Friday, July 27, 2012
Wake at 8:30am. Sunny and warm. Today is our last day in France. We decide to visit Monaco (and Monte Carlo) and Cannes.
Funny Story #1 – The Nice Train Station
So, we knew that trains left from Nice to Monaco every hour so we felt no need to arrive at the train station as any particular time. However, we did not anticipate the crowd that awaited us when we finally did arrive around 10am. The place was packed! Picture this, wall-to-wall people with baggage!
We needed to get tickets for our train ride to Monaco. We go to look for the ticket window and it can’t be missed — it is at the other end of a line, an unruly line that zig-zaged out the train station door! There are automatic ticket machines so I got in one line and my DH got into another — wh ever arrived at their perspective machine first, that would be the machine we would use.
My DH reached his machine first. We knew that our credit card would not work (it does not have the magical chip the SNFC requires). With Euro notes in hand, we find out that these machines only take coins. We didn’t have enough coins.
OK, no problem! My DH buys a package of cookies at the news stand. He uses a 10 Euro note and gets back some change and a 5 Euro note. The cashier refused to exchange the 5 Euro note for coins. So, I take the 5 Euro note and buy a chocolate croissant. We now have enough change to buy the tickets! We queue at the machine and we get our tickets. We wait with the unholy hoard to see what gate our train will depart from. “Where are all these people going anyway?” I asked my DH. He does not know.
Funny Story #2 – The Train to Monaco
When the gate for our train to Monaco is posted on the board, it is like the whole train station tilts — EVERYONE moves toward Gate C! There is a quick progression of people with baggage down the stairwell, through the tunnel, and up the stairwell on the right. People crowd the platform and position themselves for what they believe to be the best position to access the train doors as the train pulls in. Correction, as the already FULL train pulls in!
Imagine this – a few people get off the train, a lot of people get on the train. We must have been in a good position on the platform because the crowd sort of moves us along through the doors and into the crowded cabin. We hoist our backpackss onto the train and pull ourselves in through the door and we move no further. The people with baggage are ahead of us are shuffling to claim any open spot available in the walkways and staircases (this is a double-decker train). The door alarm sounds indicating that the doors are about to close – but they can’t! People with baggage behind us are still pressing into cabin! By this point, I have progressed into the aisle behind my DH and here is where we will stand for the next half hour to Monaco.
There are a number of stops between Nice and Monaco. With every stop, a few people climb their way to the door to disembark, but more people push in. We are in a narrow metal tube full of people, children, strollers, bikes, luggage, beach equipment and shopping bags. Is everyone going to Monaco? I ask around. Nope – a number of people around me are going beyond the Monaco stop. The locals don’t complain, the rest of us have a slightly panicked look on our faces that says “How the hell am I going to climb out of this thing with my limbs and baggage intact?” Well, I was thinking that anyway.
Finally, the Monaco train stop approaches and there is a rumble in the tube as people attempt to position themselves for a quick exit. The train stops and the door opens. I was expecting the train car to do a huge exhale as people burst through the door and continue on with their lives. But no – a large women with broad shoulders, a determined look, and four bags of baggage enters the cabin before anyone could leave! Over my DH’s head I hear a number of young men yelingl something in French! Their hands are waving to her in the international sign of “step back, step back!” But, she uses her bulk to plow her way into the cabin like an oxen pulling a plow.
A few of the more agile passengers are able to squeeze past the ox-woman and her plow and ease their way out of the train like toothpaste from a tube. Just as my DH and I are about to reach the door, the door alarms goes off to warn us that the doors are about to close. My DH manages to maneuver himself just right and he pops through the door. I follow him. However, the young women behind me literately jump over the ox-women’s plow – er, baggage — and make it out alive. I am sure that other people with baggage were not so lucky. I hope they make the ox-woman’s trip a living hell.
Funny Story #3 — The Monte-Carlo Casino
Monaco is known as the “Sunny place for shady people” – its wealth is built on being a tax shelter for really wealthy people. Most Americans only care about Monaco because of James Bond (the British spy of the movies) and Grace Kelly (the American Oscar-winning actress who gave up everything to marry the Prince of Monaco in the mid-50s). Not only did Grace Kelly live a fairy-tale life, but she also had a tragic death in the early-80’s when she had a stroke while driving a car on Monaco’s winding sea cliffs with her wild-child daughter.
In touring the Prince’s Palace, you can’t escape the story of Grace Kelly. Quite frankly, Monaco is a pretty boring place without the tragic fairy tale family. The Prince’s Palace and the Cathedral of Monaco (where Grace and her Prince were married and buried) are beautiful – that’s the only word that really fits this place in the sun. Here are some pictures:
After sharing a ham and cheese sandwich in the palace garden, my DH and I decide to take the bus to see the world-famous Monte-Carlo Casino. You have to pay to get in to gamble, but there is no charge to gawk at all the expensive cars parked out of it – Ferriers, Jaguars, Porsche, Mercedes, Rolls Royce, Bentleys, Maybach, and Lamborghinis – they are all there! They are a major tourist attraction in themselves.
For poor suckers like us, we can gamble is the little place next to the real Casino. It is a nice cool place to relax out of the sun but more importantly, it is a place where we can get some change for our train trip back to Nice!!! Yeah, Baby!
We thought this would be easy – put a 10 Euro note into the machine and cash out to get a fist full of coins – just like in Las Vegas, right! No. First, most slot machines here take a card, not cash. A nice Casino employee pointed us to the slots machines that take notes – yeah, baby! My DH pushes his 10 Euro note into one of these special slot machine, hits the “cash out” button and out pops a crisp voucher for 10 Euros. WTF??? “Where are my coins?,” my DH moaned. I thought he would cry. “Well, let’s ask the cashier for 10 Euros in coins.” I suggested. My HD did, and with a confused look on his face, the cashier exchanged our 10 Euro voucher with five 2 Euro coins. He slapped them down hard on the counter in front of us – what was that all about?
Around 4pm, we decided that there was enough time in the day to go to Cannes. We walked to the Monaco train station. We noticed that there was a small line at the ticket counter so we went there to buy our tickets to Cannes with a credit card — nice! We also asked to buy tickets for our trip to Genova, Italy the next day. However, the French ticket agent assured us that all we need to do is jump on the train and show our EuroPass to the conductor, no reservations necessary. Really nice!
The trip to Cannes went smoothly. In about an hour, we were on the promenade overlooking the sandy beach of Cannes. Cannes is known for its yearly film festival where movie stars rent boats the size of small towns that hang out along the harbor like a string of pearls on water. Immediately you can tell, like Monaco, Cannes is where the money is at! The hotels are bigger and more numerous. Unlike Nice, where all the action is happening a few blocks from the beach in Old Nice, in Cannes, all the action is happening on the sandy beach. So much so that you can barely see the beach! Here are some pictures:
My DH and I had dinner at a little restaurant off the beach called The Petite Lardon where there was a cool breeze and cheaper prices. My DH ordered the Salmon, I ordered the Pasta with Pesto. Both were excellent choices. We lingered and watched people go by.
We got back on the train at 8:44pm and we were back in our hotel in Nice by 9:30pm. Lucky for us, the train was less crowded this time — we had seats!
Tomorrow we leave France for Italy. We will hit the train station very early in an attempt to avoid the crowd we saw today. Wish us luck!
Quote of the day: