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There was a large school group at Sacramento going to Washington, DC and they were on our flight; busiest I had ever seen SMF that early in the morning. Flight to Dallas was uneventful and I sat next to a teacher from Kansas City (overheard him talking to the other person sitting next to him). I had an aisle and Chris had a middle seat in the same row. Got to Dallas on time and waited a few hours till the next plane (to Zurich) left. I had an aisle pre-reserved on the Dallas-Zurich flight, and I wanted to switch to a window so I could sleep better (I had brought my full size pillow and its much better used in a window seat). No luck on changing to a window, and the lady said the flight was completely full – wonderful for a ten hour flight! The flight went by relatively quick, and we had three movies (The Incredible, In Good Company, and The Notebook). I had seen the first two and I actually wanted to watch The Notebook, but I couldn’t stay awake for it. There was also a very interesting 60 Minutes shown about “secret advertising” and big wave surfing. During the first part of The Incredible I brought out my laptop and watched Good Will Hunting, which I had also never seen before. I only got to watch about and hour and a half because my laptop died, but it was really good up until that point We had two meals, both of which were decent for airline food; pasta for the dinner and a croissant/yogurt meal for the breakfast. I felt bad for the woman sitting in front of me, as she was traveling with three small children and they were jumping and walking around the whole entire flight (or at least the entire time I was awake). I was able to sleep for about six hours on the flight and by the time we landed in Zurich I was pretty well rested. Monday, June 13 We landed in Zurich by about 8:00am and had to switch terminals to get to our Nice plane. They had these cool inclined escalator things, which I knew I had seen before, but for some reason I was still fascinated by it. Got on the next plane with no problems and it was a short (1.25 hours) flight to Nice on Swiss Airlines. The plane was a small one and they served these strange cheese sandwiches on wheat-like baguette bread. They were good (probably because I was hungry) and the chocolate they served for dessert was very good too. In Nice, immigration and passport control was painless and our luggage was out on the conveyer extremely quickly. We grabbed a cab to head into the city to our hotel and the cabbie told us about some clubs and bars, as well as a beach for young people that were good. The drive into Nice is very nice, as it takes you right along the Mediterranean Sea on the main boulevard. The water was so blue and clean looking and it was sunny outside, slightly humid, though not too hot, as there was a breeze blowing. Thirty-five Euro later we arrived at our hotel – the Boscolo Hotel Atlantic. I had booked and pre-paid for this one on Expedia, so I felt pretty good about it. It was rated as between three and four stars by the review site I use online so I was looking forward to seeing what it was like. The outside of the hotel was quite formal, and looked like a typical French 19th century building (though please don’t trust my architectural dating, as I am just guessing). The lobby was marble floored and open and airy, with lots of seating areas. We checked in at reception and though it was only a little past noon, our room was already ready and we were able to check-in. Our second-floor room had tall ceilings,
yellow walls, and blue carpet. It was facing the street and the window opened up onto the front of the hotel. The bathroom was nice and clean, but there was no shower head, and a spray hose-like thing that is similar to what elderly people use to bathe themselves. The room had two twin beds and overall the room had an elegant, although slightly worn but clean ambience, which was just fine for us. We decided to take a (short) nap before heading out to explore the city and getting something to eat. We went to sleep at about two and I woke up four hours later (Chris was already up and showered). I took a shower and then we headed out to get some dinner. We walked down about ten minutes to the beach and along the promenade to check out the beach the cab driver had pointed out to us earlier. We ended up walking for twenty minutes but still couldn’t find the beach and decided instead to just get some dinner. One thing I should mention about the beaches in Nice is that they are not made of sand, but instead small pebbles. Because of this it seems that most people lie on beach chairs. Also, most of the beaches are not public and you must pay to use it, where you get a chair, a towel, an umbrella, and can order drinks and food from one of these mini-beach clubs. We ate at a café/pizzeria on the street. Dinner was fine and there was a group of what seemed to be high school graduates on a trip that ended up eating at our restaurant too. I wouldn’t have even mentioned them, except for what was written on two of their t-shirts. One of the kids had a t-shirt that had “Camp Royaneh” on it, which for those of you who are not so-Boy Scouting inclined is a scout camp in (I think) Mendocino County. I had never been there but troops from Elk Grove go there all the time and so I figured that this kid has to be from Northern California, as that camp serves mainly local troops. The second t-shirt hit even closer to home, as it had “National Rowing Championships – Gold River, CA” written on it. I never got around to asking the kids where they were from, but I found it interesting that on our first night in Europe we by chance ran into another group of kids from Nor Cal. Interesting coincidence, that’s all. After dinner we headed back to the hotel, and stopped for some gelato. We got back to the hotel by about 9:30pm and Chris wanted to go out to a bar/club but I was ready to sleep. He kept saying he would just go by himself, but in the end he relented and was in bed before I was, saying that we would definitely hit the bars on the next night. During all this we had turned on the television and were watching the only English-speaking channel we got – BBC World. They had announced that the Michael Jackson jury reached a verdict and so we stayed up and watched the announcement. I was asleep by about 11:30pm and Chris was snoring just a little bit earlier. Tuesday, June 14 I slept well but had woken up a few times because it was quite stuffy in the room. Not until later in the day did I realize that there was air conditioning. Sigh. I was about by 8:30am, courtesy of my mom who had called the hotel to “make sure I was alive”. Oh Mom. Actually it was nice to have her call as it saved me from having to figure out how to dial her from a pay phone. Ha-ha. Anyhow, Chris had been out running at 6:30am and finally found that elusive beach that we couldn’t the night before. It was cloudy and drizzling this morning, though not cold at all, but it still seemed as if our beach plans were thwarted. I got ready and we went to breakfast at a café nearby. We both had coffee
and ham and cheese omelets (which were quite good). On the way back to the hotel we stopped by a pharmacy because Chris kept complaining that he needed gel for his hair; he’s such a baby! We deiced we would go to Monaco (Monte Carlo) for the day per Chris’ suggestion and we headed out for the train station by 10:30am. It was a 10 minute walk the opposite direction of the beach from the hotel and we bought tickets (6 Euros r/t each) to Monte Carlo. There was a train leaving within five minutes so it worked out nicely. Soon we were on our way for the short half hour trip to the Principality of Monaco’s capital city of Monte Carlo. It was a very nice train ride along the coast and I was tempted to get out at one of the six stops on the way to take some nice photos and do some village exploring. When I come back to the south of the France, I would definitely like to (and would recommend to others) spend some time in these neat little towns, as they are beautiful and likely have some very neat hidden treasures. The Monte Carlo train station was very nice and sleek looking. It is four or five stories tall and you have to take an elevator to get to the entrance from the train platforms. Amazing shots of the harbor from here. We left the train station and headed for what is perhaps the world’s most famous casino. Monte Carlo is one of the coolest places I have ever been to; it’s built into cliffs and the entire city screams luxury, money, and wealth. It’s immaculate and perfectly manicured. We headed down to the casino, and actually went to the wrong casino thinking it was actually the famous one. They have a Fairmont hotel at the base of casino complex which is also right on the sea and would assuredly be a very nice hotel to stay at. So, first we went to this casino that we thought is the Monte Carlo Casino, and found out that only the slots were open now and that the table games didn’t open for five hours (it is now noon). We decided to walk around and see the palace and some other stuff and then see what time it was, because Chris really wanted to play a hand of blackjack at the Casino. We went down to this beach that is similar to the one in Nice and had some ICEE’s as the sun had come out and it was warming up slightly. After that I was looking at a map and said that I thought that the casino we went to wasn’t actually the Monte Carlo Casino (for those of you who think I am an idiot for not being able to find the casino, 1) the signs are confusing and misleading, and 2) the first casino was tricky in that it was named the Monte Carlo Sun casino). We walked back up the hill and found the real casino, which was much, much nicer than the first one, but it didn’t open till 2pm. At that point, it was one o’clock and we needed some more time to kill so that we could fulfill Chris’ gambling addiction. Ha-ha. We headed over to the palace, which was about a thirty minute walk from the casino. The palace was very neat and had a great view of the entire city (pictures from there were awesome!). After mulling around there for a little while (I ran out for disk space on my camera) we headed back to the casino as it was past 2pm. Once we got back to the casino and went in I saw that it was a 10 Euro cover charge, which I thought was sort of ridiculous to make people pay in order to lose money. I said that I really didn’t care that much about going in (in part because the only table game open was roulette which I have no idea how to play), but Chris kept convincing me to come in. He eventually went in by himself and I waited outside while he wasted away his entire spending money. He spent about twenty minutes in there and lost 20 Euro (way to go Chris, eh?). We then walked back to the train station (as I tried to console Chris about his devastating loss) and caught a 3:30pm train back to Nice. We were back in the
hotel by about 4:25pm and Chris took a nap while I enjoyed a hearty game of Age of Empires. While I had intended playing AOE for only a few minutes, it soon was 8:30pm and Chris had just woken up. We decided to look online and consult the local traveler magazine to find a place to dinner; we finally settled on Café de Turin, after our first choice required reservations. We headed downstairs and asked the desk clerk for directions. We walked for about 15 minutes to a square that had a number of restaurants at it. It was nearly 9:30pm by this time and we were starving as we had not eaten lunch in Monaco. Turin seemed nice enough and there were a fair amount of people there so we sat outside at a table on the patio. Little did we know what we were in for… The waiter was nice and brought us some drinks as we looked over the menu. Now, we had known this was a seafood place (which is to be expected as Nice is on the Mediterranean), but there was nothing but seafood on the menu. I was hungry and wanted something simple, so I found the one thing that I knew on the menu that would be good (cooked shrimp), ordering 12 “small” shrimp for a little under $10. Chris ordered 6 “medium” shrimp for a similar price. Both of us were expecting something fried or scampi-like, so needless to say we were quite surprised when the waiter brought us our plates only a few minutes later with our pink, very lightly cooked, with black beady-eyes, tentacles, and legs still intact. I looked at the plate and was so taken aback that I just couldn’t believe it – at first I thought they were still alive! Anyhow, eventually we both dug in but soon realized that there was no way we could finish it. I had no idea how to even begin to eat these things so I just broke off the head, cut open the shell-like thing, and removed the tail to scavenge what little meat was inside each of these. After I had labored through this on the first couple and tried my best to not get any of the puss-like fluid that was oozing out from the severed heads, I gave up and resigned myself to eat the bread that was sitting on the table. I must give Chris some credit here, for his shrimp were each about three times the size of mine and head a lot more puss, and yet he was a trooper and ate at least part of the meat on each of them. The waiter soon brought us our check and we paid the bill without any tip (which we would later find out was okay because they include the tip on the bill in France) and resigned yourself to some gelato and Twix bars. It was seriously probably the worst meal in my life and I can’t even describe how close I was to just throwing up all over the table. Let’s just say that I won’t be doing any food challenges on a reality TV show anytime soon… Wednesday, June 15 Chris was up early again today doing his jog and exercise routine that he says “will put him in the best shape in a long time” within a few weeks. Yeah, right – I’m not holding my breath because he has already gained 10 pounds from all the gelato he has been eating every time we pass an ice cream shop. I was up by 7am as we had planned to eat a quick breakfast and then head to the train station to catch a 9:34am train in order to get to Paris by 3:00pm, instead of the 5:00pm we had originally planned. We were at the train station (which was just down the block) by 9:25am and in line to validate our rail passes which I had purchased before the trip. A quick note on the rail passes is that ours are able to be used anywhere in France and Italy for 10 days of travel within a two month period. That means that we can travel as much as we want on ten separate days within two months on any train in France or Italy. My understanding on this (and I had read up before we left to
make sure that you don’t have to do anything special) is that at the first station you leave from (for us that is Nice); you have to get it validated by the ticket agent with a stamp. Anyhow, we arrived at the station, and got in line to get it validated, and completed this with no problems. It was about 9:30am by this time and the train was already on the platform so we headed to the ticket gate. Once we got there, the trouble began. So the guard is waiting there and we show him our passports and ticket with the date filled in of today and the stamp. He looks it over and then asks for our reservation card, and I had no idea what he is talking about. So I ask him what he means, and he explains that you need to have a reservation for the “fast train”. This is something I had read about but the way it was explained to me was that reservations were only needed for night trains or special trains like the Euro star. Well, evidently this train to Paris also needed one so I ask where we get one. He says that this train is full and we have to wait until an open train. We then rush back to the ticket counter and line up again to see if we can get a reservation on the next possible train. After waiting in line for another 10 minutes we finally get two seats on the train we were originally supposed to take that would get us into Paris by 5:00pm. The only bad thing is that now we have two hours to kill (the train didn’t depart till 11:40am) in the Nice train station. It was frustrating but we ended up watching Dodge ball on my laptop and reading to pass the time. At least we had seats on a train and that we would get to Paris that day – crisis #1 averted. If only we knew at that point that this was only the beginning of our train drama. At 11:15am we headed from the waiting room to the platform to board the train to Paris (which had arrived) so that we could avoid any repeat of earlier. We got on with no problems and had a relatively nice seating arrangement in first class. The train was empty for a while but soon people got on, and it left on time. It stopped a lot for the first couple of hours as we headed west along the coast. It was really neat to be able to go right along the coast for so long and Chris and I both agreed that when we come back to the south of France, we would skip Nice and head straight to one of these smaller villages that actually have sandy beaches and crystal clear water. It would be awesome to just rent a house/villa right on the beach for a week and just enjoy the sun and surf. By 1:30pm we had finally headed north and were traveling through Provence. The landscape was very nice (at least what I could see for the part I was awake) and dotted with chateaus and small little hill side villages. This would be a really neat area to explore in a car for a few weeks, and I definitely want to come back here as well. I drifted off to sleep by 2:00pm and woke up around 4:30pm because of some moaning behind us. I didn’t know what was going on at first because there were strange sounds coming from the back of our car and a flurry of announcements over the speaker system. All of the announcements were in French so I had no idea what the hell they were saying but soon other people in our car began looking behind to see what was going on as well. Chris was still sleeping at this point and he had the aisle so I was careful not to fall on him as I was leaning over to see what was happening. By 5:00pm when we were supposed to be close to Paris we were still in the open country side and there had been at least a dozen announcements made by the conductor. In addition the moaning was more and more frequent and about six or seven people were at the back of the car appearing to help the person in distressed. I was able to make out that the individual moaning was American
and all he kept saying was “help me” and “I can’t breathe”. Chris was up at this point and we began to discuss what we thought was going on; I thought it was heart attack and Chris thought an asthma attack. By this time, all thirty people in our car were turned around looking at what was going on and the train appeared to be pulling into a station – though not Paris. We stopped at some small train station and paramedics came on board and were talking to the person in English; we learned during this exchange that he was 52 years old. They eventually took him off the train and his companion (a younger boy, presumably his son) followed with the luggage. We never fully understood what had happened but it seemed that it may have been some type of hallucination or dementia because the paramedics left and the man was just standing on the platform. Very strange indeed. By this point it was approach 5:30pm and we were still at this station – with no Paris insight. The train was moving again soon and we had finally reached Paris by 6:15pm. We got off the train and waited in line for a taxi, which we were in by 6:30pm. The taxi ride was the longest one of my life and we arrived at the hotel (which is located across the city from the train station) by 7:20pm. The hotel was located in the business district, new part of the city and looked quite new. Our room was on the smaller side but very nice and clean (significantly better than our last hotel, which is to be expected since this hotel is run by Marriott). This hotel also had in room Ethernet so it was nice not to have to go to the lobby to use the computer. We went out to get some food by 8:00pm and found a nice mall just a short walk from the hotel. Everything was closing by then, but we found a restaurant nearby and ate dinner there. Nothing too exciting and we headed back to the hotel to head to bed by 11:00pm, as we were planning to head out earlier on Thursday. Thursday, June 16, 2005 Chris ran again this morning, and was up by 6am. What he saw on his run was amazing, spectacular, and was the turning point for the trip - - - - - - - - a Starbucks! We hadn’t seen a single one up to this point and the way he described it to me was like it was the Promised Land or something (which it actually was, since we had both been unhappy with the small coffees they had been serving us). I was up by 7am and we were out the door by 7:45am, planning to stop at McDonalds and Starbucks for some morning fuel before heading to climb the towers at Notre Dame. After getting our caffeine fix, we took the subway into the city. Though our hotel was on the outskirts of central Paris, the subway line it is on is extremely convenient and takes us right into the heart of the city along the River Seine. We were able to take the subway all the way to Notre Dame and were there by 9:00am. The cathedral had opened at 8am and the towers didn’t open until 9:30am and there was still no line. We looked inside for a while and then got in line to go up top by 9:25am. I had done the tower climb a few years ago, but I had forgotten how amazing it was to see Paris in the morning. The day was cloudy but not entirely overcast and the views of the city were spectacular (see my photos). Chris and I both agreed this was definitely the new highlight of the trip up to this point and we were also glad to have been in the first dozen or so people in line as when we got down to the bottom by 10am, the line was easily over a hundred people long.
From Notre Dame, we had to make a quick pit stop at the travel agency to pick up some tickets for a tour I had booked the night before. I have already been to Paris and so I didn’t need to do everything (Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Eiffel Tower, etc) that Chris wanted to do again. Plus, we all know how much Chris loves “art” (e.g. The Met in New York – ask Nicolette or Alex), and so we decided that we would do separate activities on Friday; Chris would spend the day in the city and possibly at the cathedral at Chartes, while I would head north to Normandy and the abbey at Mont St. Michel. Anyhow, I needed to pick up boarding passes for my tour which left early on Friday morning and the office was right on the way along the river. So we made a quick stop there but my ticket wasn’t ready so I had to come back later. We also needed to go to the train station to make a reservation (due to the potential catastrophe from yesterday) for our train to Genoa on Saturday morning, but it was quite far and out of the way from the rest of the day’s plans. Thankfully, there was a travel agency right next door that was able to get us a reservation on the 2:00pm train which got into Genoa at 10:30pm on Saturday night. We booked that reservation and it saved us what would have been at least two hours in a detour to the train station. From the travel agency we headed across the river (passing the Louvre for a few outside photos on the way) and caught the commuter rail train to Versailles at the Musee d’Orsay. We were at Versailles by 12:00pm and got tickets and took the audio tour which we were finished with by 1:00pm or so. Again we were both impressed by this “house” built by the Sun King Louis XIV and spent some time looking at the gardens and grounds. We walked back to the train to head into the city again and decided to stop for lunch at the Buffalo Grill. We eventually both decided to order Buffalo steaks (which neither of us had eaten before) and were interested to try them. I found it very similar to beef but slightly tougher and finished my plate, while Chris didn’t enjoy his as much. After lunch we headed back to Paris and met some girls on the train who were doing a post-college France and Italy tour. They seemed nice, were from Florida, and were on their way to Nice tomorrow. We told them what to see and learned that they would be in Italy around the same times that we had planned. Because Chris was planning to head to Chartes – which is a half day trip outside of the city – he wanted to go to the Musee d’Orsay on this afternoon. We decided to split up and I headed back to the travel agency to pick up my ticket and then to take some photographs of the streets of Paris, while he headed back to the museum to look at his ever-so-important art. I spent some time walking the boulevards and strolled up the Champs Elysee from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe, where I caught the subway back to the hotel. I spent some time catching up on e-mail (and playing some AOE) while I waited for Chris who had planned to be back by 7:00pm for dinner. Once Chris was back at the hotel we went to dinner near the hotel at a restaurant in eh Business Park. I wasn’t that hungry so we split a pizza and then some dessert. A couple notes on Paris that I want to make sure that I get in. First, for being such a busy city the part we are in is amazingly quiet; it’s not that there are not things going on and people around – in fact there are always tons of people walking around the business part of the city – its just that its always so quiet. There is simply no noise; it’s almost like you’re in The Matrix or some movie like that and that it’s surreal. The second thing I want to mention is how late it
stays light here. I think I mentioned before how light it was in Nice, but because Paris is farther north, the day lasts even longer here. Literally, it doesn’t get what we would consider “dark” until 11:00pm or 11:30pm. And even then, it’s not totally dark, as there is still a light-ish glow on the horizon. Anyhow, after dinner we were in bed early (By 10:00pm) as I had to get up early the next morning. Chris didn’t get to bed until 1:00am, which I know because he woke me up – that bastard! Friday, June 17, 2005 I was up the earliest I have been on the trip so far – 5:45am – and for once up earlier than Chris as well. I needed to be at the travel agency to leave for Normandy and Mont St. Michel by 7:00am and luckily the Metro would take me straight there without having to switch lines. I was running perfectly on time and grabbed some coffee on the way out as I made my way to the subway station. I arrived at the travel agency by 6:55am and was surpassed at the number of people (and buses) that were there. There were at least 150 people there (not for my tour only, but for a combination of tours going to a number of different site) and three buses. It was very surprising to me that so many people were going on my tour as well (there were about 45 people in my line) as I had thought that there would only be a few others (as the cost was about $215 per person). Anyhow we got off a little late because we had to wait for a group of 11 who were running late. The bus was two stories and I was lucky enough to get a seat up top with an empty seat next to me. We had left Paris by 7:45pm and began the roughly 200 mile drive to Mont St. Michel. When I signed up for this tour I had expected the majority of my fellow passengers to be English speaking, if not American, but I was quite wrong. On the drive we were given an oral history of the Normandy and Brittany regions in five – yes, count them FIVE – different languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese. Every announcement and every statement made by the three tour guides was repeated in each language which was quite interesting, and at the same time annoying. I was able to understand most of the Spanish ones as well but it was still strange to have to hear the same thing repeated four times. We stopped for brunch at a hotel about 2/5 of the way to Mont St. Michel and the brunch was decent. I sat at a table that ended up being filled with no one else that spoke English (Italian and Spanish) and so I finished my bacon, eggs, fruit, and pastry quickly and then went back outside to get some fresh air before having to get back on the bus for another two and a half hours. We continued on traveling through the northern regions of France, and though I had been here just a few years ago, I forgot how beautiful it was. It was very neat to get to drive through so many cool little villages and by some neat castles that dot the rolling countryside. We arrived at the abbey by 1:30pm and were given a little bit of free time before beginning our tour. The abbey is nothing less than spectacular and I see why it is called the “Marvel of the Western World (Occident)”. It is build vertically on a rock in the biggest bay in the Europe (second in the world only to Fundy Bay in Canada) and towers above the countryside around it. The abbey occupies about the top half of the rock, while a village sits underneath it. My pictures of the abbey provide the best description and once you see them you’ll understand what I mean.
As for the tour we took of the abbey it was very well done, but I won’t bore you with the details. The abbey is very old (dating back to the 8th century), was founded in honor of and because of a vision of the Archangel St. Michael to a French countryman, and it was and still houses a group of Benedictine monks. The tour was excessively long and detailed but very interesting, though lasted nearly 2.5 hours. After the tour we were given some free time (about thirty minutes) before we had to be back at the bus by 4:30pm to return to Paris. Now, the one thing I wanted to do while at the abbey, and in fact the only thing, was to get a panoramic shot of the abbey from far away. I asked the guide if we would be stopping on the road to take such a shot but she said that the driver could only slow down. So, I took matters into my own hands and decided to take a little hike across the sand bar and into the bar (it was low tide) to get that photo of the abbey. I literally had to run across the sand bar in order to get far enough to take the photo I wanted but I was lucky enough to get it. We left the abbey by 4:30pm and stopped for dinner at the World War Two Museum in Caen. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the museum but it seemed nice from the little that I walked through on the way to the restaurant. I sat with some Americans at this meal who were from New York (Long Island), Palm Springs, and Annapolis. There were two couples who were in Europe for a couple of weeks each that talked mainly, and there was another older man who I sat across from (he was from Palm Springs) who was traveling by himself. He was taking the Orient Express to Venice the next night which I thought was pretty cool and would be a neat thing to do in the future. Dinner was pretty uneventful and then we got back on the bus for the three hours back to Paris. I was back at the hotel by 11:00pm and to my surprise Chris wasn’t there. I had thought that for sure I would have been the later one back and the room looked as if he had just stepped out for a second (his computer was still open and his bed had been slept in. Anyhow, I was expecting him back sometime soon but he didn’t get back until 2:00am from the Moulin Rouge. However, I real y think he was at a bar or a brothel somewhere until the wee hours of the morning – we all know how sketchy Chris is. Overall this was a fantastic day and there were three takeaway points that I learned on my journey to Mont St. Michel and back to Paris. First, France makes 360 types of cheese. Second, there are twice as many cows (6 million) than people (3 million) in the province of Normandy. And finally, it’s okay to marry your cousin as long as you build two churches to appease the Pope (which is what William the Conqueror did when he married his cousin Matilda). Saturday, June 18, 2005 Let me preface Saturday by noting that Chris and I both agreed that this day would be known jointly as the “Day of Sketchiness and Near Misses”. You’ll see why ahead. Before embarking on our longest train travel day of the trip (with an ultimate destination of Genoa) Chris still had not seen Paris’ most famous site – The Eiffel Tower. It opened at 9:00am and we had to catch a 2:24pm train so we were up early again at 7:00am. We stopped at McDonalds for an Egg McMuffin and were headed to Starbucks but were
overtaken with utter dismay when we saw that it was closed on Saturdays. How cruel! We arrived at the Eiffel Tower by 8:50am to see a fairly long line already developing gat the entrance. By about 9:15am the line still was not moving and the tickets were still not being sold, so Chris went to go and check it out. Apparently they were having problems with the elevator which they didn’t know-how long to fix. About half of the line in front of us left and decided it wasn’t worth the wait so at least we were closer to the entrance. Still though, as 9:30am approached it didn’t look pretty as we also had to make it back to the hotel to pack up and check out. While we waited we chatted with a group of American college kids in front of us who happened to go to the Naval Academy. They were in Paris for a summer reprogram and had the weekends off to do sightseeing. I just off handedly asked them about knowing Rochelle and I was very surprised when they all knew “Gandy” quite well. The line was finally moving and the elevator working by 9:45am which was perfect because the line had shrunk to a mere 1/3 of its original size, so at least we were closer up front. We went to the top and took our photos and looked around on the nice, sunny morning. We were done by 10:30am and then walked to the Champs-Eleyesee and had a late breakfast at a café there. Relieved that we had made it to the Eiffel Tower in time I then remembered about checking out of the hotel – which was at 11:00am. By the time I remembered this it was already 11:25am and I was sweating bullets about what would happen to our room and whether or not they would charge us another night. In hindsight I probably didn’t need to worry so much but with no coffee and little sleep it was just a stressful mood. So, we finished up quickly and were back at the hotel by 11:45am. I checked what time checkout was and (in another near miss) it wasn’t until noon. Phew! So we packed up and stopped for a quick bite to eat at McDonalds (which was right near the hotel and subway stop) and then hopped on the Metro to the train station. We arrived at the train station in plenty of time and boarded our train bound for Torino (Turin) which left on time. The French countryside was beautiful as we neared and entered the Alps and I definitely want to go back and take a car for a week just driving through the mountains sometime in the future. There are these huge granite faces with forests all around and the only way to describe it is it looks like a fairytale. Everything was going fine and we were racing southeast towards Italy until we stop at about 6:15pm. The conductor came on and said (in English for once) that we would be stopping here for five minutes to exchange passengers, and this had happened a couple of other times today so I thought no big deal. That was fine, until 50 minutes later we were still at this station. Now normally this wouldn’t have been a problem, BUT we had to change trains in Turin to Genoa with about an hour layover. So, not only was our layover now cut to 15 minutes (assuming everything else ran on schedule) but we also had to switch train stations across town. Our train for Genoa was leaving at 8:50pm and so when by 8:15pm we had still not arrived in Turin I was very stressed out, because we were taking the last train of the day from Turin to Genoa. I wouldn’t have minded spending a night in Turin, except for two things: 1) we would be out $140 for the hotel in Genoa plus we would have to find another hotel to stay in Turin, and 2) we were to go hiking in Cinque Terre the next day and were planning to catch an early morning train from Genoa to Cinque Terre, so our plans for the entire next day would be off. We decided at 8:20 to get our bags and go
wait near the train exit as we would try very hard (and run if necessary) to get a cab and at least try and make our connecting train. AS we were anxiously waiting a nice woman who lived in Turin and spoke English began talking to us and we asked her about how far the train stations were apart and where the taxis were and most importantly, how to say “Very Fast” (Verrichissimo) in Italian. She said they were 10 or 15 max minutes apart and so we felt a little better, though it would still be a foot race to the finish. I felt like I was on the Amazing Race trying to make it to a pit stop! We were off the train in Turin by 8:30pm and we ran to the taxi stand, threw our bags in cab, and told the driver “Stazione Porto Nuovo, Varrichissimo”. Boy did we pick the right driver, because he ran five red lights and got us to the station in five minutes. Needless to say, he got a very large tip for his services! We found our next train with little problem and found our compartment. We had probably 3-4 minutes to spare, which in my book counts as another “near miss”. On this train we shared a six person compartment (unlike the pure aisle style seating on the previous trains) with a woman and her 7-year old child. They were nice and spoke no English but seemed well intentioned. It was only a two hour ride to Genoa and we had a very grungy second class cabin but at least it was as short ride. Chris was trying to sleep during the ride and the little kid spent the whole time keeping him awake. It was bad for Chris, but very amusing for me to watch. We arrive in Genoa by 10:50pm and head out to get a cab to our hotel which is supposed to be near the train station; it was not at all. As we were getting off the train Chris jumped off with his small suitcase as the train was still coming to a stop. I tried to be cool and do the same, with my larger bags and in the process as I jumped off the train (which again was still moving) I almost knocked over a one-legged man who was begging for money. It was a close call and Chris spent the entire cab ride laughing at me for it. So ten minutes later we arrive at the hotel which seems nice and modern on the outside and we go to check-in. This is where the sketchiness begins/. First of all, we are waiting there in line to check-in and the guy starts helping us and then all of a sudden when this other man walks in he goes over there and talks to him for five minutes. Chris and I are just standing there thinking WTF but what can we do? So the guy eventually comes back to help us and Chris asks him where is a good place to eat nearby. The guy completely ignores Chris and just types away on the computer finishing up our reservation. After a few more minutes of waiting the guy finally prints out our invoice and room charge confirmation slip and wants us each to sign one. I am about to sign and then look it over and ask where it says how much we are paying for the room; I thought this is a pretty reasonable request because I want to have it in writing how much the room costs. It doesn’t say it any where on the sheet and the clerk that was helping us asks me why I want to know that information. I said, because I want to have written proof of what I am being charged for the room for my own security and records. He then prints out a credit card recipe showing the charge for the room and gives me a copy and also gives me the key to my room. We thank him and are about to head off to the room when he says “We are not jokesters here. We do not cheat people.” It was a really weird and awkward thing to say and if you could have seen the look on his face it was so serious and awkward looking. We just looked away and walked off to the room, cause we didn’t really know what to say. After we got to the room, we went out to get a quick dinner at a karaoke bar/restaurant/store/pub that was across the street. Chris said it felt like the
Twilight Zone (and I agreed), because there were stuffed animals and beads all around, and the place had all these different rooms with no one in them. Just another strange place. We both went to bed quickly once we got back to the room because we were exhausted and had to be up early the next day.