Pont du Gard

Pont du Gard

Monday, April 12, 2010

Adventures in Travel

The trip to La Turbie was eagerly anticipated for the ancient history and breathtaking views from the highest point above Monaco on the A8 Autoroute (original Roman, Julia Augustus road dating from the 1st century BC). While our schedule was fairly relaxed, we did have bus and train schedules to maintain since the bus frequency was somewhat limited from Monaco to La Turbie. Starting off at 0700, we walked the 2 1/2 miles to the train station (with just one minor deviation since we missed Blvd. Gambetta and took a different street), the train was on time but a bit crowded since many people live in Nice and commute to work in Monaco. It is only a 30 minute train ride to Monaco stopping along the way at Villefranche, Cap Ferrat, and a couple of other seaside villages. We arrived in Monaco at 8:45 with plenty of time to catch the Ligne 114 bus at 10:30 from Place D'Armes. I had researched the schedule and location of the bus station which was not too far from the train station, so off we went walking, again. Having been in Monaco before and walked the streets, we were not entirely unfamiliar with the city, but, installation of the security fencing and barricades for the Monte Carlo Formulae 1 race was in full swing, this means half the streets and sidewalks are blocked off so it is difficult to walk from Point A to Point B in any kind of a straight manner. After walking for some time and asking directions, we finally caught a local bus that would take us to Place D'Armes, the local buses are very nice, at each covered bus stop, there are BIDS (Bus Information Displays)graphically showing the location of buses that service each stop, the location on the route of each bus and the time when the bus arrives. From this bus stop we were approximately two blocks from Place D'Armes but just could not get there, so the bus which only runs one direction (just left Place D,Armes) had to make the entire route through the city to get us back to where we would catch the 114 to La Turbie. Needless to say the clock was ticking as we took the bus through the entire city, which was quite an experience in itself, nice views of the harbor, all the great shops, Casino etc. Fortunately, Monaco is not that big and we arrived at Place D'Armes with 10 minutes to spare. Had we missed this bus, the next one did not arrive for three hours. Our next challenge was to find the bus station where the bus would depart, no station was in evidence, just a five-way intersection, with traffic, tunnels, and many city bus lines, again, asking for directions was somewhat helpful. We ascertained that no one knew where the La Turbie bus actually arrived or departed; there are four different bus stops scattered around the intersection, so we checked each stop to look at schedules, bus lines etc. As I mentioned earlier, each bus stop is loaded with useful information, but nothing for La Turbie. One of the shop keepers suggested the bus stop where the Nice bus departed so we walked over and again lots of useful information on the local buses, and a schedule for the bus to Nice, but nothing on La Turbie. Time was slipping away with only one or two minutes left as we scurried around the intersection, we finally decided to stay at the Nice stop and at precisely 10:30 a motor coach arrived with La Turbie-Monaco on the front windshield! The fare is 1 Euro, or about $1.35 each way which is very reasonable for a trip up into the mountains. The ride through the city and up into the mountains was not for the faint of heart, not sure exactly how the bus made the hairpin turns since the road is barely wide enough for two cars let alone a full size bus and the occasional construction vehicles coming down the hill. Many people with little regard for their safety ride bikes up the mountain is some sort of test of strength, or stupidity so they can say they did not get hit by a bus or car! Several times the bus basically took up the entire roadway as it negotiated the tight turns, but we arrived safely and were rewarded with spectacular views of Monaco, the surrounding mountains and coastline.

Lunchtime! The bus ended the journey n the heart of La Turbie, a lovely alpine village. The main street has the usual restaurants, local merchants and an occasional souvenir shop, across from the bus stop is a very nice restaurant La Terrasse, situated on the hillside overlooking the valley and the coastline to Cap Ferrat, where all the rich and famous live. We were a bit early for lunch so the owner suggested we sit on one side of the restaurant used for breakfast, no tablecloths, fairly barren and austere looking. The other side of the restaurant with the view was set up for lunch and the hope of greater income. The owner, Jacques Barraja, asked where we were from, we said Seattle, he said Rick Steves home, and asked if we knew him, we knew of him through his travel shows and books, but not personally. He said he knows him and his partner, is on his Facebook page, etc. So, we get moved over to the nice side of the restaurant with the view and tablecloths, offered free internet and free phone calls to home. Maybe if we knew Steve personally we could have a free lunch? Jacques was very nice, his wife is from Australia and his sister from Washington DC, they live in Nice and commute via the A8 to their restaurant. After lunch we wandered through the village and up to the Le trophee de Auguste monument, this monument which was built in 6BC by Augustus after defeating the Gaulish tribes between 25 and 14BC, is your basic "I kicked your butts" monument built to be visible for miles and reminds every one that we kicked your butts and don't forget it! The Romans were pretty good at building monuments and this one is no exception, originally 164 feet tall with a 20' statue of Augustus on the top, and niches for statues of his generals around the colonnade. At the bottom was inscribed the names of the 44 tribes who were conquered. Some 400 years after construction and demise of the Roman empire, it was partly dismantled and used as a stone quarry. It was partly restored between 1905 -1923 by an American. Did I mention it is Monday and the museums are closed on Monday)oh, well we were able to get very close and saved the 10 Euro fee to get in. So, for the trip back to Monaco, the bus arrived early, oops, lunch break, so we cooled our heals at a local restaurant while waiting for the driver to return. The trip back to Monaco was uneventful, no one run off the road, no crashes, nothing spectacular to report. The bus stopped at the train station, so with this bit of good fortune we walked into the train station to catch the 2:13 PM train back to Nice. We had purchased our return tickets in Nice, so all we needed was a train. Now, after using the train system in Europe, we have become quite experienced at schedules buying tickets, and getting on the right train. I normally carry a local schedule so we know the train schedules, upon arriving at the station and consulting the train information display (TIDS), we noticed the next Nice train did not arrive until 5:13, okay, so it was not the weekend, there should be a train at least every hour and sometimes more frequently. Hmmm, I asked a man at the ticket booth when the next train is scheduled and he confirmed 5:13, something was definitely wrong.... There were a couple of announcements in French, something to do with disruption, and helpful employees were there at the station to answer questions, but no helpful people in sight. The train finally arrived 10 minutes late full of people from prior stops and at least 2000 people in Monaco waiting to get on. It situations like this it is best to forget your manners and consideration for others, just concentrate on pushing and shoving, which we did and got a place in the last car, jammed with people but at least a bit of breathing room, but wait, there is more! As the doors were closing at least 10,000 Spanish students magically appeared trying to get on the train. Approximately half of the 10,000 made it, the others were left stranded as the doors were shut and the train departed. Fortunately with only thirty minutes to Nice and a couple of stops along the way, the oxygen was not depleted and almost all of the passengers arrived safely. According to news reports the French rail workers are on another strike so only 30% of the local trains are running. Another 2 1/2 mile walk home a stop at the grocery store and we were back in the apartment at 7:00 PM just 12 hours after we left. No bad for a three hour tour! I was thinking about canceling the car for the rest of our travels in Provence, but I am thinking the car is a good alternative. $8.00 per gallon for gas but we should at least get to where we are going.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like an adveture! Kinda reminds of the Phoenix bus system : )