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When public transportation becomes an open-air museum

When public transportation becomes an open-air museum

1 measly Euro.

That’s how much it will cost you to get anywhere on a bus or tram in Nice: no matter if you’re winding alongside the sea to Monaco or if you’re just heading to the other side of town. 1 Euro for a ticket that’s valid for 78 minutes–although, unfortunately, it won’t work round-trip. Can someone please share this notion of affordable public transportation with America?

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With 2 Euros in my pocket and a desire to see more of the city, I set off for a morning riding the tram from terminus to terminus. It’s been easy for me to stay cloistered in my neighborhood: work, school and shops are all within a 15-minute walking radius of my house. However, I decided that was time to see beyond just the center of town.

A quick history of the tram that runs right underneath my window, forcing me to use earplugs every night: the Nice tramway first went into service in 2007. It’s about five miles long with 25 stops, with about five minutes between trains during the week. It’s a super convenient way to get around the city–clean, comfortable and quick. Two more tramway lines are in the works, with one connecting the center of Nice to the airport.

One of the coolest things about the Nice tramway is that it’s an “open air museum,” with 13 modern works of art along the way. You can take a guided tour on Friday evenings that explains more about the art, but I think the beauty of the tramway is the hop-on, hop-off convenience to discover it all on your own. Here were the highlights of my ride:

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  • Las Planas station
  • The Western terminus of the tram won several architecture awards for its design, and I can see why. With the use of natural materials, clean lines and view of the sea, it certainly doesn’t feel like a bus station.

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  • St. Jeanne d’Arc church
  • I spotted a huge, gorgeous white structure through the buildings as the tram was zipping along, and couldn’t resist getting off and checking it out. Constructed in 1934, it’s a refreshing change from the Gothic cathedrals that dominate France. The interior is simple with a rounded ceiling and abstract stained glass, with information about the church’s “twin” in Mali.

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  • Liberation market
  • The Cours Salaya market is the one you’ll find in the all the guidebooks: it’s smack in the middle of Old Nice, only minutes from the beach. I usually spend my Sunday mornings weaving through English-speaking tourists wielding gigantic cameras as I shop for fruits and veggies. I usually shop at Cours Salaya because it’s closer to me, but the Place Liberation market is where you’ll find the locals and the deals.

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  • Quotes along the way
  • One of my favorite parts of taking the tram is reading the quotes that are at each station. Written in a whimsical font, they say things like “anything is possible” or “the new is old.” While most are in French, some are in Niçoise, a local dialect that’s a mix of old French and Italian.

    The tramway is the perfect example of things that Europe just does better than America: public transportation, infusing art into daily life, embracing efficient yet beautiful architecture. While I don’t really need to take the tram, I’m glad I saw another part of life in Nice.

  • What do you mean it's valid for 78 minutes? Can you get on and off again with the same ticket? That would be kind of amazing. I love the inspirational quotes in each station. Wish I had something like that to beautify my commute!

  • camorose

    Yup! As long as you validate each time, you're totally fine. Valid between the buses and the tram, so it makes running errands really easy! And the quotes are really thought-provoking–definitely adds something to the commute!

  • Awesome and cheap. I find Public Transport all over Europe to be in general top notch. It is pretty expensive in Germany, but very organized (well mostly). Here they run like a hundred trains on gamedays between the station and the stadium both before and after the game.
    We don't have the nice art or quotes. But I get to see the specials at the little cafe's as I go by.
    @Nicole : usually it is 78 minutes in one direction of travel. So you can change trams and get back on a different one as long as you don't go back toward where you started. Like Christine said, you can't do roundtrips.

  • camorose

    Public transportation in Europe is definitely WAY better than the States. Not bad in Germany, but I found it a bit confusing and expensive (Munich and Berlin)–however, both cities are very walkable or bike-able. Only in France would you find the art and quotes…

  • Sounds terrific! I love the pictures – excellent way to spend a day getting to know your town or city.

  • camorose

    Thanks! I looked like a total tourist with my SLR on the tram, but I think it was worth it!

  • That's what I dig about Paris. Many of the metro stations are completely unique artistic installations.

  • camorose

    I love traveling on the Metro in Paris–many of the stations are just ordinary, but every once in a while you stumble across one that is just absolutely beautiful!

  • camorose

    Thanks! I looked like a total tourist with my SLR on the tram, but I think it was worth it!

  • That's what I dig about Paris. Many of the metro stations are completely unique artistic installations.

  • camorose

    I love traveling on the Metro in Paris–many of the stations are just ordinary, but every once in a while you stumble across one that is just absolutely beautiful!

  • Wow so beautiful, I don't remember any of this from when I visited when I was 16. It was probably there but I didn't appreciate it.

  • camorose

    The tramway was just put in a few years ago, so you probably missed it! It's an awesome addition to the city–convenient and creative!

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