Monday, 20 August 2012

Day 12 - Goodbyes and Nice

Honeymooners, Bill & Lori Turnbach
The first stage of our tour of Europe ended this morning when we left Monte Carlo on an airport shuttle to Nice.

It completed an eleven day tour conducted by Insight Tours of Paris, Provence and the Riviera which 24 of us participated in and it has proven to be an invaluable way for us, as virgin overseas travelers, to be broken into routines of hotels, coaches and of course basic things like ordering food. Sure we saw lots of interesting things - some of them quite stunning - ate good food at every turn but there was a more important outcome. With a combination of backgrounds and experiences to share, the members of the group started as strangers but became companions in a short time, to the point of genuine pangs felt last night as our last dinner exhausted its dessert course.

A comment made on the first night by Lori, an accountant from the north east of the USA and wearing the just married tag with her new husband Bill, warned me in a dinner conversation that "we are not CNN". It was important we understood that real Americans weren't like the stereotypes portrayed globally. She wanted us to realise that real Americans, real people who live in neighbourhoods are not like those portrayed on TV or in other media. So it proved to be.

Sue and I changed some of the stereotypes we have held on to for a long time. Its wrong to single individuals out but I was particularly pleased to get to know the playful Janine (an Aussie), my great big Kiwi mate Brian whom I didn't stir until the end as a mark of respect and the gentle and gracious Yank, Bill. He listened patiently, spoke generously when I needed it and never failed to extend me the courtesy to call me "mate" in that awkward but affectionate way his countrymen do.

View from breakfast
This morning, we had one last amazing breakfast on the 7th floor decking overlooking the broad blue of the Mediterranean and the bobbing corks of playboy's dreams. An airport shuttle took us to Nice airport, where we said final farewells to the last of the tour group and caught a taxi to our hotel. It was already hot, even at 9:00am and we couldn't book in for another five hours. The hotel were happy to check our bags so we set off for the old town and some orientation.

It was a few minutes into this excursion that Sue discovered she had left he back support on the shuttle. A call to Gigi, our tour director, gave us the driver's number but I made little headway with him beyond establishing he had found it. The language gap was too broad to close without standing face to face, so I was forced to return to Gigi for additional help, despite the tour being over. Within half an hour a text returned explaining she had organised for the back support to be returned to our hotel in Nice.

Relief! Sue's back has been in great shape so far but its one of the worries that hangs over us.

We spent the rest of the morning and some of the afternoon just wandering. It was bloody hot but the saving grace were the narrow lanes and tall buildings, creating plenty of shade and breezes with flowed down the hill we kept climbing. The language on the streets was predominantly Italian, with its rapid delivery and seemingly exaggerated passion and raised volume. So used now to the fast but gentle lit of French accents, it took a while for us to feel comfortable.

Lunch venue
Lunch was a three course Italian meal with vin rouge: part of our pattern to make the midday meal our main one. Three courses for 18E is typical of the bargains available in the cafes, even in these mega tourist centres. We struck up a conversation over lunch with two PE teachers from Australia - Megan from Tasmania and Erin from Perth - who have been on the European road for six months and had good tips and interesting experiences to share, even though they were in their twenties and we were a couple of old farts. Once you hear the Aussie accent, you just have to strike up a conversation and have a chin wag.

After lunch we booked in to our hotel. There was disappointment that the self-contained apartment we thought we had booked was in fact a room. No complaint, as its a beautiful room and well appointed but it makes overdue washing a little more difficult.

After a rest, we went out in search of food and supplies we needed to make repairs to shoes and other wear and tear. In the process, we discovered yet another big piazza, this one with a large statue of Neptune, complete with a large staff. Light rail runs through town and the main street is made for pedestrians. We had one mishap at the supermarket, not realising we had to have our fruit and vegetables weighed before getting to the checkout but if you stay cool and patient, most of these small things work themselves out.

On the way back to our digs, we were amused by a ferret, on a lead, swimming in Neptune's fountain, watched by a fascinated crowd. The beach crowd were moving from the beach as a tide against which we were now swimming and beautiful girls in bikinis kept passing me, being overly friendly with their big smiles. I squeezed Sue's hand and tried to be brave.

Nice will be home for the next five nights and the days are all forecast to be in the 30C and over range and least some of the time will be spent on the sandless beach. Its surface is all fist sized stones! People lie on mats purchased for 3E and walk to the water in their shoes, kicking them of at the last minute to enter the flat, breakerless sea. For me, aka Moby Dick, the great white whale, I have to face the embarrassment of donning swimming trunks - purchased at Sue's insistence today - and exposing more surface area than any ten of the stunning beach babes who will no doubt tell their children about the day Willy was freed on Nice Beach.

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