Last week, I wrote about how my wife Natalie and I had three meals in three countries in ONE day! We had breakfast in Monaco, lunch in Italy and dinner in France. Here’s the post. What I didn’t tell you is about how we got from Monaco to Italy … on a budget.
Natalie and I were staying at Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo. I asked the concierge how we could get to Italy for lunch one day and was told that they could arrange a private car for us for 115 euros ($150) an hour. Yikes! I asked about the train and was told it was easy and much cheaper. The concierge recommended that we go to San Remo, which is supposed to be beautiful but it was farther away (about 45 minutes) and there’s only one direct train that departs in the morning and returns in the evening. Unfortunately, that didn’t work for us.
It was 1pm and we only had the afternoon free and didn’t feel it was worth it to take the train to Ventimiglia (which is right over the border) and then switch to a San Remo train. When I asked if there were any good places to eat lunch in Ventimiglia, the concierge told me there weren’t that many options. I asked if it was safe and they said oui! We decided to give it a shot since trains to Ventimiglia depart every 30 minutes from Monte Carlo. But before heading out, the concierge reminded us that most restaurants and museums in Italy close for riposo (siesta) from anywhere between 1:30pm and 4:30pm. We weren’t going to let that stop us! So we took the train schedule and walked 10 minutes to the station.
Buying tickets from the ticket machine at the train station was fairly straightforward but paying by credit card wasn’t easy. The machine wouldn’t accept mine because I didn’t have a chip or a PIN and since we were in a hurry, there wasn’t enough time to keep trying different cards. We used Natalie’s Canadian Visa which has a chip and requires a PIN. Roundtrip tickets for two cost 15EUR ($19.60).
TIP: Be sure to validate your ticket by sticking it in one of the little date/time machines near the stairs to the train platforms. You have to put it in all the way for it to register. Our train was just about to leave so we didn’t have time to register Natalie’s. For the duration of the scenic 24-minute train ride, I held my breath, hoping a conductor didn’t come by because they probably would have given her an on-the-spot fine of around 40EUR ($52). Thank God they didn’t. They didn’t check tickets on the return either but we validated her ticket using one of the machines in Ventimiglia train station.
I wasn’t expecting much from Ventimiglia since a few people had told us to skip it. But I actually liked it. It was a lot better than Brindisi, a port we visited last summer on our Seabourn Cruise. The town was quaint, the people were friendly and the gelato was darn good. Unfortunately, all the nice restaurants along the coast were closed for riposo so we were forced to take a chance on a café we knew nothing about.
Can you believe I picked what might have been the worst restaurant in town? I didn’t think you could get bad pizza in Italy but boy was I wrong. Any frozen pizza in the supermarket back in the States was better than what Bar Ristorante Mazzini (Via Mazzini, 6) served. I even overheard an English couple walk out as our food was being served, saying that it was the worst pizza ever. For an English person to say that about Italian food in Italy is just embarrassing. The spaghetti pomodoro was okay and lunch wasn’t expensive – 14EUR ($18) for pizza, pasta and an orange Fanta.
The local grocery store we stopped in was inexpensive too and we bought bottled water for 0.62EUR ($0.81) and a six pack of Kinder chocolate for 1.60EUR ($2.09). We walked around town, grabbed some great gelato 1 EUR ($1.30) a scoop (in a cup cost more) and ate in a nearby park along the Mediterranean before heading back to the station.
All in all, bad food or not, any day that you’re able to have lunch in Italy is a great day!