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Roure, Provence, June 10th 2011
Normally the days I write up have some spectacular walking or great adventure. Not this one; we only walked for an hour and a half. This day is here because it reminds me so much of why I love walking.
It started at 7 am with an air of uncertainty, because we weren't sure if our bus - the 740, due to take us from Nice up into the mountains - was running. We had checked out the Gare Routière the previous evening, only to find it demolished, with a very inadequate notice making no mention of the 740. We walked around, and Diana asked around, but we weren't at all sure if it still existed, which could explain why the French web sites had been so vague about it. The Tourist Offices were all closed, but eventually back at the main train station Diana found a ticket man who knew about it and indicated 'round the corner'. Sure enough, we found a bus stop with the number on it, but no timetable or any other sign of its existence.
So we woke up this morning with a plan to visit the Tourist office by the station to find either the bus, or an alternative way of getting into the mountains. Half-an-hour's walk got us there, and Diana spoke (in French) to a lady who assured us that, yes, the bus went at ten past nine. Surprised and reassured, we went for breakfast in a nearby street. Coffee and croissants may sound pretty ordinary, but we were feeling relieved and the coffee was very good, and there we were sitting in a French street having breakfast, looking at the buildings and watching the world go by. On this particular morning it seemed to me that the world consisted mainly of girls in skimpy outfits, and I checked with Diana to find out if this was just my male fantasy. She assured me that it was really true. Also in the cafe there were three older men lingering over their coffees, but soon we were battling our way to the bus stop through more hordes of girls. (This was a school trip so they were a bit on the young side.)
At 9.10 prompt the bus arrived, we paid our fare of one euro and settled down for the one hour, forty-five minute trip. The bus went along the Promenade des Anglais, round to the airport, and then on the motorway leading up the valley of the Var, going inland. At first the view was open, going through fruit farms and tree nurseries, but even here we could see the tantalising shapes of the first limestone outcrops. We picked up a women's walking group, who filled the bus with musical twitterings, prompting Diana to say that although she is often complimented on her french accent, she could never talk like a local.
As we went up the valley it began to close in, and soon we were winding up a limestone gorge. My heart lifted. Here was the scenery I had remembered from two years before; it lived up to expectations; we were going to spend several days walking through it. The bus turned off the Var valley into that of the Tinée, and the scenery became even more dramatic as the road wiggled up the valley, the driver trying to overtake a van in front adding an extra frisson to the curves and the drop to the river below. At one point I looked up and saw ahead, perched high up on a hill, a village - Roure, our destination that evening.
We arrived at St Sauveur de Tinée, got out, turned down a side street, and jumped back 500 years into a narrow, dark, mediaeval townscape. But no cafe, so back to the main road, sipping pamplemousse (Diana) and beer (me), watching bikes go by, and a woman standing by her window with ornamental ironwork outside. London is great, but it's great also to be somewhere so different. Then past the school (surprising in such a small village) to the shop for proper french bread, goat's cheese and ham.
We then walked down to the Tinée, crossed the river and found our first GR sign - always a good moment. This was the GR5 which goes all the way up to the hook of Holland, but we were only going as far as Roure.
And the way was up. It was hot, sweaty work, there was no getting round it. After half an hour we stopped for lunch in a small meadow, with a superb view back down the Tinée valley. The food tasted lovely, we drank a litre of orange juice, and although there were a lot of flies nothing bit us. Around us were wild flowers, ahead was an olive tree, and next to us - were those cherries in that tree? Diana tried a couple, said they were good, but I said it was too dangerous, we couldn't be sure they were OK, so she left them.
Then on up the hill for another hour, though the slope lessened a bit and we had a good chat about Diana's new project (the Ambache Foundation) and mine (a 10-CD collection by the Dutch oboist Han de Vries) - how to progress them both.
Then into Roure, a lovely hill village, but quite deserted. The signs to the Auberge Le Robur were very clear, however, and in no time we were in a room with a view. A walk around the town revealed more views and many posh cars (we were near Nice, after all). No people, shops or cafes, but a splendidly ornate 18th Century church.
The weather deteriorated, and rain drove us back to the Auberge, and a game of cribbage with orange juice (Diana) and mountain-brewed beer (me), being watched rather shyly by the proprietress's young daughter. I had been the reigning champion but lost my throne. Diana chatted with the proprietress, and discovered that the wild cherries were fine to eat; I apologized that my sensibleness had hampered her sense of adventure. Then up to the room to doze, read and write this. I read out a passage from Freya Stark's essays from Baghdad c 1931, headed 'Concerning Smells'. It began: "True happiness, we consider, is incompatible with an inefficient drainage system. It is one of those points on which we differ most fundamentally from the East, where happiness and sanitation are not held to have any particular connection." It's a beautiful observation, devoid of attitude, which makes her such an effective travel writer. Diana had a similar gift in her emails from India.
Nothing very special happened today, but it's why we walk. The day was full of new experiences, including of each other. Today was the first day of our holiday. Tomorrow we will walk to Beuil, and have another set of experiences.
© Jeremy Polmear 2011
The full walk is written up at weekwalks.co.uk/GR52A_narrative.htm.
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