The road to Digne-les-Bains

Wednesday we were up at 5.00am (thinking we’re still young enough to cope with that kind of thing) and off to catch the little one-carriage train up to Digne-le-Bains in the foothills of the Alps. (I’d always associated Nice with the coast and Riviera, but it is actually the ‘prefecture du département des Alpes-Maritimes‘.) We only just managed to catch the train. Here we were running around Nice central in the dark with Tina’s map flapping in the breeze, accosting strangers in franglais trying to get directions to this special little train station from where this special little train set off. We just made it.

The scenery was spectacular (once the sun came up) – several picturesque villages perched on edges of canyons and cliffs – all those places you see on postcards – they’re real.

The conductor was very nice – and tolerant of our franglais – in fact he threw in a few words of English – in particular, when we were well out of Nice and in the countryside, that we couldn’t go all the way up to Digne because there was a ‘ooge rock on ze track’. He told us we could go to St Andre les Alpes anyway as it was very pretty, and had a beautiful lake we would really like to see.

We were bundled off at a town a few stops before and waited for a while, getting colder and colder, until we were packed into a mini bus with the other remaining passengers. It swayed and swung around corners until it arrived at the little station called St Andre les Alpes. Heather and I were bundled off the bus and the rest of them disappeared, swerving and swaying, off around the corner. It was now very cold, though thankfully the sun was well and truly now. We’d been having such warm weather in Nice we weren’t really dressed for foothills of the French Alps and the snow on the now not so distant mountains.

We wandered around this little town where there was really nothing to see except a big lake. Heather thought the best mode of attack was hot chocolate so we found a little café and met a very nice man and his wife, Monique, who ran it. The hot chocolate was great, and in spite of the sun outside, we huddled in there and thawed a bit and began to notice these frogs all over the place. Grenouille was pleased to meet some rellies, as was Monique to meet him. She was the compulsive collector of all the frogs in the café. We explained how we’d been heading for Digne and the big rock on the tracks and said how we’d been told about the beautiful lake so had come to see that. ‘It’s gone she said’ – ‘Empty!’ We thought we’d not understood at first, but due to whatever unknown reason to the villagers, the water had disappeared and she hoped maybe it would come back later when the rains came as it had been quite dry, but who knew… So we went to investigate for ourselves as we had a few hours before we could expect a train to take us back to Nice (and there is, alas, a limit to the number of hot chocolates and boulangerie advertisements one can decipher to pass the time!)

And voila! The lake had gone. So we wandered around taking photos of everything which is why we feel it important to foist this upon you, dear friends!

Nevertheless, we were totally exhausted by the time we finally swung and swerved our way back down to Nice on the little train…which mysteriously appeared from the direction of Digne??? We don’t know whether it was the lack of oxygen and the cold up in them thar hills or the swaying and rattling movement of the train, but when we got off in Nice central we were both in a trance-like dream in the hot afternoon, and felt like it took forever to crawl back to the Port and climb up the stairs to our little haven.

Thursday, the lovely Anne-Marie appeared at the door with mobile stuck to her ear yet again, ranting and raving in French at what we correctly suspected was the internet company. Finally the guy did show up – 1½ hours late, but at least he solved the problem and with kisses all round she disappeared down the stairwell again.

That meant Friday Heather spent most of the day trying to get the blog site up and running. In the evening we went out for dinner to a very atmospheric little vegetarian restaurant called La Zucca Magica down the road, which seemed to have cheese in nearly all of the 5 courses. Each course was very tasty, but very filling. Tina said she’d made a mistake of having ‘gazzy’ mineral water with dinner and felt like humpty dumpty by the time we left. Her stomach was as tight as a drum – so uncomfortable, and she said one stab in the stomach and she would’ve shot round the harbour like a deflating balloon.

Tina and Heather

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