Road Trip Reminiscing
April 26, 2009
Today should be quite an adventure. To get from Nice to Torino, we will be hopping on and off three trains in a span of five hours, and they’re all open seating. We each carry only one small rolling duffel, so we’re quite prepared for the rigors of train travel.
On the first leg from Nice to Ventimiglia, we ride on a double decker train that’s rather empty. It makes local stops at towns whose names I recognize from when we were here five years ago. I play a little memory game. Villefranche Sur Mer. Strategically located bus stop with the grandest view of the Mediterranean. Eze Sur Mer. Fabulous lunch at Chateau Eza, in Eze Village all the way up the Mount Bastide. Table at the edge of the terrace overlooking the sea, one chair leg dangling imperceptibly off the cliff (thank goodness for the railing). Monte Carlo, Monaco…
The last time we were in Monaco, we made the mistake of driving in from Nice on the day of a Formula One practice session. My husband, a rabid F1 fan, hoped to squeeze in some time before our lunch reservation at Louis XV to watch Juan Pablo Montoya (with Williams BMW then) whiz by in his blue and silver liveried FW27. Unfortunately, the F1 race in Monaco is a street course, meaning most of them were closed for the event. Our GPS was no match for all the detours we had to go through, and when we asked for directions in English, people just threw their hands up in the air from lack of comprehension. After driving in circles for an hour and almost entering the tunnel back to Nice, we finally gave up and parked in the next garage we found.
Even on foot, it wasn’t any easier; anywhere with a good vantage point of the track was mobbed. Eventually, we just decided to head to the restaurant. Although he tried to remain in good spirits, I knew my husband was very disappointed in not being able to get to the bleachers. Along the way, he’d stop every so often if there was even a small opening he could watch the street course from. Meanwhile, I was snapping away continuously with my camera, hoping that I’d catch one of the cars, just so he could at least have a picture as a souvenir.
It was a good 40 minute walk to Louis XV at the Hotel de Paris. From the outside, we could hear the cars roar past us, but the course itself was hidden from view by temporary walls. Sigh. So near yet so far. By now, we were resigned to the fact that this day would be a washout.
As soon as we entered the lobby, my husband’s eyes bulged out as Michael Schumacher’s unmistakable red Ferrari screamed past the window. It seemed that the proverbial rain cloud floating above our heads just disintegrated. Not only did we get to sample Ducasse’s famous cuisine, we did so at the terrace right in front of the track, with nothing but chicken wire fencing separating my husband from his beloved open wheel cars. What unbelievable luck! Even though our starter, a lovely collection of undressed spring vegetable shavings, was accompanied by the smell of burning petrol, we didn’t care. We were too caught up with the excitement of seeing the cars up close and unobstructed. Throughout the meal, these car sightings followed a cycle. First, a high-pitched shriek from a distance warned us of their approach. Then a stream of colors flashed by, followed by the inevitable staccato sound of traction control kicking in as they turned the corner and disappeared from view. A come-from-behind finish to what started out as a god-awful day.
Back to the present. We’re now in Italy traveling north from Ventimiglia to Cuneo, considered one of the more scenic train rides in Europe. The tracks wrap themselves around the Italian Alps, and the mountains on either side of us are covered with lush greenery, with a stream or creek occasionally coursing through. Our conductor, a very accommodating man, lets me pop off the train at each stop for a quick shot, but the scenery is never as good off the train as on it. Aside from us, the other passengers are mostly locals, residents of the little towns we pass who just need to get from point A to B. They probably ride this train all the time and take this view for granted, much like I do the Manhattan skyline when I cross the Hudson River on the NY Waterways ferry. Once we get to Limone, on the border of Piedmont, we encounter trees without leaves, and the ground still wears the last vestiges of winter. According to our conductor, it just snowed here last week. Now I understand why this region was chosen to host the Winter Olympics.
Unlike the Nice-Ventimiglia route which offers glimpses of the Mediterranean or the Ventimiglia-Cuneo leg that runs through the Italian Alps, the ride from Cuneo to Torino is unremarkable, nothing but a mix of flat farmland and factories. The train itself is the most ragged and crowded of the three. We eagerly count the stops until, two hours later, we say hello to the Porta Nuova station in Torino.
1. There are two routes to get from Nice to Torino. The Ventimiglia-Cuneo-Torino legs don’t show up on RailEurope’s website because they are open seating, which means the tickets can be used at anytime over a period of days. We had to buy them over the phone. Even though the route seems more complex, it’s actually faster and cheaper than the one via Genoa. On the the other hand, the latter has reserved seating and nicer trains that have seats equipped with electrical plugs for use with laptops or chargers.
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