Ooh la la and other clichés – on the French Riviera!


 

                                   Ooh la la and other clichés

                                        on the French Riviera!      

There is a lot to be said for the Mediterranean, the navel of western civilization, especially benign and Impressionist blue on a fine day. All along its European shoreline are places that are historic, quaint, expensive and perhaps a clue to the economic crisis engulfing most of them: closed for lunch. Closed often for quite a long lunch.

The most celebrated of these is the French Riviera, which we were obliged to visit partly because of the peculiarities of the self proclaimed world’s best rail system. This system is so described by its owners the French, who can rival Australians for vain bombast.

Just to spoil the party (or the long lunch), on the Mediterranean’s southern shore there is a tide of Africans, particularly Arabs, who are angry, many would like to destroy European civilization and don’t close for lunch. Indeed many of them are so keen to show their contempt for the west that they are willing to risk their lives to get to get there for a cut of the action, doing so like economic refugees world-wide, in dodgy boats. 

The part of the Mediterranean coast known as the French Riviera is particularly enchanting and we spent two days there and chose to stay in the city of Nice, which for those of you who don’t know French, is not pronounced nice, indeed there are some parts of it that couldn’t be described as nice at all. For the non-Francophonic it is pronounced Neece. Apologies to those who knew that already.

Nice is now a city in transition. Its most famous esplanade is called the Promenade des Anglais named after the wealthy English who started wintering there in the late 18th century. Now, the promenade is popular with many nationalities, particularly those transported by roller blades and skateboards.  The Opera House backs onto it and on a warm night we saw one of the principals with his dressing room window open, unconcerned we were able to watch his preparations.

A more noticeable presence away from the beach are the Africans some of whom, still wearing tribal garb look slightly bewildered, seemingly expecting the place to resemble their old village, with the addition of wide screen TV. Such is the African impact that we were told by a restaurant owner, who had lived some time in Australia, that the area recorded the strongest vote in the country for the far right, anti-immigrant presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, in this year’s election.

Few places in the world could have such a contrast, in the back streets are Muslim women in the full jilbab, and similarly dressed Bedouin men. Yet a block or two away on the beach are Europeans, some virtually naked except for a little fabric strip around their privates. Many appear to spend their lives on the beach, tanned to the color of old leather. Compared to some of these folks, particularly some older women, the once bronzed Aussies are ghost pale.

You will notice from the photos, the substance this famous beach is made from. As a resident of Melbourne’s Black Rock, I am used to placing my bottom on sand. Yet here is a world famous beach which should be more accurately called Grey Rock, that attracts tens of thousands, seemingly happy to put their backsides on uncomfortable hot pebbles.

Given we did not intend to come here, we selected a modest hotel, with a surprisingly large room and quite far from the beach. It was close to the railway station, but also in an area where crowds of African men like to congregate, (in deference to their mainly Muslim alcohol averse heritage), while the liquor shops are open. They disappear about 10 in the evening when these shops close, but are probably a reason the hotel was good value.

Now for the story of the rail system. As you may recall we were in a rented farmhouse near Bordeaux in the French south west. Our next stop was to be Venice where Jill had booked a hotel and the logical thing would be to take a train south to somewhere like Toulouse and then east to Italy, but this proved impossible. 

We spent an hour with a pleasant booking clerk in the pleasant Perigord city of Bergerac and despite all sorts of major train lines being shown all over France there was no alternative to get to Venice than to first take a train to Paris which students of geography and history will know is in the country’s far north, a mere Blitzkrieg from the German border. 

Still we were compelled to go there, spend $200 for a night on a shoebox, to get a seat the next day on one of their illustrious TGV services to Nice. We discovered that the French railways allocate just 24 seats on each TGV to holders of Eurail passes, so they are often booked out months in advance.

Also it turned out we could not book tickets on the Italian railways in Bergerac. We had to do so in Nice and the last leg of our trip involved three train changes. All up three travelling days.

Why so long? It was hard to find out. United Europe seems a figment of some politician’s imagination and this part of it was closed for lunch.

 

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