We departed Stuttgart in high spirits having made great friends with the Würfls and excited to get to warmer climes in southern France. First we stopped in Strasbourg to change trains, and because we anticipated this being our longest layover we did some grocery shopping for lunch later. On the next train to Marseille, we tried to wait until the conductor came through to check the tickets before breaking out a sandwich bar, but after several hours we decided to eat lunch anyway. The salami had a tough papery exterior that proved a formidable foe to our salami stripping experience and plastic utensils. My fondness for tomatoes added a very liquid dimension of messiness to the scene. We joked that, having made a huge mess all over the table, the conductor might come in to our great embarrassment, but it had been hours so we figured he just wasn't coming. At last we had finished our sandwiches only to find that the bread we had purchased was really designed to be toasted into a baguette, and fell apart easily without a good toasting. Cradling our long, flimsy sandwiches, Maria and I began eating. Water poured from the tomatoes all over our hands and the salami was impossible to cut even with our teeth. A third of my sandwich broke free and splatted on the table. Then the doors opened and the conductor walked in. Amidst the mess we had wrought, our conductor was very kind and offered some tips on using our train passes to travelers who obviously needed help. We finished our sandwiches and cleaned up without any further embarrassment, and soon arrived in Marseille.
We became acquainted with the irregularity of the French public transportation system, arriving in Marseille after the train we were supposed to take to Nice had departed. We waited for the next train to Nice, only to find it had been canceled. An hour later we finally boarded our last train of the day.
When we arrived at our hostel the receptionist greeted us very warmly with information on how to best spend our three days in Nice and all the amenities of the hostel, which included a sauna (more on that later).
The next day was beautiful. The sun shone out of crystal clear skies, and not the cold and distant sun of winter but the warm and life-giving sun of spring. We set out in swimsuits and t shirts embracing a high of 60°F. As we sat at a café by the morning flower market, we noticed the locals wearing scarves and pulling coats tighter to shield them from what apparently passes for winter in the French Riviera. At the café Giana and I shamelessly ordered an American-style breakfast (called the Elvis) of fried eggs, bacon, pancakes, and French toast. Maria, intending to embrace French cuisine, ordered a coque (bread and jam with an egg). When the soft boiled egg arrived, Maria admitted she had no idea how to eat her meal. Giana and I tried to help, knowing more about peeling the shell from a boiled egg, but our knowledge ended there. Accustomed to eating eggs on my toast, I suggested she try eating her egg with bread. As she did the yolk burst, covering her hand and the plate beneath. She soldiered through, bewildering the locals and our waiter with an apparently unconventional eating method. Giana and I enjoyed a breakfast we knew how to eat.
From the café we walked to the smooth stone beach of Nice and laid out on the rocks sunning ourselves gleefully in the second week of February. Our swimsuits clashed even more sharply with the other beach goers, many of which still seemed dressed for an uncomfortably chilly day. Giana and Maria turned on some favorite county tunes while I slept in the sun. After a while we hiked up a beautiful park set on a hill overlooking the town of Nice and took in great views of the Mediterranean on one side and the Alps on the other. Giana had an interview for grad school over Skype that afternoon, so we headed back early.
While Giana Skyped, Maria and I bought food to make burgers and then checked out the sauna. It took a while to figure out, but sometime after Giana joined us Maria got it going and we enjoyed 120°, sweating out all sorts of travel ickiness. With homemade burgers and fried potatoes for dinner, we felt the best we had felt in weeks.
The next day clouds had rolled in, but rain was scarce and temperatures were near 60 so we set out in sweaters, leaving the coats behind. We planned to visit both Eze, a small village on a cliff overlooking the Riviera, and Monaco, a short bus ride further. In Eze we hiked through the narrow streets of the citadel to the precipice for great views, but unfortunately it was clouded. We also visited the Galimard perfumery in Eze where they make the base for the major perfume brands. On the way to the perfumery Giana checked the bus schedule for the next bus to Monaco, and since we had time we decided to take a free tour of the perfumery and explore the scents in the store. Having experienced more irregularity on the bus ride to Eze we figured the bus would be late. After a while we discovered that Giana had noted the time the bus would arrive in Monaco rather than when it would depart for it. The next bus was so much later that we didn't have time to see Monaco that day, so we caught the next bus back to Nice just as water began to sprinkle from the sky.
We made it to our hostel in a full downpour, which resulted in the Nice Carnival opening celebration being canceled (the plans we had made instead of a late trip to Monaco). We made a fabulous pot of pasta and enjoyed conversation with the other hostel dwellers, but Giana and I realized we were getting sick again. In the span of two hours we went from sore throats to full-blown, body-aching, nose-running, sinus-solidifying flu. Our new friends had a lot more life and wanted to play ping pong, so Maria picked up socializing duty to let Giana and I sleep.
Our last day on the Riviera rain continued to fall. Giana and I had contracted an illness very similar to what we had before, but we still wanted to see Monaco. We stopped by a pharmacy to stock up on vitamin c and tissues and searched for the right bus station in the rain (the one on the maps being under construction). Our bus to Monaco left ahead of schedule and forty five minutes later we stepped off in Monaco. The relentless rain dampened our spirits and soaked our bodies, so we stopped in a café, and soon Giana and I felt like going home. Maria had a lot more energy, so she did some necessary shopping and exploring, taking photos while the ill took refuge at the bus stop.
Back at the hostel Giana and I wanted to feel warmth again so we took a second round in the sauna. Maria started working on some research applications but got distracted by the friendly hostel dwellers. After a sauna and shower, we ate dinner with some friendly Canadians, sharing travel stories and some helpful experience with the younger travelers. We reflected back to our time in the UK when we received similar advice from those nearing the ends of their own journeys.
That evening Giana and I wrestled poor Internet and runny noses to Skype our distant significants for Valentine's Day. We had good talks but went to sleep way too late for our conditions to improve.
Our last morning in Nice we bade goodbye to our friends and boarded a train for Montpelier.
"Part of the ship, part of the crew"