Nice, Eze, Monaco, Antibes
Posted on 11/13/03
Even though Lyon and Nice are much closer together than Bordeaux and Paris
(or at least that’s how it appeared on the map) the voyage to Nice was
listed as taking nearly two hours longer. I was very puzzled by this inconsistent
timetable until I got on the train. Our comparatively slow top speed was an
immediate tip-off that this particular train route was not on the high speed
TGV network. Unfortunately, this fact didn’t affect the outrageous ticket
fee which made me wonder if the agent hadn’t gotten my journey confused
with a Paris-New York trip on the Concorde. My budget was taking a serious
whupping due to these high priced trains. While everything else about the
French lifestyle was plainly winning me over, their inter-city travel service
was killing my wine allowance.
Nice earned my highest accolades immediately by being the only
place left in Europe where I could still wear shorts and a t-shirt in November.
It was in the low 70s, sunny and perfect for four out of my six days in Nice.
I sent off many emails to Minneapolis raving about the weather and received
several cranky emails in return, moaning about the first snowfall of the year.
I switched back into my summer wardrobe as soon as I arrived at Hotel Belle
Meuniere which was mercifully only one block from the train station.
The Belle Meuniere had an all-star cast of celebrity look-a-likes
running the place. The girl who checked me in was the spitting image of Alanis
Morissette. The morning girl had a dead on Scary Spice hairdo and the night
guy was a shorter, grumpier, cross-eyed Charlie Sheen. The hotel also boasted
a cool history. It once belonged to a French general in the late 1800s, who
eventually bestowed it unto his mistress back when being a mistress in France
was a completely respectable, full time profession. Nowadays if you want to
be a professional mistress without being publicly ridiculed, you have to live
in Los Angeles and who in their right mind would live there?
The social scene at the Belle Meuniere was unmatched. I was
literally thrust into the tight and friendly social circle upon arrival. I
had intended to devote at least a half day to writing about my time in Lyon,
but hiding out alone in a corner is not tolerated at the Belle Meuniere. I
had no more control over this fact than I have over farting while in a deep
sleep. The Lonely Planet warned that the hotel’s courtyard area was
“cruisy.” I contemplated the meaning of this while I was dosing
on the train from Lyon, but the connotation of the term was clear as soon
as I walked into the place. You had to cut through the courtyard - which was
the primary mingling spot during the day and served as a gathering and staging
area at night - to get from the street to the building, so there was no coming
or going without being greeted and chatted up by other residents. “Wine
Time” kicked off at dusk and things usually deteriorated in dramatic
fashion as the evening wore on. The nightly schedule went roughly as follows:
· 6:00PM: General merriment localized in the courtyard.
Cheap, but tasty red wine is consumed in obscene quantities.
· 10:00PM: Everyone is promptly and curtly chased off the premises
by Charlie Sheen (the neighbors supposedly complained about the noise constantly).
· 10:07: Proceed en masse to the beach to sit on the rocks and consume
another one or two bottles of wine each. Depending on the night, the group
was between eight and 25 people strong. (We learned late in the week that
criminals lurked around the beach at night and robbed people with the aid
of a quick blast of mace to the eyes, so this event was ultimately dropped
from the schedule).
· ~11:30PM: The last wine bottle is emptied. The group eventually comes
to the consensus that there is absolutely, positively no stores in the area
that will sell us more wine (in our states this often took about 20 minutes
to assess), so the party moves to Chez Wayne’s, a small, but lively
bar with a decent English cover-band and surprisingly solid tables that will
support three dancers each.
· 1:00AM: Wayne’s closes and the group parades as directly as
possible to Thor’s for more live music and gallingly expensive drinks.
· 3:00AM: Thor’s shuts down. What’s left of the group staggers
out to get an early morning kebob and then tries to figure out how to get
back to Belle Meuniere. This task never got any easier since no one had ever
made the trip sober or in daylight and trying to navigate with a map on dimly
lit streets while seeing at least double was pretty much futile.
A snapshot of the rotating family at the Belle Meuniere
This agenda went on with Swiss watch-like precision for my first
three nights in Nice. Partying this hard could have killed me in and of itself,
but kicking the bucket was not allowed at the Belle Meuniere. There wasn’t
enough time. During the day I was obligated to join my new friends on torturous,
hungover day trips after only four or five hours of sleep. These day trips
included hour long hikes to the summit of demoralizing mountains, death marches
through elegant and shamefully expensive French Riviera cities and starvation
fueled, doomed quests to find a restaurant, sandwich booth or fruit vendor
that would sell us any edible substance during the food blackout interval
that goes on in certain parts of the Riviera between 2:30PM and dinner time.
By the fourth day, we finally conceded that some rest and recuperation
was in order. Over the course of the previous three days, we had each roughly
consumed about ten gallons of $3 wine, walked approximately 20 miles in the
throes of dehydration and gotten a cumulative 10 hours of sleep. It was cruel,
self-imposed agony, but we were all in it together and when we weren’t
ready to burst into tears from hunger, misery, exhaustion or sleep depravation,
we were laughing until our faces cramped up at each other’s goofy, punchy
babbling. All of that laughter was probably the only thing that kept us from
losing consciousness at some points.
Our first and freshest day entailed walking through Nice itself.
We had been coached by another resident into walking up the hill on the eastern
part of the city which featured numerous panoramic viewing sights and a very
crowded cemetery. The view was peaceful and stunning (pictured at top of the
page) and the cemetery was appropriately somber, so we were totally unprepared
for the firing of the goddamn noontime cannon that just so happened to be
directly above our position on the hill at the time. I can’t speak for
the others, but I have never been so close to literally being scared shitless
in my life. My sphincter only just barely managed to maintain its
Back down in the city, we found the colorful Russian Orthodox
Cathedral of Saint Nicholas, but our rumpled, bare-legged backpacker attire
and the surprise entry fee kept us restricted to exterior photos while a certain
unnamed Canadian, brown-haired, bespecled member of our group whose name rhymes
with “Bustin” answered the call of nature in a quiet spot in the
back. He explained that since he was Jewish peeing on the grounds of a cathedral
was OK and even encouraged.
Nice was constantly suffering from the aural attack of French
horns. Not the funny instruments, the ones in the cars. The not-so Nice (Ha
ha!) drivers brought back many annoying memories from Portugal with their
tendency to lean on their horns at the slightest perceived injustice. With
the majority of Nice’s streets being one lane wide, something as simple
as a longer than average parallel parking job could back traffic up for a
mile, with each and every driver in the procession voicing their discontent
through their horns. This behavior interrupted several of my attempts at speed
naps and made me wish the hotel had a baseball bat stored in an easy to reach
On our way back to the hostel, we stopped for lunch to consume
the first of many tasty kebobs in Nice. Kebob making in Nice is as close to
gourmet as the cuisine can get. They were quick, cheap, perfectly folded and
they had a spicy sauce that I loved, even though they usually slathered too
much on and I would need two bottles of water to extinguish the resulting
inferno on my tongue. The only other notable economy food source in the neighborhood
was “Flunch,” which we surmised was short for “F*cking Lunch.”
Flunch was a restaurant next to the train station that served all you could
eat buffets for under four euros. The menu was vegetarian, mostly comprised
of rice and potatoes, but you could upgrade to a chicken enhanced Flunch for
an extra euro. Group outings to Flunch were made daily by the shoe-string
backpackers at the Belle Meuniere. I never partook in Flunch myself. Something
about the way that people tended to return from Flunch moving slow, looking
queasy and making an almost immediate b-line for the toilet made me wary,
not to mention that the term “Flunch” was about as appetizing
as “Phlegm Soup.”
That night the aforementioned carousing ground rules - to be
closely followed for the next two evenings - were dutifully and exhaustively
put into place, while we recited our newly established motto, “If I
don’t remember it, it never happened.”
A candid moment in the throes of giddiness on the way to Eze.
When we regained consciousness the next morning, we set out
on a very bold day-trip to Eze and Monaco. Eze was meant to be a fairly brief
stop-over on our way to see the wretched excess of Monaco. Eze’s main
feature was a medieval village at the top of a heinously large hill. There
was a bus that took people to the top, but we discovered upon arrival that
it ran on a frustratingly infrequent schedule. While we tried to cope with
this unexpected obstacle, we happened onto the walking path that led to the
summit. It looked like a murderous trek and a sign at the bottom indicated
that it was a one hour walk and someone had added “and 20 minutes”
in magic marker underneath. We had only had about three hours of sleep and
been awake for just over an hour by that point, so the general level of intelligence
and coherent thought was not riding high when we decided that instead of waiting
for the bus, we would just walk. About seven minutes into the hike, we knew
that we had made a terrible mistake, but we labored on, climbing crumbling,
cement steps at the best of times and scaling loose rock trails with unpleasant
inclines at the worst. A memorable, silly moment on the way up came courtesy
of our inaccurate pronunciation of “Eze.” We had been pronouncing
it like the word “easy” (it’s actually pronounced “ehz”)
and a member of our wretched troupe observed, in lieu of the great physical
effort needed to get there, that the medieval town of “Easy” would
have been more appropriately named “Hard.” Then he went on a hilarious
riff about clicking our heels together like Dorothy in Oz and chanting “There’s
no place like the top of this hill.”
Despite our condition, we made it to the top in an admirable
55 tormented minutes and after a very, very long time to stop panting and
squeegee the flop sweat off our bodies we explored Eze’s beautiful medieval
village. The streets, property walls and dwellings were in fantastic shape
mostly due to the fact that everything was constructed out of 12 inch thick
slabs of stone that reminded me a little of Bedrock from the Flintstones.
There were gardens and plants flourishing all around and somehow we had arrived
between Rube Tour buses, so the streets were mostly quiet, aside from shopkeepers
going about their daily business, of which there was plenty. Nearly every
square foot of indoor floor space had been given over to high priced souvenir
We eventually settled down to eat the sandwiches that we had
somehow had the forethought to pack. As we made ourselves comfortable on outdoor
café furniture, the café manager came running out. There was
a flurry of miscommunication which we initially took to mean we could not
sit there (we had the translating services of a Toronto resident that may
have been the worst French speaker in all of Canada [sorry Justin]), but we
eventually managed to understand that she wanted us to sit in another area
that would afford us a view of a helicopter that was to arrive soon, hauling
up construction supplies to a site in the village. She was adamant that we
not miss this exciting event, so we complied and moved into a spot to get
a view of the site. As we became aware of the noise of the approaching helicopter
the questionable wisdom of having front row seats to a helicopter arrival
began to slowly come into focus. Despite our diminished, collective brainpower
we got a sense that we should move back when the men on the construction site
began to don several types of eye, ear and head protection. We were just a
few yards away from them, on the other side of a flimsy construction barrier
and as they prepared themselves they frequently looked in our direction with
concern. We made the prudent choice to pull back just as the air current from
the rotors started to kick up and blast around a dangerous amount of dirt
and debris. We ran, covering our food, and took cover behind a building. This
was only a brief respite from the assault of the helicopter as once it had
deposited its dangling payload at the site, it began slowly moving huge packages
of construction material from one side of the site to the other. This required
the helicopter to slowly hover around above us, periodically nailing us with
hurricanes of debris. This task ended up going on for the entire time we were
in Eze. Now and again the helicopter would disappear for 10 minutes and we
would sigh, unplug our ears and soak up the restored calm and beautiful surroundings,
but inevitably it would come back to torment us further.
The time finally came for us to leave Eze and get on with our
trip to Monaco. After several minutes of uncertainty about the possibility
of catching the bus back to the train station, impatience, delirium and the
misconception that the walk down wouldn’t be so bad, allowed us to convince
ourselves to head back down the way we came. While going down was indeed much
faster, the concentration level required to keep from shattering an ankle
on a protruding boulder or slipping on loose rocks and falling off a cliff
necessitated all the concentration we could muster, thus we did the majority
of the walk in total, focused silence.
Twenty-five minutes later we were at the train station and on
our way to Monaco. I had heard stories about the nonchalant frittering of
millions of dollars in Monaco for years, so I was very excited and a little
intimidated by the thought of being in this lavish environment. Monaco did
not disappoint. The first thing we saw after exiting the marble festooned
train station was a Ferrari that looked like it was about five minutes old.
The guy must have seen us staring because he dramatically laid rubber when
the light turned green and gunned the thing for a rip-roaring block to the
next stop light. In the next five minutes we saw two more Ferraris, three
Aston Martins and a sea of Mercedes and Porsches. It was flabbergasting.
We were quickly losing sunlight, so we hurried to the top of
the 60 meter high crag overlooking the two main harbors to take pictures of
Monaco’s not-so-remarkable castle and laughably recent 19th century
cathedral. Anything that is less than 200 years old in Europe might as well
have been built yesterday. After you’ve seen countless structures that
are 800 to 1,000 years old in multiple cities over the course of five months,
seeing a 200 year old cathedral is about as extraordinary as seeing a four
hour old bagel. After the tremendous physical exertion put forth in Eze, we
were barely able to scale the relatively puny staircase up to the castle.
Our quadriceps had all but stopped functioning and our feet felt as if they
had been flattened by a bulldozer. This “medieval” part of Monaco
was very anti-climactic, but the gorgeous panoramic views of the harbors from
the top of the hill at dusk partially redeemed Monaco’s repute.
Having exhausted the sights around the castle, we limped to
Monaco’s famous Monte Carlo casino. We had been warned that the casino
had a dress code that could even make an aristocrat nervous about their appearance.
We of course looked like total doo doo. Dressed like backpackers and in desperate
need of a county jail-like hose down, compounded with being dehydrated and
sleep deprived, we were probably the scariest looking people in town. I was
in my usual shorts and a t-shirt that hadn’t been washed in two weeks
and had spent four hours completely saturated in sweat earlier that day in
Eze. My appearance was drawing constant stares on the streets. The others
weren’t much better. Needless to say, the Monte Carlo security guards
saw us coming from 500 yards away and started to mount an all out effort to
keep us off the premises. The first hurdle was the dress-code. We skirted
this easily as they had forgotten to cover a sign saying that the attire requisites
didn’t actually go into effect until 9:00PM. Then they wanted us to
give them our bags and our passports for some bizarre reason. The
bags were no problem, but I was not in possession of my passport at the time,
so I was kicked to the curb. The others coughed up their passports and were
allowed to move to the next ring within the casino by the reluctant and desperate
guards. About 30 seconds later, they returned. Apparently, the guards demanded
that they pay 10 euros per person to simply enter the casino. In typical backpacker
budgets, 10 euros can fuel about four meals and none of the others were going
to part with that kind of dough just to look inside. They begged and pleaded
and one actually tried to jump into the doorway to just get a look, but the
guard was ready for her and dove in front of her like a CIA agent taking a
bullet for the president to keep her from even getting a glimpse.
On the way out there was a small altercation at the baggage
check desk when the three women manning the counter first refused to speak
English and then started to conspicuously deride the hiking boots worn by
the female member of our group. Even though it was all done in French, their
pretentiousness clearly showed through their looks and gestures. Picture three
women, who by the way are barely doing the work of one person, coated in thick
layers of makeup and perfume, dressed like they were at a royal wedding reception
and feeling very majestic in their illustrious and self-important positions
as baggage check girls in the richest city in Europe. We were of course lower
than regurgitated worms in their eyes. I couldn’t help but notice that
while these women were visibly gripped with a zealous fixation over things
like wallet size and foot apparel, they were obviously less concerned about
other customarily important details in life, like oral hygiene. One of the
women had quite obviously not seen a dentist since her baby teeth fell out
and I was getting a little nauseous just looking in her direction. Their insolent
comments and behavior set off our companion with the offending hiking boots
into a two hour rage of babbling out loud to no one in particular about wanting
to see the “bag ladies” walk up-hill for an hour in their high
heels and how she was probably spending more money on her trip through Europe
than they made in a year.
After being brusquely shooed out of the Monte Carlo we happened
by a small exhibit of classic race cars that appeared to be on display in
the street for no reason other than bragging rights. Two guys in our group
happened to be crazed car enthusiasts and they examined the cars closely.
The entire time that this was going on a street cop hovered near by, with
one hand poised alertly on his weapon in case one of us were to dare breath
on the vehicles in an unacceptable manner.
Feeling very unwelcome and defensively ornery by this point,
we decided to get the Hell, Norway out of there and spent the rest of the
night drinking $3 wine and trash talking the people and atmosphere of rude,
nasty, contemptuous, materialistic, boring Monaco. So there!
After seven hours of hard drinking and five hours of sleep,
we regrouped and headed for yet another day trip to Antibes and Cannes. We
were all very shaky and brain damaged at this point. We pooled together what
cumulative brain cells that we had at our disposal, bought the round-trip
train ticket and spent the 30 minute ride staring into space and taking involuntary
blink-naps, featuring vivid and confusing dreams that often included events
from the previous two days.
OK, so you have a quillion dollar yacht, but parking you Porsche next
to it is just going too far!
Fortunately the weather was absolutely perfect once again and
after we got off the train and started walking we brightened up enough to
stare at all of the mulit-million dollar pleasure boats in Antibes’
marina which has 2,400 boat berths, reportedly the most of any marina in the
We toured the charming Old City area before crossing over to
the city fortress, built in 1550. Our tour guide only had a basic command
of the English language and we spent much of our time walking behind her and
mouthing questions to each other to see if anyone else had understood a single
detail from the previous presentation. At about the tour’s half way
point, our demeanors deteriorated for no apparent reason to that helpless
stage where every little comment and facial expression is the most hilarious
thing in the history of the universe and it clearly irritated our tour guide.
After about 15 minutes of uncontrollable giggling, she abruptly ended the
tour and left us dazed and sniggering as we stumbled back to the train station.
Due to a bizarre scheduling choice, there was a two hour train-gap
from Antibes to Cannes in the middle of the afternoon. We decided to use this
down time to find a late lunch. This seemingly innocent objective turned sour
in heinous fashion. We walked in circles around the train station neighborhood,
stopping at no less than six restaurants that were just closing their
doors for the afternoon as we arrived. Going through this rolling sequence
of closures was annoying enough for a group of hungover and starving travelers,
but some of the door shutting went to infuriating degrees of taunting when
the restaurant staff would allow us to stand around for five minutes studying
the menu and then belatedly inform us that the kitchen was closed as we were
getting comfortable at a table.
This test of patience and temper restraint broke down after
45 minutes of constant suffering. Our hopeless zombie march of persecuted
famine and fatigue broke our collective spirits and people actually started
to scream curse words at the tops of their lungs during the last denial of
food service. We made the group decision to screw the trip to Cannes and head
back to Nice where people were happily willing to serve food after 2:30 in
That night we stuck to the now well worn plan of several bottles
of wine, the beach and bar hopping. Being a mere shell of my former self at
this point, I cut out “early” (2:00am) and headed for bed.
But rest was not to be had. Back at the hotel drama was brewing.
Some gutsy, possibly stupid or extremely drunk person, walked into the room
next to mine at 3:30AM, full of recent arrivals to the hotel, switched on
the light for some baffling reason, grabbed the nearest money belt and casually
turned the light off and shut the door. The three occupants in the room all
woke up during this intrusion and after a few moments of fighting through
the confused din of deep sleep interruption they realized what had happened.
The robbery victim leapt up and out into the hall only to hear the distinct
sounds of someone climbing the stairs. By the time he sprinted up the stairs
the entire floor was quiet. The three backpackers from the burgled room, Charlie
Sheen, myself and another person who had just retuned from the bar mounted
a full scale search of the hotel’s public areas, the immediate vicinity
outside the building and even a halfhearted walk around the neighborhood on
the off chance that the stair climbing noises were just a coincidental event
made by another resident who happened to be using the toilet at the time.
After the search was abandoned, we assemble in the kitchen to
piece together the evidence and events for a consensus of what to do next.
Due to the locked front door and the lack of sounds indicating that anyone
had left the building immediately after the theft, we quickly deduce that
it was indeed an inside job. The discussion of possible suspects was brief.
The hotel had a long term resident that was loathed by all, who spent 20 hours
a day drunk off his ass, rude and generally offensive. He had been staying
there for months, trying to sell paintings to tourists on the beach and was
known to be short on money. His nighttime courtyard antics had made him infamous
for being callous and indifferent to engaging in inappropriate activities
while under the influence of alcohol. His guilt was more or less sealed when
one of the girls in the burgled room gave a sleepy, but incriminating description
of the asshole in question without ever having seen him previously. The debate
of whether or not to storm the guy’s room and toss it went on for a
very long time before we agreed that despite the alarmingly implicating evidence,
we could not go lynch-mob on his ass without 100% certainty. We all retired
feeling a little paranoid of the possibility that the crime spree might resume
once things quieted down. All doors and luggage were locked up and we slept
lightly and vigilantly for a mere two hours until breakfast time.
The next morning the hostel was alive and buzzing about the
theft. Theories and conjecture flew around until the suspected weirdo showed
up in the dinning room, sending the area into a sudden and uncomfortable hush.
The victim was barely able to control himself from beating the suspect senseless
as he ate and chatted in an unusually friendly and casual manner, even feigning
marginally believable shock when another resident guardedly retold the story
for his benefit.
Several hours of loud gossip, pressure and nervousness must
have overwhelmed the criminal into hiding the money belt behind the toilet
in a communal bathroom where it was found by the cleaning ladies later in
the afternoon. The belt’s contents were intact, minus the cash. The
victim was overjoyed to get all of his IDs, passport and credit cards back,
but the loss of over 200 euros left a sting.
The full and irrefutable truth was never revealed, but the tension
was pudding thick every time the suspect appeared for the rest of the week.
His presence could clear a room in less than a minute, but with his weak grasp
on obvious social hints, he never quite caught onto the notion that he was
no longer welcome to mingle with the rest of us.
That night my three primary companions all headed off to their
next destinations. After the bonding and hilarity of the four previous days
together their departure caused a small pang of ache in me, but at the same
time the opportunity to mend my mentally and physically spent body, not to
mention catching up on five days of zero writing productivity was also a bit
of a relief. Little did I know that several other hostel residents were going
to step up and successfully peer pressure me into two more days of slightly
less intense, but nevertheless punishing touring, drinking, sleep depravation
and priceless fun.
My self-discipline was completely gone by this point. Lack of
REM sleep, the allure of more exuberant, hysterical fun and my snowballing
hangover made me easy prey to any bad influences that presented themselves.
The one and only proposal that I firmly resisted was the non-stop pressure
by the Australian contingent to try Vegemite on toast. Vegemite is a tar-like
substance that has a smell and taste that can revive deep coma victims. I
had been tricked into consuming Vegemite once, and only once, 10 years before
and even with my nonexistent willpower I wouldn’t budge on the issue.
As one of the other Vegemite dissenters so eloquently put it, it’s as
close as you can get to “ass in a jar,” but the Australians swore
by it and they often day dreamed out loud about returning home for the pleasure
of that first Vegemite infusion in the mornings.
After a day of welcome inactivity, we took a second whack at
visiting Cannes. I joined three Australians for the 30 minute train ride to
the city known for its world famous film festival and mind-boggling pleasure
ships literally dripping with cash in the harbor. Unfortunately, Cannes only
had about 20 minutes of genuine backpacker appeal in November. The lack of
things to do and see in Cannes was magnified by a sudden downturn in the weather.
After four days of meteorological perfection, the south of France dipped into
the 50s and we were hampered by constant rain/drizzle. After a quick tour
of the harbor and the pathetically short stretch of hand imprints of famous
people in cement, we took shelter in a Chinese restaurant, ate and concluded
that during off-season Cannes was duller than the top deck bleachers at the
Des Moines Amateur Endurance Nose Picking quarter-finals.
We retreated back to Nice for general lethargy and a group outing
to see “The Matrix, Revolutions” (hated it). In a wacky continuation
of horribly back luck, less than 24 hours after the money belt theft, the
same person’s first shower in the hotel was enriched by the appearance
of raw sewage bubbling up through the drain up to his ankles. The man was
understandably close to a nervous breakdown at that point and briefly threatened
to flee on the first flight out of the country, but he was dragged out all
the same that night along with us old timers (read: people who had been at
the Belle Meuniere for more than 48 hours) and a fresh wave of recent arrivals
with a renewed appetite for wine drinking and public debauchery.
As previously mentioned, this air tight schedule of heavy drinking,
day trips and the occasional few hours of sleep kept me off my laptop for
the longest interval of my entire trip and also marked the one and only time
that I was more than one city behind in my usual thorough and immediate documentation
process. By the second day of this run, I was racked with guilt. By the third
day I had tremors (though that might have been due to ongoing, light alcohol
poisoning). By the fourth day I was freaking out so much I couldn’t
shut up about it, but the pressure to be socially active at the Belle Meuniere
was too tempting simply because we were having more fun than 12 rabbits in
heat. Finally the anxiety became too much. I bowed out of a day trip, slinked
to the far, blind corner in the dinning room and stayed glued to the PC for
seven hours straight, peppered with welcomed visits by various residents,
forcing me to take short breaks. Marathon writing sessions are not good. They’re
exhausting actually, but I had no choice. Counting the day trips, I was now
six cities behind in recording my travels. I was in a panic
to get it all down before the total collapse of my short-term memory due to
I also resolved to get out of Nice. I had been there seven nights
and even factoring in all those day trips, I had definitely lingered too long.
I reluctantly lumbered to the train station and bought a ticket to Geneva,
Switzerland for the following morning.
That night, like a total dumbass, I went out with the hotel
crew, swearing to take it easy and predictably ended up drunk as hell. I’ve
come to the conclusion that I can no more resist a $3 wine binge than I can
resist Jennifer Garner in a in a see-thru teddy, behind the wheel of a Lamborghini,
holding a box of chocolate éclairs in one hand and a million dollars
in the other. (Hey, I’ve never claimed to be easy to please.)
I contemplated a 12 step program at 7:30 the next morning at
breakfast, still drunk and having had only four hours of sleep. I could barely
jam my croissant. Clearly I did not have the neural capacity or motor skills
needed to take a train, a bus and then another two trains to get to Geneva.
I cursed my feeble self-control as I trudged across the street to the train
station to switch my ticket to depart the following morning.
I spent the day sleeping, staring blankly into space and consuming
as much water and healthy food as humanly possible to cleanse my system. I
tried to salvage some of the day by doing some work, but I barely had the
aptitude for basic picture processing, much less writing a usable sentence.
I settled for socializing with several hotel friends for one last melancholy
time as another sizable group of people were boarding the train that night
and I was without a doubt, no question, wholeheartedly intending to leave
Nice the following morning, even if I lost an important extremity in the interim.
The next morning I leapt out of bed and got ready with crazed
determination. Nothing was going to stop me from getting to Geneva. Or so
I caught the first train, the bus and then the second train
without any problem, but when it came time to board the last train, my day
went spectacularly sour. I was supposed to get on a train destined for Geneva,
but it was no where on the station’s electronic departure schedule.
When I asked for help, I was told to get on the train going to Milan, Italy.
Now, I’ve never claimed to be a geography phenom, but from what I understood,
going to Milan would have taken me south and I wanted to go north
to Switzerland. I puzzled over this for a long time. The hand written itinerary
that I had been given in Nice clearly said that I needed to be on a train
at 11:00AM going to Geneva, but that obviously wasn’t right and why
on earth would they tell me to go south to in order to get north? I studied
my ticket. The destination said “Genova.” This hadn’t bothered
me much when I purchased the ticket since it is very common for nationalities
to come up with their own interpretations of place names in other countries
(i.e. Nueva York = New York in Spanish). “Geneva” and “Genova”
were so close that I just assumed that’s how the French translated the
name “Geneva.” Then I looked further down the departures schedule.
There it was! Genova! OK, so the train was leaving about two hours later than
my itinerary said it would, but hey, I would still get there in time to buy
a feed-bag of Swiss chocolate, strap it on and put in several hours of touring
before dark. Then I kept looking down the route that led to “Genova.”
All of the destinations were clearly Italian cities, running south down the
western coast. Suddenly I knew I was screwed. I had to verify my hypothesis
with the map in my Lonely Planet, but I was right. I had a ticket to Genoa,
Italy, which as it so happens is known as “Genova” by the
French. I had asked for a ticket to “Geneva, Switzerland” and
the dumbshit, let’s-hurry-up-and-get-this-over-with-so-I-can-have-a-cigarette
ticket agent in Nice had given me a ticket to Genoa, accompanied with effed-up
directions that wouldn’t have gotten me to either place.
I lost it. I let obscenities fly in every language that I knew
curses for as I made my way to the ticketing office, flinging doors opened
hard enough to jar them against their doorstops and entering the office with
enough volume and attitude that the entire room looked at me and hastily parted
to make a path for me to the information booth. Barely restraining the urge
to scream in nonsensical tongues, I slowly and carefully explained the situation
to the tense man behind the desk. I concluded by saying that all I wanted
was one simple thing; To get to Geneva, Switzerland before
dark. I repeated the words “Geneva, Switzerland” three times,
very slowly and pointed to it on my Lonely Planet map so there would be no
confusion this time. The best itinerary he could come up with wouldn’t
get me into Geneva until 10:00 that night. Getting into strange cities late
at night is a bad idea since tourist assistance is pretty much unavailable
and hostels tend to be full. I could use my handy Lonely Planet to call ahead
and make sure I could get a bed, but then I would most likely have to take
a cab to get to the hostel from the train station and I was all too aware
that cab fare in Switzerland could buy dinner for 83,748 Third World children.
I took the man’s new itinerary and stormed out of the
office, stringing together more expletives with the prominent use of the f-word.
Turns out the person that told me earlier that I needed to get onto a train
to Milan to get to Geneva was right. I had been cluelessly traveling southeast
all morning and Milan was now well north of my current location. I was so
pissed off during the two hour ride to Milan that I could not work or read
or play Minesweeper or enjoy the woman across the aisle who’s shirt
was wide open and was clearly braless. All I could do was look out the window
and fantasize about going back to Nice in December after completing my trip,
kidnapping that *%^&*$ ticket agent, wrapping her up and shipping her
to Bolivia. That would fix her wagon!
I had a three hour layover in Milan. I used the time to vent
to several friends about my day via email. One cherished, clear-headed friend
responded immediately and suggested that I use the goof-up to my advantage
and simply stay in Italy, tour it now, do Greece and then catch Switzerland
on the way back to Paris, where I intended to catch a plane to Minneapolis
for the holidays. It took me a minute of contemplation before I realized that
this course of action made perfect sense. If I stayed in Milan I could still
salvage half the afternoon and the entire evening for some touring and writing
rather than having wasted the entire day slowly touring northern Italy on
commuter trains only to get settled in Geneva just before bedtime. This was
especially attractive as I had just wasted the entire previous day being too
hungover to lace up my shoes and the thought of losing another full day made
me slip back into visions of brutal, just vengeance. I figured that if I played
my cards right, on my way back into Switzerland I could arrange a stop-over
in Nice and beat that ticket agent senseless with a day-old, foot-long baguette.
I left Milan’s train station, found a hotel and got down