Stark and I left Paris early on the 10th of September. This would be my first official train ride anywhere besides to Jersey from New York or New York to Jersey and although they check for tickets, it’s not really the same at all. A European train ride is something that I have coveted doing and have heard so much about so I was ready to go despite the unattractive hour of… early.
We arrived in Nice, France by way of Marseilles. For some reason I was under the American perception that Marseilles was the place to go in Southern France. I am very glad we did not stay there. Marseilles has areas that resemble African townships let alone the pollution in the air – thick enough to taste and thick enough to see floating by like fog. An hour in Marseilles with a French hamburger from McDonald’s (did you know McCafe in Europe is totally legit cafe with awesome coffee and tons of pastries? So unfair!) was more than enough to give me a sore throat that took days to clear.
However, Nice (niece) was nice. The first thing we did was settle in to our hotel room and grab something caffeinated. I requested an Illy speciality that essentially was a cappuccino topped with tons of fresh, whipped cream. I’m liking this idea of not counting calories for a month although the guilt does not subside, things like this are entirely worth enjoying. But we made it quick because we had places to be. We wanted to have dinner in Monaco and we were already starving. So we jumped on a quick train – 20 minutes to Monaco.
Monaco is a strange, small country that boasts famous scenes of the French Riviera but acts, perhaps, more like Miami. Despite how important the people are in Monaco (or at least think they are), they are still much nicer and for less fake than anyone you may meet on the beaches of Miami. This beach city is made most famous not just for a place to put your money tax-free, but also a place to bet your money on the Formula 1 Grand Prix.
With the Grand Prix in mind, we walked from one end of the country to the other – literally. Stark showed me the famous Grand Prix tunnel as well as the hairpin turn.
Stark took me past the high rollers casino where tuxes are required and the minimum bet is more than I’ve made in all the working years of my life. We strolled through the high fashion shops along the streets and he explained how during Christmas the streets are lined with colorful lanterns. Most of the places were closed down. I appreciate that nobody wants to work any longer than they have to in Europe. Places will put up a sign that simply says “On Vacation, Come Back Next Week” and nobody gets mad about it.
After a few attempts at finding a place to eat, we finally ended up at the first restaurant we saw – just in front of the train station overlooking the inlet filled with multi-million dollar yachts. The place didn’t look like anything special, but the food there was fantastic and probably the most exciting we had tried yet. Stark knew I had wanted to try tartar while we were in France and now was my chance. I had never had this raw beef cuisine that France is supposedly famous for. So we ordered it with some tomatoes, mozzarella, and a squid salad just incase. Most people don’t order cheese and squid as a backup plan incase they don’t like something and to be honest, I was most worried about mixing so many types of foods, but everything was delicious. The squid was surprisingly soft with a hint of citrus flavoring. The tar tar tasted of strong garlic and onions, with a hint of some random herbs and I loved it!
We relaxed during dinner and spent the majority of the time mutually gawking over a woman who sat behind us, was obviously older, but sitting with a group of 60+ year old people. But she looked younger than me! Her skin was flawless despite not having an inch of fat on her body. Her hair radiated a silvery blonde against her perfect tan. The two of us were shocked into starring, but thankfully her husband and friends were too drunk to really know or care that we couldn’t take our eyes off their table. In fact, everything about that table became our entertainment for the evening until it was time to get back down the street to the train station.
We wanted to catch the last train back to Nice, but no train was listed. We were an hour early so at first we assumed the train time would pop up. We sat waiting for a train to Italy to come by, assuming they were sharing a line. The train to Italy went from being 20 minutes late, to 30, 35, 45, 60 and so on. The Italian train never came so we exited towards the front to rent a car.
Long story short, the taxi never came and a few other people had the same idea who sat with us, complaining about the lack of transportation. While waiting, the police came. In Monaco there are more police officers than there are legal citizens which probably isn’t a difficult thing to do in such an expat community, but the police were very nice and looked more like they were models than actual policeman. Eventually we learned that they were there for a “situation” where a group of people refused to get off of a bus that was supposed to help take people to their destinations in lieu of the train. Apparently the bus had been sitting there at that point for several hours, waiting for these people to get off so that the bus was not overcapacity.
At first we avoided the situation until one of the people we’d become friends with outside insisted that a bus was being sent for us as well. We ran to the other side of the station which is harder than it sounds in a city like Monaco where every street is on a different level, above you or below you, alongside a cliff. Every street has to be accessed by stairways or elevators. They do not connect otherwise. So we ran up the stairs and across the platform to where the bus was still sitting and a group of police offers were dealing with only a few citizens.
We were able to board the second bus, now after waiting for nearly 2 1/2 hours since first arriving at the station. The bus still wasn’t leaving as we sat in the front row watching with a mix of French and Italian commentary. Policeman were arguing and tipsy French citizens with Italian accents got on the bus to claim martyrdom to “everyone here who speaks French” and yet they said it in English. The bus driver had obviously been woken up for this mess and was not amused as well as the only female police officer who stood to the side, sporting a long black side pony tail and smoking cigarette after cigarette with a cocked hip and smokey eyes. After watching her for quite some time it seemed more obvious that her concern was with the buff, tan police coworker of hers and less about the citizens of Monaco.
We finally were on our way and exhausted. I still had hours of work to do and had been awake at this point for about 20 hours. The bus ride home took an additional 40 minutes through windy roads that made Stark sick, but at least we finally arrived at the Nice train station. From there it was sulking over a kilometer back to the hotel, walking as quickly as our tired legs could carry us. After working hard that night, it was all I could do to lay in bed and laugh about our adventures. Everything in life presents you with a choice on how to react. The Italians who sat next to us on the bus were in the mood to loudly complain about everything while I was stunned by the night time view of the ocean and the small towns between Monaco and Nice. As for my first experience with trains, I’d have to say that all the best views came from taking the bus instead.