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The best is the enemy of the good
The city has become one big construction site – place Masséna and the park nearby, Nice-Ville railway station, rue Suisse, the old Provençal station turned library… tick all the boxes.
No question, the new tram is good for your lungs, and the barrier-free pavement tiles are good for your legs, - or your chair’s wheels. Still, I would vote for the old upbeat fountain with the old statues and the lovely old benches entwined with roses.Related to:
- Family Travel
Allow time to queue for railway tickets
TRAVEL UPDATE November 2011
Gare SNCF Nice Ville is being "modernised" and the pictured line of ticket windows has been walled up; Purchase has been moved to the old Enquiries and bookings area at the far end of the hall, and ticket opening hours are severely curtailed. What was merely a nigtmare is now hell on earth. Purchase train tickets a day before travel, or master the ticket machines. SNCF appear to be on suicide watch.
So you are off to Monaco for the day. You are excited. The train goes straight from the Gare Nice Ville at 10.30 - what could be simpler - just turn up at the station, buy a ticket and go, no?
Despite a large and helpful bureau for "Information" at the end of the station, and leaflets on all services, and a big departure board, most travellers expect to get the information they need at the ticket window. The window is for people with "problems".
Can I do this? Can I do that? How much is it if I come back Thursday? Where do I change? Is there another way? When is the next train. When is the one after that? And what time is the last train back? And which platform was that on? Is that TGV? Do I have to book in advance? What should I buy my grandchildren for Christmas? Question after question . Eventually the fumbling around with credit cards or cheques begins.
You are at the back of the single snake style queue of maybe eighty people and you are moving painfully slowly. You have only ten minutes left before your train comes, and goes. Eighty people at one every 30 seconds is...is...is...hell, you do the sums. A quarter of an hour is not unusual!
You are probably not going to make it.
Don't think that the staff behind the glass window care a cent that you will miss your train. If the person in front of you is exchanging pleasantries with them, thats nicer for them. If the lady just served is fiddling around putting her Carte Senior back in her bag, blocking the window for another minute, tough.
The way around this requires careful planning There are the dark blue ticket machines, but they don't accept currency notes or some US cards like Amex and Diners, only Euro coins and "chip and pin" Visa/Mastercard. Not a good idea to risk a debit card or your only one credit card - the machines have been known to disable cards from further use. Making sure you have first cleared the screen of any previous travellers aborted purchase , you start afresh and roll through the choices - destination, one way or return, fare tarriff, how many travellers, - price pops up on the screen. You pop your card in the CORRECT card slot (not the green Nice employees discount card slot as many people do) punch in the PIN ("code bon"), and bingo it returns your card and prints your ticket.
Train tickets are good for sixty days so its a good idea to buy them earlier during your stay. A trip to the station the evening before is a good idea, when the ticket windows are less busy.
Check your restaurant bill!
No wonder the French for the bill is "l'addition" - that refers to the addition of extra items you haven't had!. An innocent mistake? Perhaps, but this was the third time this year I noticed mysterious items appearing on a restaurant bill.
Some of the wheezes were really quite crafty - the "budget" pichet of wine suddenly became a half bottle of wine, adding an extra 8 euro to the bill. In another case an additional main course we had not had was slipped on to "l'addition" increasing it by Eu7.99.
In each case the bill had been bumped up by about 15% - not by so much as you might notice, but by enough to make the "mistake" worth while.
The language and currency is unfamiliar. What was that dish called again? People are having a good time, they are on holiday, guard down, difficult to argue with the waiter if your command of French is not up to it.
Many people just read the bottom line and pay. Perfect opportunity to boost the bill a little.
You would be well advised to check off the line items on any restaurant bill, to make sure you recognise each of them. If not, welcome to Frances new tourist tax.
UPDATE: New French merchant's wheeze,
When goods in a shop are on special promotion or special offer, the computerised master ledger linked to the barcode on the item will often still have only the original price, not the special offer. And the original price is what gets put on your bill. So your bargain isn't. Both Virgin and FNAC are prone to this sloppy merchandising. Last week, three special offer CDs were rung up at the till at the full price.
This is not something you will find written about in general tourist guides, but ....see all those beautiful belle epoche buildings - see a fire escape on them? You wont, because generally there isn't one. The Nicois are proud of their firemen - the sapeurs-pompiers - because their lives depend on them.
Fire in a six story apartment building means smoke filled stairwells. Your instinct to flee the building down those stairs to get out may be your last - smoke inhalation is often fatal. The official advice is to stay behind closed doors, get out to fresh air, phone 18 for the fire brigade, and let the sapeur-pompiers do their job. They train in evacuating apartments by fire engine-mounted extending ladders. Strangely it is not a requirement to fit smoke alarms. Health and Safety in France is not as big a priority as in some other countries, so don't assume anything.
The tragic story of a mother and daughter killed by fire a few weeks ago in their top floor Riquier apartment is described in the local newspaper (pictured). Connoiseurs of French will note the liberal use of cooking terms in describing the effects of fire. The poor mother was "carbonisee"'d in her appartment, and the family pet dog, "un Yorkshire" (this is France, they love dogs, they need to know the breed...!) was "sauted par la fenetre".
(One of the more curious traits of the French is that not only do they make a point of mentioning the breed of dog in any doggy-related story, they do the same for cars in the event of any car-related story, especially accidents and fatalities. When two policemen were fatally injured in a crash in Cannes recently, the press coverage made a big deal of their driving a Citroen. Sort of reverse advertising)
Recent fire in Paris echoes same tragedy on a bigger scaleRelated to:
- Budget Travel
When do birds suddently appear...
By the end of the day, if you look up in the sky you are going to see a lot of dark small things moving...these "things" are actually migratory birds searching for a warming place after hunting, and this place is Place Garibaldi (or any place with a tree). If you don't have "any surprises" coming from the sky, avoid this area around 5 to 7 PM..
TAM buses in high season = mission impossible?
If you want to save money and take those 1€ buses (such as n° 200) to visit other cities in the Riviera, make sure you have a lot of patience and plenty of time ahead of you... especially if you're staying in cities between Nice and Cannes.
For those staying in cities between Nice and Cannes, you should take the local train (of course, if they aren't on strike) to avoid all the hassle.
If you are in Nice and want to go to Cap 3000, instead of taking any of the TAM buses, take either bus 52 (direction Saint Laurent du Var) or 217 (direction Villeneuve Loubet).
My advice is taking the bus directly at the bus station in Nice or Cannes, because along the way, it can almost be impossible to get on the bus (it's already full). Or if you do wanna try to the bus stop along the way, you will need a lot of patience, because the first bus passing by may already be full and you will have to wait for the next one (one bus every 15 minutes) available.
And keep in mind, that traffic in high season is horrible!!! Beware that a trip to Cannes from Nice can sometimes take 2h30!!!!Related to:
- Budget Travel
AVoid Coco Beach Restaurant in Nice, France
One of the most expensive fish restaurants in Nice just gave me the biggest diarrea. I have lived here for many years, speak French fluently and am no tourist but I have rarely encountered more rudeness and worse food for money or what the locals call rapport qualite/prix. 18 euros for a frito misto that was half a plate of fried fish that smelled funny to begin with. The portion was more a side dish than an appetizer. The wine was a cotes de provence rose which is always a safe bet here but there was a tiny bug in my son's glass. When we pointed this out the waiter replace our wine but did not apologize even in a most superficial way. We were the only ones in the Restaurant and if it was not for its famous name and write ups I would never have ventured to eat there. The view was incredible but the acute stomach upset that I got upon coming home made me decide that I would write about Coco Beach restaurant and warn people to avoid it. We paid sixty euros for two appetizers and a half bottle of house rose! Not a sinlge smile or apology for the wine. Typical French you might say but really the worse I have seen in the thirty years I have lived and visited here.Related to:
- Food and Dining
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(Very) small risk of snow
In Winter 1929, seventy five years ago, it snowed on the Cote d'Azur. ("Zoot Alors! C'est incroyable! Toute le monde c'est blanc! ") That week you could toboggan down the Chateau, chill out - literally - on the Promenade.Heaven knows how the Nicois coped.
Towards the end of September, as the temperature dips below 20 degrees, the locals don overcoats and ladies their thermal underwear. Little dogs are fitted with smart burberry pattern body warmers. Poor dears. They are used to 250 days of sunshine a year.
Snow on the palms? It could happen again. So be prepared. Pack an emergency pair of snow shoes and earmuffs and . . .
Nah. Only joking.
UPDATE 30th January 2005
Well, it snowed on Saturday night. Didn't last and didn't settle but snow it did! An icy blast intended for the skiers in Isola 2000 strayed a tad further south than it should. Global warming not.
UPDATE2 22nd February 2005
OK it snowed on the beach, and it settled. Very apt as the Nice Carnival theme at the time was our deranged climate. A picture is on my Carnival 2005 Travelogue
Update February 2009
Well, its becoming a bit predictable now. Yes, snow again on the beaches, not just far inland, in February, in town and on the beach. Plus very strong gales and high tides, and storms. In addition to the air traffic controllers and the train drivers on strike. And the collapsing Pound. Nature is not happy and man worse. Spare a thought for north west France which took the brunt of high seas bursting defences. Still I guess we have the Summer to look forward to. I hope!
Update February 2010
Yup. Snow again on the beach. Becoming a regular feature of February
The supermarket checkout
You weren't in any hurry, were you?
The French simply don't do retail. Despite its superb quality of life and nearly everything else, the supermarket checkout is a tortuous and agonising process.
Old dears fiddle around endlessly with small change, problems arise every second, everyone is still writing cheques (which are sacred here), there are not enough checkouts open, the assistants chat happily with each other, the queues are long and hardly moving. Grit your teeth and double the dosage of any anti-hypertensives you may be on.
Still, you will still be greeted with the traditional "Bonjour" (good day) and a fond farewell "Au revoir, bon soiree" (its night time by now) . Don't forget to reply in kind.
Especially in Summer, afternoon or evening, wherever you sit in the cafes of the Cours Saleya, Palais de Justice square or the Zone Pietone, be prepared to be busked at.
If you are a big fan of "Incantation" and Peruvian pan-pipe music, Bulgarian wedding bands, solo saxophone renditions of The Godfather theme, you will most definitely love Nice. In a more modern twist, troupes of back-spinning hip hop dancers draw big crowds in the Place Massena, or this lively 5 minute performance of The Beatles greatest hits.
Some of the performers are are good, some less so, but you will have to listen anyway so you might as well get into the spirit of it and put a few centimes in the hat. It goes with the territory.
In the newly refurbished Place Garribaldi open air cafes have spilled out to line the roomy square, and the quality of busking raised the bar considerably, with a jazz quartet and chanson francais. Beats pan-pipes any day.
Begging is more commonplace than you might expect. Not aggressive or intrusive, nevertheless in the Centre of Nice expect to see people every 50 feet sat down on the pavement with a hard-luck story crudely written on a piece of cardboard or just paper cup before them.
Many of the beggars have a regular place and are in effect local characters. The more sucessful tactics are having a pet rabbit or little dog companion. Here a savvy young beggar has spread hemself out on the Av Jean Medicin with two little dogs, holding a begging basket in their mouths. Cute.
As a form of charity, the Nicois seem quite ready to dispose of the annoying volume of small change created by the Euro into their paper cups.
And unlike aggressive beggars who plague big cities, the money is not generally for drugs, but genuinely for food - as you will know when the little lady in front of you at the checkout pours out hundreds of centimes to pay for a few groceries. Also the alcoholics are harmless (to others if not themselves) A can of their lager of choice, the 11 percent "Amsterdam" (liquid amnesia)- is less than a euro, so its not an expensive habit, and they get by on very little.
Most recently we have seen life's unfortunates - amputees or with some other form of deformity - adding to the begging community, and Romanian gangs have however established themselves in Nice, and many other European cities since their country's EU accession (Previously France had an accord with Romania for deportation). The collectors are usually women and some have a baby in arms (sometimes on loan). Go to the gardens around noon and you will see the "pimps" or "gangmasters" meeting up with their group to take the morning's proceeds off them. The gangmaster's belly showed no sign of malnutrition. There is nothing charitable to be done: its an industry.
When the Green Man says "cross", watch out!
Crossing the road in France is not something to be undertaken lightly,
First, "zebra crossings" confer no right of way for pedestrians as in some countries - cars are not required to yield to you. Secondly, cars turning right have the freedom to turn into your path despite the fact you are crossing the road with the Green Man symbol lit up beckoning you that its safe to do so. That car will swing round into your path. Now you can trust a French driver to know you as a paedestrian now have right of way. However, how do you know that driver is French?
Watch out always - sadly French drivers are amongst the most competitive in the world, having the highest road accident fatality rates in all Europe. Motorcycles here are a menace too. They come only in two sizes - the very big and fast ,usually with names like MotoMacho and are mainly an excuse to swank around in full leathers as seen here Or they are little 50cc scooters buzzing like angry wasps, driven by two kids with possibly no insurance, sometimes no helmet and no road-sense. In the first eight months of 2009 there were forty two driver road fatalities in the Alpes Maritime. Twenty were car drivers, and twenty were motorcycle and scooter drivers, whilst only one was a pedal cyclist.
Don't join them!- watch out!
Riviera Road Safety and two wheels
The road traffic accident statistics say it all. In the first eight months of 2009, according to local daily Nice Matin, roads in the Cotes d'Azur and Alps Maritime claimed forty two lives. Never mind the injured, the bereaved relatives and friends, that's a lot of people now no longer alive, but d-e-a-d. Of the forty two, twenty were motorists, only one a cyclist, and twenty were motorcyclists (and one something else)
The cycling figures are incredibly reassuring. Cycling is a national obsession and French motorists are all very experienced in making allowances for cyclists. Very good news indeed. But the teenage urban scooters and thirty-something testosterone-fuelled superbikes are a different matter. A lethal matter. The cheap freedom of movement and enjoyment of unbridled speed ends too often in a slow motorcade.
Those of us who grew up hiring scooters for harmless exploration in exotic locations might be tempted to look to the same on the Riviera. The world has moved on.
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Direction of Travel: Left, Left, and Left again.
For two hundred and fifty years the French have been revolting. Still today, hardly a week goes by without some group somewhere coming out "en greve" (in dispute). And having voted in a President with a mandate to "reform" France, the streets once more have become the battlefield of the Syndicalists - organised labour unions - and the Left generally who don't much like the smell of reform. CGT union leader Bernard Thibault sports a 1960's student haircut, which says it all. So its out with the red flags, on with Che Guevarra T-shirts, charge up the bullhorn and start the Bob Marley tape.
For visitors this is not quite the harmless fun it might seem. The CGT, CFDT and FO unions regularly halt public transport. Frequent "Days of Action" like the one pictured here, stopped most trains running for a day, and the cancellation of many flights. The students were protesting too, but exactly who that harms is difficult to say, as in Douglas Adam's wickedly satirical national philosophers strike - "ouch! that'll hurt".
These are unashamedly political strikes, aimed at the government. "Job insecurity", the "suppression of public sector posts", protecting public sector pensions, maximum working hours, everything is on the agenda, and direct action is seen as the way forward. After the street protests, TV airtime galore to spokesmen for the big unions, comments from the PS (Socialist Party) the PCF (French Communist Party) still going strong, and if that's not left enough for you there is the New Anti-Capitalist Party. Oh yes, and the Greens. And the Environmentalists. And the Anti-globalisation lot. And the nurses and doctors, the firemen, the postmen, the university "Profs", its hard to find anyone who isn't protesting. Protesting is what it means to be French.
Notice is a legal requirement for these street protests so newspapers and TV are an essential check to ensure your travel plans don't end up in tatters. And nowadays they have to provide at least a "service minimal", meaning that maybe one in three or one in four trains will run. Unless its May 1st, inaccurately referred to as "labour day", when nothing runs.
Early flight? Good luck finding transportation.
If you are staying at a hotel, you will probably not have this problem...but to all of those staying somewhere else good luck finding a taxi or private airport transfer willing to pick you up before 6 AM.
Our personal experience happened with an airport transport with Med-Tour.com. First of all, the first time we call them, we got the answering machine. Since they haven't called us back we called them again. The guy assured our request was registered. Just to be sure a couple days later we called them to confirm our picking up time. Guess what? There wasn't any requests in our names!!!!! This other guy assured that now that we called there was no worries. Last call to this place and they re-assured us everything was ok.
Well, on the day of our trip, just a few minutes before our picking up time the driver calls (with a eastern european accent) saying he was stuck on a highway traffic (yeah right, highway traffic at 5h20 AM!!!) and would be late (yeah, he probably didn't wake up on time). If we waited for him we would miss our flight. We told him it was unnecessary because we would miss our flight. We had to use our backup plan (family call)...
We would rather have used public transportation, but there wasn't any around that time or if there was, we would have missed our flight.
If you have a mischance like this, make sure you know what's the nearest taxi station (most of all, if there are taxis around the time you want to take them). Your best bet is those around big hotels.Related to:
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