Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I like days like today.

Well, I didn’t really dig it at the start, but it turned out great.

Problem One: My shore excursion got cancelled. (No surprise there. So far on this cruise, I think only two shore excursions have actually gone out – and one of them was that tour of Calvi that they did even though there were only five of us.)

Problem Two: It was raining. I’m actually surprised we got this far without rain. This cruise was really inexpensive for a reason – it’s the end of the season – so you sorta have to expect rain.

Result: A rainy day in Villefranche-sur-Mer, with nothing to do.

Villefranche is a small little village (“fishing village,” we were told). Given the season and the rain, most of the little shops in Villefranche didn’t even bother opening. Hell, local traffic wouldn’t keep them open, and there were only 98 of us. Tendering over every half hour. Only if we weren’t feeling too wet. So: A rainy day in a largely closed village.

Here’s the upside: Villefranche-sur-Mer is pretty near other cities. Indeed – our cruise started in Nice and was just in Monaco last night – Villefranche is actually between the two – about a ten minute train ride from Nice, and (I’m guessing here) maybe 20 or so from Monaco. So, a bunch of people from the cruise ship planned to take busses or trains to other cities.

I figured I’d just wander around Villefranche and see if I couldn’t find an internet cafe. (Actually, I’d planned to ask for an internet cafe at the tourist information desk – but the tourist information desk was closed by the time I tendered over. So, aimless wandering it was.)

I figured the best shot would be one of the shops along the street fronting on the water. So my plan was to walk all the way down the street to the end (not a particularly large village), and if I didn’t find internet by then, I’d turn around and walk back. At least I’d have gone for a little walk in Villefranche. (Update on various aches and pains: knees and thighs still sore. I can walk all I want … as long as it’s flat.) So, I started off down the street.

I reached the end of the street, having come up empty on the internet front. I’m about to turn around when I see the sign saying “gare.”

I nearly laugh because I know what a “gare” is. It’s funny, because when, on the second day of French class, they teach you stuff like “bibliotheque,” you think, “when am I ever going to need to ask someone in French where to find the library?” (Because, hell, my French will never be good enough to read a French book.) But, at the same time you’re learning “bibliotheque,” you’re learning “gare.” And while I’d thought, at the time, that I’d never really need to know the French word for “train station,” it turned out to be pretty useful here.

There was an arrow pointing up a flight of steps. Fate brought me to the train station. I’m not doing anything today – let’s take a train someplace! I go up the steps and see I’m dealing with two platforms. Monaco in one direction; Nice and beyond in the other. I just got back from Monaco. Sure, I could go back there again for the chocolate shop I’d missed … but I had a hell of a time navigating there when it wasn’t pouring down rain, it seemed silly to go back there now.

And I didn’t want to go back to Nice either. How about someplace new? Where else does this thing go? Apparently, the train to Nice continued on to Antibes, Cannes, and Grasse.

I considered Grasse. That’s the place where you go to the perfume factory. (It had been on my cancelled shore excursion.) But, although the train to Grasse was leaving fairly soon, it only ran every hour and a half or so, and I didn’t want to be stranded in Grasse waiting that long for the train back.

Antibes was possible, too. I’d read something about Antibes (when waiting at the tourist information center for someone to show up and tell me where the internet was) – but I couldn’t quite remember what it was.

Cannes it is, then. I know stuff about Cannes. (I’ve heard of it and everything.) And the folks on the ship had recommended it as a really good shopping place (both for high end stuff and artsy stuff). I tried it on: “Let’s go to Cannes, today.” Felt good.

Through a combination of charades and bad French, I purchased my ticket (and got directed to the correct platform). Actually, I could have figured out the platform thing myself. You don’t need much French to figure out the train station. There was a map of the line – I could figure out the final destination of the train to Cannes, so I’d know what to look for. I could even read the board enough to understand when my train was delayed 25 minutes. (The monitor went red and said “retard” under the train number.) I like trains. I’m much better at trains than busses, when it comes to figuring out what you need. I can do trains.

The train arrived and I realized my first mistake – the train did not have the line map inside it, so I couldn’t follow along and figure how far I was from Cannes. (You should always count how many stops you have to go before you get on the train.) I had a vague idea (Cannes is the next big station after Antibes), most of the stations were labelled, and the woman over the loudspeaker would say something involving the words “prochain” (“next,” said my memory) and, at some point, “Cannes.”

I should not have worried. I actually knew that we were approaching Cannes before she even announced it. All of a sudden, the scenery looked very Cannes-like – which was surprising to me, because if you’d asked me what Cannes looked like, I would have said I had no idea. But I saw some buildings and trees in a familiar color scheme that just screamed “a snooty film festival belongs here” and, sure enough, it was Cannes.

Got off the train and realized my second mistake. Having come to Cannes on an impulse, I had no map of the place, and no real idea what to do once I got there. And there weren’t any maps in the train station. Having spent about an hour on the train, though, I knew one thing – the Mediterranean is that way. (And, having spent some time in Nice and in Villefranche, I knew that there is going to be good stuff near the beach.) I prepared to go in that general direction, but first walked a block or so on the street fronting on the train station, until I found …

the internet cafe! OK, sure, I’d spent an hour (and about 14 Euro) on the train to get to Cannes, but this was a totally awesome internet cafe. Three lousy Euro for a whole hour AND, when I began by asking the man behind the counter if he parlez-ed Anglais, he immediately directed me to one of his terminals with an English keyboard! Yes! “A” and “Q” where were they belonged! Victory!

Spent about 20 minutes getting caught up on my e-mail, took care of booking my Vatican ticket for when I get to Rome, and then pulled up the ol’ Cannes Gare on Google Maps to find out where the hell I was.

Once I’d solved that little mystery, I realized that I had to figure out what I wanted to do in Cannes. I remembered that I’d had unfinished business with the chocolate shop in Monaco, and figured there’d have to be a good French chocolate shop in Cannes. There were several. I picked out one that also served French hot chocolate (the good thick stuff that tastes like a melted dark chocolate bar). One was on “Rue D’Antibes.” Said rue (thank you again, google maps) was parallel to, and two blocks away from, my current rue. And the chocolate shop wasn’t too far down. Now, I had a plan.

I somewhat reluctantly said goodbye to my nice, cheap, internet, but since I was aiming for French hot chocolate, I had a serious incentive to get a move on. Easily found my way to Rue D’Antibes, which is, as it turns out, one of your main shopping streets in Cannes. All sorts of snooty high end boutiques … and a Claire’s Accessories, for some reason. I did a bunch of window shopping, and found me the chocolate shop.

Very snooty Parisien chocolate shop. I bought some very snooty Parisien chocolate to bring home for presents (packs flat!) and got me a hot chocolate to go. (Actually, the very snooty lady comped me the hot chocolate, so perhaps wasn’t all that snooty after all.) Hot chocolately lava warmed me nicely from the inside, and I continued on down Rue D’Antibes, checking out shops. I even stumbled upon a perfume shop (yay – saved me a trip to Grasse!) and acquired a few more gifts (they pack flat, too) for people back home.

At some point, I figured it was time to turn back – I wanted to get back to Villefranche before dark, as, with the rain and all, it was already pretty darned cold, and the dark would make it downright unpleasant. So, I found my way back to the Cannes gare and picked up the train back.

On the way back, I started thinking that I had a great start on a perfect gift for my Catholic friends – Parisien chocolate, French perfume, and a little something from the Vatican would make a great little “sin and salvation” package!

I chuckled all the way back to the boat.

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