Half-way to heaven on the Glacier Express

One of the best things about travel is the contrasts you encounter. One night you’re gambling at Monte Carlo Casino, the next you’re sleeping rough on the sea-front at Nice, with no money, no passport and no way to get home. This, however, is getting ahead of myself. What follows is an account of a journey through Europe made in the second half of August 1988 – it may be of interest, or provide a warning, to anyone planning a similar trip!

The journey didn’t get off to a brilliant start. My Walkman had been playing up for a while, and one earpiece had now died completely, and the other was sounding decidedly dodgy, so I thought it would be a good chance while I was away to get it fixed as the guarantee would have run out by the time I came back. The only chance I had to go to the shop I bought it was on the Saturday morning I left, so on the way to the railway station I popped into Dixons. Unfortunately, they told me (very nicely) that the guarantee didn’t cover the headphones, and that all I could do was buy a new pair. Since my money was all in the form of traveller’s cheques and bureau de change aren’t exactly numerous in Farnborough, this was not much help – in any case, I had ONE cassette with me; though I like Simple Minds, two weeks of them would be too much even for me. Finally, the Walkman was jammed in the bottom of the rucksack for the two weeks, minus the headphones, which I junked in a waste-paper bin at Victoria station.

Reached the hover-port at Dover without anything exciting or interesting happening. There, as well as the duty-free shop, they had a variety of machines designed to take the last 10p coins out of your pocket; fruit machines, video games, etc. I tried to invest my loose change in one; unfortunately I kept winning – by the time I finally gave up trying to get rid of them, I’d won about eight pounds. Something was clearly wrong with the machine; I watched four or five people playing it, and they all came away better off.

The hovercraft trip was dull – you can’t see out, as there’s too much spray being blown around, and you can’t walk about either, so I got on with reading my book. I decided just to take the one with me, a nice 600 page long epic, and try and ration it out to last me the whole fortnight. In the end, I read it in about three days on Nice beach and from then on, it joined the Walkman at the bottom of the bag.

Murgatroyd49 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Didn’t get to see much of Paris, just the Metro from one railway station to the next. The train from there to Nice was almost dead, I had a whole carriage to myself and managed a fairly pleasant night,waking up just in time to see the sun rise over the Mediterranean. It was warm – I was still wearing my British Summer clothes (long trousers, training shoes, jumper, etc), and I’d forgotten to pack any shorts so I just had to sit and suffer…

Arrived in Nice, and went to the Tourist Information place to see if they could find me a room. This they did, for the princely sum of F.55 per night, little more than a fiver. I was a little worried about just what I was going to get for that – I needn’t have been. The room was small, but perfectly adequate and it even had a fridge in it, which I made a lot of use of during the time I was there. It also had the shower room to one side, the toilet to the other, and the hot water tank for the whole hotel occupied most of one wall. Still, it had a bed and a roof, which was all I really wanted.

First stop was to buy some shorts! I found a hideously repulsive pair in a bin marked ‘End of Line’ – they were fluorescent yellow and not the sort of thing anyone self-respecting would have bought. I thought they were brilliant. Finally, I could now go down to the beach, or what’s supposed to be the beach. In Nice,what they have instead of sand are large pebbles, just big enough to be extremely uncomfortable if you didn’t have a beach mat to lie on. Guess who didn’t? Decided to pass on the swimming, because last time I swam in the Med was just after some thoughtful tanker owner had decided to wash out his tanks, and the resulting black gunge coated everything it touched, including me. I just lay on the beach and enjoyed the view.

The rest of the week followed pretty much the same pattern. This makes quite dull reading; if you’re after excitement,adventure and really wild things, skip the next paragraph.

W. M. Connolley / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

I’d climb out of bed at about 10 a.m and head for the beach, stopping in at the local supermarket on the way to buy the supplies for the day. These usually consisted of some bread, cold meat, chocolate biscuits (to be eaten on the way to the beach to stop them from melting!) and a large bottle of Orangina, a very popular drink on the continent, only occasionally seen here – it’s like Fanta made with real oranges. The day was then spent relaxing in the sun, thoroughly enjoying having absolutely NOTHING to do. About five o’clock, when the sun began to sink behind the hotels, I’d head back to my room and have a sleep (well, it’s been a tough day) for a couple of hours before heading out and grabbing something to eat (Nice has two McDonald’s).

For the single traveller, Nice in the evenings doesn’t have a lot to offer. It’s a very ‘social’ city, and almost all the entertainment is aimed at two or more people; it was still fun for me to people-watch in the pedestrian zone. However, there was a four-day spell when my longest conversation was ‘Un grand pommes frites, un cheeseburger et un shake au chocolat, s’il vous plait’, so my tongue got a holiday too.

Didn’t spend ALL my time on Nice beach. Spent two days on Monte Carlo beach, and two on Cannes beach – the former had smaller rocks than Nice, and Cannes had REAL sand, though the second day I was there there was a strong wind blowing, which meant I got sandblasted; I was picking grains out of my ears for days. Of course, I overdid the sun. Even with the Protection Factor 10 sun-lotion I splattered about, enough still got through to make it very uncomfortable, with my shoulders, the back of my knees and for some reason my right ear-lobe suffering worst. The last couple of days there, I began to “peel” and itch like mad – sad to see my hard-earned sun-tan coming off in handfuls.

Highlight of the week for me was the evening at the Casino. I’d scouted it out already during one of my visits to the beach, so I knew that the luminous shorts and sandals were OUT. I had brought a half-decent pair of trousers with me (you couldn’t see the paint spots unless you looked closely) and a nice shirt with buttons, so they let me in, even though I was wearing training shoes…

Toni Lozano / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

There were two rooms you could go to; the European or the American, the main difference from my point of view being that the European room cost F.50 to get into – I couldn’t see why I should have to pay for the privilege of losing money, therefore I went to the American room to find myself a nice place at a Roulette table. The other players were a mix of foreign tourists and ‘locals’ (well, they spoke French, anyway) and I sat and watched for a while to suss things out. Most of the chips were different colours of plastic – I’d always thought that was to show the values, but I was told that each player had a different colour, and the chips were all F.10. Bigger chips were available if you wanted – these were multi-coloured with a metal disk in the middle, and ranged from F.100 up (and up – outside the European room they had a case with the possible values in. They stopped at 100,000 francs). I handed over my life savings, or at least F.200 of them and received a pile of chips that looked rather smaller than everyone else’s!

They needed them. While I spent the whole evening putting ONE chip on a number or a group or numbers, they sprayed them about like confetti. I saw one person get F.1000 worth of chips and use them all up in about three shots. Meanwhile, I kept on playing ONE chip! Fortunately,on just the second shot, I got lucky. My chip was on No.14, and to my astonishment, that was where the ball landed. I’m no poker-face; in fact, I had to restrain myself from doing a lap of honour round the table as the croupier counted out my F.350. I toyed with the idea of quitting while I was ahead and decided against it – what the hell, you don’t get the chance to visit Monte Carlo THAT often. The rest of the evening wasn’t quite as successful – I think I won once, F.60 – though since I was playing with their money, I wasn’t too bothered. I found it surprisingly exciting, waiting for the ball to stop bouncing and WILLING it towards your number – I can see how people get hooked on it, and it would be VERY easy to lose a large amount of money at it. I left while just about even, having thoroughly enjoyed it.

On the Saturday night I had to leave for Switzerland. on the night train to Geneva. It had only gone a few miles when I suddenly found that my passport, travellers cheques, Inter-rail card, etc had gone. I don’t know whether they were stolen (nothing else in the bag with them was taken) or lost (they were in a zipped up pocket); the hard fact was that I didn’t have them. I got off the train at the first stop, and headed back to Nice to see if anyone had handed them in. No-one had. By this time, it was about 9.30 at night, and I had no money at all. I phoned American Express to see if they could replace my travellers cheques, but there was nothing they could do till Sunday – even if they had, all the places to cash them would have been shut. I had one option. Sleep on the beach.


Junielib / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

10 Places in Europe Well Worth a Visit.

  1. The Swiss Alps. Beauty beyond belief.
  2. Palace of Versailles. Probably cheaper to buy than most houses in London.
  3. Alhambra, Seville. Style and cool, where 2) is O.T.T. and trashy.
  4. Amsterdan Red-Light District. No comment.
  5. Monte Carlo. On with the mirror shades, down to the harbour and POSE!
  6. Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen. Disneyland for grown-ups (above).
  7. Vienna. More architecture per acre.
  8. Florence. History condensed into tins.
  9. Berlin. East meets West.
  10. Any railway carriage with nobody in it…

Trash News

In the last issue, I recall bemoaning the lack of trash politics in Britain – Italy has La Cicciolina, France has Le Pen, but we seemed to have no-one at all capable of dragging the politicians off their high horses down to the level of the rest of us. That was until the arrival of Pamella Bordes.

I just want to take this opportunity to thank the lady for providing us, however unwittingly, with the opportunity to see our respected Members of Parliament rushing to disassociate themselves from this ‘research assistant’ at top speed. The best quote yet comes from an un-named ‘friend’ of hers who said, roughly “She has a fantastic oral sex technique – it costs 500 pounds for a blow job, but it’s worth every penny”. More power to your tongue, Pamella, and hope your face heals up soon!!