The way does not take us as long as we have thought when we decided to get up that early; 07.00 finds us discovering who's got our cheap tickets: a giant bunch of kids besieges the boarding platform. When the bulkheads open eventually we let the gang jostle aboard first and don't get up before it's necessary. Although we have the good tickets and access to the associated areas is being controlled at the beginning of the journey (so two seats would surely be ours) we head for the deck where I even get a bit of shuteye lying on a bench - until rain forces us inside. When we've finally found two adjoining seats (of the Pullman type) in the first class area (all other areas are overcrowded) we learn that the first class excels by myriads of kids playing hide and seek here and nowhere else on the ship and blubbering in perfect cacophony, whilst in the second class area the tired rucksack tourists are asleep in total quietness. I really curse the SNCM for that. And even more, the buffet is closed as I have to find out when looking for a stimulating drink after the fruitless attempt to sleep a bit, and the one situated next to where we would be with the cheaper tickets is opened.
So I bring myself to go there and have myself a cup of tea. But "thé" is a substance that's not known to the ship's crew, and the "café au lait" (coffee with milk) that's being served in some kind of plastic soup tureen tastes not less than guts-strangling awful, but then the crisps that I purchase, too, taste like lots of nothing for compensation. Woefully I remember the passages aboard Scottish ferries last year with fab service, smashing tea, many sorts of crisps, lots of silence, and friendly, multi-lingual staff that you could (not must) address in French. There is even no need for the crew to repeat safety announcements in English. You won't find your life-jacket in case of an emergency if you don't divine what "brassière de sauvetage" means, although there are signs written in both French and English, but they don't tell you where to look for them. The places where the life-jackets are hidden from the public don't have ideograms on them, not to speak of multi-lingual inscriptions. Ah yes, the vessel's called "Esterel"; avoid it like the plague if you can.
We arrive in Nice by 14.00 just three quarters of an hour late, to find out that it's raining at the famous Côte d'Azur. We walk from the Old Harbor along the Promenade des Anglais, the beach promenade, to the town centre where we head for the Gare SNCF (the train station) from where our train departs at 20.20. The information office is well-organized: you draw a ticket with a number on it that sooner or later shows up above one of the counters where you're being counselled (or rather instructed) then. We have "Billets de Séjour" from Marseille to Saarbrücken, and someone at the station of Saarbrücken as well as the guy at the travel agency have told us that it's possible to transcribe them to Nice preserving the 25% discount by paying the price difference. But the gal behind the desk has the need of telling us all the time in French and quite understandable English that if we want to go from Nice to Marseille because we have a ticket that's valid from Marseille to Saarbrücken we'll have to purchase another ticket from Nice to Marseille. I really have to struggle just to keep my self-control as far as not to tell her that she's not facing complete idiots. But after three linguistically correct attempts (Thomas's French and especially my English aren't that bad) to make clear to her what we want and three times "non, ... blah blah blah ... ticket de Nice à Marseille" without any explanation if we have been mislead or not by the guys at home we give up completely enervated. At least she accepts a Eurocheque without grumbling. 142 FF p.p. less.
Nizza; a park near the Promenade des Anglais
Being a bit on the rocks we buy baguettes and tinned meat at a cheap supermarket and have our sumptuous lunch on a bench next to a highly frequented street, lead poisoning included. Afterwards we walk the town eating a bit here, watching a bit there, and Nice really is a city where you can spend some hours. By 20.15 we board our train, and we happen to have exactly the same compartment in the same car as on our way from Saarbrücken to Marseille!
At some time a French married couple shows up and throws their weight around with the comment that they'd booked seats here (they haven't) and that this is car Nº 121 (it's not, it's 112), but they make themselves scarce again pretty soon after they've found out all by themselves that this is neither a couchette nor a sleeping-car; they're constantly mumbling something like "waggon lits". Well, it's really not easy with all these through coaches and all these numbers on the tickets. Besides, compartment seats are never booked in the order they claimed to have them, I'm pretty sure about that.
Except for this little intrusion we have the compartment for ourselves throughout the whole night, that means a couch of three seats for each, and we sleep as well as you would expect despite of two short interruptions at 23.30 and 05.00: right, ticket inspection.