Friday, July 06, 2007

Westward Ho! (Warning! Francophiles may want to skip this post)

Kindness by Smith-Haynes

After short train trip we were back in Milan for a night. We had splurged for a "luxury hotel" figuring we could use a little pampering after our whirlwind week in god-knows-what kind of accommodations. We arrived at the Doria Grand Hotel and checked in, expecting something along the lines of what we had at the Windsor Hotel, a large suite with an obscenely large and comfortable bathroom. We opened our room door and...meh! It was a dinky, dark and, in short, no great shakes. The lobby and hallways were very elegant. Big deal. I'm not sleeping in the lobby or the hallway. I was glad we got a super-duper internet deal and were paying only 100 euros instead of the usual *gasp* 230 euros. And the "free" wifi internet turned out to cost 5 euros for four hours of use and we couldn't get it to work after we paid for it. Instead of refunding us our money they allowed us to plug Meredith's laptop into their direct connection in a converted closet off the lobby. We quickly read our emails and then headed out, less than impressed with the experience. I will say that one of the desk clerks was extremely helpful, spending quite a bit of time trying to get her computer working with the wifi. The fact that Meredith is young, blonde and cute probably had something to do with it. She was also more than a little pissed off and cranky about the situation and when she gets that way, people tend to respond. :-)

She was glad to be back in Milan to catch up with some of her friends so we all went out to an Apertivo (remember that from my first post?...basically a happy hour where you buy a drink and that entitles you to a great buffet.) We went to a Sushi apertivo with her friends Kyle and Kate. It turned out to be just the remedy to shoo the crankies away. We laughed and got very silly, and generally just had a terrific time. The evening went all too quickly and we knew we had to get up early to make the train to Nice so it was an early night.

The next morning we boarded the train and found ourselves in a compartment with four your men who were headed to the Grand Prix in Monaco and obviously VERY pumped about the experience. They had their Fiat jerseys on (which I mistakely took for soccer jerseys, much to Meredith's amusement)and chattered away in Italian like little kids, giggling at their own jokes and teasing each other. They were very entertaining, if a little annoying at times.

Shortly into the trip, the Mediterranean came into view so I decided to take some pictures of the scenery. That proved to be a challege, since every time I snapped a picture, it seemed to be just as we entered a tunnel. I will spare you all the shots of darkness that resulted. Here are some of the keepers.

We stopped at a few small riviera towns along the coast:

Porto Maurizio (just a bit east of San Remo along the Cote d'azur)

When we arrived in Monaco, the boys excitedly exited the train and we had the compartment to ourselves for a few more minutes until we arrived in Nice. We had to change trains there and had about an hour so we went in search of some lunch. It was cumbersome walking with our luggage...we each had a weekender on wheels, an overnight bag and a tote we looked for something close to the train station. We found a deli/sandwich shop and settled on that, despite the sorry looking fare and the exorbitant prices. I would love to have explored the area a little more but we were concerned about catching the train to was the last one of the we headed back to the train station. Unfortunately, my predominant impression of Nice is not a very pleasant one...a HUGE pile of dog poop right in the middle of the sidewalk. Not only did I nearly step in it, I almost rolled my suitcase over it...YUCK! It had obviously been there a while and it was right outside a restaurant so I am amazed that someone didn't clean it up. I've heard that the French love their dogs but that was just gross!

The rest of the trip was uneventful. We arrived in Montpellier in the late afternoon and began the search for our hotel. No one seemed to have heard of it, nor could they tell us where the street was when we gave them the address. We asked a police officer who directed us to the ticket office for the streetcar. The clerks in the ticket office couldn't agree whether we could purchase a ticket on board or if we had to buy one from them and couldn't agree on which streetcar to take. Welcome to France! We decided to head out with the puny little map that had been on the hotel's website. None of the streets on the map matched the streets we were seeing so we were essentially flying blind. We headed for an area called the Place de la Comedie, roughly translated to the Comedy Place. We weren't laughing. It was a large open area in the middle of the city apparently named after this theater at one end of the plaza:

AHA! There it was... Hotel Ibis.

We dragged our luggage and schlep-weary bodies over to the entrance and approached the front desk. I gave my name and said that I had a reservation. The desk clerk told me there was no reservation in my name and asked me if I was sure that I had reserved a room with THIS Hotel Ibis. I am thinking to myself, "Of course, I did... where the hell else would I have booked a room?" Then he said, "Perhaps you booked with the OTHER Hotel Ibis in town." WTF, they have TWO freakin' Hotel Ibis's in the same town? It turns out that not only do they have two Hotel Ibis's but they are literally yards away from each other. How stupid is that? I am SO not impressed with this place by now. He gave us directions to the other one and we set off. We found it but couldn't figure out where the entrance was because the architecture is all designed by someone with a Lego fixation. There were steps and box-like structures everywhere...but no doors. We finally figured it out and yes, it was our hotel. It was obviously the impoverished stepsister of the first Hotel Ibis, not nearly as spacious, no pool or balconies and teeny, tiny rooms. Oh, well, we weren't going to be there for very long. We dropped off our luggage and headed off in search of some dinner. We were famished since our crappy Nice sandwiches hadn't done much to satisfy our hunger earlier.

We figured the most likely area to explore would be back at the Place de la Comedie. There were some restaurants along the perimeter and we figured if we got lost we could still find our way back to the hotel. We settled on a little pub right on the plaza. There were outdoor tables but we sat just inside the door as the skies looked as if they would open up any minute. In due time the waiter came over and handed us a menu. He practically had the word ATTITUDE tattooed across his forehead. Neither of us speaks French so we attempted to ask a question about the menu in English. Monseiur Hoity-Toity sighed heavily, rolled his eyes at us and brusquely gave us an answer. In that instant, I knew it was not going to be a good dinner. We looked at each other and decided to go cheap and quick. No bottle of wine, no fancy appetizer. Just sustenance to get us the hell out of there as fast as possible. We were too hungry to keep looking around but we weren't going to spend a minute more in that place than we absolutely had to. As I expected, the service absolutely SUCKED. Our dinners sat up on the counter for a good ten minutes before His Nibs saw fit to deliver them to us, cold and tasteless. He was obviously very put out that we weren't going to drink lots of wine to make it worth his while to wait on us. He rolled his eyes at us so much that I was beginning to wonder if he had some visual affliction. Finally, he just decided to completely ignore us, forcing me to go up to the bar to pay our tab. We made a quick exit and decided to sit at a covered outdoor creperie for some coffee and crepes. (After all, we WERE in France so we had to have some crepes!) A similar scene ensued with this waiter. He was so apathetic that I thought maybe the first waiter had slipped us an invisibility potion, rendering us undetectable to this waiter. Finally, he sighed heavily and resigned himself to waiting on us. We placed two orders of crepes, one chocolate filled, one nutella filled. After he left, a creepy looking guy at the next table asked Meredith for a light for his cigarette. He looked incredulous when she said she didn't have one, as if she had just told him that she didn't have a brain. Our crepes arrived eventually, cold and tasteless. We immediately requested our bill, knowing that otherwise we would have to resort to tackling the waiter to get his attention again, insisted he wait while we paid him and then went back to the hotel. The whole experience from the moment we got off the train until we left the next morning had a very sour feeling about it. We found the people to be arrogant, unfriendly and rude. At one point, while negotiating our suitcases from the train station, I tripped and nearly fell. Not one person offered any assistance. We were obviously disoriented and lost and the only response from pedestrians was irritation that we weren't moving fast enough for them. They dodged us and hurried ahead, looking right through us. If a city can have a vibe, Montpellier's was a very negative one. We were relieved to be on the train for Barcelona early the next morning and on our way to Spain.

So the tally was as follows:

Nice - crappy food, untended massive doggie download on the main sidewalk...C-
Montpellier -- confusing layout, lousy attitudes all around... D+

Good riddance, France...You needn't worry about having to put up with us anytime soon, I promise. So sorry we imposed upon you. It won't happen again!!



So sorry about the rude behavior! You would think that they would treat American tourists (who tip) like gold but alas you had to have one bad story about the trip. Sue

Busymom51 said...

That's true, Sue! It certainly made the rest of the trip so much more delightful by contrast.

sappmama said...

Oh, the French. I had a lovely experience in Paris but don't think I didn't get shades of attitude. Those people are masters of it! They enjoy withholding information and acting like they don't speak English.