Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

The long-winded-niest travelogue on the internet!


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 primary duties.

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 place.

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 shops.

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 world.

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 the afternoon.

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 wine consumption.

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 thought.

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 to business.

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©Leif Pettersen 2012