TGV bookings is a flawed system. It is in fact possible for two travellers to board a train thinking they got a great deal on tickets, have those tickets validated by a machine, then be told by the conductor half way through the trip that they in fact needed special passes. Where was the box to put the codes of those special passes into while making the booking? Or is it all a big conspiracy to coax poor students onto the train then demand a credit card to charge the real bill to? We weren’t impressed. We had decided on coming to Nice because the south of France in general had appealed, and Nice in particular because when we went on the website we saw an incredible special deal on tickets. We eventually coaxed the head train master man into giving us a 20% discount (better) and cheered up a bit on arriving in beautiful Nice to best hostel in France in the late afternoon sun. With a guided tour and free wi-fi, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, towels and sight-seeing advice we were in much better spirits. We took up a special offer for dinner and had the first homey-type meal in a long time (chicken with mashed pots and salad) before crashing to bed.
We woke up the next morning not knowing what to wear. We had been living out of our backpacks for five weeks, occasionally swapping clothes and trying all the various combinations of items we could think of. And we were sick of it. It was time for shopping. Despite the financial hit we had taken the day before, and perhaps just a little to cure it, we both managed to pick up a few new bits and pieces. It’s incredible how even something as small as a new pair of earrings or a bikini top can make you feel like you have a whole new wardrobe. We lasted a few hours on the main street in Nice, loving every minute of it and eventually becoming too scared to enter shops for fear of withdrawing more cash and overstuffing our bags even further. We spent the night playing drinking games with a Kiwi couple and various Canadians and Americans back at the hostel bar, learning a few new games and teaching them all some Kiwi vocabulary (‘skull your vessel’ usually gets us blank looks and ‘possie’ hasn’t quite caught on around the world just yet, but we’re trying).
On arriving at the hostel the girl recommended the Villefranche beach, a short bus ride out of Nice but worth it for the sand and surf. On day two, we spent our time there. On the tram to the bus, there were a couple of other guys from our hostel – one of which Ella randomly knew from uni – who decided to come along with us to check it out. We spent hours lying in the sun, swimming in the azure water (cote d’azur – get it?) and reading on the beach. Not to mention posing for some photos to give a tiny idea of what the conditions were like, even though it was the kind of day you can only really capture by being there. We paid for our imprecise sunscreen applications later but still considered it an amazing day at an amazing beach. That night Hayley walked past someone familiar – an old workmate from Cathedral Café who had stayed at the hostel himself as a traveler and never left. The tally now stands at Ella: 1 Hayley: 1.
Day three was time to get out of the city. We took a tram first to get to the bus, where there was an interesting moment with a woman banging on the doors and yelling as we pulled away from a stop – took about a second to realise her 3-4 year old daughter had boarded the tram without her and was off on a wee adventure on her lonesome. For the sake of the blog we can assume that the story ended happily ever after. After some minor issues we found the correct bus and headed off first to the little mountain village of ‘Eze’ (also recommended) for some tourist gold nuggets of photo opportunities and souvenir shopping. It turned out to be one of places that probably hasn’t changed in a hundred years and probably won’t for another century either. The recommendation had led us slightly astray, as even though the village was pretty, it did not take more than thirty minutes to explore in full (unless you are a waddling elderly American tourist like the rest of the people on the bus) and we were stuck in the town for two hours twiddling our thumbs and raiding the supermarket for sweets. Finally the bus arrived to ferry us to Monaco, another thirty minutes down the road, and we were there. Our main objectives were to check out the casino, the boats, and the palace. Monaco is a much more happening place than Eze, in all its construction splendour as it geared up to the Grand Prix in a couple of weeks time, and we managed all of our targets within a few hours. Despite being afraid of movement due to intense sunburn, and coughing and sneezing (with a cold we shared like everything else) through the uber-expensive streets, we agreed on preferring Monaco in the sun with sickness to New Zealand in the rain with mid-terms. There were some incredible cars around, and one we couldn’t even name. That might not mean much but when we could easily pick out the Jaguars, Porshes, Ferraris (we counted five), Rolls Royces, Bentleys and Chryslers, it has to mean something. Between that and the super yachts it was an absolute boys paradise. Somewhere between the Cartier store and the Prada store you can find the girls' paradise. We left Monaco still very sore and very tired for our last night in ‘the best hostel in France’ (we were beginning to disagree), opting for bed instead of the tempting offers of happy hour.
We’ve made it a habit to book our hostels early, and also to never book more than a few nights at once. This tends to be a fairly good plan as even when a hostel is dubbed ‘the best in France’ by HostelWorld, it can still be incredibly noisy at night, and only have one toilet and two showers on the whole floor. We were relieved then to be on our way to our next hostel in the middle of Nice for a further three nights. Hayley was in charge of finding the place as Ella was crookliest with her cold. We managed to only walk right past it once, which is pretty impressive considering the sign was about A5 size and tucked away in a little corner. It didn’t look good. Once we were inside though it was all fine, and considering what we were paying it wasn’t bad at all. We spent the day reading and sleeping in bed mostly, only leaving the hostel for a food hunt for dinner then back to our cave for a movie. While this hostel had an entire TWO bathrooms for roughly twenty people, they were up a set of tiny stairs Ella dubbed ‘the death stairs’. If you think about those engineering assignments students have to do at university where they must build a bridge that will withhold the weight of one person, but collapse as the second steps onto them, you can imagine these stairs. Carry anything more than shampoo to the bathroom and you’re done for.
The next day we had planned to once again spend at a beach with some caves you could swim out to, but with both of us still somewhat under the weather we took our books to a park and spent another day reading. Still in France, in the sun, things were going pretty well.
The next morning we both woke up feeling much better. Sunburn fading and coughs much less irritating we were looking forward to a day in Cannes stalking some major A listers. Then Hayley noticed she could only see out of one very puffy eye. Somehow in the night Ella had punched her in the face… not really, but it looked like it. We took our very limited French to a pharmacist who forwarded us to an eye specialist within seconds. We took our limited French to an eye specialist who spoke no English but was lovely and handed over a prescription for some magic drugs that would fix the apparent allergic reaction within a day or two. With a couple of hours of rest and some large dark sunglasses, we set out for Cannes. We arrived in late afternoon and lost ourselves amongst the tourists, locals and the nameless faces in big name brands. We found the red carpet, which was empty at the time, and followed the crowds along the shorefront. Passing by a couple of buskers we felt a drop of rain. Within seconds it was bucketing. We hid under a awning infront of a fancy art store, seriously reducing the aesthetic appeal of the store, and waited it out while trying to guess who was behind the tinted windows of the uber fancy cars around us. Once it stopped we grabbed a coffee, and wandered back to the red carpet area to see if anything interesting was happening. It was. We could find the famous and glamorous by watching the paparazzi – most of the time we didn’t know who the photographees were, though the procession of models in designer outfits was breathtaking. We followed the crowd to the closest point to the red carpet that we could get to, still not really sure of what was happening, what movie was premiering or who was going to be there. There were enough beautiful dresses walking past to keep up entertained anyway. After a while a few police escorted, flagged and tinted windowed cars drove past. At the entrance of the carpet area when the cars stopped we could hear – but not see – the screaming crowds on the other side. We could hear them chanting. The announcer was almost drowned out by the screams, but even through the screams, the static and the French introductions, we could easily make out the names ‘Johnny Depp’, ‘Penelope Cruz’ and ‘Geoffery Rush’. We got a few glimpses through the crowd at they walked up the stairs to the entrance, and took a couple of grainy photos that didn’t turn out so great – but we were there, we saw them – and we were stoked about it. Somehow, the day had turned out to be a success. Still sporting large dark sunglasses after sunset, we made it back to Nice for one last sleepless night sharing a miniscule eight bed room with sir-snores-a-lot and his buddy senore mcsnore.