I got up “too late”, at 07:50, and nearly missed my 09:01 train from Nice. Got on just in time, but that was a 2km fast walk with my full pack. The train I wanted to catch was a special scenic train through the mountains, complete with air conditioning and a tour guide, so that was nice. I stopped off in Saorge, which the notes said was a 15-minute walk from the train.
Of course, it was a 15-minute walk UPHILL. No problem, I’ll leave my bag at the station. Problem: the station was closed up, boarded up, looks like it hadn’t been used since the war. Briefly contemplated hiding my backpack in the forest near the station, but in the end decided to try and carry it up the mountain. Amazingly enough, I made it, and in only about 25 minutes. I thought I could leave it in the tourist information center, but there either wasn’t one, it was closed, or I didn’t find it. So I carried it around the stairways that passed for streets in that village.
Finally found a place to eat, but it was too early for lunch, so I wandered around some more. Eventually I went to the grocery store / art gallery / cafe which serves as the social center of the village, and had a nice pastry and some coffee and juice. Basically waited until the restaurant looked like it was open, then plopped down there. While I was sipping coffee I started talking to a woman sitting next to me. Turns out she is a British woman living here for several years, working part time and being an artist (nice stained glass objects). She mentioned that sales weren’t very good this year – “a lot of Danes, and they never spend money. They even bring their own food with them!” – and I apologized that I wouldn’t be able to buy any either. She glanced at my massive stuffed pack and agreed that stained glass wasn’t very practical for me to carry.
Since they always ask me if I want an aperitif, I decided to see what all the fuss was about, and ordered a pastis. Not sure I’m going to do that again, but it wasn’t horrible. Unfortunately for the rest of the day every burp tasted like anis.
Lunch was a large thin pizza, which didn’t have soooo much flavor, and a 1/4 L of red wine (for 2 euros). After that I asked the waiter kid if I could store my backpack in the cafe while I checked out the church. In lieu of saying yes, he just enthusiastically picked up my bag to put it inside for me (well, he tried, was surprised by the weight, shifted his stance, and tried again).
At some point in my wandering around Saorge I spoke with an older French woman from Cannes. She had been laughing good naturedly at my heavy load, to which I replied that I was pretty tired after the hike up from the station. She said that her mother, whom she was in town visiting, still climbed all over the hills, and she was… “quatre-vingts-something”. I thought at the time that she said “quatre vingts quarant”, or however you spell it, but that would make no linguistic sense (plus it would mean the woman was 120). At any rate, the implication was clear: the 80+ year old woman was in better shape than me (although, presumably she wasn’t carrying a 35kg pack).
Gibi, the general store proprietor, has a pretty good gig going: aside from being the only game in town on Mondays, he’s got the corner on the post card market too. I commented to my new artist-friend that they looked as if they had been printed on a home computer, to which she confirmed “that’s Gibi for you”. Apparently he had collected the best photos from the inhabitants and printed them up, and is now selling them for, sit down for this: €1.70 each. So, Mom and Dad, you get one, and that’s it.
After visiting the church and regaining my backpack I hobbled down the hill to the train station and caught the next train onwards. I hadn’t stamped my ticket in Nice: I asked TWICE if I should, and they just waved me onto the train, mumbling something (I assume) about the conductor doing it. The conductor on the tourist train stamped my ticket without question, but the conductor on this “regular” train was not quite as laid back. No big deal though, especially when I mentioned “Nice” and he seemed to shrug as if to say “those idiots in Nice never do it right”, but he did hang on to my ticket so that he could stamp it at the next stop.
He then asked where I was from, and when I said “America” he smiled and asked “AH! Obaaaama, or…McCain?” Since he still had my ticket and hadn’t really indicated that I was off the hook, I was a bit nervous of the wrong answer. “…Obama…?” “Ah, good, good!” Whew.
Got off the train in Tende, the last real stop on the French side of the border, and had another walk around (this time I left my big bag at the tourist center). Had a nice couple of hours, got some water (.28 euro cents for 1.5 L!) and tried for some ice cream, but ended up with a sad little Nestle bar instead of real stuff. Around 17:00 I got back on the next train to Cuneo, got off there, found my friend, and rode into her town of Saluzzo. After a shower and change of clothes she, her husband, and I went off to an amazing dinner (see the separate post about that meal). Came home, basically fell asleep until 10 this morning. It was hot much of the day yesterday, I walked a lot in three different cities – several kilometers, much up a steep mountain road, all in the sun, so I was (am) pretty beat. But wow, what a fantastic day!