The Train of the Pines
The “Little Train of Provence” found again!
“Hello Gerhard? How are you?”
“Just fine, thank you, and you?” he responded to George
The two friends had decided to meet at the Roissy Airport, just when the flight from Washington was to arrive.
Gerhard had been at Paris since the day before in order to take the French high-speed train, the TGV, to Nice.
11:24 a.m.: “Le TGV à destination de Nice ……” the voice of the loudspeaker got almost lost in the shrieking of the brakes ; the majestic blue-grey frame entered. Car #3 – Seats #32 & #33 – there was hardly enough time to settle down and already the TGV accelerated to reach its cruising speed of 300 km/hr, being about 200 m/hr. George was surprised and impressed. It was the first time that he traveled that fast.
“Ah, the French, after all, what a technology and what know-how” he said to Gerhard.
But that one, less impressed, told him that Siemens, with the ICE-trains, had surpassed all this.
The stations passed by: Macon, Valence, Avignon. It was time to move to the “Voiture-Bar”, just being the next car over. There, they ordered a ham-and-butter sandwich and a bottle of “Côtes du Rhône” wine. George did not understand well. Gerhard spoke to him about the Rhone Valley, the river and its pebbles. But where was the “Côte”? And then he thought that he had also spoken to him about the “Rhein-Gold”.
All this became a little confused in his mind; but, already, the TGV dove into the grand tunnel of Marseille and slowed down. At the exit, the train weaved its way through the maze of the switchyard. Then it began to resume its speed, now as a “Senator Train”, because by now it was on a classic track limited to 120 km/hr (about 80 m/hr) only.
The stations of La Ciotat, Bandol. The Great Blue, the Mediterranean, had appeared to their amazed eyes. After a short stop at St. Raphaël came the ecstasy as the TGV coiled through the curves of the massive red Esterel Mountains while skirting the intense blue of the sea with its small whitecaps in the coves. In the distance, some sailing boats kept their balance …. Then came Cannes, Antibes, and Nice at 17:44 h.
The two friends went to the hotel “West End” on the “Promenade des Anglais”, built under king Louis-Philippe, where the restaurant “Le Siècle” had retained its atmosphere of the “Belle Epoque”. The night had enveloped them in its dark cover and they dreamed to be the “kings of France”.
«Schnell ! Schnell ! » repeated Gerhard in his mind while walking swiftly. That was the way whenever he thought to be late. George was amused to see him excited since they still had enough time. The motor coach would not leave until 9:00 h and it was a small delight to look at the shop windows of the Jean Médecin Avenue.
The sun was warm at this beginning of June and the trees spent some pleasant shade. Finally, the “Gare du Sud” appeared, a modern building without charm. There was ticket window, the platform.
And there it was, a nice little motor coach in red and grey, with a trailer, softly rumbling. This equipment reminded Gerhard of the famous “Schienenbus” of the Black Forest.
“Schön, sehr schön”, called out the German.
”Really beautiful it is, your „Zug“ of the Pines!“ answered the lightly mocking American.
They sat down comfortably in front and, already, the whistle announced the departure.
At low speed, the motor coach pulled carefully forward to cross the Boulevard Gambetta where the automobilists ranted against this “vehicle of another age”. Then it accelerated as it quickly rode up to an elevation above the Russian Church and the “Lycée du Parc Impérial”. After a short tunnel, the convoy let itself glide at the dizzying speed of 50 kms/hr (35 m/h) into the Var valley while swaying along on the tracks.
The river loafed along between the pebble shores, once to the right, once to the left. Soon the Mescla Gorge was reached, the space became narrow and the two friends asked themselves how the motor coach could squeeze through all those rocks, contorting itself in the curves and counter curves. To their great surprise, the train suddenly dove into a tunnel to reappear an instant later at the level of what now was a torrent of grey and turquoise water. The “pin-pon” resonated along the rocky walls and the echo sent it back as a joyful “good morning”. Gerhard felt like in heaven and George said to himself that it would be only in France that one could find such a “voyage through time”.
It was just a little after ten o’clock when the train stopped in the station of Puget-Théniers. The two friends quickly stepped out. And there, on the other track, Gerhard could not believe his eyes. It was there, the “Pinguely”, gleaming in its green dress and red filaments. It puffed softly, the steam wafting here and there, a light grey smoke arose from the smokestack with a good coal fragrance. Behind it, the small grey baggage car and the three small cars as from the “Wild West”. That was really “wunderbar” and “wonderful”!
The whistle of the station master was heard, it was time to reach the platform.
The locomotive began to spit out the steam and abundant smoke rose into the blue sky.
“Tac-tac” made the wheels as they passed the switches before passing the level crossing and traversing the Var over the great metallic cage bridge. Without noticing one reached speed – 25, then 35 kms/hr (about 22 m/h), but not beyond.
Gerhard and George, their noses at the window, observed the scenery – so rocky, so dry. This river had so little water. That was not Arizona, but with lots of imagination ……….
The train stopped at the Entrevaux station, a small medieval city at the gates of Italy. That was at least what George believed, based on the fact that on the fortifications was written “Gate of Italy”. Gerhard felt obligated to explain to him that this region, as little as Nice, was ever Italian, having been a dependence of the Kingdom of Savoy and Sardinia.
The convoy left again, now attacking the long ramp that would lead it to Annot. The engineer gave it all the power the engine contained and slowly, from curves to viaducts, from tunnels to dizzying ravines, in the middle of the firs, the train moved up at its friendly pace.
The two friends had gotten up to move to the left side in order to better see the valley that became deeper and deeper in their view – they could not talk any longer. An eagle soared high above them in the sunlight in search of some prey.
A swallow followed their course for a moment, at least they thought so.
They were now on the high viaduct of “Coulomp”. All the way down below, a thin line of silver traced out a path in the rocks and in meager vegetation.
Then the rocks, the “”grit of Annot”, seized the “Train of the Pines” that reached the end of its voyage and let itself glide along the station’s platform.
It was almost midday, one hour to travel 25 kms (about 16 miles)! But this voyage, what excitement to have found again the “tortillard”, the everywhere stopping train of times past! Gerhard was really happy. He did not know how to thank George. He talked to the train’s engineer, then to the station chief. That one took his photo in front of the locomotive, then with George, then in front of the cars.
They enquired about lunch – there was all they ever wanted at the buffet: Pate, ham, cheese, bread, and wine.
They sat down in the sun under an umbrella to regain their strength, because they learned that on the other side of the station a delightful stroll expected them.
“Lets go”, said George. The two friends began their little walk. There, a sign intrigued them, indicating “The King’s Room”. Was there somewhere a castle or a palace with a king?
The path led in serpentines through the rocks and the trees. The air was sweet, the shade was light, and our “valiant fighters” went to attack the unknown. A level area of a rock allowed them to admire the already distant village, but there was not time to tarry.
At a bend of the trail, suddenly an enormous rock almost blocked their path; it was grey-black.
On its side, they discovered a small sign with an arrow in the direction of a small opening. There it was written: “Room of the King”! Where was then the big portal, they asked themselves ? But, by all indications, this was it.
It took them a while to decide to crouch down and enter on all fours with hesitation, but their curiosity prevailed. How dark it was! But slowly their eyes became accustomed.
Two large rock faces stood opposite to each other, only separated on top by an opening that allowed to see the sky.
And then, there really was a bed, in fact a flat rock that made it appear so. That was really unbelievable!
“Hello, Ho-Ho”, and the hall resonated with en echo. What an amusement! Then they photographed themselves in order to show this location to their friends.
But it was already time to get out and to return to take the train, again.
“You know”, said Gerhard to George”, “I saw the steam powered train, but not the blue and grey motor coach of the “Train of the Côte”. When I talked to the railway-men, I learned that I could find it somewhere in France.”
“Oh! Really? But where?” asked George.
« Well, that’s another story!”, answered Gerhard – but George, in spite of his insistence, could not find out more. Resigned, he realized that the continuation would find itself in the next and last part of these stories.
They arrived at the station at the same time as the train and a cloud of steam enveloped them. Their silhouettes blurred under the amazed eyes of the other travelers.
3 Décembre 2004
Note de l’auteur :
ANNOT (Alpes de Hte Provence) - Altitude 708 m - est située à 80 kms de Nice et desservie par 4 aller-retour avec les autorails des « Chemins de Fer de Provence », sur la ligne Nice <-> Digne.
Il faut compter 1 h 45 de trajet.
Certains dimanches d’été un train à vapeur d’époque, le fameux « Train des Pignes » est mis en route sur le trajet : Puget-Téniers <-> Entrevaux <-> Annot et retour. Il faut réserver plusieurs semaines à
l’avance tant le succès est grand.
Il y a un bon, mais simple, hôtel-restaurant « L’Avenue » en descendant de la gare.
Menus à 15 et 23 € - 11 chambres à 51 et 62 €.
Quant à la « Chambre du Roi » elle existe réellement sur le circuit forestier des « Grès d’Annot ».
Durée 2 h 30 - Etre équipé de chaussures de montagne, vêtements de sport confortables, sacs à dos avec
pique-nique et bouteille d’eau (1 L et demi par personne) ; lunettes de soleil et chapeau ou casquette.
Référence : Petit livre = 75 randonnées pédestres ; page 65
« Entre Digne et Nice avec le Train des Pignes ».
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