The mist of morning was evaporating from the surface of the earth, as I began to cross Northern Italy on my way to the port city of Marseille. I was crossing the all known plains and vineyards of Veneto, home to the infamous prossecco wine, with two bottles of it in my disposal, along with a small bottle of my beloved Limoncello liquor and some sun-dried tomatoes and slices of mortadella accompanying me on the way. Two hours later, having zipped by a lot of towns, cities and villages the pictures changed. I was seeing, again, an industrial area. I arrived at the central train station of Milan having a lot of time at my disposal, twenty minutes before my connection to Nice. Or so I thought. How wrong was I? The train was departing ten minutes early, and I found myself running across the station trying to make it there. In the end, I managed to climb aboard a non-decript train car, while the train was starting to move toward the exit of the station. It definitely felt a scene from some Hollywood action film, momentarily.
A few minutes later, I was securely seated in my compartment, next to a Chinese refugee. She was travelling to Paris, through Nice too. The background changed again, as our train was charging through the plains of Lombardy, racing towards the Italian side of the Alps. A few hours later the train was climbing the mountains, then, reaching Genoa. I managed to take a peek through the city, which looked like a nice coastal town where the old meets the modern, and tourism co-exists with industrial structures. To whatever extent this co-existence is harmonic, I am not really aware, though.
By the time I was through with those thoughts, we were passing through the borders at Ventimiglia.
At the next station, the French police entered the train for a passport inspection. While checking the Chinese refugee’s papers, they found that they where not issued by the Italian Police or the Ministry of the Interior, but by the Municipality of Milan. This meant, according to them, that they where not in order. So without further explanations they pulled her out of the train, so that they could ship her back to Italy with the next train. Huh! Some welcoming committee. They just did it without any hesitation. I can’t help but imagine what they could do if she was a youngster from any derelict metropolitan area. No wonder why the ghettos erupted the year before! As the next few minutes passed by I got to see parts of Monaco and the Cote’d’Azur, before I arrived at the station of Nice. For the next hour or so all I could do is wait for the next SNCF regional train to continue on to Marseille. To my surprise I entered an old TGV. This meant that although I was travelling on a local train (and thus, with my interrail pass, for free), I was zipping by the French countryside really fast. In this part of the journey I got a glimpse of the famed beaches of St Tropez. Then I saw a bit of Cannes, and then moved a bit further inland in Provence, only to emerge about an hour later in Marseille. The port city of France, which many lovers of French culture cherish, stood before me, ready to be explored