Bon and I left home about 4:40 p.m. walking on foot taking the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) train into Chicago and out to O'Hare airport. We carried our backpacks (which weighed about 20 to 25 pounds without water) onto Air France and boarded our flight to Charles De Gaulle in Paris. From De Gaulle we flew over a cloudy France to Nice arriving at about 2:20 p.m. We exchanged some funds and boarded the bus to SNCF train terminal. It wound through Nice along the shore which to our surprise was rocky – small round stones on which people carried out the normal sunbathing and swimming activities. The streets were active with busy cafés and restaurants with tables spilling out onto the sidewalks.
The bus reached the train station about 3:00 p.m. and we found that our train was to leave in fifteen minutes! After a flurry of activity to determine how to make the arrangements, we purchased deuxieme classe tickets and proceeded down to quai 4 and the train to Ventimiglia, Italy. From Ventimiglia we would change to the Cuneo Torino train to Tende back in France. Our directions were assisted by some young Italian soccer players in front of us shouting out, "Ventimiglia!"
The train wound along coast through Monaco – unfortunately in an underground station – and through little towns along the Mediterranean. We passed dry rocky hills rising up from the sea; cacti and bright pink bougainvillea and purple morning glories; and our first glimpses of olive trees. We arrived in Ventimiglia, a dingy train station, and somehow deciphered the track for our connection which turned out to be occupied by another train – an earlier one. I tried to take a picture of the station with police border guards in the foreground and they waved me off. The train on our track broke down - obviously not Mussolini's Italy - so our train pulled in on track 7 and we began our journey into the Alpes-Maritimes in a smoking car with the windows wide open. The train wound through Breil-sur-Roya, Saorge, and St-Dalmas-de-Tende passing by high rocky outcroppings, through tunnels and above deep gorges.
We arrived in Tende without any idea of the hotel situation at 5:45 p.m. (about 18 hours after leaving home). The train station was in the middle of this quaint small town and there was one hotel nearby, but we decided to look at other alternatives in the town before deciding. A British couple stopped us and asked if we were looking for a hotel. They were staying in the one we'd just passed but said the manager had left for the night. After a brief conversation, they suggested we get a hotel room and then have a drink at a nearby café. The next hotel was closed, so we booked a room in Hotel du Centre, a tiny room and bath with no windows! We dropped our packs and joined Keith and Angela Hill from Sheffield, England, for a beer and coffee at a small outside café on the main street. The Hills had just completed a trek through the Valley des Merveilles a part of the Parc Mercantour that had intrigued Bon. They said it was tough going with rocky and steep climbs. They told us of their travels with another couple and what they had enjoyed seeing in the areas that were on our itinerary. They were very pleasant but we were anxious to see Tende so I paid for the drinks, and we thanked them warmly for their advice.
We then walked up through the narrow medieval streets of the old part of Tende. As this part of the town was built on the side of a hill there were vistas looking back over the mountains and into valleys below. Later after dinner, both exhausted after our long day of travel, we went back to a very dark hotel (we hadn't mastered the timer switches in the halls that we found in almost every hotel) and fell asleep at once.
Copyright 2001 Donald R. Chauncey - All rights reserved