Sunday, December 14, 2008

from Italy, then France: accidental tourists

We leave Levanto and the Cinque Terre in clouds.

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As usual, we are lucky and the rain holds off for our hike to the station. Or maybe it is the tail end of a rainy period? Even as in Nice, where we are heading, they are predicting more rain? (You remember Nice – the place with 300 days of sunshine per year?)

The train ride is uneventful. I watch the coastal scenery, Ed reads. The compartment is full (yes, the regional trains still have compartments) and there is a pleasant silence as each of us does mental calculations about where and for what purpose the others are traveling.

A little girl leaves her compartment and sits next to the window. We pass the building where her father works. The mother calls him on the cell phone and they wave as we go by.

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In Genoa, we have a half hour layover. And from there, we have a direct three hour trip to Nice.

Or so I thought.

At the Italian border there is commotion. What are they saying? Ed asks. I don’t know, I wasn’t listening. I should have been listening. Because now it’s clear we have to get off. There is a strike. The train will go no further.

And so here we are again, in Ventimiglia. There will be a Pullman! - someone shouts. I never heard that term used for a bus. But it seems that everyone expects a bus. Or, because of the great number of us, perhaps many buses. But as I get my turn at the ticket counter, the agent says no, no bus. In several hours we should get on a local to France.

Maybe you would have used the opportunity to walk around Ventimiglia once again. Me, I worried that someone would change his or her mind, or the departure time would change and we would have missed the one and only transport to Nice. So we sit and wait. Ed reads, I people watch. Fellow travelers, counting off the minutes until we can move again.

And a train does appear, a nice commuter train, and we pile on. Ten stops later we are in Nice.

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The walk to the hotel is not too long. Fifteen minutes maybe. And we are almost there, just at the corner now. I’m about to say to Ed this is it! – when before us, a car turns into our street and there must have been a blind spot, because the driver doesn’t see that he is right in the path of a motorcycle. They crash.

The two riders are wearing helmets, which is a good thing because they fly off the crushed bike and in my memory of this, they both land on their heads, with a bounce. His leg is injured, she cries out and then grows quiet. A fantastically beautiful woman (yes, really) stops, sits down on the pavement and starts tending to the woman on the ground who appears to be in shock. She covers her, feels her pulse, takes her hand, calms her.

Being nearest to the accident, my first reaction was to shout out are you all right? In English no less.

We stay for a while, in part to see if all goes well, or well enough, and in part because I think like an American: there will be a law suit, I am a witness. But, Ed tells me that it’s pretty obvious what happened. And now, the ambulance comes, the beautiful woman talks to the paramedics (she must be a doctor herself). The accident victims seem lucid and not incapable of moving and so we leave.

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So how many more accidents will we witness on this trip?

At the hotel, as a returning guest, I am treated to a splendid room. But truthfully, all rooms here, at the Grimaldi are lovely, especially if you ask for the top floor, with views over the city. In this season, the hotel offers a “come to Nice and shop for the holidays” special. For 270 Euros, we get three nights, breakfast daily, a bottle of champagne on arrival, and one three course dinner at an excellent restaurant.

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fish cake, egg, toast, greens

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seafood in broth

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mandarine soufflé with chocolate Madeline

Have I made my case for traveling in early December? What, you think the weather isn’t perfect then? Okay, maybe where you live it is more perfect than what we have had on this trip. For me, so long as it stays above 50, I am happy.

We are in France. And for at least one reason, Ed’s face lights up. It is, for him, the country with the best bread in the world.