. But when she replied to my email, her tone had changed.

Prochilo works in an apartment with her husband and 12-year-old daughter. She performs administrative tasks and has morning meetings with her staff during the week. But, she adds, “It’s complicated to be confined to the house.”

It will be far away.

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