Nice and Monaco, February 2008

By Kate S. © 2008

 

Kate S. on the beach in Nice, France

Kate S. on the beach in Nice, France

During our reading break at uni, two friends and I headed south to the French Riviera to catch a break from English weather and to see the Carnaval de Nice.  Here are some observations about access on the Cote díAzur from someone who uses an electric scooter.

 

Getting There

 The three of us flew EasyJet from London Luton to Nice Cote díAzur airport. EasyJet does deserve its name. Everything went smoothly, even with the scooter. Getting to the airport was a bit of an ordeal, as our university is about an hour and a half from London, and on the opposite side from the Luton airport. I would have booked the EasyBus, which Iím told has an accessible route from the Victoria area to Luton, but you have to book that at least 24 hours in advance if youíre in a wheelchair. Well, we are spontaneous college students who planned this thing on the fly, so when I called 20 hours before departure, it was too late.  Train it is, then. We took the train into London Victoria, but the train to Luton leaves from St. Pancras. Most folks would hop on the Tube, and presto, youíre there in twenty minutes. But the Tube is basically useless for people in wheelchairs.  The buses are totally accessible, though, and FREE to wheelchair users.  Score!  These new buses kneel and have the ramps that come out of the middle set of doors.  The first driver was wary of letting me on because I had a scooter and not a power chair.  He went and asked one of his supervisors, who came out and said mine was small enough that it was OK. (Itís 42 inches long, for the record.)  Iíve ridden the buses in London several times, and nobodyís ever given me trouble. Then the same guy didnít deploy the ramp when we arrived, even though I pressed the special handicap stop button to indicate that I was ready to get off.  My friend walked to the front and talked to the driver, who let us off at the next stop. Not a pleasant gentleman.  For the record, we took the number 77, which goes from Victoria to Seven Sisters. You go down Oxford Street for a good bit of it, and lots of hot spots are within a stoneís throw of this line: Trafalgar Square, the Marble Arch, and the British Library come to mind. The journey took a LONG time, because of traffic. It felt like about an hour, hour and a half.

 

Before we went to St. Pancras, we had to stop next door for a photo op at Platform Nine and Three Quarters in Kings Cross, a pilgrimage point for any Harry Potter fan.  Having done that, we went to St. Pancras to catch the next train to Luton Airport highway.  It was about 20 minutes from St. Pancras, and it was the first stop. I guess itís worth noting that London trains are made accessible by attendants who put down a portable ramp. The bathrooms are accessible. The wheelchair space is right by the bathroom, so watching people try to figure out the power-operated sliding door is good entertainment. (Just push the button, people.)

 

Once we got to the Luton Airport Highway stop, we still werenít quite there. The train station is not at the actual airport, so we had to take a shuttle from there, which was an accessible coach with a ramp that comes out of the front doors, a low floor, and a very spacious interior.

 

So finally we made it to the airport, to our plane, and to Nice. To get to our hostel, we took the bus.  Itís either the 98 or the 99 that runs from the airport to the train station (Gare SNCF - Nice Ville). The website told me the bus would be accessible. It had the flat floor (no stairs), but no ramp, and it didnít kneel. The driver and my two friends managed to hoist me up.  Not easy, since my scooter weighs 200 pounds. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

 

Lodging

We stayed at Nice Camťlias, which is owned by Hostelling International (http://www.hihostels.com/web/index.en.htm). Great hostel.  Clean, accessible, new, located between the train station and the coast. The free breakfast was all-you-can-eat cereal, baguette bread, and the usual breakfast beverages. 

 

In Nice

We walked everywhere once we were in Nice. Itís pretty flat, except up in the neighborhood with the archaeological museum, Matisse museum, and Roman ruins.  Museums are closed on Tuesday.  We found that out the hard way. There was a really modern-looking tramway that ran down the main road Ė Jean Medecin. We didnít use it, but I saw a handicap sticker on it, and I presume it had a ramp.

 

The Mediterranean was a sight for sore eyes.  Blue, blue water and palm trees were a nice change from gray England. In most places there were stairs to get down from the road to the beach, but there was a ramp at one point, somewhere between the Place Massena and the Chateau. I didnít do too well on the pebbled beaches, but it was good enough just to get down there and snap some pictures. We didnít really sunbathe as it was the middle of February and still quite cold, with the wind. Though a couple days later we came back to the beach when it was sunnier and warmer (maybe 60 degrees Fahrenheit) and we saw some old people soaking in the rays, topless. Yep, we were in France alright!

 

The Chateau offers great views of the city Ė or so Iím told.  The elevator/lift was down for construction.  Oh the joys of traveling off-season. I wouldnít really recommend Nice in February. It is a really cool city, but best enjoyed in the sunshine, I would imagine.  Lots of stuff was closed, including the gelato place that my guidebook raved about Ė Fenochioís, I think it was called. Old Nice is like being in Italy, except itís nicer and more accessible. The only reason we came when we did was for the Carnaval de Nice. Outrageous costumes, fun music, and beaucoup de confetti. It was great. We went to two parades Ė one on Sunday afternoon, and one Tuesday night. They were essentially the same thing, but of course everything looked different lit up at night. We missed the flower parade. It was a little difficult to maneuver around the crowds, but you just have to keep saying ďPardon, monsieurĒ and plow through. We picked a spot on the street, but I was concerned I would need to get up onto the curb to make way for the parade. No need!  The parade was very interactive, and people were free to jump on the floats, take pictures with the performers, and move about freely. Guess the French arenít sticklers for liability like the Americans and the Brits. Overall, the carnival parades were fun for the whole family, and I still have confetti and silly string stuck on my scooter a month later.

 

Monaco

For one of our days, we decided to go on a little day trip to Monaco. Itís about 30-45 minutes from Nice, by train. I just turned 21, so I was eager to try my hand at gambling for the first time in fabulous Monte Carlo. Unfortunately, I never realized my dream. We overslept that morning, and we didnít make it to the train station until 11:30ish. Hereís the catch: Monacoís train station is only staffed from 9-12 noon and 2-6pm. So we had missed our window of opportunity to go in the morning.  We used the dead time to go see the nearby Russian Cathedral (very cool) and eat lunch. Going against my better judgment, we ate at KFC for lunch. I felt a little guilty eating American fast food in France. I try to go for the local cafes to get the most out of the travel experience. But, oh, man!  Fried chicken! Every bit as good as home.  Iím glad I broke my rule.

 

The cathedral and the chicken took a little bit too long and we just missed a train to Monaco. We waited in the train station for the next one, which was delayed. So by the time we got to Monaco, we only had about 30 minutes to explore before we had to get back in time to get assistance onto the train back to Nice. We didnít make it to the casino, but we did make it down to the port to pay a visit to our summer yachts (yeah, right).  In the short time we were in Monaco, I realized it wasnít very wheelchair-friendly, unless youíve got a motor. Lots of steep hills and stairs. With better planning, Monaco would have been a better daytrip, but it was still worth the trip. I think the ticket was only 9 euro.

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