We started the week with a day in the city of Nice on the Cote d’Azur, and were pleasantly surprised. The bus from Vence (costing just € 1.50 each) dropped us right at the edge of the old town. We spent the day wandering the old streets, walking up to a lookout over the bay, eating lunch in an established family restaurant and dodging thunderstorms.
From Vence we headed north into the Mercantour National Park and what a revelation. The village of Saint-Martin Vesubie is a wonderful and vibrant centre of outdoor life in the area. The hiking has been endless, but with a catch. Everything is very steeply uphill. For example, one high peak required an ascent of 1,300 meters. Tough, but not so bad, except that the route to the summit was only 5 km long. If you do the math, that is an average grade of over 25%. Combine that with closed trails, trees down and sections of “cable-assisted” scrambling, it was quite the day out. Some of the most consistently steep hiking we have done. Bike rides around here are not going to happen!
To cap it all, this weekend has been the “Ultra Trail”, where competitors run various lengths on mountain trails. We saw the winner of the 150 km race (10,000 meters of ascent from the starting point on the coast at Nice) come in hours ahead of the next competitor. He didn’t even look tired after completing the 150 km trail run in less than 24 hours!
Who can turn a half hour stroll into town and back into a 5-hour slog over two mountains? Is it a bird; is it a plane; no………. it’s superpapa!!!! (see photos)
We eat out very little on these trips, with the super-fresh local produce, markets in every village and the fact that we love eating in the fresh air sitting outside our camper van! We made an exception on our last night in Saint-Martin Vesubie and ate at the best place in town on the terrace looking out at the mountains we had been hiking up. An excellent meal and a wonderful way to end our experience here. What a way to spend Father’s Day!
Things we have learned about Europe this week:
• Bus timetables – episode 2: The day we went to Nice, the local bus did not show up, so we hitched a ride into town. Why?? When clearly there was an 8:20 bus advertised at the bus stop? Upon inquiring at the camp office afterwards, “Oh, that is because it is a holiday”. Despite the fact that holidays were clearly included with the Sunday schedule. Oh yes, we walked the 4 km back to camp as well……….
• A first: Liz wanted hiking socks and found a window display with some in. We went into the store and it is nothing but hardware supplies. Weird we thought! Then the owner says, “Follow me”. He took us across the road to another store, which voila, is a hiking store. He runs both by standing behind the counter of the hardware store. Great labour force efficiency.
• Intimidation: We hiked a mountain circuit from camp this week. 15 kms and 1,000 meters of ascent. 6 ½ hours – pretty good we thought, especially as the trails are very rough. The winner of the mountain race on Saturday completed the same course in………1 hour and 20 minutes.
• Church bells in France: The bell in the church tower (and every village has one) strikes the hour one minute before and then repeats it one minute after. It’s been suggested that villagers may not have counted accurately on the first occasion, but would be primed to have another go second time around.
• Happiness: Everyone in Provence is SO polite. When they say “Bonjour”, they do so with a smile. There seems nothing forced about their happiness. Maybe we would all be so permanently joyful if the sun shone 300 days a year and we lived off smelly cheese, fresh bread and red wine.
Last week’s question: For all you classic film buffs out there! Which Alfred Hitchcock movie starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly was filmed in this area of Provence in locations such as Nice, Cannes, Bar sur Loup, Tourrettes sur Loup and St Jeannet?
And the answer is: To catch a thief!
This week’s question:
Another photo trivia (see photos). When you see this sign in a village in France, what is likely to be coming up just down the road? What does “Borne Escamotable” mean?
No “Googling” – answer next week!
Until next week!
Ian & Liz