Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.
Who: Andrea Lee Negroni of Arlington, Va.
Where, when, why: I went hiking for one week, from Menton, France, solo along the French Riviera. After my retirement from a law practice and 33 years of sitting in office chairs, conference rooms and airplane seats, I was determined to get outdoors. My busy work schedule was an excuse to avoid the gym, and I wanted to enjoy a healthful lifestyle in retirement. I also wanted to test myself physically and see if I could still move, walk, hike, climb and swim.
Highlights and high points: The words “French Riviera” conjure up images of bronzed jet-setters on their yachts, but I assumed these were exaggerated stereotypes. In reality, the Mediterranean Sea was bluer than I had imagined, the yachts were bigger than I had expected and the insouciance of the wealthy holiday-makers and residents reinforced the stereotypes. Once I made it to an altitude of 3,000 feet on a 90-plus-degree day, the view really did make my eyes pop.
Cultural connection or disconnect: I connected with another hiker from New Zealand, who had lost her glasses in the sea. Her vision was really terrible and she couldn’t continue without new glasses, so I loaned her a pair of mine. They weren’t the right prescription, but at least she could go on. We are both lawyers (she practices in Australia) so we had a lot to talk about as we hiked, and we became fast friends.
Biggest laugh or cry: Menton is called the “city of lemons and limes,” because the citrus trees grow year-round in southern France. It’s a charming seaside town, only three kilometers from the Italian border. I took a “day off” from hiking, rented a bicycle and rode across the border into Italy. What I saw there really did bring tears to my eyes. Hundreds of African immigrants were sitting around the parks, the beach and the roadside in the scorching heat, with very little clothing and no apparent source of food or water. Most were very skinny and almost none of them spoke English, French or Spanish when I tried to converse. The Italian border guards were out in force, preventing them from crossing into France. (The French border guards were present in smaller numbers, and their weapons were less obvious.) We are reading so much about the migration from Africa and the Middle East to Europe, but seeing these desperate people waiting for who knows what — and for who knows how long — was really heartbreaking.
How unexpected: This destination was completely new to me. I chose the hiking trip because it promised a week outdoors and strenuous exercise in a country I love — France. I have been to Paris many times, but never to the Riviera. But the French (and quite a few Germans and Swiss) love Menton and vacation there regularly. It’s only an hour to Monte Carlo, Monaco, and less than two hours by bus to Nice (Bonus — the bus fare is less than 2 euros.) The restaurants line the seawall in Menton, so every night the smell of salt air mixes with the fragrance of fresh fish being grilled or fried. I loved the way both locals and tourists paraded back and forth along the seawall every night, and the fact that couples of all ages, from teens to senior citizens, held hands during their evening walks.
Fondest memento or memory: For me, the realization that I could rejuvenate myself and appreciate a physical workout was a huge gift. I went to Menton unsure if I could keep up with a 42-kilometer hike with altitudes as high as a mile above sea level, and walks as long as 10 hours in a single day. It was brutally hot, but I powered through, with only one day off. When I got back home, I committed to an exercise program and have stuck to it. I am going to make up for lost time in the future, and work exercise and outdoor activity into every vacation, and every day.
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