On Sunday the 8th of October, we took the bus from Cannes to Grasse. We walked around the historic center of this perfume-making town and visited the International Perfumery Museum, as well as the Fragonard Museum. Looking at the photos proudly displayed, I was taken by the conditions of the workers during the Industrial Revolution. Given the paternalistic situation throughout the industrialized world at the time, the workers families in Grasse were well-cared-for, but I still was impressed by the vast divisions of class, wealth, sex, opportunity, and education. None of this was mentioned in the write-ups, of course. The scale of things is smaller today, with the descendants of those workers now growing the flowers on their own small farms and selling them to the perfume companies. Cheryl spent some time in the Fragonard Museum shop while I rested on their chairs. She bought some gifts to send back. Then we walked to the bus station and rode “home” to Cannes.
We were both looking forward to returning to Nice on Monday, the 9th of October. Between the museums, the favourite restaurants, and the rides into the Alpes-Maritimes, we expected an active and exciting final week in France. It was exciting, but not as we had anticipated. The sun warmed us, but the air was cool, so the riding was pleasant. Soon, we were relaxing by the sea along the Promenade des Anglais, just before going to the hotel. Cheryl had been wearing her camera, taking pictures along the way, so she decided to stow it in her pannier. She set it on the rear rack, and started opening her pannier. When she turned her head to ask me what I had said (I don’t recall what it was), her camera was snatched. We rode out furiously in two directions trying to spot the thief, to no avail. The camera was loss enough, but Cheryl also had her passport and her prescription glasses in the camera case. We reorganized our stay in Nice, stopping by the National Police (NP) headquarters, where we tried to file the required police report. We were repulsed by the agent on duty, and told to go to another police station on the west side of town. That one, and the Canadian Consulate, were both closed, so we could only wait until the next morning. We checked into the Hotel du Centre, which Cheryl had been patronizing since she first visited Nice years ago. The staff and management were all new, but pleased by her loyalty. She was pleased with the changes, too, because we had service unlike any we had experienced in France up to that point. The hotel had also done recent renovations, so the amenities were much improved, too. We took a walk in the neighbourhood, looking for the Indian restaurant that Cheryl made a point of patronizing. We did not find it, but we did find Jacques Rolancy, an upscale, French restaurant capable of taking us from our desolation to a balanced Nirvana of good taste.
The next morning, we spent a couple of hours looking for a place to get passport photos, which Cheryl would need. While we were searching, we found the Indian restaurant that Cheryl had told me about, Le Shalimar. We rode to the Canadian Consulate, where Cheryl went through the steps needed to obtain an emergency passport, including new photographs at the photo studio next door (US/Canadian passport photos are a different size). The lady at the Consulate was shocked at the treatment we received at the NP station, because there is a computer terminal just inside the door, where victims can quickly file their reports online easily. We had gone to the right station, and we had arrived well before closing. She called the National Police. Their reaction was to know exactly what time we were there (1630), because the agent at the door had broken all sorts of rules by pushing us out. We returned to the police station, were met and escorted to the computer, and in a matter of minutes, Cheryl had her signed copies of the police report, which she would need for the insurance claim. Nice that Canada is a bilingual country: she would not have to pay for a translation! The Emergency Travel Document (ETD) would not be ready until Thursday at the earliest. Scary, considering our Sunday departure, but we realized that it could have been worse, had the camera and passport been stolen the day before departure. I bought a ten-ride ticket for the transit system, and we rode down to the Vielle Ville, the old city, to do some sightseeing on foot.
The Italian names, the statues of Garibaldi (a native son) and the gaudiness of the Rococo church interiors everywhere reminded me that Nice (Nizza) was once Italy. The churches in particular contrasted sharply with the unadorned stones of the medieval churches we had been visiting over the last two months. We stopped at Optique Franquin to buy Cheryl some new glasses. This felt strange, because she had been telling me since I moved to Europe that I should get some designer frames while I had the chance. Now we were buying glasses for her. Mine would have to come later. The glasses would also not be ready until Thursday. We made our way back to the Hotel and changed for supper. Our plans to tour Nice and the environs were seriously constrained, with only two days open until we had to return to the Consulate. After checking with the hotel (who were happy to keep the bikes downstairs), we decided to rent a car. Over dinner at Le Shalimar, we mapped out a trip to the Alpes-Maritimes.
The next morning early, I walked up to the train station and picked up a black Renault Twingo. I had reserved a Fiat 500, but the small print allowed them to switch models on me. It was comfortable enough, and soon we were taking Michelin three-star drives along the gorges of the Bar, the Vésubie, and the Dalius rivers. There was no way that I could have climbed the cols of Bonnette and Cayalotte in one day! On the Col de la Bonnette, we were actually above the tree line. The green trees below contrasted dramatically with the desert-like peaks around us. We also drove through an abandoned military camp, and noted signs everywhere that this was border country: radar installations, military reservations. Italy was literally over the next ridge. The European Union may have taken down the customs borders, but the infrastructure remains. We spent the night in Puget-Thiény at the Hotel des Deux Alpes. Cheryl had come down with diarrhea. The best we could figure was that we had been served ice water the night before at Le Shalimar. Neither of us ever takes ice in our water, and I had gotten only a couple of cubes. She had a full glass of ice, which neither of us thought to send back. Another travelling lesson relearned: never take ice in beverages. Dirty icemaker coils are as ubiquitous as they are notorious.
On Thursday the 12th, I drove into Puget-Thiény for some Lomotil at the local pharmacy. Then we drove to Beaulieu-sur-Mer, the tony suburb east of Nice, and checked in to the Hotel Carlton. While Cheryl rested, I walked through town, took some pictures at the beach, and picked up a three-package therapy kit that the French use for diarrhea. The Consulate and the Optical shop both called. The Consulate gave Cheryl an appointment for 1000 the next morning.
On Friday, I drove Cheryl to the Consulate, then to pick up her eyeglasses. The lenses seemed too strong, but at least now she could read again, and there wasn’t time to change them. The ETD was a simple printed letter-sized page, and valid only for Sunday. But it would get her home. The Hotel du Centre had saved the same room for us, and let her move in early. I drove the car back to the station. Everyone was out for lunch, so I just dropped off the key and walked back.
Saturday, Cheryl rested in the morning, then walked over to the Galeries Lafayette to do some shopping. They were having a sale. I rode up the hill overlooking the city to visit the Chagall Museum. My mother used to sell prints by Marc Chagall in Honolulu, and I have seen his work in uncounted museums in Europe and North America. The special collection that he gifted to the City of Nice was different. The 17 paintings of the Biblical Message were there, as well as the many pieces of art that the museum acquired later. It now has one of the largest collections of Chagall’s work in the world. After a blistering downhill ride back, I parked the bike at the hotel and went to the Galeries Lafayette to join Cheryl. There were indeed some good deals, but I was too picky to buy anything there, even though I needed some new underwear.
We ate Chinese, which I picked up at the Asian takeout around the corner. Cheryl felt much better, but I was still worried about her long flight the next day.
On Sunday, the 15th, we rose at 0430, dressed and loaded our bikes, and rode to the Promenade des Anglais, where our misadventure had begun. The horizon was taking shape as we rode down the bike path to the Côte d-Azur Airport, some 7 km away. The Air France ground personnel in Terminal 2 gave Cheryl a hassle about the bicycle, because it was bagged, but not boxed. Unlike previous bad experiences in airports, however, at least these attendants gave us solutions. There were boxes on sale at a distant ticket counter. I ran down there, came back with a box, and quickly slid Cheryl’s bike into it. They accepted that, and she boarded just in time.
My flight was not until much later, from Terminal 1, so I had plenty of time to ride back there as the sky was turning light over Villefranche-sur-Mer. Norwegian Airlines seemed happy to see me as early as I was, and checked in my bagged bike with cheerful courtesy. I can now report that the northern European airlines, KLM, SAS, Swissair, British Airways, and Norwegian, have all taken my bicycle with no hassle and no damage, whilst the southern ones, Vueling/Iberia, Alitalia and Air France, have done their best to ruin our best-laid plans for smooth travel. Considering the cycling tradition in the three Mediterranean countries, I am at a loss to explain why the ground personnel in those countries treat cyclists and their steeds so poorly. Not to mention the extra charge for the “service”: EUR150 at Air France and Alitalia; EUR 48 at Norwegian. Go figure.
I had to change planes in Oslo, with a three-hour layover, which I used to set up my phone for my return to North America, and write. I also enjoyed my last meal in Europe: a Norwegian seafood chowder.
At passport control, I joined the long line of diverse humanity in the “All Others” queue. I had been there only five minutes, when a security officer came walking down the line shouting, “Any European residents in the line? If you would please go to the EU line…”
“EU residents or EU citizens?” I asked him.
I stepped out of line and walked to join the two people waiting in the EU line. At the counter, the Passport Control Officer asked for my Sojourner’s Permit, and explained that as long as I had that, I could use any “EU” line anywhere with no problems. Never wait in the “All Others” line again! On my way out, I was feeling a final tug to remind me why I have felt so welcome for the last two years.
To keep myself awake so that I would sleep in New York and adjust faster to the jet lag, I watched three in-flight movies in a row. Not exactly intellectual stimulation, but reading would have put me to sleep. I had never flown to New York itself before, having always only changed planes at JFK Airport. Discovering how easy it was to get to mid-town Manhattan with my bicycle on a single Metro ticket changed my whole attitude about flying into the Big Apple.
Thirty hours after the alarm rang in Nice, I curled into my bed in the Wyndham TYRP Hotel near Penn Station, and fell asleep. River Run 2017 was over, and my life back in North America was about to begin.
Next time, this place will carry an invitation to come over to my author’s blog to read fiction (short stories) and memoirs (sea stories) from my life and that of my characters before they met each other. I will be riding again, building memories that I will share along the way and when I get back.
Going forward, the Freewheeling Freelancer will post when there is something new, rather than every other Saturday.
Blogs are migrating to podcasts; books are adding audio. This blog is due for another overhaul, so I am again asking for your input. Please tell me what you would like to read.
Smooth roads and tailwinds,