Sunday, March 02, 2008

Travelogue continued (final)

The last evening in Munich it was back to our rooms to pack, checkout, and return to the, now familiar, train station to catch the commuter train to Stuttgart, and then night train back to Paris. We’re old hands at negotiating train stations and made the transfer easily. The car we’d been assigned to for the next leg of the journey had three sleeping occupants who obligingly scooted over. Soon we were all dozing fitfully as comfortable as we could be sitting up on the eight hour journey back to Paris.

About ten minutes prior to arrival at the Paris train station we stumbled out of our couchette accommodations car, bleary eyed to join the line of other passengers waiting with their luggage to get off the train. The train lurched to shuddering stop and the crowd of people and baggage moved toward the exit.

Bags in tow, we made our way to the exit and the waiting taxis where we encountered our first rude Parisian. The tax driver was upset by daughter’s luggage and used several words neither of us understood (no not those kind of words—we know them). There’s a strict que system for taxis so you’re stuck with whoever is up next—no shopping for a friendly face. After the rough start, he continued to mutter for the twenty minute trip to the next train station. He dumped our bags and returned less change than daughter believed we were due, explaining he’d charged extra for our luggage. I said, come on. A few euros isn’t worth an argument, and besides, we have another train to catch. As it turned out, we have time for a coffee. The hot drink improved our morning mood immensely. We’re once again cheerful travelers by the time we piled onto the train to Nice.

The train is a slow moving local that stopped at every tiny town along the way, but this is fine since the sun is out and the scenery is endlessly fascinating as we chug through wine country, and farms, and admire centuries old buildings. With each passing mile the sun grows warmer and the plants more tropical until we’re in the land of palms and exotics and the blue-blue Mediterranean Sea. Fishing boats and sailboats dot the picturesque horizon as we roll through Saint Tropez, Frejus, Cannes, Antibes, and finally into Nice Ville. Really—that translated to the Town of Nice but whenever I saw Nice Ville it made me smile.

Cote d’Azur and Nice run together in an extravagance of natural beauty. Although, more than one native assured me the tourists and greedy merchants have ruined the place. Even the ruins are lovely. Nice is one of those places where nature smiled and so did I the whole time we were there.

The taxi driver was young, handsome, and doubled as a helpful tour guide as he drove us from the station to our hotel. All along the short trip he pointed out places to see, bargains, good food, and where we absolutely must visit. The hotel is as pictured on their website.

Maybe it’s simply living in such a beautiful place, but everyone is pleasant and gracious and friendly. Plus the pace was slower. Businesses were closed from noon until two to allow for lunch and nap. Restaurants were close from three until seven. I had no problem adjusting to a more leisurely pace.

Now that we’re back in France the food was amazing. Our first meal was at a local bistro, a warm goat cheese salad, poached white fish, new potatoes, a platter of vegetables with an oil, shallots and anchovy dip followed by apple tart with homemade ice cream and dustings of cinnamon-sugar. Each dish was beautifully plated. Each bite a poem.

I’m convinced that one would have to work at finding bad food in France.

The following day we had room service breakfast, lovely café au lait, melt in your mouth pastry, fresh squeezed juice, and as a nod toward nutrition, yogurt (really great yogurt). Then we wandered off to explore, purchasing more food (it was irresistible) at a local farmer’s market and supplementing that with too many delicious things from a gourmet deli. Carrying way too much for two women, we headed for the beach and parked ourselves on part of bulkhead and enjoyed the sun, the sights, and, of course, the food. Sun-dried tomatoes in oil, fragrant apples, peasant bread, brie, flavored soft cheese and bottled water. When we couldn’t hold any more we shared the leftovers with remarkable hungry birds.

During our too brief stay we squeezed in a trip to a local garden and viewpoint. After trudging up the twenty plus flights of stairs to arrive at the top I learned there’s a road. I got over it, exercise was a good thing--especially considering how delightful eating was. However, I did find it humiliating to be passed by white-haired grandmother’s who scampered up the steep stairs like mountain goats. At the top was an extensive garden with territorial views. We explored ruined cathedrals from the middle ages, mosaics depicting Jason and Argonauts’ adventures, exchanged smiles and greeting with lots of other park visitors and eventually descended back to ground level in search of more sustenance.

On day three, we galloped down the coast to explore more small seaside cafes and tour a local candy factory. Our guide at the factory popped sweets into our mouths at every station. The confections were not only mouth wateringly tasty, they were works of art. Carnival was beginning two days after we left and the candy makers were frantically producing chocolate masks in different sizes for the occasion. No two of the treats were the same, each was hand-decorated and detailed. The glistening jewels of candied fruit take a month and half from first syrup bath to completition. After seeing the work involved in producing the sweets, the prices were easier to accept.

At last it is time to leave, fortifying ourselves with a last trip to local patisserie, we climbed aboard the night train back to Paris.

Traveling via sleeper car was not nearly as glamorous as it looks in the movies or perhaps there are different levels of comfort available. At the time we made train reservations it was a challenge to find space at all. We luckily got two top bunks in the same car. There’s little head room the mattresses are better than cots, and sleeping seven feet off the ground is disconcerting. Restrooms are at the end of the car and eerily similar to airplane facilities. Still, for an eleven hour journey, it was much better than the couchette alternative of sleeping sitting up.

We arrived in Paris dring morning rush hour with two hours and fifteen minutes to make our flight to New York. We raced to the line of waiting taxis. Fortunately, getting a friendly driver who spoke no English but understood our need for speed. Our bags grew heavier during our stay and we’re grateful to check them. We wind our way through security, finally strapping on our seat belts with seven minutes to spare.


Blogger Lori Borrill said...

Evanne, it's nice to have you back! I hope you had a wonderful time.

1:33 PM  
Blogger Evanne said...

It was a lovely adventure, if money were no object I'd travel more and work less--in fact I think being an independently wealthy bum may be my true calling.

8:53 PM  

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