Sunday, September 22, 2013

Couch Surfing in Nice La Belle

We decide to do a detour to Nice to visit our friend Colm.  It’s his 46th birthday and he has persuaded us to come visit.  We met quite by chance when we were visiting Cloughjordan Ecovillage in Ireland and Colm was visiting his brother Martin who lives there.  Our lives converged at the little pub in town, when we walked in and the two of them struck up a conversation with us! 

Our friendship grew when Colm offered to give us a ride to Limerick the next day.  On the way, we learn a little more about Irish hospitality and the fact that Colm offers up his living room to couch surfers in Nice.  He persuades us to come and visit.  We know we will be in the area and we promise to have a look at our tentative plans to see if we can squeeze in a couple of days in Nice. 

Our journey through Europe has been enriched because we have been open to these chance encounters and then followed up when people said…”hey you should come visit me…”!  Most people are brought with a notion that ‘strangers’ are dangerous people - stranger danger is taught in school these days and kids grow up fearing those they don’t know. 

Travel has taught me to be free of these limiting notions …to learn to trust my instincts…to be free, to go with the flow.  Ireland showed me that there is an entire culture of people who are willing to go out of their way to be of help to ‘strangers’ or as a couch surfer would say, friends you haven’t met!  Couch surfing is all about trusting ‘strangers’. You open up your home to backpackers and give them a free bed on your couch.  You get to be part of a great cultural exchange, meeting backpackers who bring the world to your doorstep.  It is one step removed from the airbnb concept in that couch surfing is free.  There is no fee for sleeping on someone’s couch but a traveller may bring you a little token of their appreciation like say a bottle of wine.  The internet has opened up a myriad of travel options for backpackers these days.  When people say I can’t afford to travel what they are really saying is that I don’t have the courage to travel cheaply, to travel close to the ground…to trust a stranger to put me up!  I look up the website and I’m amazed to see the extent to which couch surfing is becoming part of the backpacking world. 

So here we are…in Nice, where Colm has an apartment about a 5-minute walk from the train station.  It’s Friday night and he is working late. By the time he arrives, we have made some dinner so we can have a quiet night in. We met his son Oisín in Ireland but we get the chance to also meet his daughter Elisa.  They are lovely kids and keep us entertained while we catch up with Colm and share some of our stories.  

We continue talking long after the kids have gone to bed.  Colm says we are good listeners (something we hear often) and shares with us some interesting stories of his life and experiences, which are many and quite varied.  We are captivated by his stories, especially of his time as a monk.  He too is a writer and photographer and we share common dreams of quitting the corporate world for good and living off the earnings of our creative pursuits.  Colm jokes that we might write up his story before he gets around to writing it himself…so I won’t share more of his interesting life here J.  Colm also plays the guitar and sings and occasionally he will stop talking, to pick up his guitar and entertain us with a song.  We’ve talked late into the next morning.  Colm’s couch reveals a nicely concealed sofa bed, which we pull out before we say goodnight.

We wake up late on Saturday and make sausages and eggs before we accompany Colm as he takes Ellie to her gym class.  It is fun to spend time with friends who are ‘locals’ as you get a glimpse of how places really tick, rather than just ticking off a list of sights in your guidebook.  Nice is not that different to Australia in that kids as young as 4 are already starting to have very structured lives from a very early age, with organised classes ranging from ballet to music.  We reflect that we are all glad we grew up during a time when life was a whole lot simpler and weekends were for playing cricket in the garden or riding our bikes with the kids next door!  

In the afternoon, Steve and I go down to the promenade for a walk and to enjoy the feeling of being on the Riviera.  Nice is the second-largest French city on the Mediterranean coast after Marseille and of course a popular tourist destination from about the time of the mid 18th century, when the English aristocracy discovered this place.  I read that the Promenade des Anglais (‘the Walkway of the English') owes its name to these early visitors.  It drew people not just because it was an ideal spot to relax in but also because artists and writers drew inspiration from its natural beauty. 

In the evening we meet a number of Colm’s friends.  They are a mixed bunch of people - artists, sculptors and musicians mingle with friends from work.  They are French, Irish and other migrants, all of whom now call Nice home.  We are particularly drawn to Colm’s best friend, a recent immigrant from Poland, who is also on her own journey of discovery. 

There is a relaxed mood in the air and we celebrate his 46th birthday with lots of champagne, wine and good food.  I’ve actually pulled out the one dress I have in my backpack as Colm has warned me that the women in Nice love to dress up.  This culture is very different from the laid back Aussie culture that is very much a part of who I am.  Making sure you are nicely turned out with the right shade of lipstick and eyeliner is a big part of going out in Nice, so I scrub up for the evening!    

Couch surfing in Nice has been a lovely detour.  Catching up with a chance acquaintance and sharing another experience has made our friendship a little deeper.  I believe that people come in to your life for a reason.  Sometimes, they stay for a season and other times they are with you for the rest of your life.  Travel enables you to make instant and deep connections with strangers. 
Connections like this are often never forged with people who have known you your whole life. Strangers take you as they find you, rather than assuming you are still the same person you were twenty years ago!

Once again we chat late into the night, long after the guests have left before we hug and say goodbye, as we will leave early morning to catch our train to Bari.  It has been a lovely reunion and Colm is convinced we will meet again sooner rather than later…!  Let’s see what the Universe brings along. 

Goodbye Colm, good luck on your journey and thanks for a lovely visit!  We hope you find the time in your life to be creative…we can’t wait to read the book!  


  1. Never say goodbye..... I am so touched by both of you and your search... and so grateful to get a load off my shoulders. Thank you so much for being here, and letting me see myself from your eyes.... There are no ends, just new beginnings and some cultures I believe, don't even have a word for goodbye, knowing full well we meet again somewhere. Follow your hearts.......