I’ve lived on the Côte d’Azur for five and a half years and finally last weekend I got around to visiting the Russian Cathedral in Nice, something I’ve wanted to do for ages. As always when I put something off over and again and then do it I wonder why on earth I took so long. It’s delightful, easy to find and only a hop from the central train station where I’ve been a thousand times. But having said it’s centrally located and “easy to find” we still managed to make a drama of it en famille….
The Russian Cathedral is located half way down a narrow no-through road and as we arrived during Sunday service there was absolutely no where to park. We hadn’t noticed a dead-end sign and assumed as it was so narrow (and all the parked cars were facing in one direction) that it was one way. So we blithely followed the two cars ahead of us along the street and into a private property! Before we knew it we were in the private garage of a block of flats and the gates had closed behind us. I know it sounds ridiculous and as soon as we realised where we were we felt like absolute idiots but it really wasn’t clear. The gates to the flats were fully open and against the wall such that we didn’t notice we’d been through them but thought it odd that the “road” led into a garage-like tunnel. As soon as we realised our mistake we turned around to see the gates gently closing behind us with no buzzer to let us out. How totally stupid did we feel?
JF went off into the building to try and find someone to buzz us out but realised that if he left the garage he’d be the wrong side of yet another locked door so had no choice but to lurk by it hoping for someone to arrive. I stayed in the car also waiting for someone to turn up and as luck would have it after about ten very long minutes someone drove in. But as a final touch of stupidity JF hadn’t taken his phone so I couldn’t let him know the good news. I drove out blocking the sensors in order to keep the gates open and waited for a further long five minutes in the entrance. To add injury to insult the service was now coming out and car after car was having to turn around right infront of us to go back down the two-way dead-end street. Our awkwardly placed car wasn’t helping the traffic flow and we were getting some pretty mean looks.
All this time we’d been observed by a local chap who’d looked on with amusement and continued to watch as we smugly parked the car in one of the vacated places and rushed to the church only to find it was now closed for lunch! The guardien shook his head with a resounding “Nyet” when we tried to sneak in. Could this simple outing go any more wrong? Thankfully not really. We went and had a lovely lunch in the Cours Saleya in old Nice and returned later in the afternoon. But to our embarrassment the same local chap was still watching the world go by and looked on clearly amused as we returned. And our son wasn’t allowed in as he was wearing shorts; not that he minded much!
The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St Nicolas was built between 1903 and 1912 by Tsar Nicolas II as a place for the large Russian population on the Riviera to worship. It was the first church outside Russia to be given Cathedral status before 1917 as Nice attracted large numbers of the Russian aristocracy during the 19th century. They came for the mild climate and after the revolution many White Russians stayed on in exile. Even today there’s a sizeable Russian population on the Côte d’Azur though oligarchs on yachts have mainly replaced nobility in villas.
The Eglise Russe is a beautiful mix of pink and grey marble, bricks and coloured tiles with five onion domes in green and gold. It’s packed full of carvings, icons and frescoes and I was immediately struck by how small it is inside compared to the grand dimensions outside; it’s all height and not much width. It’s atmospheric and exotic, and I loved it. I’ve been fascinated by Russian culture since I was a teenager and have spent some (though not enough) time travelling there. I’ve tried to learn the language, not very successfully I might add, and I love Russian literature, so visiting this delightful place felt in some tiny little way like I’d been on holiday. It needn’t be difficult to get to and I thoroughly recommend making the effort. Just don’t forget there’s a strict dress code, no shorts, vest tops or short skirts, don’t visit at lunchtime and don’t try and park in the little lane outside!
Have you visited the Russian Cathedral in Nice or been to somewhere quite different from the local surroundings making you feel like you’re elsewhere?
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