Originally published 29 December 2017
Nice was never meant to be our sole destination on this leg. Nice does have things to do and see, but it was intended as a base, where we can run up and down the coast to see other places. Nice is a reasonably priced place with many restaurants, stores, and is a real city with real city things.
While we want to visit Monaco, I’m sure their hotel rooms are quite pricey. I can’t imagine what dinner costs. We plan on saving our money for other things. We’ll visit Monaco, but we will do it as part of a day trip. Today, we were on another day trip, up the coast. We crossed the border and spent the day in Ventimiglia Italy.
Ventimiglia has a huge outdoor market every Friday and people from all over the region come there to shop. From Nice, the easiest way to get there is via train. We take the tram a few stops up the line and get off at the central train station stop in Nice and head inside to buy our tickets.
Nice Train station
SNCF is the French state railroad. We go into the station and go the the SNCF ticket machine. We set it to English so we can buy our ticket and fully understand what we’re doing. We find out that while the directions on how to work the machine are in English, the actual ticket types are still in French. We can run the machine fine, but have no clue what we’re buying.
We decide to cancel as there are huge lines at the machines and it could take us forever to figure it out. We go to the ticket office to buy our ticket from a real human. They charge like 50 cents extra for this service, but at this point that sounds like money well spent. We buy our tickets in the ticket office and go to the platform to wait on our train.
The platform starts to fill the closer to arrival time. There are a lot of people going from Nice to points on up the line. We have been warned to validate our ticket when we board the train. Upon boarding we find out there are no validating machines on the train. We figure we’ll tell the conductor when he comes by to collect tickets that we couldn’t find the machine to validate and hope he won’t hassle us.
I’ve heard about French rail but have never traveled with them. I’ve read the stories about strikes, poor service, and crappy trains. Now I understand the jokes and stories. Apparently, the CF in SNCF stands for conductor free. We never saw an employee on the train. Each car has a digital board to inform you of the stop you’re at and upcoming stops. None of them worked. No one checked our ticket at any time in either direction.
I’m used to Deutsch Bahn trains in Germany, Swiss rail in Switzerland, and OBB trains in Austria. These run on a level of precision that is unmatched. You can set your watch by them. French rail……..not so much. They got us there on time when we were going, but we had to watch the stops and station names out of the window. We also had to use our map to to keep track of where we were at. On the return, the digital board worked, but the train was 30 minutes late.
A tiny boat....
When you leave Nice, you go through several small French seaside towns. If you can afford to own property in one of these towns, you probably have an annual income equivalent to the GDP of a third world country. The movie “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” was filmed here and there are incredible estates with even more incredible views, with even more incredible price tags.
We will travel through Monaco and Monte Carlo, where things cost even more. There are incredible amounts of wealth in this area. In Nice there are two yachts in the harbor that stick out more than the others. The smaller one is presently for sale for $26 million. The larger one is owned by a Russian businessman and cost $250 million to build. If you look at the photo of it, the answer is yes. That is a helipad.
Our trip today is to a more humble town, just across the Italian border. We arrive and head out of the train station. We have been told to “follow the crowds” in order to find the market. It would be difficult to NOT find the market. It’s huge and spans the seafront in town. There are thousands upon thousands of people here for the market. We jump into the crowd with everyone else and begin viewing the things for sale
We stop at a huge food wagon to get a snack. We order a tea for Laurie, a Latte for me, and an arancini. I had arancini in an Italian restaurant in the states. They were amazing…..but cannot hold a candle to the one we had today. The ones in Chattanooga were a little smaller than a golf ball. This one was the size of a baseball.
We also had a bit of a surprise on costs as well. Prices in Nice were much more reasonable than Chamonix. We realize that Chamonix is a resort area and things will cost more. Nice is as well, but it’s the off season. Ventimigila is a working class town an hour train ride from Nice. While nice, it’s a bit tattered around the edges. Prices are much less than in Nice. Our latte, tea, and arancini totaled 4 euros. That’s cheap.
Shopping in the market
We quickly discovered why everyone in southern France came here to do their shopping. The prices are fantastic. There are locally produced cheeses and meats, sausages, fruits, jams and jellies, nuts and dried fruit. So many incredibly foods at fantastic prices. They’re also incredibly fresh. Laurie picked up six clementine oranges and the guy weighed them. They were 1.80 euros per kilo and Laurie paid 1 euro (about 20 US cents each). In Nice the oranges were 4.80 euros a kilo.
The market was full of leather goods and clothing at cheap prices. The market is also famous for selling counterfeit designer items and the Italian and French police have been working hard to combat this. Unlike in the U.S., if you buy from one of these people selling counterfeit items, YOU can be fined from 3333 to 10000 euros ($4000-12000 US dollars). Paying 15 euros for a counterfeit can cost you many times what the original would have cost.
The regular dealers do not sell the counterfeit stuff. Hustlers from Senegal wander the market with literal fistfuls of counterfeit watches and duffle bags full of counterfeit handbags. They drop a blanket and put all this stuff out, quickly gathering it up and vacating the area when the cops start their way. We watched a cop chase one of these hustlers today. I was cheering for him to catch the guy.
After the market, we sat in a sidewalk café having lunch. We were accosted by no fewer than a dozen of these guys while eating. I got rather snippy with one of them and ran him off as I was getting tired of it. He came around again in about 30 minutes, but after I got pissy with him, he skipped us and kept on moving. Sadly, sometimes you just gotta be a jerk.
Sleezeball hustlers selling counterfeit goods
After our late lunch we headed back and got on the train for our return trip. We board, take our seats, and other than the fact it was a half hour late, we did okay. No one checked our ticket, offered to validate, or anything else along those lines. They did get us there….but I’ve read about the strikes and service issues, they’re just as likely to not get us there.
Upon our return to Nice, we wander the old town a bit then head back to our hotel. I grab a shower and plan on heading out to play poker for an hour or two, with the intent of getting a chip for my collection. Laurie is on the internet and I walk about ¼ mile to the casino to play poker.
I talked to a pit boss and he put me on the list for a poker table. At 9 pm on a Friday night there were ZERO poker tables in play. There weren’t that many people in the casino for that matter. I waited for about 30 minutes and decided to head back to the hotel. I planned on skipping tonight and playing cards….but you need more than one to play Hold ‘em.
Tomorrow we plan on heading back up the coast to check out some of the coastal towns. It remains a gorgeous place with incredible views. We had fun today at the market, banging around with the locals. I expect more fun tomorrow.