Yesterday, we decided to go on a day trip to Antibes.
We’d been there before, 10 or so years ago maybe, and loved the open air marketplace. Our mission now was to find a jar of black fig jam, an essential component of a butter croissant breakfast, but impossible to find in Nice.
So… off we went.
By the end of the day, I looked like this.
Here’s what happened.
It all started innocently enough. We walked from our beloved flat on Rossini to the nearby Gare Nice. I expected this to be a regular train station, with ticket sellers, and big wall boards that clearly indicated the Arrivals and Departures of trains.
But modernity had taken a wrecking ball to all that.
I looked around.
There was a foreign exchange window, which offered highly competitive rates. It would have been useful to know about last week, before we got ripped off at the tabac place on Massena.
But, no train ticket windows.
You know, the kind with a guichet, and a gruff, older guy sitting behind a metal grille, or bullet-proof glass plate.
How could there be a train station with no ticket sellers?
It seemed implausible.
Then I noticed the ticket dispensing machines.
Some of these were tall, boxy, off-white ponderous affairs, marked grandes lignes. Others were blue, with a curved top; these were marked billetrie regionale.
We stood in line at one of those, and smiled condescendingly at the decrepit imbecility in front of us having trouble figuring out the ticket machine.
But when it was my turn, I, too, was flummoxed — despite my earlier, impatient, dismissive American arrogance.
I had an out, though.
Too many complex questions to answer by pressing buttons and twisting and turning this hateful little knob that cycled through the various options.
It was the worst interface I had ever seen.
And in the end, the infernal blue machine accepted my credit card, or so I thought, yet… failed to dispense our tickets.
I was edging on livid.
I might even have taken a bad mood swing at this blue machine from hell, but for the CCTV cameras that were everywhere.
In a barely suppressed rage, I started looking for an organic ticket agent.
It turned out that the ticket sellers were actually hidden behind a sliding glass door marked “boutique.”
I thought it was some sort of shop when I had first entered the station, and in my now choleric state, missed the significance of the acronyms TGV abd TER — a mistake, as it was proven, on the return,
Now you cannot just walk up to the counter or stand in line to see a ticket agent at this so-called “boutique.” There are rules. You first have to get a number from a stub dispensing machine, then wait for your number to come up; sort of like waiting for your turn to get cold cuts at a supermarket deli.
So I did, and waited.
My number appeared on a screen and I now found myself sitting across the desk of a passive-aggressive, middle-aged woman — what happened to the gruff older guy? — to whom I had to explain the blue machine contretemps… in French.
She immediately turned to the manager, who happened to be walking by her desk at that particular moment. She refer to me as ce monsieur charmant with a credit card problem. She pronounced charming as anything but, probably because I was fairly steamed, and had neglected, earlier, the nicety of saying bonjour.
The grey-haired manager immediately began quizzing me as to the color of the machine I had used Was it white? Was it blue?
Dang if I remembered.
Luckily, Erin, ever with the steel trap mind, recalled it was one of the blue vending machines out on the main concourse.
As it turned out, if you a blue machine failed to spit out ticket, you were not charged, even if it seemed your card had been dinged.
So I got tickets. 2nd class of course, same day, allez-retour; Erin’s cost 9.20 euros, mine was slightly less due to my *cough* senior citizen status.
Now all we had to do is find the Departures billboard.
I hadn’t noticed any, but after asking someone with a bad case of B.O. who seemed to be an SCNF employee, I tried to figure out my track on this faintly visible overhead projection.
It looked like a giant version of the home movie rolldown screen that my father once used to showcase his directorial ambitions en famille.
In all fairness, there was also a wall video screen that listed the procession of inbound and outbound trains.
Easy to miss when one is in an agitated state though.
Out on the platform — at last! — I noticed that my ticket had printed on it something about needing to be “composted.”
Was this a reminder to recycle the ticket?
These are the kinds of details that can drive a man insane in a foreign country.
I asked some kid standing on the platform what this meant, and he told us, with experience that belied his years, that a train controller might hand you a fine if you don’t punch in your ticket before boarding, but not to worry about it: he’d never seen this happen.
Besides which, he added, the needed device was located back inside the station, and our train was about to arrive.
We decided to risk it.
We didn’t have to wait long for the train to arrive, and thus were exposed minimally to public smoking — still an omnipresent feature of French life.
Antibes, as always, did not disappoint — even though it turned out that the open air Provençal market was closed on Mondays.
One of the world’s current largest biggest yachts — the Dilbar — was docked in Antibes that day.
Despite the market being closed, all was not lost…
… as we were able to find Erin’s black fig jam anyway at a nearby shop.
(cont. in Part II)