We'd planned a trip to Ventimiglia, which is in Italy. A work colleague had told me that it is only a 35-minute train ride from Nice, which is less time than it takes to get to either Toulon or Cannes. Why not take in a different country and a different culture when you get the opportunity. I could go to the border and be like Homer Simpson hopping in and out of the Australian embassy in America and so managing to be in two different countries in one step. Or one push.
No I couldn't. As we've established if you want to use a train in France as a wheelchair user you have to buy your ticket before you can organise the assistance you'll need. Or you may need. Sometimes the train is low enough to the platform to render the whole thing unnecessary, but that won't stop the staff fussing over you and insisting you wait for them to produce the ramp. So we buy a ticket only to be told by the man booking our assistance with us that we cannot travel to Ventimiglia. It's not surprising to learn that the station there has some access problems but it is rather more perplexing to find out that to overcome said problems you need to give the Italian rail services at least 48 hours notice before travelling if you are using a wheelchair. And there's me whining on and on about how bad the French service has been these last 12 days.
I can't fathom this. How is it possible in the 21st century for a service to be so ill equipped for disabled users that it takes a full two days to organise a solution? Frankly, it is a flagrant breach of our human rights. Which may sound dramatic to you but then you take this sort of thing for granted. Naively, I had thought that Italy might be subject to the European laws which have done so much to improve access in the UK. Apparently not. Quite where this will leave us if Tory Theresa implements Brexit I just don't know. Probably back to the days of my childhood when I couldn't do something as routine as going to the cinema. Still, at least we won't have as many of those foreigners, coming over here performing life saving surgery and what not.
When you meet with outrageous injustices like this on holiday, where you have a limited amount of time in which to make the most of things, you have to be prepared to let it go pretty quickly. We had another option, after all. If Ventimiglia was off the table then we would go to Antibes, another of this area's beautiful port towns. A return ticket to Antibes is a little cheaper than one to Ventimiglia (€18 as opposed to €31), so we are taken through to the ticket office and given a refund of the difference between the two as well as our tickets to Antibes.
After the traditional French lunch of cheese and ham baguettes we stroll around the narrow, cobbled streets where I miraculously avoid vacating my seat. I don't get on so well with cobbles. I don't think many wheelchair users do. I have landed face first in both Stratford and Bath to name but two, probably York as well now I think about it. And Swansea, although that was less due to cobbled streets than it was to trying to stop too quickly while carrying a huge overnight bag on my knee. I had the strap wrapped around my back and so when I started my inevitable descent towards the tarmac the bag came with me. At least it cushioned my landing a bit.
The sea front at Antibes is spectacular. If we are being picky then the wall around it is a little too high for someone of my height to get the very best out of the experience. But there are enough points where the wall is low enough to that you can see out to sea, and to the stunning landscape around the port. On the way you pass through the impressive marina, which looks a little something like this;
Like most places in the south of France that we have visited Antibes has its share of hills. At the top of one is the cathedral. Unfortunately it is not accessible but as I've said before if a building's main selling point is its history then I don't have any real problems with this. As an atheist I'm not that enamoured with churches, but where there is access I would usually have a look around because I enjoy the history and the architecture. I felt the same way about the palace in Monaco and Buckingham Palace during our trip to London last year. Sack them all and keep their castles and palaces for tourists I say.
Emma goes in to have a look around which is unusual for her. Usually she doesn't bother going anywhere that doesn't have access for me but as cathedrals go it is a relatively small one. A look around shouldn't take that long. I wait outside and take a few photographs and 10 minutes or so later the doors to the cathedral close. There's obviously someone inside trying to prise them open again to get out but they are locked. The thought crosses my mind that Emma is now stuck in the cathedral for the rest of the day and that we are going to have to spend the rest of our time in Antibes waiting for some kind of emergency service to turn up and free her. Just then, a group of people start funnelling out of a side door, and at the back of the group is Emma. She thinks they must be closing up. It's obviously not just my kind that they don't want in there.
After the cathedral we turn down another cobbled street towards the shops. Our path is blocked by a car but before I can manoeuvre my way into position the lady in the driver's seat gets out and says something to us in French. Our looks could not have been any more blank had they been a question on Blankety Blank. She realises, and then repeats it to us in the perfect English of someone born and bred in the UK. I can't even remember what she asked now, something about whether the car was ok where it was (which it wasn't, not really). She is however very helpful in helping direct us back to the square where we had lunch so that we can visit a tasty looking ice cream place we had noticed earlier. It's still above 30 degrees so a bit of ice cream would go down a treat at this point.
We make our way down the cobbled street back towards the square. Suddenly Emma stops in her tracks and makes a face like she has just eaten a Fisherman's Friend. She doesn't speak, instead just pointing to something near the wall. At first I don't see it, but then, metaphorically speaking, it whacks me right across the chops. There, doing not much of anything to the point where you might wonder what possible reason there could be for its existence, is a large, bright red beetle-like creature. I can't tell you exactly what it is but it looks like the sort of thing you don't want to be getting all that close to. Its colouring seems to serve as a clear warning. If this thing bit you or something you could very well start foaming at the mouth before all of your main organs start oozing out of your orifices. Take a look, it's not pretty. Click on it and enjoy...;
It all reminds me of when I was in Australia in 1993. I was out there for 10 days with the Great Britain Under-18s wheelchair basketball team. We were taking part in the Australian national junior championships. Junior wheelchair basketball has come a long way since then. There's World and European championships at under-23 level now. I'm just about young enough to have been involved in the first World event in Toronto in 1997. It was the beginning and the end of my Paralympic ambitions as I am sure I will mention 438 times on these pages once the Rio Paralympics get underway next week. Back to Australia, where bright red, often luminous and ominous creatures regularly fastened themselves to walls, lying there perfectly still yet somehow remaining demonstrably threatening. Emma has a friend at work who has an interest in insects and various other things that can kill you as soon as look at you, but he is yet to come up with an identification for this unattractive grub. If you have any knowledge on the subject please feel free to get in touch and let me know what you think it might be.
The ice cream parlour was lovely, thanks for asking, except for a noisy American family on the table behind us droning on and on about the various amounts of tat they had purchased from the many shops which line the streets. Yet if you can shut the world out then it's a pretty idyllic spot to pass the time just watching the world go by. Nowhere on Earth seems so peaceful despite the recent troubles in France.
Back in Nice the evening's entertainment is at a bar named De Klop. This may sound like someone who played right-back for Liverpool under Rafa Benitez, or a Dutch relative of their current manager, but is actually quite a nice looking if small bar off a side-street in the centre of Nice by the main square. Our Tahitian friend from Akathor had tipped us off that he would be playing here tonight, so faced with that prospect versus taking our chances at Akathor again we decided to plump for De Klop. We knew what we were going to get. He has a different playing partner tonight, a guitarist as opposed to the percussionist who joined him on Monday but the music is still hugely enjoyable. A waitress helpfully visits our table at regular intervals to make sure we are topped up on lager and cocktails. With our flight home not scheduled until 7.20 the following evening we are able to stay long into the night and enjoy the merriment on our last night in France. It seems a fitting way to end a fantastic 12 days that, while it has not been without its difficulties and problems, has been extremely memorable.
Left: The Tahitian musician and his bandmate entertaining the drunks.....