Friday, August 1, 2014

In the South of France Part I: Nice is nice, the French train system is...not

Wednesday 1 June 2014
We were up early to catch the train to Nice. We had to take the metro to one of Paris' main train stations (I think it was Gare du Nord?).

Our bags are now extraordinarily heavy since we got rid of one bag, but no stuff. In retrospect, this was a very foolish move…but at the time…we weren’t sure what we’d need for the next 3 weeks. The temps in the South of France weren’t expected to be very warm. This ended up being false. It was quite warm. Fail.

I had purchased our train tickets online at RailEurope.com, which is maybe the most frustrating website I’ve ever visited. It seems to be an American site that sells train tickets in Europe. When possible, my best advice would be to try to buy tickets locally by using .fr instead of .com. Work on taking big deep breathes whenever you are redirected back to RailEurope.

ANYWAY, since we were not in possession of a printer, we had to print the tickets at the station. Unlike Italy, which was awesomely modern and convenient with their offer of E-tickets, France required ACTUAL PAPER tickets to board the train. Le sigh.

At the station, there were dozens of machines from which you could print tickets using the credit card with which they were purchased. This proved to be problematic, since ALL of Europe is on this chip system and Capital One…is not.

This reminds me of another small rant. Capital One is an AWESOME travel card. There are rewards ($1.5 earned on purchases), no annual fees, and no fees on International transactions, HOWEVER Capital One lacks this chip…and in France, especially, cards with a magnetic strip are looked at as antiques and rarely work :-/

So, the machine for us was a no-go. We had the option to use a confirmation number, but do you think I could find that? No. NO, I could not find that. The most obvious choice for a conf # in the email from RailEurope did not seem to work.

We lugged our heavy bags across the train station to the Information booth. The Information booth directed us to the Ticketing Office, which was on the OTHER side of the GIGANTIC train station. So, we lugged our bags over there.

The line in the Ticketing Office was crazy long and by now we had only thirty minutes to catch our train…despite arriving over an hour early, which is virtually unheard of in train travel, since you typically just show up and walk on the train.

Luckily, one of the men directing people took pity on us and through his broken English and my nonexistent French…he was able to show me the tiny mention of the conf # deeply hidden in the bottom text of my email from (stupid, hateful, terrible) RailEurope.

Hurrah!! He printed the tickets for us and we were on our way…until we went to board the train. To get on the train, we had to have our tickets scanned and we discovered that we did not have the correct passes. OMG.

The tickets I bought online were from Paris-Marseilles-Nice-Marseilles-Montpellier-Barcelona. Well, RailEurope in their brilliance, apparently assigns different Conf #s to different legs of one’s journey. In my frustration, I hadn’t noticed that the helpful man back at the Ticketing Office had printed us the WRONG tickets.

I dropped what I was carrying and left it with Preston and SPRINTED back to the Ticketing Office.

First, I tried printing on my own with the Conf# that the man had shown me, but it wouldn’t work. I didn’t know at this time that I required ANOTHER conf #.

I returned to the ticket office, but the helpful man was busy with someone else.

Another man who spoke no English gave me a number to wait in line…that number was 199. The office was currently ‘serving’ number 163. Meltdown.

Ten minutes to train.

I scanned my email again and found ANOTHER conf # and rushed to the machine to try it, but it ALSO didn’t work :( Desperate and near tears, I shadowed the helpful man.

Finally he was free!! But the second conf # wouldn’t work for him either!! Why are there two?!?! Airlines have me brain washed that all legs of a journey bought in the same go-round have the SAME conf#. If I fly from LAX-ORD-IAD-TPA…it’s all the same dang thing!! My ENTIRE around the world trip had the same #.

The helpful man took me to an office computer, but the number STILL wouldn’t work. The computer told the man that I’d never paid for my tickets!! I couldn’t understand!!

Then it dawned on me…a few weeks ago, when I purchased the tickets, RailEurope contacted me to tell me that some of the times I’d chosen were not available (this was AFTER purchasing. I’m telling you...WORST company ever). After this they had changed my reservation and assigned me ANOTHER conf #. I dug through my emails to find this one and IT WORKED.

With minutes to spare, I sprinted back to the train. On principle, I don’t run. Ever. At one point, I just COULDN'T run anymore and continued in a brisk walk the last 20 yards. I could hardly breathe by the time I made the train.

Preston was so relieved!! We hopped on the train and found our seats. The whole morning had been very stressful!! I can’t believe we made the train!!

We were off through the French countryside, which is a beautiful and as breathtaking as the tales say.

*of course I neglected to take a picture of this

In Marseilles, we changed trains for Nice without incident. On the way into the station in Nice, we got glimpses of the blue Mediterranean from the windows of the train.

Our journey on the train took about 5 hours.

From the train station in Nice, we were able to walk to the apt. that we had rented through Airbnb.

The place is just beautiful-open and airy with a big porch. The owner had kindly left us a bottle of wine and some snacks. We dropped our stuff and set out to explore the town.










We are about four blocks from the beach. Nice is busy and reminds me a bit of the Gulf coast of Florida. There is a bike/walkway along the water. We walked down the path for a while. The beach is not sand, but fist sized stones piled atop one another.






We turned back through the town and wandered the streets. There are many restaurants and stores.


We got groceries and returned home to enjoy wine on the porch, make dinner, and watch “True Detective”. :D 


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