Friday, March 11, 2011

All Aboard!

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During Ellen’s month in Villefranche-sur-mer, I took the train for two of my weekend visits. I have written about trains in France before and despite the glitch with printing tickets in November, I want to underscore how impressed I am with train travel in France.

The cars are clean and quiet. The trains are superfast and one can set one’s watch by the train schedules. I used to purchase my tickets on line this time. Being retired has its advantages. I was able to pick my travel times (having discovered that the cost of a trip is based on three th ings: the destination, the time of day one travels and the date of purchase. (Ticket prices increase as one approaches the travel dates.) If I had purchased a senior pass, I could have saved an additional 20-25%.

The one aspect of train travel in France that I still don’t understand is the need to “composter” (time stamp) the ticket.c There are several waist-high yellow time-stamp machines located in every train station waiting area and everyone must take the ticket and get a time stamp. I don’t understand the logic behind the machines. But, if you take your assigned seat and are traveling to the destination named on the ticket but did not time-stamp your ticket, the conductor will reprimand you. (Having been reprimanded several times, I began to wonder why I needed this date-stamp. I was clearly on the train and in my assigned seat and going to the destination written on the ticket. What then does this additional procedure serve?) I have no idea but now am diligent about “composter” my ticket (so that the conductor - who was probably a nun in a former life - does not make me feel like I am seven years old again.)

Going to visit Ellen twice by train permitted me to get a sense of traveling by train in France. From Avignon to Marseille or Aix-en-Provence: 30 minutes. From Marseille or Aix-en-Provence to Nice: 3 hours (stopping at Toulon, Cannes, Draguignon, St. Tropez, Antibes before arriving in Nice. There were places where the train ran along the Mediterranean with beautiful vistas (when it wasn’t raining).

The train travel was great but the goal was to get to Villefranche-sur-mer and to see Ellen. When Ellen had finished her month at L’Institut de Français (, our neighbor Jane drove to Villefranche-sur-mer with me to collect Ellen’s belongings and Ellen. We (Jane and I) spent the day visiting the Rothschild villa in St. Jean Cap Ferrat (

We had lunch at a café overlooking the bay and then went to Ellen’s graduation ceremonies.

Ellen made great progress in her spoken French. (She had always had good skills in written French.) The picture shows the Institut’s administrator announcing that Ellen would not be held back from passing to the next grade. Bravo Ellen!