Wrong!! We did do all of that, but at each step we also tested to the full the saying that seems to apply the world over: if something can go wrong, it will. Sod’s law. Murphy’s law. Or, as the French have it, le loi de l’emmerdement maximum…
Everything was perfectly on track for a smooth day out … until we arrived at Mouans-Sartoux railway station to find that we’d missed the train to Nice by two minutes and the next one wasn’t due for another fifty-eight. But ça ne fait rien – we strolled into the little town and had a coffee and took photos to while away the time. I made a quick visit to les toilettes before we headed back to the station – and found myself momentarily plunged into darkness at a crucial moment when someone tried the handle on the locked door and managed to flip the light switch to the cubicle at the same time. Sacré bleu!
After being greeted by effuse apologies in French from the man waiting outside the loo when I came out, and stuttering back something like, ‘C’etait noir – but it’s OK!’ I rejoined Carol and we headed back to the station to catch the one o’clock train to Nice.
It was when we arrived at Nice’s central station an hour or so later, by which time it was Carol who was now bursting for the loo, that things started to go decidedly en forme d’une poire. Discovering that you had to pay an exorbitant 80 cents to use the station toilets, and having no loose change, we dashed around the little shop opposite, buying enough snacks to generate sufficient change for both of us to make use of the facilities. By then Carol could wait no longer, so dropped her one-euro coin in the machine by the gate, retrieved her 20 cents change, and bustled through the turnstile. It didn’t budge.
‘ATTENDEZ! ATTENDEZ!’ yelled the attendant, previously barely noticeable from her seated position around the corner.
That was one ‘ATTENDEZ!’ too many for Carol by that desperate stage.
‘I DON’T SPEAK FRENCH, AND THERE’S NO NEED TO SHOUT!!’ she yelled back (not entirely truthfully, it has to be said, though I wasn’t about to point that out to her by then). At which the officious attendant jabbed her finger at the turnstile, as though giving Carol the go-ahead to give it another push. Which she did, with furious vigour, and then duly marched round to the right, still fuming about having been yelled at by the attendant… only to find herself facing a bemused and worried-looking Frenchman, who, having just heard her say she didn’t speak French, stammered ‘Weemen’s’ while pointing to the other end of the room, where a woman was coming out of one of the cubicles.
Wheeling round, Carol then marched across to the Ladies’, flung open a door showing green for vacant, and found herself staring at an elderly woman hunched over the toilet with her knickers round her knees…
‘This is not going well!’ she muttered, perhaps the understatement of the day, but it brought a smile to the woman who had previously come out of the other cubicle and was now washing her hands.
I uttered not a word, though a phrase we had read the day before in a book of French idioms was dancing around in my head: Comme un éléphant dans un magasin de porcelaine…
By the time we were crossing the station concourse to catch the bus to the Matisse Museum, we were both gripped by lavatorial humour in its most literal sense, with tears rolling down our cheeks as we relived the disastrous few minutes in the station loo. Not to mention expensive – it cost the two of us nearly two pounds to use those facilities!
It may have been the uncontrollable mirth that we were both experiencing, or, again, it may have simply been the loi de l’emmerdement maximum still exerting its powerful force, but we spent a few seconds too long deciding which one of the two parallel roads we needed to be on to catch the bus, and it came rattling along on the one we had decided against, with no time for us to run to catch it, resulting in a 30-minute wait for the next one.
By now we’d wasted 90 precious minutes of our day out just hanging around waiting for public transport – but we’d also had a fair amount of hilarity, so we shrugged our shoulders in a pseudo-Gallic way and ate our newly purchased snacks as we waited on the pavement for the next bus to come along.
And come along it did, on time, 30 minutes later. All went well until we got off at the museum stop and turned the wrong way, resulting in a very long-winded and cold walk through a park and nearly into the wrong museum before we got back on track and realised that had we turned right instead of left off the bus, we’d have been in the museum within a couple of minutes.
After a bit of confusion about which was the entrance and which the exit, we at last made it into the Matisse Museum – with, surprisingly, enough time still left to stroll around and take in all the markedly different phases of the French artist’s career and life, and for Carol to take photos aplenty (sans flash, as the rather too attentive attendant repeatedly told her in quite an unnecessarily flirtatious way, I thought), as well as nearly demolish Marguerite’s head, an undoubtedly priceless sculpture that rocked to and fro as, with her camera to her eye, she backed into its rather flimsy plinth. No alarm sounded, and no security guards came rushing to poor Marguerite’s aid – not even the overly attentive one on the door! We didn’t linger too long after that, however, not wanting to push our already overstretched luck, and walked in a much more direct route to the bus stop on the opposite side of the road to catch the bus back to the station. Only to find that – of course! – we’d missed it by minutes. So we made a snap decision to catch the next bus that came along, wherever it went. The one that came next was heading to the port, so we took that, not realising that before it got to the port it would go everywhere else in Nice it was possible to go (except, of course, the station). When we finally got to the port, we all dutifully disembarked. Or tried to. It was when the elderly lady in front of Carol started flailing her stick around wildly as she tried to get off that I knew the next thing that could go wrong was about to. The old lady teetered over, nearly taking Carol’s eye out with her stick as she did so, and, like a woodlouse on its back, rolled around on the floor of the bus while everyone around her gasped and tried to get her back up before she was ready to be got up. ‘Je vais bien, je vais bien!’ she kept saying as the bus driver rushed up the aisle to assist her too. All was well in the end – she was probably more embarrassed than hurt, poor thing – and we all piled off onto the pavement as the bus drove off.
We definitely needed a swift glass of vino by then, which we had at a nearby bar, and then set off once more for the station, the Google Maps app directing us every step of the way… until the phone suddenly died and we were left wandering around in the centre of Nice with not a clue as to where the station was…
All we could do was keep walking in the direction we’d been heading in when the phone gave out, and thankfully that did indeed lead to the main road from where we could see the station. In no mood to mess around any longer, and seeing no barrier to just walking through the turnstile and onto the platform, that’s exactly what we did. Naughty us. But from the rest of the day’s experience, we should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. As our train came sailing in, a station gendarme came up to me and asked, in French, to see our tickets. Now it was my turn to deny any knowledge of the French language… At which he merely switched to English, which I couldn’t really claim to have no knowledge of. That’s where, thankfully, it helped that Carol had a ticket app on her phone, so we could legitimately claim that we were about to buy tickets on the app but were waiting until we were on the train and could plug in as she only had 9 per cent power left. Phew!
The train was packed, but we eventually found seats, plugged the phone in, bought the tickets, and settled back for the ride home… and managed to forget that French stations are VERY sparsely signed, so unless you’ve counted the stops or know the route extremely well, it’s very easy to miss your stop, especially in the dark, which it was by then, and which we very nearly did. But not quite. We got off, and found ourselves laughing hysterically as we made our way up the hill and home while talking about the day we’d just had – the day when virtually everything that could have gone wrong … did!