Our journey by train from Cinque Terre was rather uneventful. The only exception was that we arrived at the French border thirty minutes after our connection to Nice had left the station. For a moment I thought that a slight oversight on my part in the same location thirty years previous, had come back to haunt me. On that occasion the Italian conductor wanted a king’s ransom, my passport, and quite possibly my crown jewels on the basis that I had neglected to get my ticket stamped. He got nothing.
On this occasion, the Italian conductor was most helpful and we were soon on our way to Nice. By the way, Nice was Nice. I just had to get that in.
The train journey up to St Andre Les Alpes, and the commencement of our walk was also uneventful, except for the start. I always like it when we get allocated seats. In that way, Karyn doesn’t have a choice. When seats are not allocated, she likes to move around a bit and try a few out before finally getting settled. It is just a good thing that I am not inclined to excesses with strong drink.
The train was small, the platform crowded and the passengers were in their starting blocks. Seats were up for grabs. I suggested to Karyn that it would be a good idea to make our choice of seats quickly, and then stick with it. Otherwise we could be on our feet for the whole journey.
We boarded the train, stowed our large packs in the appropriate compartment, grabbed two seats and temporarily placed our small backpacks on the two seats opposite. I was settled. I then turned and Karyn had done a runner. She was up the front of the train and was busy trying out another seat. I was left with two back packs on two seats and an empty one beside me. Experience has taught me to wait a bit before moving house, just in case there was another change in plan.
Right at this point the conductor arrived and he let loose. I thought he was going to want a king’s ransom, my passport and very definitely my crown jewels. Before he had the opportunity to go for the knife, I was up and away with back packs trailing behind. Once finally settled, I told Karyn what a joy she was to travel with. Well something like that anyway.
The first day of our walk was from St Andre Les Alpes to Castellane. We were hiking by ourselves and depended on some travelling notes, signs on the track, a map, a watch to time distances between way points, and a compass. We didn’t get lost.
Two things caught my attention. The first was a warning in our notes not to touch the electric fencing used extensively throughout the area. That is of course, and I quote “unless you are wearing asbestos underwear”. Having neglected to include a pair when packing for the trip, I stayed well clear of the potential attack on the unmentionables again.
The second was a sign on a tree warning about the big dogs that protect the sheep out in the fields. It suggested that if approached, one should stand perfectly still, so that the dog can sus you out. It was much the same advice as given in Canada to warn about bears. I am afraid that I felt no comfort in either of these messages. We certainly heard some dogs, saw them in the distance, but thankfully they were never close enough to test out the theory.
Further along the track on the first day we arrived at a place called Mandarom. It had lots of 10 metre high silver structures, like spikey hollow dumbbells, that marked the boundary of the complex. It is apparently a strange religious group that incorporates and displays symbols from various different religions. Some of the statues were enormous. The notes suggested, and I quote again “We don’t recommend that you accept an invitation to visit the centre in case you are tempted to stay too long and MISS THE REST OF YOUR LIFE”. Now there is a warning that could well be applied to a much broader range of religious locations.
And so it went on. Every day, after Karyn did her hunting and gathering for sustenance, we would head off with our small back packs, and walk for 6-7 hours. However, choosing an appropriate spot for lunch was often as challenging as getting a seat on a train. I will say no more. In the evening, we would arrive at our designated hotel, pick up our large back packs and settle in for the night. It was just wonderful.
One of the best days was day three. On this occasion we were to traverse much of the Grand Canyon du Verdon. It is the deepest in the whole of Europe, where the cliffs can reach as high as 700 metres. Apart from hiking, it is an absolute mecca for climbing. There are lots of metal ladders and stairs as well as tunnels through the rock to enable the many walkers to travel through this amazing location. By the way, we found that the tunnels were as black as a bats ass when the once trusty torch failed to ignite.
The sound of a helicopter in the canyon was initially greeted with some disdain, as we thought it was just another tourist venture spoiling the tranquillity of our day. And then we saw it hover and lower a rope down the side of a cliff. One by one, a total of ten tiny specks of climbers were snatched from the sheer rock face. Some in stretchers some not. From their height, it was obvious that they had been stranded all night. I tried to think of an appropriate word to describe what I was witnessing. Apart from the SKILL and BRAVERY in relation to the chopper pilot, the other had five letters and started with C and finished with Y.
After several days of constant ascending and descending and travelling through some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable, we finally cleared the Alps and were out into the rolling hills of Provence. It also coincided with a marked increase in temperature. The long stretches over dirt tracks finally started to take their toll and I ended up with blistered feet.
On our final day we did not get to walk at all. Well not much anyway. It was time to take another train journey for the short trip into Aix en Provence. I have a feeling that the French conductors were on the look out to see if Karyn could break the seat changing record.
Tomorrow it will be back on the bikes for a crack at Le Tour.