Nice, France

We couldn’t have chosen a more opposite place of the Faroe Islands to visit next. This week was originally unaccounted for, so we spent an evening in the Faroes deciding where we would spend it, booking everything with less than a week before we would arrive. We looked at Prague, Croatia, Germany, etc. but either flight timing/routes didn’t make sense or there weren’t good airbnbs/hostels with good prices left. One of us threw out the South of France after two hours of google searches and flight checks. There were direct flights from Copenhagen (where mostly all Faroe flights connect through), the airbnb we found was three minutes walking to the sea, and the climate change sounded amazing after a week in the cold and wet. We prayed that the Holy Spirit was guiding the decision. We booked it, and got pretty excited to see the Mediterranean for the first time.

In all of Robbie and my airbnb stays in our marriage (which has been quite a few now), we have never booked a place that had other guests being hosted in other rooms at the same time, sort of sharing living spaces and bathrooms and such. Not intentionally, it’s just worked out that way. In reflection, it’s amazing to us that somehow, again completely unintentionally and actually totally unknowingly until we arrive at these airbnbs, every place we have stayed at so far (4 places) has been a shared space. We love that we didn’t mean to book them because it shows us just one of the ways that God is answering prayers we have been praying for so long now. I mentioned it in the first post, but we have given God our desire to meet people along the way, asking that He would orchestrate specific meetings and put specific people in our path along this trip that we could either love on or be loved on by. Having home base in each location be a space that others from around the world are staying too has given us so many amazing encounters. We are grateful and are learning to be especially present in the small amounts of time we have with each person, making the moments count.

For instance, we ended up sitting on the airplane out of Faroe one row behind the sisters we gave a ride into the city to (Olga and Yulia).Yulia spots us from her plane seat as we are walking down the center aisle looking for our own seats. She says, “Ohhh!! Hi! We were looking for you in the airport and didn’t find you! So happy we get to see you again!” What a sweetie. It was so great because their mother and father were traveling with them and the dad is meeting Robbie for the first time. He asks, “Are you the man that saved my children?” and Robbie laughed and said, “Yeah? I guess?” with a big smile. We didn’t exactly “save” his daughters, but he sure thought we did. He told us thank you maybe 5 or 6 more times before the flight and entry into the Copenhagen airport was over. Such a precious moment I’ll never forget because giving them a ride was seriously no big deal, but Robbie’s sweet instinct to go out of his way to ask two women at a bus stop alone if they wanted to hop in and we’d get them to where they were going truly made an impact on this family. Praise God!! God’s generosity to us frees us to live generously without hesitation!

We arrived in Nice, France at 10:50am. We took an Uber to our airbnb and immediately noticed the insane structure of parallel parked cars along all the side streets of the city. They were all squished so close together we couldn’t imagine someone getting in or out! We were at a stop light in the Uber when Robbie sees this guy out his window getting out of his parallel parking spot and he NO JOKE runs into the car behind him, then the car in front of him, then again the car behind and on and on like this (not exactly doing damage, but certainly having no qualms about making contact with the cars over and over!) until he made it onto the road. I swear our jaws were on the floor! We laughed so hard and were glad we weren’t renting a car here!

We arrive at our airbnb, a beautiful ornate 5 story building right outside the city center. We go inside, take the ancient “lift” up to the fifth floor and Emma, our host, was right inside ready to greet us with two slices of freshly baked apricot pie! She is so precious, you guys! The kindest middle-aged French woman with the sweetest French accent while speaking to us in English. She showed us to our clean white-everywhere room, with the prettiest balcony. She gave us a map, circled the things we should try to see, gave us a million tips for getting around and we were off into the city for the day.

Most of our days were spent with a similar routine. Mornings were always slow here. We slept til 8 most days, woke and read on the balcony, and then shared breakfast hand-prepared by our host with the rest of the guests here at 9:30am. I don’t know if the breakfast we had made for us here is a traditional French breakfast or not, but we have never consumed so much sugar and calories for breakfast before (but seriously no regrets!). Every day we had a spread of hot caramel cake, fig and marzipan pie, banana bread, hot flaky croissants, lemon pound cake, pancakes, mint cake, orange cake, with her homemade lattes, hot teas, or an assortment of juices! This is like every child’s dream, right? Every morning you wake to essentially dessert for breakfast! haha But it gave us time to sit around a table with other travelers here for the week, get to know them, ask questions and share. We met Francisco, an Italian man visiting Nice to take French language classes, and Dhru and Aperna, a young Indian couple from Houston and Australia that currently live in Brooklyn traveling for their 5-year wedding anniversary. By the end of the week, we all felt like friends waking up to have breakfast together. It was so obvious how comfortable we’d all gotten with each other by the last day today, just joking with one another, laughing about travel experiences and regular life, and talking about how much weight we must have gained from these breakfasts.

We spent the first three days just walking the streets of Nice, down to their Old Town area where the streets are old, cobblestoned and narrow, the buildings are colorful and full of character, where hundreds of apartments sitting above shops on the street level had laundry hanging out of their windows. We’d wander for a long time, grabbing cheap lunch and eating it along an alley somewhere, then walk to the ocean and swim for hours and then lay out and read our Bibles. We were quickly corrected by Francisco and Emma that we were not swimming in the ocean, we were swimming in the sea. We told them “If it’s salt water and you can’t see any land beyond where the water starts, it’s the ocean to Nebraskans who never see bodies of water.” haha Something so striking about the Mediterranean is the bold teal waters. I mean, the color is insane. We were stopped in our tracks when we first saw it and I think Robbie even made a comment like, “They must treat this water with something to make it that color! It can’t be real!” But we found out just as quickly that it truly is that color and wow, it never stopped being beautiful to us. The weather all five days was 90 degrees, sunny, and not a hint of clouds. A little different than our week prior.

Moments that stick out from this week to me:

Robbie bought snorkel gear for super cheap at a beach shop and loved exploring the clear waters with them. But we also learned during this trip that he has an unrealistic fear of sharks and would freak himself out every time he went so far he couldn’t see the bottom, so then he’d swim right back to shore. 🙂 Adorable.

Anyone who knows Robbie, you know his life goal is to make me smile/laugh/have a fun time. So unsurprisingly he “makes like a beached whale” and lets his body go completely dead weight right up by the shore, so as the tide rolls in and out, his whole body is being washed up onto the shore and then taken back into the waters over and over again. He’s even letting the tide turn his body over as this is happening. I am laughing so hard and so many people up on the sand are staring at him (probably concerned at first but then smiling as they see and hear me cracking up). I wish I had video of him doing this because it really was hilarious.

I don’t even know how many times we sang a silly tune with the words “Je ne comprends pas” (“I don’t understand” in French since it’s the one phrase Robbie remembers from French class in high school) as we walked around Nice. I mean seriously, it was so dumb, but it was one of those things that to us was so funny, so we kept doing it. 🙂

We shamefully (except not at all) ate McDonald’s here one night super late (and the place was crowded!! We waited twenty minutes in line for a cheese burger and fries. (We found out from our Belgian friends we met in the Faroes that when french fries were originally named, they were discovered by Americans in Belgium– but they heard the people there speaking French– an often spoken language in Belgium– so they assumed the fries were French. Our Belgian friends, Thomas and Iris, said it couldn’t be more untrue! French fries should be called Belgian fries! That’s apparently where they are done the “right” way and the original way! Love that fact!). You could order your food on these touch screens or at the counter. We tried the touch screens and totally failed because everything was in French and couldn’t be translated by our minimal knowledge, so we ordered at the counter. I don’t know why Robbie and I loved this night that we walked and got McDonald’s so much but sometimes it’s these things that make you smile.

French military men walk all the streets of Nice. Everywhere you go, you’ll see groups of three or four military guys carrying gigantic guns strapped around their chests just walking the sidewalks. We googled this and found out that since the Nice and Paris ISIS attacks, more than 10,000 armed forces will permanently walk domestic streets of France every single day now protecting civilians. We hate the reason why this installment of officers on the streets happened, but I seriously have so much pride for the French just looking at their amazing men and women who are protecting them every day. So badass.

One night at sunset we walked up “Castle Hill,” which is the ruins of a former castle that you can trek up a million steps and get a great view of the city and the French Riviera waterfront. The view really was spectacular. They’ve turned the top of the old castle into a park! It’s wonderful and shady up there and we walked hand in hand for a long time just taking it all in. While up there, we were in a secluded section of the giant area, just the two of us leaning against the stone half-walls and out of nowhere two white doves flew up from beneath us as we looked over at the ocean side of the city. Maybe it’s silly, but we felt it so meaningful being at the tallest point in Nice at sunset by ourselves getting a little show from these doves. It felt really special.

I thought I didn’t like macaroons because the ones I’ve tried in Omaha are just flavorless, crunchy sugar (to me). But I was definitely willing to give them another try here in France. Oh my!! We had a couple from two different patisseries and they were so different from each other but equally as amazing. We had coffee-flavored from both places and then pistachio and “rose + raspberry” from one of them. Definitely realizing Nebraskans don’t know how to make macaroons. 🙂 (We also had the absolute best coconut ice cream at a place called Fennochio’s. And apparently everyone else knows the place is amazing too based off of the giant crowd that the outdoor ice cream shop attracted! We had to go there twice. hehe)

The stereotype I’ve heard of French people is they’re rude and rough around the edges like New Yorkers and they’ll be annoyed with you speaking English to them. That was NOT our experience. We will happily remember how genuinely kind and helpful the French were here, and how patient and quick-to-use the *sometimes* little English they knew with us. I love it when people don’t fit the mold the world puts them in.

We had heard there’s lots of great places you can visit by train in Nice, but the gem that most tourists don’t go to but should is “Eze” (pronounced “Ezz”).  It’s a 2,000 plus year old village that still has intact medieval homes and shops up on the hill you can walk amongst. We took the train out there, a very quick and easy 15 minute train ride, and then caught a bus that takes you winding up the mountain that the village sits on. We got to hike up to the tallest point there too, to what they call the “exotic garden” with tons of beautiful large cactus plants and a stunning panoramic view of the South of France. We were up at the top for easily an hour just admiring it all. Somehow, since we haven’t planned anything on this adventure in advance, we had made our way down from the exotic garden lookout and caught the very last bus that was running that day out of the village of Eze. Totally coincidence. We had no idea when the last bus ran that day, but boy were we glad when we found that out! haha Such a relief. It was 5:40pm. The bus ride down the mountain was incredibly nauseating (even Robbie who usually does not get car sick felt horrible after this), but we made it. We got to help a sweet Chinese girl (who told us to call her Susan) find her way to the right bus and the right train back to where she was staying that night. The train ride from Eze back to Nice was so packed, we were actually squished against the doors. We took a chance and decided to get off at a random stop to breathe a little from the chaos of people and to try to feel better with fresh air after that nauseating bus ride. We landed at Ville Franche, and my goodness, it was stunning!! The beach was just a stairwell down from the train stop, and we discovered even clearer Mediterranean water than in Nice and just as gorgeous, if not more gorgeous views. The beach in Nice isn’t sand– it’s actually stones, surprisingly! It’s very hard to walk on, but this beach was tiny pebbles, and much easier to navigate. It was 6:15pm and the sun was setting behind this huge cliff that surrounded the cove and there were hardly any people. So we found a good spot, Robbie took an hour swim and I read my Bible while I watched him swim in the most beautiful place we’d ever swam. These moments bring me great joy, understandably. SO happy, so at peace, so present. We loved it so much that after we went home, we decided it was where we would spend our last day in the South of France. So that’s exactly what we did. We spent today swimming at the beach in Ville Franche (Yes, the is supposed to be there) for 6 hours, trying to absorb every last second we had of the big sun, the view in the background of the colorful buildings built into the rock cliffs that hold so much history, and the teal yet crystal clear Mediterranean Sea.

Something really cool happened this morning before we left for Ville Franche. We passed Emma, our host, at her long breakfast table, where she’s been sitting studying for the BAR exam for Law that she’s trying to pass next week. She’s seriously been sitting there morning and night, hammering away at her books and papers. We have heard about it all week. She’s had to say no to all her plans for weeks on end, studying without ceasing, feeling swamped, feeling restless, and feeling so nervous she won’t pass. Without exposing her too vulnerably, her husband left her and she’s never had a job so she went back to school to provide for herself, so she’s been left sort of feeling desperate. She had said she woke up this morning with joint pain even from the stress of this impending 6-hour exam. As we passed her at her table, swimming in her study materials, I nervously asked, “I’m sorry if this is weird, but would you let me pray for you?” Her eyes got big, she got up from the table quickly and said, “Oh yes! Would you? I’m not good at praying or any of that kind of stuff. I would love for you to!” Relieved, Robbie stood next to us while she and I hugged/held each other as I prayed over her that she’d have rest, confidence in her school work, knowledge, and peace. We wrapped up and she couldn’t stop thanking me saying she felt revived, ready to take on the day more than she had before, and then even pointed to her bare legs under her dress where you could see a million tiny goosebumps saying, “Look at my goosebumps you gave me with your prayer! This was so good to me! Thank you, Chase!” What a precious moment the three of us had, even though my voice was shaking the whole prayer from my pounding, anxious heart! Robbie and I walked out of there today refreshed and revived ourselves, at Emma’s receptiveness to Jesus and us. We love this woman!

The other night Robbie and I grabbed a baguette and two kinds of cheeses from a local grocer and brought it back to the airbnb late, sat on our balcony, ate our food and talked for three hours before bed. We went back and forth sharing our favorite parts of this adventure so far, considered what God was doing in our hearts, and what we were learning from His Word. We talked about how meaningless this all is apart from God. We talked about how when we have children one day we hope that the biggest thing, the boldest thing they remember about their growing-up years is how much their parents loved Jesus and how fiercely Jesus loves them. Without mentioning what God is doing in our hearts is to not share the whole story. We are learning so much in the word and I am just in awe of the Lord. I didn’t expect it– I have been getting so close to God without realizing it that I got to 1 Kings chapter 11 while reading on the beach yesterday and the header is “Solomon turns from the Lord” and I just started crying, tears streaming down my face and falling onto my lap. And Robbie had to comfort me. Because I just had to read the header for myself to feel the weight of sadness I felt for my father in Heaven. The sadness I imagined He must feel over his children he’s blessed so incredibly abundantly and yet still choose to live a life about themselves and worshipping other idols. I lost it. I couldn’t even bring myself to read that chapter, so I closed the book for the day right there because I became so emotional. I felt like I was reading about how my best friend had one of their best friends betray them. I mean, I had just got to the part where Solomon was doing amazing things and God granted him enormous wisdom and was so pleased with him for asking for wisdom instead of riches or long life and so God granted him all of those things (wisdom, riches, power, health) regardless just to bless him for asking for wisdom. He also blessed Solomon by allowing him to rule over a land that had no conflict or war. It was so exciting to see and read that Solomon was following after his father David and chasing after God and desiring to lead in a way that would be pleasing to the Lord. And he goes and spends seven years building this insanely ornate and beautiful temple for the Lord. But then I get to chapter 7 and Solomon goes on to build himself a palace and takes 13 years to build that and makes it more ornate and amazing than the temple because he wants a better place for himself than for God. And then to get to chapter 11 and see Solomon turn from God even though every thing he had he knew was a gift from the Lord. I was so utterly disappointed and feel like I often lead my life similar to this. Where Robbie and I receive incredible abundance from our Father and we know these gifts could never be from our own hard work, yet still fail God at times by building ourselves up even if we are at the same time pointing parts of the story back to Jesus– because that’s not how this thing works. This adventure– whether the amazing adventure that was our beautiful life in Omaha (because we truly are insanely blessed back home with great community and jobs and a wonderful place to live) or this adventure we are currently on– is God’s story only; He deserves the glory and the credit. Anything good that comes from us is just Jesus working through us. So Robbie and I want be changed by this story and want to give God the glory and give us nothing of the sort. We are seeing how the Lord is softening our hearts and allowing us to see His Word differently than we ever have in the past. It’s so obvious to me whether you read the old or the New Testament that all God cares about is your heart. It doesn’t matter what you do on the outside but if your insides don’t reflect Jesus, then it’s meaningless.

So as I post pictures of this journey and tell stories, may we know these things are displays of the handiwork of Christ, living in us and breathing through us. May they tell of God’s magnificent glory (HIS glory, and not our own to claim credit for or glory for knowing He is the giver of all great gifts, He’s the one who will write our present and future, and He is the reason we are here — please, please, don’t ever think this is about us). Travel, just like anything else we do in this life– going to work, volunteering, being with others– should reflect Jesus, His generosity, His love, His grace. God is doing a good work in our hearts, but would you pray for us that His spirit would continue to guide us in the direction of the missional path He’d have for us next? We will wait with hopeful hands open, as long as it takes.

We will miss this bed and breakfast in the South of France, where we slept every night with the balcony door open and woke up to the smell of Emma’s croissants; where the Mediterranean was three minutes walk from our door step, a place where Robbie and I spent a ton of time undistracted by technology, holding hands everywhere we went, talking and loving each other, becoming the best team at figuring things out in French or finding our way home amidst winding narrow streets. I will never stop being grateful for Robbie’s undeniable positivity. He is truly always happy, always kind to me, and never makes a fuss about little mishaps in the journey. We will miss “monoprix” the store we went to almost every day for cheap 4 euro pre-packaged lunches to eat as a picnic somewhere in the beautiful city to save money (but were still really delicious pasta dishes, oddly enough). We will miss it all, but we are excited for the next stop– Copenhagen for a few days and then Norway!

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