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Wintering in the Riviera By William Miller Characters: 30956

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Selecting the route to Paris by Folkestone, we left London on the afternoon of 1st November 1876, and slept at Folkestone. The steamboat was to sail the following morning at 9.15, and to have proceeded direct would have involved leaving London at the inconveniently early hour of 7.10 A.M. The train by Dover and Calais departs fixedly at 7.40 A.M., so that one is not much better off by taking that route. But on proceeding by Boulogne, there is a chance that the state of the tide may throw the time of sailing to a later hour; only when this is the case, it involves arriving at the journey's end late in the evening. The train in connection with the boat by which we were to sail, was due in Paris at 4.40 afternoon-a nice time at which to arrive.

One does not get a chance of observing whether there be any attractions about Folkestone by just sleeping a night there. It may be a very Paradise upon earth; and, from its facilities for popping over to France, to its residents it probably is. One cannot say, but it does not look like it. Possibly the quarter to which summer visitors resort may be more inviting than the portion disclosed at the harbour. Anyhow, it seems a less dreary, out-of-the-world place than Newhaven. But Britannia rebels a little at her children quitting their native land to get enamoured with strange countries, and frowns upon their departure; for these nights before crossing are by no means pleasurable. One is brought into rather close proximity to the dreaded passage; and if the wind should howl or be even but moderately fresh, or if the sea, unwitting of its gigantean power, be only sporting in joyous freedom, the prospect for the morrow is far from assuring. Then it is a busy, bustling, uncomfortable scene at the hotel. Piles of luggage strew the hall. Apprehensive passengers are arriving by successive trains, and others in a woe-begone condition, and in all sorts and manners of wraps and disguises, by the boats. They are dining, teaing, suppering in a confused disagreeable way in the coffee-room. Anxious waiters and active chamber-maids are hurrying about. Porters meet you in narrow corners laden with luggage. There is nothing to invite you to remain in the public room. There is nothing to induce you to venture long out of doors. People depart early to bed. But the search for petty utilities by the feeble light of candle, the cramped bedroom, the cheerless difference from home, produce a feeling of discomfort which, combined with the early retirement, the noise and tramping about the corridors, the creaking of ships' gearing dimly heard, and the thoughts arising,-which have little in them of the land of promise and more of the morn,-all keep the pilgrim long restless upon bed; and, after an unrefreshing night of broken sleep, he is glad to get up betimes for an early breakfast, call, with twenty others simultaneously, for the bill, settle it up quick if correct, and, after an impatient waiting for his goods, which seem never likely to make their appearance, and seeing that every little thing is brought along, to be off to the steamboat; for nobody stays, unless in exceptional circumstances, such as pending a storm, more than a night. After a little, the train arrives, and an endless procession of unassorted passengers moves slowly on board; the luggage and merchandise brought by it tediously follow. At last the gangway is dragged ashore, the vessel is released, and, after the usual backings and easings and tender movements, it tardily steams out of harbour, increases its speed, and we sit looking on the land, the return to which may be in the far future; and, thinking much of dear friends from whom we have parted, we gradually, as the distance widens, lose sight of Old England, and passing here and there a gallant ship, with its snowy sails catching, fortunately for us, but a gentle balmy breeze, we near the other-once hostile, now friendly-shore, and landing find ourselves among a foreign race, and gazing upon foreign habitations, and soon encountering foreign customs and institutions.

We made the mistake of registering our luggage at London when we left London, instead of taking it on with us to Folkestone and registering it there for Paris. The consequence was that, on arrival of the train at Paris, we were compelled to wait nearly an hour at the station, which was cold, dark, and drafty, until all the luggage which had come by the train by which we had arrived had been arranged, examined by the douaniers, and delivered to their owners. We disconsolately saw our luggage standing within a barred enclosure, but the men would on no account touch it till then, and no doubt where thieves abound some precaution of this kind is needful.

We had repeatedly visited Paris before, but in one respect it was new to us-to see it in its wintry aspect. On former occasions, we had visited it in the sunshine of summer. But how changed did it look now! The trees were yellow with the tints of autumn, and were nearly stripped of their foliage. The air was cold and frosty, and Paris looked bleak and miserable. We spent one or two days in it; and one of the places to which we paid a visit was beyond the range of ordinary sight-seeing. The daughters of some Edinburgh friends were at a large boarding-school in Paris, in the Faubourg d'Auteuil. We drove there to see them, and after some search discovered the establishment, the name of which, 'Une Institution des Demoiselles,' was painted up in letters a yard high. It had quite a conventual aspect. The house was entered through a narrow little door, hinged on a panel of a large one (just like what one sees in the large door of a prison), which, upon ringing the bell, was opened by a pull from the opposite side of the court-yard, around which the buildings of the school were placed. Crossing to the dwelling-house, we were shown into a parlour, where our young friends shortly came to us. They were all habited in black, with a red leather belt, being the uniform compulsory on all the pupils while in school. They informed us there were 150 boarders, of whom only 17 were English. Having introduced us to one of the governesses, this lady very kindly showed us all over the place. Ranges of large rooms were occupied as bedrooms, containing a separate bed for each of the young ladies-all kept in the highest order, and in white, spotless purity. Separate adjoining rooms were fitted up as lavatories. Other rooms were schoolrooms; others, dining-rooms, or salles à manger, where the young people were then at lunch or early dinner, and evidently enjoying a hearty meal. A separate building was kept as an infirmary for the sick-a very prudent arrangement, where so many young persons were brought together. For those who were in good health, there was a large garden and playground attached to the house.

On Monday, 6th November, having taken Gaze's tickets from London to Nice, we left Paris by the Lyons Railway, registering our heavy luggage for Cannes; and we were free to travel to any station on the line to Cannes, at which our tickets permitted us to stop, only taking with us what we would require for a week by the way. Some people prefer making the journey from Paris to Cannes, Nice, or Mentone without break, and say there is less fatigue in doing so; but it is a long journey, occupying from Paris to Mentone-journeying by the express leaving at 11.20 A.M.-twenty-eight hours, arriving at Mentone at 3.24 next day. For invalids in a feeble condition, it is in some respects preferable. It is only one fatigue to be overcome, and it avoids the risk of exposure to damp or rain. In cold, winter weather at Paris, the one journey is certainly preferable, and at the end of it people arrive in what is by contrast a genial summer. So proceeding, passengers have, besides other shorter stoppages, an interval of half an hour at Dijon, at 5.45 p.m., to dine; 25 minutes at Lyons, at 10.18 p.m.; and the following morning, at 6.30 A.M., 1 hour 25 minutes at Marseilles to wash and breakfast.

We desired to take the journey leisurely, and to see a little by the way. After the usual difficulty on French railways of getting accommodation in the train, we proceeded as far as Dijon. There is little to interest one by the route. Fontainebleau, at which the express trains do not stop, is passed soon after leaving Paris, but is nearly two miles from the station. Its palace with its gardens is really the only thing worth seeing, but to see them involves spending a day at the town. If not pushed for time, they are, however, well worthy of a visit. We stopped a night on our way home to see them. The palace is extensive, consisting of four distinct but united chateaux, erected at different times, with splendid suites of rooms full of historical interest. The forest, which covers 25,000 acres, is disappointing. The charges at the hotel to which we went, were as high as those of any in Paris.

We rested the first night at Dijon, a convenient halting-place. The Hotel du Jura is near to the railway station, and is most comfortable. The landlord of it is attentive, and his charges moderate. Dijon was the former residence of the Dukes of Burgundy, and is a curious old place, well worthy of a visit for a day or two days. People often break their journey at Dijon merely to sleep there, but, arriving at night and departing next morning, do not always visit the town. A forenoon may be very profitably spent in walking about its promenades and its streets, with houses adorned by quaint carvings and architecture, and seeing its large, massively-built churches, particularly St. Michael and St. Benigne, and its interesting old public buildings. On the card of the hotel there is a little plan of the town, in which the Place Grande is shown about its centre. Here there is a large edifice which was formerly the palace of the Dukes of Burgundy, now the Hotel de Ville, one part of which has been converted into a museum and picture gallery, the most interesting portion being the old banqueting hall of the dukes, with its colossal chimney-piece and its monuments, carrying one away back to the times of boisterous mirth and probably lawless deeds.

Dijon stands high, and the weather being cold on our journey south, we were glad of fires. We considered we had made a mistake in travelling so late in the season. Had we started about the middle of October, it would have been better. The fact is, the larger part of the people going for health to the Riviera make the grievous mistake of delaying their departure till winter has commenced. Many, indeed, do not come to the Riviera till the month of January, in order to enjoy the gratification-dearly purchased, in some cases-of a Christmas at home. By doing so, they are obliged to travel through France during a season when the weather is often piercingly chill, while they are exposed in crossing the Channel to the risk of encountering winter storms.

We proceeded next day to Lyons, passing through a rich wine country, in the midst of which Macon lies, where, at the station, on high days and holidays, the women may be seen wearing a witch-like hat of peculiar build. The cycle of fashion will no doubt in due course make the whole world acquainted with it, till which time the world may wait and wonder. It may require some fortitude to don this sweet marvel of a bonnet for the first time. But what observation will not the ladies brave to follow their leader in fashion!

At Lyons it was keenly cold. There is not much to be seen at the ancient city, situated on the banks of the Rhone and Saone, which effect their junction just below it. The railway journey from Dijon occupies five or six hours, according to the trains. We arrived in the dark, and drove to the Hotel Collet, one of the best in the place. It is situated in the main street, which may be said to be the only good street of shops, formerly called the Rue Napoleon, and now since the Republic, which changes even the names of streets, the Rue Nationale. On entering the large hall, round which were distributed palm trees and other tropical plants in tubs and pots, we had the first suggestion of approaching a southern clime.

Lyons is populous without being lively, and stately without being imposing. We took a close carriage next morning, and drove about for nearly four hours to see what could be seen-almost the whole of which time was occupied in visiting the junction of the rivers and ascending Fourvières, a steep hill on the right bank of the Saone, from which an extensive panoramic view is in clear weather obtained, and Mont Blanc, about 130 miles distant, is sometimes seen-its visibility being a circumstance symptomatic of approaching wet weather, as we found did happen on a subsequent occasion, when the white mountain was seen as we were nearing Lyons from Geneva. Lyons at this season was looking very dreary, and the cold necessitated our burning fires in the bedrooms. On a former visit, in summer, the heat had been almost unendurable. In the evening of the second day, we found the large central hall of the hotel-which was lighted from the roof, and afforded access by encircling corridors and concealed stairs to the different floors-was covered in by an awning, and the salle à manger was laid for a magnificent dinner. It turned out that the principal rooms were engaged for a wedding party (noces), the ordinary guests being conducted to other rooms. It was, however, a very quiet, solemn-looking affair; although the number assembled was large, they made no noisy demonstrations. At breakfast-time next morning the waiters seemed but half aroused.

We left Lyons by train at 11 o'clock forenoon. Our through tickets required to be vise'd at the booking-office before they would admit us to the salle-d'attente. The route from Lyons southward is very interesting. The railway skirts the Rhone nearly the whole way. The river has been said to vary in width from a quarter of a mile to two miles, although from the railway it does not appear to be so wide. In the sunshine everything looked beautiful. The farther south we got, the foliage became fresher, and it was very charming to see the river rolling softly on, fringed by trees, and through valleys, from which rise the vine-clad hills. We passed the C?tes d'Or, and other regions, where the famous Burgundy wines are grown. Some of the mountain ranges are lofty. We thought how much more beautiful would the river appear during summer months, and our wish as regards time was actually fulfilled the following September; but, alas! it was then obscured by clouds and rain.

The railway to Marseilles passes several interesting places, and among others, the towns of Orange, Avignon, and Arles, which all contain relics of Roman occupation. On occasion of our going south in September 1877, we stopped at Avignon, which is 230 kilometres, or about 140 miles, from Lyons,[16] the train taking about six hours. When one can manage it, Avignon is a place well worth stopping to see. Leaving the station, we drove through some narrow dirty streets till we reached the Hotel de l'Europe, the situation of which is not at first inviting; but it is considered the best hotel, and our rooms were very comfortable. It was kept by a young landlady, who spoke English, and was very attentive. On the following morning we took a cab to drive about and see the town, and, inter alia, saw

the Calvi Museum, which contains many paintings, some of which are good, and a large collection of coins and books. Then we went to the cathedral, which is well worth a visit. Here are the tombs of several popes. The construction of the gallery of the church is peculiar. I desired to have a photograph of the interior at a shop, but they had it not. Photographs, however, were sold outside the cathedral, and possibly I might have procured it there; but we had so often found photographs sold at the show places themselves so dear, that I had not asked for them at the cathedral door. It does, however, sometimes happen, as probably it did here, that they can only be had at the place itself; and when time is limited, it is better to secure what may be wanted, especially interiors, at once. The pope's old palace adjoins the cathedral. This is a large building with very massive walls 100 feet high. It is now occupied as a caserne or barrack for French soldiers. The lofty rooms, for greater accommodation, have had a floor interposed. The rooms, fitted up with beds and filled with the soldiery, are in a very different condition from what they must at one time have been when this was the papal residence. One of the rooms into which we were shown, was the upper interposed half of what had formerly been the chamber of torture of the Inquisition. There was nothing very special now to be seen in this dismal unoccupied apartment, which at one time echoed with the groans and cries of the tortured.

In the Place de l'Hotel de Ville, in the centre of the town, are a handsome-looking theatre and other public buildings; but one of the most interesting objects in Avignon is the old Roman bridge across the river. Avignon was a fortified city, and is still surrounded by walls having many gates, and in our drive we passed outside the walls till we reached the Roman bridge. Only part of it is now standing, the remainder having, I presume, been swept away by floods. The river is now crossed by a good modern bridge, not far from the site of the old one, and conducts to a town upon the other bank of the river which forms a suburb to Avignon.

We did not, in November 1876, stop at Avignon; but being then desirous of seeing the old Roman city of Nismes, we procured through the guard, when stopping at the station of Valence, supplementary tickets enabling us to change at Tarascon, which we reached in the dusk about five o'clock. Here we had to change carriages, and cross the platform, and enter a dingy station or salle-d'attente, and to wait wearily for nearly an hour till the train proceeded to Nismes. It was cold, and we had, as usual, no assistance from porters with our petits bagages. Nismes is about an hour's journey by rail from Tarascon. The mistral was blowing, and it was bitterly cold. The coldness of this wind is, I believe, greatly produced by the cutting down of the trees on the mountains in the south of France; and if so, the sooner they are replanted the better. It is piercingly felt all over the south of France, even Mentone, at its extreme east point, not being wholly sheltered from its influence. I fancy that in the Roman times, when such places as Nismes, Avignon, and Arles were selected for habitation, the mistral was not felt, at least to the extent it is now. It prevented our invalid from leaving the house while at Nismes on this occasion.

Nismes, as a capital city of a department of France, is a town of importance. It is the seat of the departmental courts, and it possesses various educational establishments as well as a variety of manufactures. It is beautifully situated in a fertile district. The town itself is attractive. The principal streets are wide and clean, and the Boulevards are pleasant; but it is as an ancient city, full of vestiges of old Roman occupation, that it possesses charms to attract the stranger.

The most famous of these Roman remains is the Arena, and attention is naturally drawn to it from being situated fronting a large open space in the heart of the town, called the Esplanade. It was the first of the Roman amphitheatres we had at that time seen. Exposed to the mistral, it was then intensely cold; and one could hardly suppose that it would have been built on that site if it had not been at the time a place to which the people could go without fear of colds (for, odd though it may sound, I fancy the grand old Roman nose did suffer occasionally from colds). However, an arena seems to have been then as necessary an appendage to a Roman town as a church is to an English village. The building is oval in shape, and is 412 feet long by 306 feet in breadth, and rises in upwards of 30 massive tiers from the centre to the circumference, resting on strong stone arches, and containing perfect means of ingress and egress-every separate external arch having been, no doubt, a separate vomitory. The building is computed to have accommodated 32,000 persons. The arena, though in part ruinous, is still in a very fair state of preservation, but is undergoing a process of restoration by the insertion of new stones in place of the old ones, to strengthen the structure, which, as the old stone is grey with age and the new stone is a beautiful pearly white, looks most incongruous. One could almost wish that the building were let alone, although it is to be hoped that in the course of years the new stone will assume a colour in keeping with the rest. Perhaps it might be stained to bring it into harmony. Of this same kind of stone, two beautiful churches have recently been built: one of them, St. Perpetué, is completed and in use; the other, a very large one,-I presume to be occupied as a cathedral, with a double spire far in advance when we saw it first,-was in the following year not yet finished. The designs of these churches, particularly in their spires, are remarkably graceful. There is another very elegant modern building adjoining the Arena, the Courts of Justice, which also fronts the Esplanade, in the centre of which open space has been erected a very handsome modern marble fountain at a cost of £10,000.

Leaving the Arena and passing up the Boulevard St. Antoine, we arrive at the Maison Carrée, or the Square House-a small but beautiful temple, with a peristyle of the Corinthian order, in admirable preservation. It is situated in a space enclosed by railings, and is occupied as a museum and picture gallery, for which it affords but limited room. From the Maison Carrée the visitor proceeds through public gardens to the Roman Baths, which are in wonderful condition, although the marble statues have nearly all lost their noses, the common fate of all marble statues long exposed to the weather. These baths are very elegant enclosures of water, now looking very stagnant and green. Upon the west side are the ruins of what has been termed a temple of Diana, in which are preserved many of the antiquities found in the vicinity of it. To the south issues, through an elegant iron rail and gateway, a very long wide avenue or boulevard called Cours Neuf, on a straight line, flanked by trees which, when completed, will extend, I think, a full mile in length. The north extremity is terminated by a hill, reached by magnificent stairs, and commanding a fine view of the Baths or fountains, of the long wide avenue beyond and the surrounding country. This hill is surmounted by the Tour Magne, the ruin of a building the object of which has not been definitely ascertained.

Nismes in summer in fine weather is very hot, but is a charming residence for a few days. We stayed two nights on this occasion at the Hotel Luxembourg, which is recommended to English travellers. The men-servants here, who are also the femmes-de-chambres, had quite an Italian look and cut, and were in their morning attire very comically dressed in a short jacket, somewhat like those schoolboys used to wear.

We returned en route for Marseilles by Tarascon, passing by the way several stone quarries and fields in which olive trees had been planted by way of experiment. These were the first olive trees we had seen. They were young and short, and were disappointing, as in fact are all olive trees, however large or old they be, to those who, like ourselves, having read of sitting under the olive tree as a species of luxurious enjoyment, found them very different from our expectations, being in leaf like the willow. But their existence indicated approach to a warmer climate.

The old Roman town of Arles lies between Tarascon and Marseilles, and is said to be, though I doubt it, as much worth seeing as Nismes; but, owing to the difficulty of finding trains to fit in to meet our time, we have not in passing visited it.

It rained heavily all the way from Tarascon to Marseilles, when it fortunately cleared up. Part of the way is flanked by what appears to be barren desert land, possibly occasioned by the ground being high and level, so that it is not watered by rivers.

At Marseilles, we found the commissionaire of the Hotel du Louvre et de la Paix, to which we had written for rooms, waiting. Owing to some odd arrangement then prevailing, all carriages were kept out of sight till the luggage was sorted, so that we were fortunate to get him to send for one. The hotel we found to be a large many-storeyed one, but it had a lift. There is another large hotel at Marseilles, to which we went on the next occasion. It is hard to say which is the better. The Noailles has a large and beautiful salle à manger, and a good-sized drawing-room. Both are expensive. We found at Marseilles, as at Dijon, Lyons, Avignon, Nismes, and afterwards at Hyères, that the charge for table-d'h?te dinner included vin ordinaire. We had an agreeable surprise at dinner in meeting two families-old friends-from Bristol.

Marseilles is seldom visited, except as a place of halt for further travel. After staying one or two nights, those arriving depart either landward by railway or seaward by steamboat to other parts. But it is well worth at least one day's visit to see it thoroughly. It is a very ancient city, being upwards of 2500 years old, and the population is above 300,000. In contrast to Lyons, it has all the appearance of a busy place. The principal streets are always crowded, the port is the largest in the Mediterranean, and may be considered the Liverpool of France, though the docks are not so extensive. On occasion of our first visit, the weather was cold and wet, and we had only a Sunday there, so that we did not see much; but when we paid it a second visit in October 1877, we had a little more time, and drove round the town and docks. The ancient port is a large natural harbour filled with good-sized vessels, while additional docks of large extent stretch away to the westward. Outside them, a breakwater has been built, which extends about two miles in length. B?deker says that, on an average, nearly 20,000 vessels, of an aggregate burden of 2,000,000 tons, enter and quit Marseilles annually. Our driver pointed out as we passed, in one of the docks (the Basin de la Joillette), a P. & O. steamer; and it would have been interesting to have visited it, but we were afraid we should not have had time. A large cathedral was being built facing the docks, and will be a very prominent object to those arriving at Marseilles by sea. Another very prominent and striking object, and from which a fine view of the town, harbour, and district is to be had, is an eminence to the south-east, crowned by the Church of Notre Dame de la Garde. Leaving the docks, we proceeded round the town to the Palais de Longchamps, which stands on a height. It is a large, elegant columnar structure, with spacious staircases leading up to and through it to the gardens beyond. The palace contains two museums. A fine view is obtained from the top.

Marseilles is a busy commercial and manufacturing place. The central streets are always bustling-teeming with life. An interesting part of it is the flower market, where the women are to be seen perched up on tables or platforms tying up their pretty bouquets of flowers and selling them to purchasers. The heights to the north of the town are bare, but, together with the islands which stud the sea outside the harbour, give picturesqueness to the view. But although it stands as far south as Mentone and San Remo, or rather farther south, it wants the shelter of the health resorts on the Riviera, and suffers severely from exposure to the mistral.

On leaving Marseilles for Cannes, we had not gone far by railway before we obtained a complete change of temperature. It was like passing from winter into summer, and from dreary stony mountain ranges to verdant slopes covered with mature olive trees, and with orange and lemon trees-all indicative of a warmer climate. We did not on this first occasion stop at any place between Marseilles and Cannes, but on the following year visited Hyères, and it will therefore be adverted to in the sequel.

On this first occasion, we left by an early train on the Monday morning with our friends. We had much difficulty in getting seat-room, with no assistance from guards. The carriages were filled with people who had travelled all night from Paris. In the compartment which fell to our lot, the remainder of the seats were all filled by French gentlemen who were or had been smoking, and were begrimed with dust, and looked like very ogres. The morning was splendid, the sun, pouring out his beams in rich effulgence, gave gladness to the bright scene, which we especially felt after the cold weather to which we had, ever since our arrival in France, been exposed. After leaving Toulon, the railway goes inland and does not again touch the coast till it reaches Frejus, 91 kilometres, or above 50 miles on; but the country is very beautiful. This route, between Marseilles and Genoa, and on to Pisa, passes through constantly-occurring tunnels. It is said that between Marseilles and Genoa alone there are no less than 200, and it certainly looks like it. The train is for ever rushing into and darting out of tunnels; and as French people never think of closing windows in tunnels, and always put and keep down the glass, the transit through them is very cold and trying, particularly to invalids or to those who may be afflicted with a cold in the head. After leaving Frejus, the railway skirts the coast, and as the train emerges from a tunnel, the passengers have the opportunity of seeing the most lovely bays formed by the jutting promontories and the blue Mediterranean. In saying they have the opportunity, however, this is a chance depending upon whether there are no foreigners at the windows. If there be, most mercilessly, and without leave asked, much less obtained, down go the blue blinds on both sides of the carriage. Fortunately, on this first occasion (I was not so lucky on the second), I got seated near the south or sea window, and managed to get one of the three curtains kept up; but just as we approached within sight of Cannes, where the view was becoming exquisitely beautiful, a little of the bright sun darted in: the intruder was expelled in double haste, and the blind most uncourteously and ruthlessly pulled down. It saved some sunburnt ogre from being, if possible, a little more browned or reddened, and it signified not that his fellow-passengers were deprived of an enjoyment into which he could not enter.

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