Travel to France post ISIS attack in Paris is slightly different. The train station in Milan is business as usual, except for platform 16 to France which is lined with heavily armed Italian military men. When we cross the French border, three French police officers board our train and check our passports. They ask if I am a student. I say no. They move on.
The air is fresh and the streets of Nice are pretty busy when I exit the station. A young security man leaving work approaches me and offers to carry my backpack. I decline but he continues to talk to me anyway and he ends up walking me all the way to my hostel in the center of Old Nice. Of course, he invites me to dinner. I decline.
I do not want to make broad and generalizing statements, but it is pretty much a fact that dating in France is very different to dating in the States. French men are very forward, and will invite you out to dinner or for wine after minimal conversation. They also seem to love American women. One French girl I talked to said that this was because they think American women are easy. Hmm. Dating in France is a funny thing because the French don’t seem to really grasp the concept of dating. In France it is common to accept an invitation out for drinks or dinner without having to worry about hidden motives. If a French man just wants to sleep with you, he will tell you early on. I have literally been solicited by several French (and Italian.. And Moroccan) men while simply reading on a park bench or eating lunch by myself. At first, this was extremely disconcerting. Do they think I am a prostitute? Doubtful, as I am pretty much always dressed conservatively. From what I have gathered from the French friends that I have, they do not date around. Once you have exchanged a kiss with a French man, it’s pretty much assumed to be exclusive. Sex is not taboo here. There are naked men and women everywhere you look, in art, in Ads, in cinema.. It seems to make the act such a small part of dating that people here are much more concerned with the emotional part of Romance. Everywhere you look in France, there are people in love. From the young teenagers making out on the beach to the older couples that still hold hands as they stroll down the sidewalk. It’s actually really nice. Most Americans that I meet complain about all the PDA you will undoubtedly witness while in Europe, but I don’t mind. It is nice to be in a culture where people are not ashamed of their own emotions.
My hostel is a little on the sketchy side, but the staff is friendly and the bed is a bed.
The next morning I wake up and have the coffee, American-style bread, and jam provided by the hostel. I walk around Vieux Nice by the Palais Lacrais, the Palais du Justice, etcetera. I walk through the park and fountains in the city center. I have a glass of wine and an espresso by the Boulevard de Anglaise.
I love Nice.
I still stick to my statement that Italy is probably one of the most beautiful countries in the world. But I love France. It is beautiful in a different way, and I connect with the culture. I feel comfort being around the French after my time in Italy. It feels like coming home after a short and fun but hectic vacation.
The locals say they don’t like Nice in the Summertime. It is elbow to elbow tourists from June to September. I am glad I came during the off season. The temperature is on the chilly side but when the sun shines it can get really warm.
(I can’t believe it is November!)
My second night an American law student/ expat from Texas checks in to the bunk next to mine. He is a total gun loving frat boy, but he is also a democrat studying animal rights. He is interesting. We go out for a couple drinks and afterward we meet up with some of the hostel workers on the beach. We talk about NASA and space technology. At some point the hostel workers go to get more wine and a drunk teenager approaches us and starts talking to the Texan. The next thing I know, he is gone.
And so is my backpack.
No. This cannot happen. In London, Paris, and Rome I was so wary of pickpockets that I kept my passport etc on my person. But in Nice… I totally let my guard down.
I kept everything in my backpack.
All my money.
My bank card.
My Eurail ticket.
Oh my god. Why couldn’t it have been my phone? I have no proof of identity. I have no money. I don’t speak the language of the country that I am in. Suddenly, I feel as though I literally do not exist anymore.
My heart sinks and I admittedly completely lose my cool. I am past having a panic attack. I feel like I am going to have a heart attack. I go to the nearest police station. It is closed. I walk back to the hostel and look up other police stations. They are closed.
I walk back to the beach and search the dark pebbled shore with my phone’s flashlight. I cannot physically hold back tears any longer. I feel so helpless and foolish and overwhelmed. And I cry.
Then I call my mom and cry to her because I’m twenty five years old and I’ll call my mom if I want to.
She is much more level headed than I am and she tells me where the nearest embassy is and texts me my bank’s international number so that I can cancel my card.
At least my hostel is booked for one more nights so I’m not homeless…yet.
I cancel my card and get up prepared to walk back to my hostel.. Which I don’t have a key to anymore because, of course, it was in my bag.
Two young guys start yelling at me from the boardwalk. I am not in the mood to try to figure out what they are saying.
“Je ne parle pas français!” I yell back.
“Wait where you are!” They yell running towards the stairs to the beach.
This could potentially be a bad situation, but honestly they can’t mug me I don’t have anything to take. So I wait. They finally make it to me and ask me why I am crying. Great. This isn’t embarrassing at all. I tell them what happened and they help me search the beach. When it is painfully clear that my bag just isn’t there, they walk around with me looking for a police officer. I see a police car and I run up to it and knock on the window. There are three bored police officers inside. They look at me and drive away.
I almost forgot how much I liked police officers in France. We keep walking and we see three more talking by a corner. One of the guys I am with runs up and tells the officer in French about my bag. The officer looks at me and shrugs.
“Do you have a friend in Nice that you can stay with?”
“Umm..” He looks perplexed, “I guess you give me your number and we call you if we see your bag.”
I wrote my number down and a description of my bag. The police man spells my name wrong and tells me to get some rest.
“He will not call you,” one of the guys tells me as we walk away.
I know that he is right. He will not call me.
I tell my new friends thank you and get their what’s app info. I walk back to the beach and try to organize my thoughts. It’s two AM.
My passport is not my actual identity. It can be replaced.
..it can be replaced with money that I no longer have in Marsaille where the nearest embassy is..
Things like this happen all the time. It is not the end of the world. It will work out…
..But what if I have to go home! What about Spain, Morocco, and New Years with Jamie? I’m not ready to go home! This is so unfair..
It is hard to rationalize your way out of a pity party once it’s in full swing.
Eventually, I do go back to my hostel. I crawl into bed and start to drift off to sleep when my phone rings. It is a French number and I am not supposed to make phone calls abroad but I answer it.
“Salut! Rachelle? J’ai votre passeport..” They continue to speak in French. I do not understand most of what they are saying but I understand passport. Then they say another phrase I recognize: McDonalds. Perfect.
I throw on my coat and shoes. And literally run out of my hostel door and to the city center. I ask somewhere how to get to the beach. And I run down the main boulevard past all the Casinos to the McDonalds there.
There I meet five young French speaking people who have my bag. They explain that they found it in a garbage can nearby. I still do not know how they got my number.
But I eternally grateful that they called.
They said that they were on the way to Italy and that they had to leave now. I’m not sure how they were getting to Italy as it was past two in the morning and they were all pretty drunk..but that’s none of my business.
The point is I have my passport. I have my train ticket. I have everything except for my headphones, phone charger, and cash. I call my bank and try to un-cancel my card. I cannot.
So it looks like I will be in Nice until I can get a new one.
Which is funny because when I first arrived I thought, ” I could stay here forever.”
And now that I can’t leave I’m like..
“Get me the Hell out of Nice!”
A Plus Tard, Internet!
(Probably sooner than later actually considering that I will have plenty of time to blog this upcoming week..)