Barcelona to Nice. On a map it looks simple, just slide along the coast for a while and you’re there. This was another case where appearances were deceiving. We had originally planned for three nights in Barcelona, but changed that to two when we were told that there were no possible train combinations that could get us there on the day we wanted. Moving the trip up a day meant we could get there in a quick 10 hours making only two transfers. So that’s what we went for – Barcelona -> Figueres -> Valence -> Nice, leaving around 8am and getting into Nice at 6ish.
The day started easily enough with a metro ride to the Barcelona train station where we found our seats for the short trip across the French border to Figueres. We had a bit of a layover in Figueres before we caught the second train to Valence. There is where we would have to switch to another train for our last leg to Nice.
We found the platform, a train pulled up and we got on. Right after it pulled away Steve looked at his watch and knew we’d made a mistake. The train to Nice wasn’t supposed to leave for almost another 15 minutes, and most trains, unlike air travel, leave exactly on time. They don’t check tickets before you get on (sometimes not at all), our train wasn’t labeled on the inside and there were no announcements about its destination, but we knew we were on the wrong one. We spent the next few minutes looking at a rail map trying to figure out which train we might be on, where it might be stopping, and just how much of a pain in the ass we had just caused ourselves.
After what seemed like forever watching the scenery whip by at high speeds, the train slowed and we saw the sign for Nimes. Instead of getting on the eastbound train to Nice, we’d stepped on the one leaving moments before that was westbound for Montpellier. Rather than go further in the wrong direction, we jumped off and made our way to the ticket desk to see what we could do.
It could have been worse. They had a regional train to Marseille leaving in a couple hours, with another train from Marseille to Nice leaving shortly after that. We would get into Nice at just after 11pm instead of before 6 as originally planned. We walked out of the Nimes station to get a beer while we waited before getting on what we made sure was the correct train to Marseille. The final train to Nice was late in the evening and a horde of drunken kids got on for the final leg at Cannes. Listening to noisy booze-babbling after 15 hours of traveling wasn’t the highlight of our day…
Finally making it to Nice, we then had to go pick up the key for our apartment in one location before finding the apartment somewhere else. Getting the key wasn’t a problem, but trying to find an apartment in old town Nice after midnight, carrying all our junk, and with streets full of people eating and drinking was. We did laps around the area trying to make sense of a small cell phone map, poorly labeled streets, and the vague directions given by our host. After 45 minutes we finally found the obscure entrance between a restaurant and a tattoo shop. Needless to say, we went up to the room and promptly collapsed.
Nice was a city where both of us didn’t really care to see anything at all. We woke up late and made our way out of the old town to find a big grocery store. We were in line for too long behind a large, hairy, and horribly smelly woman buying nothing but a piece of pizza. We made it out of the store a few minutes later to see her sitting on the curb chowing down on her purchase. She didn’t smell any better outside… (Pizza lady had become a regular reference since then. We swear, we’re not bad people. If this were a smell-o-blog you’d understand.)
Later in the day we walked around town, eventually finding our way to the boardwalk by the beach. The long strip of ocean in Nice has alternating public and private beach areas. For 10 euros and up you can buy your way into one of the private beaches where you might get a chair, umbrella, and the privilege of buying drinks from their bar. The public beaches probably didn’t have bathrooms quite as nice, but we were only five minutes from the apartment anyway. We bought a big beach umbrella so Steve could sit outside for more than eight seconds without bursting into flames. That evening we went into all out party mode and got a pizza (delicious sicilian style with anchovies), some ice cream, and went back to the room to eat while watching the Simpsons.
The next two days can be described as sleep late, spend time on a rocky beach, get dinner, bed. Around noon we’d make our way out of the apartment, stop by a small grocery for snacks on the way to the beach, find an open spot on the rocks, set up our umbrella, and hang out for a few hours. The beaches are all rocks and can be uncomfortable until you finally get them aligned with your spine. They’re also impossible to walk on when they get wet, so going into the water really means falling into the water, and coming out means crawling out on all fours.
There are restaurants everywhere by the beach and in the old town, which makes eating for an indecisive couple a chore. They’ll post daily menus on boards that would be difficult to decipher even if you could read French. After settling on a place, Jenny got a pot full of mussels and Steve got a plate full of squid. On the 17th for Jenny’s birthday we went to an Italian restaurant with decent food, but service so slow that we were ready for bed before dessert came out.
Once we finally got there, Nice was a great place to spend a few days breaking the “walk around the city for six hours a day” cycle we’d been on. We couldn’t get Jenny to Italy for her birthday, but the French Riviera wasn’t too bad at all.