Eh-oh… Could somebody tell me where I am? The Alps… (from 10/08/09)

I couldn’t decide whether to go the Alps today or to just get to Paris.  It’s my last day in Antibes and it feels so weird.  Like when your week long cruise ends and you suddenly get whisked off the ship- when everything you did

Goodbye my little house in Antibes

Goodbye my little house in Antibes

and the way you lived are now no longer yours and belongs to someone else.  I feel like my home has been yanked out from underneath me.  The new people are coming into my little apartment tomorrow and nothing feels the same. 

I waited just long enough this morning for the rental agent to come and check my apartment to miss the high speed train to Paris.  I could’ve left earlier and not have waited so long- maybe it was meant to be.  I finally couldn’t wait any longer and walked over to the rental office, only to see the lady who I had been waiting for washing a picture frame.  I told her she was supposed to have been at my apartment 45 minutes ago and she knew I had to catch a train.  She said she was sorry- no explanation.  I had given her my phone number yesterday when I told her it was important to me to leave as close to 9AM as possible.  Either she didn’t get it or just didn’t care- I really couldn’t tell which one.  But in any case I missed the train to Paris that would arrive with enough daylight to find a hotel room so by default it turned out to be an Alps day.  And what a day it was. 

Lunch in Nice

Lunch in Nice

I had lunch at a wonderful outside café in Nice.  I love the ambience in places like this… fresh flowers, fresh air, vibrant colors and sounds and surrounded by stately, impressive architecture.  Not to mention good food- fresh baguettes, wonderful pasta.  I was waiting to take the



Train des Pignes (Train of the Pines) into the Alps that goes to Dignes-des-Bains.  I thought I’d get off at the village of Entrevaux.  Two people had told me that that was a place that had fun things going on, plus I saw that it was a medieval village.  Sounded good to me.  As much as I wanted to be in a village in the Alps, I wanted to have something fun to do while I was there and I was a little concerned that I would end up in a little place with nothing to do.  So Entrevaux sounded great. 

The train on the other hand was quite an interesting experience in itself.  I 'Train des Pignes' got on a tiny two car train in Nice that runs on a different track than all the other trains travel on.  The car was old.  And hot.  Very hot and stuffy.  The small windows were open- no air conditioning- and that was the only fresh air on this crowded 2-car train.  We started down the track and I thought I was back in the 1910’s!  The train rocked from side-to-side as it chugged along.  Clinkety, clinkety, clinkety clink.  The seats were very straight and it was real noisy.  The open windows let in even more of the noise and the smelly engine odors.  It smelled like I was sitting beside an improperly vented coal stove.  All of a sudden that wonderful pasta lunch I had just finished before getting on the train didn’t feel too wonderful in my stomach.  Luckily I don’t get car sick because this would’ve been a prime situation for it to have happened.  We got outside of Nice and the train started going up the hills.  It felt and sounded like a roller coaster… clink, clink, clink… and then wooooooooooosh, down the mountain as fast as we could go…. Then clink, clink, clink up another and then wooooooooosh, down we go.   I find roller coasters fun and exciting.  This was more of what I’d call scary.  It was too real to be all out fun. 

The scenery however was beautiful.  Not truly an area of magnificent Antibes 10.8 007mountains like I wanted to see, but still really different and spectacular in its own right.  But I could tell we were getting into the middle of nowhere.  Not just fewer towns… I mean nowhere.  And I’ve come to realize that when I’m traveling alone, places with activity and plenty of people give Antibes 10.8 013me comfort.  Even if I have my own little space and can be alone within that area it’s comfortable.  Getting into areas with less and less people makes me feel nervous.  And along we rolled over the tracks getting deeper and deeper into more remote and unpopulated countryside.  The train would stop and a person here or there would get off and I’d wonder where they were going.  There didn’t seem to be really anything there.  They just got off in the middle of nowhere.  And I also realized that I was one of the very few not going to the end, the city of Dignes de Pays.  I didn’t want to go there- it looked to be an area where the mountains weren’t at their highest and the city seemed to be a nice place to live and work, but not a place on the top of the visitor’s list. I was looking for a nice little village in the middle of the Alps, where I could feel the rhythm of the way the people lived now and long ago.  Chug, chug, chug…. woooooooosh, up and down and through long dark tunnels, rocking back and forth and on and on we went.  At anytime I could’ve put my hand out of the window and touched the rocks of the mountains on the side as we went by.  The tracks were small and rinky-dink and as far as I know nothing goes on them other than the 2-car Train des Pignes.   There was grass growing down the middle of the tracks. 

I’d been on the train an hour and a half or so.  We stopped again and let a person out.  I looked at my little map and saw that I had three more stops to my stop.  I sure hoped there would be more action at my stop.  The stopAntibes 10.8 060s weren’t clearly marked so I thought I’d be ready.  One stop, second stop, third stop, time for me to go.  I couldn’t see what was around, I gathered my stuff and the conductor opened the door, I stepped out onto the grass/gravel and the train pulled away.  Chug, chug, chug.  And by myself in the middle of those big mountains… it didn’t feel good.  This didn’t feel right at all.   After the train left I could see the building that had been on the other Antibes 10.8 062side… My stop was Entrevaux… and there printed on a faded sign, read “Puget Theniers”.  What the???   How the???  Where was I???  OH no, oh no, oh no, oh no.  Did I get off at the wrong stop???  Oh NOOOOO.  I had this sick feeling.  I looked at my map.   Sure enough there it was… Puget Theniers, the stop before Entrevaux.  I had gotten off about 10 miles before my stop.  I went inside the station that consisted of one guy sitting at an old desk on a concrete floor. 

Vous-parlez Anglais?”   Do you speak English?  I was not in the mood to try and communicate in French. 

His response in French… “something, something, blabber, blabber”, meaning “Not really”.  Great, fucking great. 

I walked out the other side of the building to the main street and saw a sign for tourist information.  Who were they fooling?  There hadn’t been a tourist here in the last 50 years.  I walked into a store that looked like it rented rock-climbing equipment and the lady told me in very broken English that there were two hotels in town.  Each one only had a few rooms.  I walked by the one she recommended, pulling that horribly heavy, over-packed suitcase and thought there was no chance I was going to stay holed up in that place overnight.  The whole scene felt like something out of the Twilight Zone.  I walked down the street that ran next to the tracks and saw there was some sort of a bus stop, but the sign read something about having to ask for it in advance.  Could that be right or was I translating wrong?  I never found out, but nor did I ever see a bus.  I walked by a little town park with a Antibes 10.8 021playground and statue of a lady with bare breasts… refreshing that people in France are so comfortable with their bodies… down a walkway along a gushing stream with benches leading into the main part of the town.  The old people on the benches stared at me.  Not really a glare but an obvious stare like they were really concerned with the motives of the stranger in town. 

I was the only tourist.  In fact, except for maybe the summer mountain climbers who probably never made it across the main road into town, I Antibes 10.8 030think I was the only out-of-towner these people had seen in years and years.  I guess so since all the hotels in town couldn’t put up more than a handful of people at a time.  Turns out the town wasn’t the attraction for me… I was the attraction for the town!   I passed by the town square that was surprisingly more substantial than I expected, having a cluster of a few Andy of Mayberry restaurants with all but one closed as far as I could tell.  And all eyes were on me.  It was a real weird feeling.  Everyone seemed to watch my every move.  Who knows, maybe they saw me dragging along my stuffed suitcase and wondered what in the world I could want to do to stay as long as it appeared I planned to.  I saw a few narrow streets leading out from the square, up the hill into the residential area.  And the residential area was nothing like I’ve ever seen before!  This was worth the entire trip.  A neighborhood compiled of a true “Old Town”, and most exciting- this place Antibes 10.8 038had never been fancied up for the tourists.  These homes were truly original.  Streets of centuries old homes, doing what they were built to do, providing shelter to generations and generations of families.  It was like I had stepped back in time.  Looking up the narrow streets I could have easily been standing in the year of 1809.  Without careful inspection it all looked the same as it would have 200 years ago.  What an unexpected gift- to be placed in this truly interesting scene.   It was so quiet.  Eerily quiet.  I don’t know where Antibes 10.8 040the townspeople were.  Some old people had been sitting on the benches along the river near the square and I had walked by the few people sitting outside of the only open restaurant in the square.  One elderly lady was sitting outside of the huge old church.  Other than that the town and the homes were shut down.  But I could tell people were living in them.  It was all so strange and absorbing… I was pulled into it.  I already had my camera out, taking pictures of the square.  Now I snapped and snapped.  I couldn’t capture enough of the primeval feeling of the old houses on the steep, dark Antibes 10.8 041narrow streets. 

But as I was taking pictures I began to feel like I was intruding on these people’s lives.  Who was I to come into their town and document their private surroundings and belongings?  I was worried that someone would step out of one of the houses and catch me in the act.  I was in their personal area.  Like in a home that’s also a public monument- part of the building is for tourists to roam through and part of the building is the family’s private living quarters.  It’s roped off and tourists aren’t allowed in that area.  I felt like I had passed through the rope barrier and was walking into their private lives. 

And through all of this there was this strange, loud, background sound- a gushing, whooshing noise all through the town.  It was coming from Antibes 10.8 031underneath the ground.  In one area the cement was cracked and I could see down into a four foot deep area and I saw rushing water- right underneath me.  This sound permeated the entire town.  I had somehow thought it was coming from the stream or little river that ran through the town, but the sound was through-out the town.  It was an odd sensation. 

I walked back into the square and saw there were waterfalls out of nowhere, coming right out of the sides of the high banks emptying into the little river.  The water was coming from under the tiny, steep old streets with the Antibes 10.8 044houses.  And then that little river ran into a larger river that ran closer to the train tracks.  All of that underground movement, the noisy, gushing water under the old, medieval-like town.  The homes were so stable and long-lasting.  An incongruous partnership of permanence and fluidity.   It felt like I was in a fairy-tale land.

I decided to take the next train back to Nice and luckily there was one running back through town at 4:30.  I had taken a step into this odd, intriguing place and several hours were enough for me. 

The guy in the train station held up a cardboard sign on a wooden stick that instructed the train conductor to stop the train.  I got on along with a wiry, Appalachian-looking man with his baby and 7 year-old or so daughter.  The day had filled all of my senses to capacity and I just sat on the rickety, noisy train and sort of gelled out.

 Eventually I got out my map of Nice and a hotel guide and got my plan of action together.  I would take the high speed train to Paris tomorrow and tonight I needed to find a nice, reasonably-priced hotel in Nice and treat myself to a pleasant dinner to my last night in the south of France.  Nice gets a little scary- not too safe off the promenade- after dark so I didn’t have a lot of time.  As it turned out I ended up lugging my suitcase for blocks and blocks trying to find the right place.  There was a huge conference of some sort in town and everyplace was booked.  It got dark and began to rain.  I finally found a place- more than I wanted to spend, but clean and in a pretty safe area.  I had dragged that stupid suitcase for miles.  I dropped everything in the hotel room, enjoyed the luxury of having Wi-Fi and then found a sweet little place for dinner and a wonderful glass of red local table wine.  Goodnight.