Last year, as I commuted back and forth between my home in San Francisco, CA and my client in Harrisburg, PA, I encountered such serious delays that each leg of the flight approached 14 hours – adding more than 50% of a work-week to an already busy schedule. My travel woes became so widely known that people in the office started taking bets on whether I’d get home on time (smart people always bet no). So, of course, no international train trip would be complete with memories of my many transcontinental flights.
Leaving Munich, we made our way to Innsbruck, Austria before crossing the Italian border. Just inside the Italian border, the train was delayed for about 45 minutes, which eliminated any hope of making the next two connections and stretching a 12-hour train ride into a 19-hour epic journey. Nonetheless, I made to the south of France, found my way to the Villa Saint Exupery, and collapsed into a sweaty sleep amid 12 other travels and the pungent aroma of perspiration and aging sandals. The hostel itself was great, complete with a decent breakfast and many PCs, but it would certainly benefit from a couple of fans during the summer months.
I hadn’t planned to come to the French Riviera, but since making am unbelievable small-world connection in Oslo earlier this year, I knew I simply had to visit. I arrived in the area a bit earlier than I was expected, so rather than go directly Nice, I decided to spend some time exploring other parts of the Riviera, stopping in Monaco, to enjoy some swimming in the sea, sunning on the pier and general camaraderie complements of a bunch of Australians crew on a cruise ship that called in Monaco. Since the ship was in port, they had the day off, so we spent a few hours splashing in the sea and leaping off the 20 metre pier into the sea. Fun.
After being fetched from the train station by Cristelle, we visited a shop to look at a table she’d been considering (it was still there) and then made our way to a sporting goods store to buy a tent for the night’s adventure in the Alps. Although there was some promise of floating around the Mediterranean between Cannes and St. Tropez aboard a friend’s yacht, that plan didn’t come together, so we reverted to the superb idea of camping in the French Alps. With tent in hand and with a glorious picnic basket packed with goodies from Cristelle’s family garden, we wound our up up the serpentine roads into the hills. After several hours of driving – with stops for a few nice walks in the forest – we ended up at a ski area, whose slopes offered some excellent spots to pitch a tent and to dig into the culinary goodies buried in the picnic basket. As we noshed on – and splattered one another with – brilliant red tomatoes, we took in one of the nicest sun sets I’d seen in a while. Sleeping in a tent is something I’d done often as a younger man, but enjoyed infrequently during the last decade. It was fun to relive some camping memories and share stories with a new friend under the stars.
After a day in the mountains, we packed up the tent (a surprising challenge) and descended from the crisp mountain air, into the humid stew of the coast. By way of transition, we stopped along the way to eat the last of the picnic and to enjoy a splash in a cool river where the rapids massaged our feet as we basked in the mid-day sun. As we wound our way through the final turns to her house, I was unexpectedly overcome with nervousness about meeting her parents. It was sort of foolish: after all, we play such a trifling role in one another’s lives that the opinion of parents would seem to have only limited importance. Nonetheless, I was kind of anxious about the whole affair. One thing I’ve enjoyed with many of my friends has been getting to know their parents. Hers speak little English and to say that my French is rusty after years of inactivity would be a gross misrepresentation of how poor it really is. Regardless of those challenges, we muddled through with gestures, body language and some really terrible conjugation on my part. By way of making amends, I introduced some Scottish tradition to the house by baking some fresh scones, which were a big hit. It seems food opens doors worldwide.
In addition to new adventures and a belly full of delightful food, I also left with memories of my first (and hopefully last) encounter with a jellyfish. As we swam in the sea, the presence of the creature was surprising, but how a sting feels was the most shocking thing of all. The experience bears a frightening resemblance to being electrocuted. Mere moments after jerking my arm away from the creature, my right bicep was already scarlet red with the distinct shape of the bell and tentacles. My arms spent the next day wrapped in a vinegar-soaked rag and surrounded in ice.
So, I left the sea readily, but Nice with some regret. I wish I could have stayed longer, but there were other places to see and other guests to be entertained by my host. Fortunately, my terrible French seemed not to impress too poorly – or my baking and fastidious dish washing made up for it – and I am welcome back. An invitation I’d love to accept some day.