26 January 2014

LIFE: On the Road to Paris

CHIAVARI – Italy - The decision to take the train to Paris was easy to make. I like traveling by train in Italy, and besides if I went from Chiavari to Nice, in the south of France, I could spend some time there and still be in Paris on Friday afternoon.  It sounded like a plan to me. The truth of the matter was that whichever way I went to Paris, which was my final destination, it was going to require spending a night in either Pisa, Milan or Nice and Nice  won. 

 Gare de Nice Ville - Train Station in Nice, France
I can’t count the number of times I have traveled to Nice by train. It was practically my home away from home back in the day when I was an illegal immigrant trying to stay one step ahead of the carabineri. Just to maintain a quasi legal status I had to periodically leave Italy and re-enter. With a new entry stamp in my passport, I was then legal to stay in Italy, but only for tourism. As a tourist I was not supposed to open a bank account or rent an apartment, and most of all I was not supposed to work. In reality I did all three.

Since I was living in the Genoa suburb of Nervi, France was the closest country I could get to.  So every three months I would pack my black leather traveling bag and take the train from Nervi to Nice. Two hours to the French Italian border, then ½ hour to Nice, passing the one and only ultra-glamorous James Bond, Princess Grace Monte Carlo, Monte Carlo along the way.

The Royal Castle in Monte Carlo
As time passed I started exploring some of the small towns near Nice like: Canne, of film festival fame; Saint Paul de Vence, an artist’s colony set in a small Medieval village in the Maritime Alps; and Grasse, where the French perfume industry got its start. But Nice was always my favorite destination so the idea of going back there, even for a short visit, was definitely appealing to me.

But now things are a little more complicated. Because of an on-going dispute between the French rail company and the Italian rail company, there are no direct trains to Nice any more. I was going to have to go from Chiavari to Genova, change trains and go the the French/Italian border town of Ventimiglia. From Ventimiglia I would have to change trains again for Nice. Not really a problem, just a pain in the butt. What I could do though, was buy a ticket from Chiavari to Nice. That was good. But not to Paris. For Paris I had to buy my train ticket in Nice.

 Nice is really Nice
And that was when I almost got arrested. I had just bought my ticket to Paris and was walking out of the Nice train station when I spotted the Accqueil/Information Desk. You see, I have an article that I occasionally re-sell about being in Nice, breaking my foot and having my leg encased in a cast at the Emergency Room of the Lady of the Rocks Hospital in downtown Nice.  http://thisitalianlife.blogspot.it/2012/12/life-travels-with-ginny.html  Because my leg was in a cast  my poor cousin Ginny began going round and round from one Accqueil/Information to another Accqueil/Information desk  trying to get a wheelchair for me as I certainly couldn’t carry bags and hop up and down stairs at the same time. It’s a nice article, I have sold it several times, but what I don’t have are photos of the Accqueil/Information desk at the Nice train station. So I took out my little camera and started snapping away.

It was then that I was accosted by the Accqueil/Information lady who growled at me and started making threatening moves toward my camera. She actually grabbed it out of my hands and started frantically pressing buttons in an attempt to delete the photos I had just taken. She was very upset, more upset than the situation actually called for, and when she couldn’t delete the photos she shoved the camera back into my hands saying something, in a threatening tone of voice that I understood to mean that I should delete the photos immediately. 

 The Casino in Nice, France
I have never deleted photos on my camera. I don’t know how to do it. I really don’t. As I tried to explain that to her, she was getting more and more frustrated and kept reaching over and trying to press more buttons. Her face was bright red and if she could have justified bopping me on the head I’m sure she would have. But in the crowded train station with hundreds of people as witness to my non-aggressive behavior it was not a good idea and I could see her re-thinking her options.

She thought my non-compliance was due to not understanding French, but I understood perfectly, I just couldn’t do what she wanted. She, the person in charge of information at the train station, was the one who didn’t understand. She finally called over one of the guards that guard the entrance to the train tracks, asking him if he spoke English and telling him about my egregious offense. The guard came over, he seemed calm and reasonable. I told him I didn’t know how to delete the photos and handed him the camera saying if you know how to do it, go ahead, be my guest. I’ve sold the article several times without a photo of the Accqueil desk, and I’m sure I can do it again.  

 Nice is a very glamorous city
He did manage to delete the photos and totally ignoring her he told me that photos of the Accqueil Desk are not allowed – even though there is no sign saying that – and that she could have called the police and had me arrested. Did I believe him? No. And even if she did call the police would they have come to arrest a tourist who doesn’t speak French for taking photos of the Welcome/Information Desk? Not likely.

If the unpleasant experience dampened my spirits they were quickly revived with a stroll through my favorite French department store, Galleries LaFayette. The next morning I was sitting in First Class on the TVG heading for a fun weekend in Paris, and that poor woman was back sitting in the Information booth welcoming visitors to Nice in her own inimitable way. 

  The object of my affection - Galleries LaFayette Dept. Store, Nice France
I still don’t know what the fuss was all about, but Nice is a major tourist destination on the French Riviera, a great place to visit and you would think they would hire someone for the Information desk of the train station who not only speaks English, but has a kinder, more gently approach to people visiting the city. What do you think?


  1. ..and that is a perfect example why I would never visit France!

  2. no matter what Paris is still my favorite place in the world .Since the FRENCH REVOLUTION French people are somewhat arrogant but if one speak their language thy become much more accommodating.