Originally posted May 29, 2013.
Debbie and I split our twice-a-year European research trips into three parts, including a front-end and back-end centered in Paris and a mid trip destination that in the past has included Switzerland, where I tried to open a Swiss bank account and was promptly shown the door. Swiss banking doors, thanks to our government, are no longer as regular course open to Americans.
Among other mid-trip destinations have been the D-Day beaches in Normandy (my previous posts point you to the historian you want as your guide), Beaune (Burgundy’s must-visit wine capital), Avignon, and Aix-en-Provence. This year our mid-trip stop was the Cote d’Azur. We took the high-speed TGV from Paris to Nice, where we were met by our car/driver service. Flying into Nice is also an option.
Get your printed copy, first class TGV tickets in advance of your trip, which eliminates the need to validate your tickets at the little yellow validation machines. I have previously advised that you want to travel like a Navy SEAL, rather than as if you are on safari. Two decades of Harley riding have taught us to pack light with wick-away clothing in the many wonderful fabrics available today. We do not check luggage. Tumi has worked well for us, but there also are many new super-light Polycarp spinner bags with options for smaller, under-the-seat-size soft bags that slip over the retractable handle of your roller bag. So equipped, you can roll through airport and rail stations. No steamer trunks for you. Trust me on the packing issue. If you attempt to heft your NFL duffle bags or Louis Vuitton monsters onto the TGV, you are in for a gang of headaches.
A word on boarding the TGV: be certain to get on the correct coach. Show up well in advance so as soon as your track number is posted (check for the correct track and platform), you can arrive first on the scene. If you are late or get on the wrong car, you’ll soon know why I warned you against such travel travesty. I’ve seen many the poor soul who has gotten on the wrong car and had to fight against the flow of boarding traffic to retreat and re-group. Racks for luggage are usually provided at both the front and rear of your first class coach. Take your soft bag to your seat or on the racks above. We were quite happy for having brought along a delicious jambon iberique on a ficelle aux raisins de Corinthe from Bread and Roses (more on Bread and Roses here) in the 6th. I speak clutch-and-grab food/wine French and can struggle through menus, but it can be a challenge dealing with the often French-only-speaking harried food vendors.
There is direct train service to Nice and no need to get routed through the industrial city of Marseille. Advance planning and attention to detail will put a smile on your face. And unlike in the U.S., the French high-speed TGV is likely to leave on time. Engaging in a last minute sprint is not what you want, especially if dragging your steamer trunk behind you.
We were able to hire southern France’s primo car/driver service, AKKA Limousine. Security of travel is the name of the game with AKKA. Driver Luc spent decades in Monaco’s military protecting the royal family. He moves through Monaco with aplomb and can get you places you’d never see on your own. Luc was recently voted one of France’s five best drivers for a wide array of reasons that you will quickly recognize shortly after you meet him. Whether you are travelling to Marseille, St. Tropez, Cannes, Antibes, Nice, Monaco or San Remo, you should hire AKKA to help you get around. We also worked with young AKKA driver Gabby who grew up in Nice and worked miracles getting us into little hill town cafes for real Provincial fare.