It was July 13th, which for those who are unfamiliar with their French history, is the day before the national Bastille Day celebrations. The 14th is a major national holiday, during which many shops and most offices are closed, allowing French workers to take the day off. Because of this the evening of the 13th is often reserved for celebrations, parties and the like. In the Cote D'Azur in 2011, the celebrations were to take place in two separate stages. On the day itself, there would be a huge fireworks display on the Promenade Des Anglais, and, on the 13th, there would be something similar – albeit on a smaller scale – in the town of Cagnes Sur Mer just a few kilometres along the coats.
As we were both off work the next day, and as it was my first Bastille Day in France, my girlfriend and I decided to sample both celebrations. This mean that on the evening of the 13th, after I finished work, we needed to make our way to Cagnes. I had already passed through Cagnes several times on my way to Grasse (a town in the foothills of the Alps). So, I knew that we could reach Cagnes on the 500/200 buses. Both operated between Nice, Cagnes and beyond – the 200 goes to Cannes and the 500 to Grasse. They are both very reasonably priced with the journey costing just one Euro. However, the downside to the bus is the time it takes. The journey to Cagnes should take around 40 minutes, but often takes longer because of traffic. An extremely prescient concern on the 13th as there would be a huge amount of holiday traffic. Therefore, my girlfriend suggested that we take the train.
There are three stations in Nice. St Agustine in the west is close to the airport and the western districts of the city, such as Fabron. Riquier is in the east of the city and is closer to the port area. However, by far the biggest and most accessible is Nice Ville, which is situated in the centre of town close to Avenue Jean Medecin.
Trains run in the direction of Cagnes Sur Mer – continuing on towards Grasse and Cannes – every twenty minutes or so during the day and every 30 minutes during the evening. The last one departs at just after nine o'clock. Curiously, trains coming in the other direction operate much longer into the night, with the last one arriving in Nice after 1a.m. The fare is a very reasonable 2.70 in one direction. There are also several types of reductions such as those for elderly people and for students – these tickets usually cost 2.10 Euros. Buying tickets is a relatively simple process. However, it can at first be a little intimidating. There are very few actual ticket desks. Instead, there are scores of machines that accept coins or credit cards (they are safe and secure). The screen is clear and easy to use – there is also an English option – so you become familiar with it, it really is very simple.
We took the 9 o'clock train. As it was the eve of a national holiday it was very busy. Although, I am told that the line is very popular and trains are often crowded at peak times with commuters heading into and out of Nice. Thankfully, though, we were able to find seats and the journey was very comfortable. The trains are modern double-decker affairs with plenty of seating and separate 'quiet' sections for those who do not wish to be disturbed my the noise from mobile phones. The journey to Cagnes took just over 20minutes.
After enjoying a nice meal and watching a rather underwhelming firework display on the Cagnes Promenade, we headed back to the station to catch the 11.36 train. The station was completely closed. So, we again opted for ticket machines to buy tickets. The whole place was deserted, which made me feel rather nervous as I began to ponder if the timetable was 100% accurate – perhaps the trains stopped around 9 o'clock in both directions? However, to my relief the train arrived bang on time at 11.36 and was almost deserted.