The other side of the tracks

by tkos on August 14, 2012

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The coast line of southern France truly is amazing. From Nice, Canne and Monaco, every destination is something that tickles the imagination. With all the glamour, all the sparkle, it really does feel like the European side of Hollywood, yet somehow it is a little cooler because it is not filled with Mickey Mouse and quite frankly, the French accent is much sexier than the American drawl.

We had cycled over 2000km to get here, through some of the most peaceful, beautiful terrain. Cycling amidst families, passed parks and barbeques, with shining sun, singing birds and along train tracks turn cycle paths, I think what we loved most about France was the tranquillity. We loved the simple serenity and peace of the country villages and towns. The cycle friendly people that give you a smile with your re-filled and chilled water bottle.

The south coast of France was still beautiful, yet just glammed up a bit. A few more tourists. Lots of rich kids with daddy’s money. A lot more pretentious posers and more designer brand names that I had ever seen or heard of. It was still France, just a lot more French, and although a lot of people obviously think that this is better, Kimmi and I didn’t. We just thought it was different at best, but certainly not better.

They say that the bicycle is the queen of the queen of the road in France. Drivers will patiently sit behind you and wait before passing. They wait tirelessly and cautiously for any potential oncoming traffic. At times, if there is a blind turn in the road no less than 800m ahead, they will still patiently wait instead of using the enormous amount of space on the road to pass you with no risk to oncoming traffic or the bicycle. They are so patient and polite, it’s almost frustrating.

The coast road takes us straight into Italy, shortly after Monaco. “The driving is crazy in Italy!” Says Kimmi, while we are still somewhere in France. I’m sure it is. Maybe somewhere in Rome or in some of the other big cities. The views over the water are stunning. Cars are backed up five deep behind us as we roll over the hills and around the bends as drivers patiently sit and wait. The only beep of the horn comes with a smile and a wave, when the cars eventually overtake when super safe to do so.

The border into Italy comes with the remnants of an old passport and customs office. Aging and tired  signs that used to direct traffic into appropriate lanes of inspection still stand, but the area is deserted of any officials since the forming of the EU. It almost feels like the same country, if it wasn’t for the ‘welcome to Italy’ sign next to the flag.

Although a little sad to say goodbye to France, we have been looking forward to Italy so much. For example, I am now officially allowed to eat as much pizza as I like. And that, for me, is something to look forward to. And Italy is in our sights. I look ahead at the map and peruse the beach towns that lay before us. Ventimiglia, Bordighera, Ospadaletti. I haven’t heard of any of them. They don’t ring the same bells or trigger the same emotions as Canne or St Tropex, although they share the same waters and weather. How different can it really be? Why would somebody spend so much money for a hotel ‘in the most expensive real estate in the world’, when Italy is just around the corner?

We cross the ‘border’ and cycle no more than 100 meters to take a moment to gather our thoughts. The August heat beams as we re-apply sun screen. There is a shop across the road that also looks a little like a bar. Good place to refill the water bottles. I stand at the counter while no less than four people get served before me. That’s OK, because I want tap water and am happy to be polite and wait. Another three people get served. The attendant glances over as I try ‘Aqua? Per Favore?’ and show her the two empty plastic bottles in my hand. She looks at me like I just slapped her sister.

Italians stop pushing and start staring. I want to crawl into a hole. She snatches the bottles from my hand and fills them from the tap. I smile warmly but feel foolish. She slams them on the bench in front of me without any eye contact. ‘Grazie!’ I try and retrieve my awkward and cheap tourist status by a little local knowledge, yet I feel it only delves me deeper into embarrassment as my Australian accent ruins any linguistic authenticity. I take my water and get back on the bike.

We cycle another 150 meters, get beeped 11 times and almost get knocked twice. A car cuts Kimmi off and brakes to a screech before hitting another car. Both horns beep as the two men from their respective vehicles enter an Italian screaming match. Hands are going crazy!

I catch Kimmi’s glance and we smirk. We have crossed a political and imaginary line some 300 meters back, yet have entered a completely different world.

We love it!

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