Smashing Pennies

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It’s 8:00 a.m. and we’re up and dressed, on vacation. We’ve taken a bus and a tram to arrive on a side of Nice we haven’t visited yet. Here we’re boarding the elusive Bus 82. We were up late the night before, studying time tables to make sure we knew how to navigate the public transportation system and get ourselves to this stop at the right time. It shouldn’t have been difficult, as the Lignes d’Azur are straight-forward and efficient. But wine makes the easiest tasks a little harder, and wine flows easily and cheaply in Nice.

We board the bus with a decently large group of people. The ticket costs us €1.50 each and we are surprised to learn we can’t use our day pass. But we are on a mission and €3.00 is a small price to pay. We’re pleasantly surprised to find that this particular bus is outfitted with the most seats we’ve seen on this vacation. Everyone gets to sit for the 30 minute ride that twists and turns up a hill, and then back down before heading up again. The roads are narrow and the turns are sharp, but the bus driver handles them easily. Every now and then, the trees part and give us breathtaking views of the Mediterranean below. It’s a deep blue that blends perfectly with the sky above, creating a solid canvas divided only by gentle waves and white cotton clouds. Gasps of delight escape each of us every time we catch a glimpse of these perfect little scenes.

A few stops are made, but this is a pretty direct route and we arrive in what seems like no time at all. We step off the bus and onto a crowded sidewalk. We’re at a busy intersection. To the left of us, cars quickly zip around the next curve. To the right, there’s a less busy road that leads up a really, really steep hill. We can see the walls of the medieval village of Eze high above us but — unlike everyone else — we’re not here for that. We see the signs for the tourist office and follow other foreigners to it’s doors.

“So where is it?” Travis asks.

“I’m not sure,” I say. “Let me look.”

I pull out my iPhone. It hasn’t occurred to me until this very moment that I might have a hard time getting a signal on the side of a hill in between the city of Nice and the country of Monaco. Thankfully, I have a few bars. I pull up pennycollector.com and navigate to the machine in Eze. It’s the only machine in any of the cities close to us, and I’m determined to find it. I have planned this entire day with this one act in mind. I’ve got exact change in my pocket and I will not rest until I find this machine and turn the crank.

“It’s right around the corner from the Tourism Office,” I read out loud.

We look around. There is no corner. The tourism office is located in a building connected to a building and seems almost built into the side of the hill.

I follow a sign down a few stairs that points to public restrooms. In a tiny courtyard that’s no more than a waiting area, I see the machine against the side of the building. People are passing it as they hurry into the restrooms.

“I found it!” I yell back to Travis, who walks down the stairs and meets me in front of the machine. We stare at it for a second.

Pennycollector.com has prepared me for this. I know there are three designs available. I know that one is the Palace of Monaco, one is the village of Eze, and one is of the Exotic Gardens. But until this very moment, I haven’t considered which one I want.

“Which one do I get?”

Travis looks at me with a surprised smile.

“Are you kidding?” he asks. “Get them all!”

He laughs at me and shakes his head. I’ve taken three buses to get here, and I’m acting as if I have to decide between smashed coins. I laugh too.

I decide on two of the three. I’m not going to visit the gardens so the coin doesn’t seem necessary. Each one costs me €1, plus the 5 cent piece I’m smashing. I have a shiny 5 cent piece picked out for one, and Travis digs around in his wallet to find another.

There are a couple of different kinds of smashed coin machines, and this is the best kind. Unlike the automated machines, this one requires you to turn the crank and smash the coin yourself. I turn the crank to reach the design I want, push my money in and turn the crank some more. This one has a decently large gear and you have to work a little to smash the coin. I keep turning the crank until I hear the satisfying clink of a freshly smashed coin landing in metal tray. I make Travis take photos of me holding it.

For the rest of the day, we explore. We find a few nice lookout points further up the hill. We eat beignets and drink coffee at an adorable roadside cart. We take the bus further to Monte Carlo and get our passport stamped and walk around the casino and palace.

We find ways to spend the day and a thousand different places to view the gorgeous Mediterranean sea, but my mission is complete. My favorite souvenirs in the expensive South of France cost me €2.10 and a bus ride, and are tucked safely in my coin purse as I board the train that takes us back to Nice.