Today the jet lag is fading. Henry Warner was up about 6:30 AM and Dawn around 7:00. Our plan for today was to head into Nice. For non-French speakers, Nice is pronounced as in “niece”.
After breakfast, we hiked up town (literally up the hill) quite a distance to the nearest inter-city bus stop. We learned that we could take either the #100 or #81 bus into Nice. Since the first one that passed by our stop was the #100, we hopped on that one. It let us off near the Port of Nice. From there, we separated. Rich and Henry Warner went looking for a bicycle rental shop and the ladies headed for the colorful, picturesque and fragrant Marché aux Fleurs (Flower Market).
Rich and Henry Warner, without too much trouble, found La Roue Libre – which is a decently equipped bike shop. After a lengthy conversation with Gerome, we satisfied ourselves that it would be relatively straightforward to rent a couple of French street bikes for €25 per day each. We then headed towards the flower market along the Promenade des Anglais, which is a huge boardwalk-type paved pathway separating the town from the beach.
We connected with Jill and Dawn in the flower market, wandered around the various stands and booths for a while, then decided it was time for lunch. Henry Warner had his sights set on a Salade Niçoise and we found an open-air restaurant offering it for a reasonable price. But in checking out the menu, we noticed that they did not offer the customary pitcher of house wine. The only choice was to buy wine by the 750 ml bottle and the lowest price offering was €19 for a bottle of rosé. Considering that the average 0.75 liter bottle of rosé sells for about €5 locally, we decided to move on. A few steps further along we found another restaurant offering a 1 liter pitcher of rosé for €12. Much more reasonable! Three of us ordered the Salade Niçoise, which was delicious (in my opinion), while Jill ordered the goat cheese salad. All-in-all, a delightful open air French lunch.
While lunch was pleasant, the afternoon quickly deteriorated. Jill and Henry Warner had purchased SNCF train tickets last April over the internet for a one-day trip this Sunday to meet up with Jean François Girardot and his wife Sophie. I have been talking with Jean François for the past three years on a fairly consistent basis via Skype. He, to improve his English and me, to improve my French. Up until now, though, we have not met in person.
We went to the train station in Nice to retrieve our tickets. This is where today’s story turns ugly. At the time I purchased the tickets, I was advised that in order to redeem the tickets, I would need to present the actual card I had used to charge the tickets on the internet. OK, fair enough. However, between the time I made the purchase in April and the time we left for France, USAA had sent us new, replacement cards. The new cards are Visa chip and signature, whereas the previous cards were old style magnetic stripe Mastercards.
So I knew we had a problem, but I wrongly assumed that all I would have to do was show up at the train station, present my confirmation number and ID, then explain the new card replacement situation and all would be well. Wrong! No original charge card – no tickee. That simple. The only choice we were given was to cancel our original trip reservations, purchase new tickets, then apply online for a refund of the original tickets. To rub a bit more salt into the wound, not only did the price of the new tickets go up by €50, but we had to take a later return trip, as one of the return legs was now full. I argued that since we had not yet cancelled our original tickets, the seats obviously had to be still available, because they were reserved for us! No joy, however. Talk about an over-engineered system! In the US, I can show up at the airport with a confirmation code and my passport and be on my way to a foreign country. In France, my confirmation code, email to my iPhone and passport are not enough. I also need the the exact card used to charge the transaction. Surely this system must be an issue for more than one advance-purchase ticket buyer!
Well, at least that ordeal was over. Or so I thought. When we got back to the apartment, I logged in with my original confirmation notice to cancel the unusable trip to get my refund, as promised by the SNCF agent. Guess what? There was an additional €50 penalty, as a portion of the original booking had been non-refundable. So the bottom line for having USAA issue us new (and un-asked-for) charge cards, was a whopping €100 penalty, or about $111.00. Ouch! We intend to complain to USAA, but I can probably safely predict that we have the proverbial chances of slim and none of recovering anything from them.
But all’s well that ends well. We had a pleasant train ride back to Villefranche-sur-mer and returned to the apartment in time to watch the end of the 4th stage of the Tour de France. Jill and Dawn made a fabulous chicken piccata, roasted potatoes and green salad dinner. We wound down after the meal enjoying each others company and watching a French-narrated documentary about penguins and other exotic, non-French animals. So, all-in-all, today was indeed nice!