Nineteenth Email- Verona, Nice, and Marseille

Sent 16.4.06


This is the final email talking about my Italy and Southern France spring break; if you missed one, the previous emails are online at my website. With that said, I'll get right into the details. Verona was my next destination after Venice on a more or less whim- although Venice is beautiful, there just isn't "a lot to do". Tom and I were also splitting up at this point; he was headed north to Munich for an eventual flight out of Salzburg, but I had seen most of this area over Christmas break so was going east instead. I wasn't looking for a place with a lot of sights, as I wanted to relax at some point on my vacation. Verona fit the bill- it was on the route from Venice to Nice, it was a decent sized city, and I didn't come in there with a list of things to see so I wouldn't really be disappointed if I missed something.

I left Venice relatively early to catch the train, giving me almost a full day in Verona. I arrived carrying my large bag, which would not be fun to carry around for the day, so I checked it in at the train station. I then walked outside just to look around, with intention to walk into the city and check it out. I ended up coming across this bike rack of rental bikes that was operated by the city. It said to inquire inside the station at the tourist office, which I did and found out the bike rental was actually free. This made the decision of whether to get one quite easy, so I soon set off on my beautiful yellow rental bike into central Verona. It was interesting to ride the bike on the road- it was back to being on the right side, and I'm really starting to get used to the whole left side driving thing we have here in Ireland. At the same time, the more confusing part was probably just the European road layouts- roundabouts, things that look like roundabouts but aren't, and a lot of one-way streets in the smaller city centres.

I started off at the Arena, a sort of mini-Colosseum in the centre of the city that is still used for outdoor opera performances. It was pretty cool even though I had been in the Colosseum only a few days earlier. It was used for gladiatorial combat as well, so I've now seen my fair share of those. I then spent the rest of the day biking the city looking at random sights I came across, enjoying the nice weather (partly cloudy and warm enough that I didn't bring my jacket), and buying cheap food at a grocery store and eating it in a park. Eventually I ended up back at the train station, where I returned my bike and got my bag and some dinner. I then had a bit of a wait before my train would pull in at 12:30 am later that night. I booked the night train to Nice earlier in Venice, and was planning on just getting a second class seat and getting as much sleep as possible in that. However, this particular night train did not have any seats; only sleepers (1st class) and couchettes (2nd class). It cost a bit more than a seat would have, but having a couchette that resembled a bed for the night was a good investment; I got a fair amount of sleep on the train and woke up to the Southern France coast out the window.

I didn't realize Southern France was so mountainous, but it is not to far from the Alps. It was pretty beautiful along the coast- the sea out one window, the mountains out the other. The train soon passed though Monaco (another country if I was truly keeping track), and then arrived in Nice. I made my way out of the train station to a hostel recommended by my book; it was a steal at only €15 for a night. I dropped my bag and started walking around Nice, getting some food along the way as I hadn't eaten since dinner in Verona the day before. I ate in a park separating the older city from the new, and then walked through old city, Vieux Nice. This led to a nice hill climb which was worth it for the great view of Nice, the beach, and the sea. That was the moment I started liking Nice. After admiring the view, I headed down and walked along the beach promenade, which must get packed in the heat of summer. I eventually spent some time just sitting on the rocky and pebbly beach; it wasn't quite sunny but it was warm enough to enjoy. I continued walking around the city a bit and taking it all in for the rest of the day and night, then got a good amount of sleep before heading off to Marseille the next day.

My €15 hostel included a breakfast the next morning, which made it even more of a steal. I then headed to the train station to catch a train to Marseille. Arriving around noon, the weather was amazing- not many clouds in the sky and a nice warm breeze blowing. The two hostels in Marseille were both a ways out of the city, but I didn't really mind by this point- one was a 10 minute walk from the beach, and I just wanted to relax a bit anyway. Before heading to a hostel, I did walk through the city, which is an amazing ethnic mix of everything- culture, food, people, and music. It was very interesting to see and I managed to pick up some cheap lunch along the way. Eventually I stopped by a tourist information stand to get a map, and found my way on the Metro and bus to the hostel. I then spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach- it wasn't exactly perfect weather, as it was quite windy, but warm enough to enjoy. It wasn't quite warm enough for a swim, although if someone else had been there to dare me, I probably would have done it. I eventually headed back to the hostel for a bit to get my bag all packed for flying and the abuse of checking it. Dinner was a €7.50 pizza and coke combo- and this was a sizeable pizza, so well worth the price I paid. I brought it out to the beach and watched the sunset while eating, so that helped make the meal a good one. It was surprising but refreshing to have two complete strangers walk by me as I was eating and say "bon appétit".

So the end of the trip could never go off without a hitch. If you have been following European news lately, you may have read a bit about the protests, riots, and strikes in France related to a new youth jobs law. Lucky me- my flight out of France happened to fall on the first big day of these happenings. Worst case scenario that I began to plan for the night before, and what was reported in some of the papers- all local transit, including the Metro and buses would not be running, and most flights would be cancelled. As I said before, my hostel was a bit out of the city, so having to walk to the city would not be a whole lot of fun. Even if I did walk to the city, there was no guarantee the airport shuttle bus would be running, let alone my flight flying. It made it a fun last night trying to read French newspapers and figure out what I might have to do the next day. It ended up working out better than it could have. I did go to bed relatively early so I could wake up early and have extra time if needed. Early wakeup was around 5:30 am, for an eventual flight at 10:15 am. I started by walking the short bus route, since that didn't run that often anyway and would probably the first thing that would be cancelled. Of course walking to the Metro station I saw the bus running in the other direction, which means it would have came eventually in my direction. I eventually got to the Metro station, took the subway to the train station, and got on an airport shuttle bus. I got to the airport way too early because everything went off without a hitch. The wait was added to by the hour and a half delay that the flight already had when I checked in. I wasn't complaining about that after seeing the number of flights that did get cancelled. Ryanair cancelled all of their flights to France, and Air France cancelled about 75% of their flights. I'm glad I booked on Aer Lingus, and don't plan on taking Ryanair again the rest of the time I'm here because I've seen now how they cancel flights at the drop of a pin, among other things (they now add a fee for your piece of checked baggage).

I should be writing about Belgium sometime on this week before I leave for Amsterdam, Netherlands this coming weekend. I also recently booked my final trip for the year as well- a six day trip flying into Madrid, Spain, and out of Lisbon, Portugal. It should be a good way to wrap up a year abroad. Happy Easter weekend to you all!

Keep in touch,

Dan McGee
Mobile: +353 87 056 4163