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A Rail Adventure on the Cote D'Azur

by David Stevenson


My wife, Liz, and I had a short holiday in Nice. While there we traveled West to St Raphael and admired the double-decker trains on the way.

Next day we tried the narrow gauge Provence trains up the valley of the Var. Spectacular views were had as we moved up the tremendous valley in our little one-car train. We met some other trains for a chat between the staff, and climbed slowly. Near the end the main river turns away, but its tributary, the Varre, was just as impressive. The trains were full all the way there and back.

While I would have liked to travel the whole way, it is a long ride, and we got off at An...., walked down to the village, and refreshed ourselves in the village bar while the owner played a form of backgammon with one of his patrons. Back at the station I was studiously ignored by a large cat, one of only two we saw all holiday - but we saw hundreds of dogs!

Back to Nice, the last mile or two through tunnels and on roads, using ordinary traffic lights. A lovely little line.

Next day we tried to go to Ventimille to the East. However, the ticket seller told us the line was closed, so we visited Menton. While we did not queue and pay to see Pinocchio and the Citrus festival, we found a nice exhibition of orchids, rare plants, and much else. On the way home we stopped in Monaco. The station has four exits as we eventually found out, but we had accidentally taken one that deposited us far up the hill! We struggled down, passing a large cat asleep in his basket on a porch (he opened one eye at our greetings then went back to sleep) and saw the sea and the harbour, then home.

On our last day we were not going on a train, but after a very upsetting experience with a "Little Hitler" in a museum in Nice, Liz suggested we did go on a train anyway. At the station there was a train to Ventimille in just over an hour according to the departure screen, so we bought tickets, and waited.

The train finally arrived, we got on, but we told to get off because the train did not run today! It is very difficult grappling with the French timetables with their innumerable exceptions. Apparently it was the same as the previous day: no trains to Ventimille before the evening because of engineering work. If only the departure screen had been correct or the ticket seller had told me as his colleague did the day before.....

So we went to Menton, after waiting two hours. Grrrrr :-( I had seen Menton yesterday! Anyway, we spent some time there, and returned to the station. There seemed to be a TGV train due in twenty minutes to Ventimille, and another train due after that. Of course, our ticket was punched again! While waiting in Menton there were people everywhere because of the Citrus fair, and a train towards Nice was nearly full: there was extremely large ferocious looking dog sitting up on two seats and glaring at anyone who wanted to sit!

Eventually the TGV train arrived. The driver nearly did not stop! He saw two hundred local people going only one stop and was insulted - that is not what TGV trains are for! He stopped, everyone piled on board, and the driver sulked: he never got the train above 30 mph to Ventimille.

There was just time there to attempt to buy a sandwich - it is not easy! In Italy you cannot point at what you want and pay: you have to pay at a cashier who knows no English but you have to tell her what you want. I waved and guessed a word, she guessed, we were lucky.

It is so easy using the same currency! When will Great Britain stop trying to be a second class nation and adopt the Euro? One night in Nice there was a parade called "Le Roi d'Euro" with all the floats depicting the Euro.

Eventually we had our sandwich and caught a Swiss train back to Nice: on Nice station they do not advertise any long distance services through Ventimille so it was quite a surprise to find this train came from Basel. I was pleased no-one checked our tickets which were validated twice on the outward journey. At least the day improved and overall we enjoyed our holiday.


Editor's note:

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