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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.
Updated Nov 27, 2011
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.
Updated Jun 5, 2011
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 scale
Updated Jun 5, 2011
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..
Updated Jul 3, 2010
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!!!!
Updated Apr 17, 2010
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.
Written Apr 8, 2010
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
Updated Mar 29, 2010
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.
Updated Sep 28, 2009
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.
Updated Sep 28, 2009
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.
Updated Sep 28, 2009
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