Planes, trains and autos make for big adventure

by Brian Clarey

Now, maybe this was my first time in Europe, but I’m not exactly a rube here. I mean, I’ve traveled fairly extensively throughout the US, and when my wife was a flight attendant I got on an airplane more or less every month. Plus I’ve had as much travel advice as the husband of a former flight attendant can absorb. So I knew I’d have to set out early to get to the Nice airport from my rented villa in le Cannet, up in the hills above Cannes, even if I was to just jump in a cab. Which I wasn’t planning on doing. The No. 10 bus line ran past my stop at 6:48 a.m., and I was standing there in the same clothes I was in the night before with my luggage stacked on the roller and leaning against my thigh. I got a few odd glances from these morning people setting out for work or school, but the luggage at my feet blocking the aisle told the tale. The bus took about 15 minutes to wind its way down into Cannes, where it deposited me at the terminal. I had taken a bus into Cannes from the Nice airport when I landed, a comfortable shuttle that ran about 15, which is awfully close to 30 American dollars. During my stay I learned that there existed a 1 local bus to the airport, and also a train that cost less than 5. I had been hoping to make the 7 a.m. train to Nice, but I figured I could still catch the 8 a.m. train and get there in plenty of time to make my 11 a.m. flight. I had been told the train ride took about 15 minutes. I also had been warned, it seems in hindsight, about the possibility of an impending French rail strike. But quite frankly, I had not been paying much attention to the news in Cannes all week. As I purchased my rail ticket, the pretty young woman behind the glass helped me understand that there was indeed a rail strike scheduled for that morning, and that the only train going out would leave the station a 9 a.m. Believe it or not, I still felt pretty lucky: If things went as planned I would get into Nice at 9:15 a.m. in plenty of time to make my flight. But just in case, I inquired about the services of a taxicab. I was told that a ride to the Nice airport would run 85, which is roughly 1,000 American dollars. There was just no way. So I humped it down to the platform and sat with a couple from Mississippi, here enjoying a retirement vacation, who relayed how they had trouble understanding how children from such fine, wealthy families could get into so much trouble. And the train rolled on… 10, 20, 30 minutes. Because it was essentially the only train that would run until some time after 2 p.m., there were a lot of people on it and it made a lot of stops. It was nearly 10 a.m. when I stepped off the train, and I could see the airport tower perhaps a mile in the distance. Too far to walk – I had procured about 20 minutes’ worth of sleep – I requisitioned another cab at the train station which brought me to the airport – at a cost of 15 – at 10:15 a.m. Which was too late, as it turned out, to make my flight. The woman at the Delta counter, a hard Germanic beauty, was more than condescending. “Next time maybe you get an early start?” she suggested. I heard her use the word “Yankee” while she was on the phone arranging my new itinerary. And she didn’t seem particularly vexed when she informed me that I would have to stay another night in Cannes. “No way,” I said. For $100 she rerouted me. So I hopped a flight to Paris, where I ran – ran – through the airport to make my connection to Montreal. I finally caught some sleep, but I woke up to eat – the food on Air France is magnificent. And then in Montreal, the scheduled departure time for my connecting flight to Newark, NJ passed while I was standing in a customs line. I moped to the Delta counter believing I was going to spend the night in the Montreal airport, sleeping on the ground. But behold! My flight to Newark had been delayed. I had 30 minutes to obtain a boarding pass, clear US customs, pass a security checkpoint and find my gate. I made it with more than five minutes to spare. From Newark I went to my parents’ house on Long Island, where I slept in an actual bed. I took a direct from LaGuardia to PTI, landing just 10 hours later than originally scheduled. So it all worked out pretty well, though I burned a lot of adrenaline and euros. My friend Dusty, meanwhile, after being unable to get to the Nice airport in time for his flight due to the strike, got an apology from British Airways, a 50 meal stipend and a free room in Manhattan where he slept in a drunken stupor before his connecting flight. I don’t know if there is a lesson to this story, but next time I’m just going to suck it up and take the cab. To comment on this story, e-mail Brian Clarey at