We’ve stopped. We’re still stopped. What’s wrong with this train?. Oh, it’s not a train. It’s a 2 bunk 4 person mini-dorm in Zurich. We are all cracking up by now.
Our day on the rails starts at 08:32. The river front by the Old Town area is delightful at this time of the morning. The usual coffee and pastry procurement exercises are completed and we move to the platform. It’s heaving. Loads of commuters and loads of school kids and assorted other tourists. The train is a huge double decker affair. We haven’t any reservations for this one so it’s going to be tricky.
We get on and once upstairs we see two sets of 4 with another free pair behind them, ideal. After collapsing one of us notices that these are actually reserved, damn it. Hang on, I’m not sure if I do have reservations for this after all. I take out my dwindling stack of tickets and yes!, we do. OK guys, we need to be in Wagen 5. “We are already in it skip”. Cool, what luck. OK, seats 101 to 110. “Er Mark , you are sitting in seat 101”. We all freeze, it seems preposterously unlikely that on a train holding about 5,000 seats that we’ve accidentally landed in the right ones. But we have.
We set off on another traversal between Europe’s great river basins. Today from the Rhine into the Rhone. Nice day, rolling hills, a series of very Germanic medieval hilltop towns and villages are passed. At Bern, the only capital we travel to but don’t change trains at, some of us take the trouble to get off and on. Alas it is an ugly subterranean affair, reminiscent of Birmingham New Street Over the Rhone valley watershed and into French Switzerland. The French Alps, the stuff with Mont Blanc somewhere in there, comes into view. It’s grand. It gets grander. Then POW!. Make sure you are on the left side of the train going Zurich-Geneva. The line suddenly bursts into the Geneva valley, the huge lake appearing out of nowhere. For a moment you feel like you are parascending. One of the most dramatic views of the whole trip. Now that’s saying something.
We are surrounded by vineyards. Special vineyards. Some of the finest wines available to humanity are nurtured here. This stuff hardly even gets out of this valley, let alone Switzerland. But no fear. Agent Saturno is waiting at the next station, Lausanne, with a bag full of wines, cheeses and chocolates. The best money can buy. Our saviour arrives with cooler bags, and more cooler bags, stuffed full of the best his adopted home can muster. Superb cheeses with truffles. Chocolates worthy of disputing my infuriating claim that “I reckon the Belgians have it in the chocolate department”. And a selection of these glorious wines.
The meeting with Fernando is short but very sweet. He trundles us under and round to the special international departures entrance at Geneva station. Brotherly hugs and it’s all over all too soon. Our next stop is Lyon. There’s loads of school kids again. We definitely don’t have reservations on this one. But we are getting good at this. A foursome with a table is obtained and the rest find sanctuary near by. Chief Gastronomy Officer and I investigate the booty. All the cheeses are delicately sliced into nibble size, and labelled. This identification is very important to a trainspotting food tourist. We couldn’t be worse prepared in a way, having cheesed our way round three quarters of Europe in the last fortnight. But these really are superb. CGO is actually of Belgian heritage and it’s difficult for him to admit their supremacy, but the choccies are really bloody good.
There’s still loads of kids moving about. They are about 9 or 10 years old, their teachers still trying to settle them all down. We have a spare seat in our 4 and so insist that one of them join us. We are rewarded with the most enchanting little girl. Apart from being as pretty as a little girl can be, she is delightfully confident. It’s a party, please help yourself, and she does, with gusto. Steve and I are bewitched and her every wish is our command. Outside the Rhone valley is spectacular. I wasn’t expecting Zurich-Geneva-Lyon to be especially fantastic after spending the previous day flying about at hors catégorie level. It is yet another superb day of views.
We arrive in Lyon. It’s a great place. You must come here sometime. Unfortunately it is about 200 degrees centigrade. I am now capable of walking about 10 feet without the need of an ambulance. Everyone else is physically and emotionally busted. The Tour de France is reaching it’s climax just round the corner from where we’ve just been. John locates a bar where we can have a plate of the day and watch a bit of cycling. It’s as French as we can manage. We return to the platform for the TGV to Paris.
My jaw falls off. It’s a double decker. We are going to be travelling at over 180 miles per hour in a 20 unit DOUBLE DECKER train. Getting on is another struggle. Is every bloody school in Europe on the rails today ?. We set off and the mental calculation I had started on the platform continues. I guestimate that the kinetic energy of this thing, full of people and at full whack of about 300 kmh, is between 500 and 1,000 lorries travelling at 60 mph up the M6. There was a train crash in France the other day. You don’t want to be in one of these when it’s flying if bad things happen. We hit full whack. It feels very fast.
At Paris Gare du Lyon we have to merely cross the Seine to find ourselves at Austerlitz. Both the tower, just, and the cathedral, can be seen from the bridge. We will cross France 3 times, and it’s capital twice. But the Pont d’Austerlitz is as much off train sightseeing as we will manage. We locate a base in a tabac café to consume croque mr and croque mrs. And I am able to restock my depleted nicotine fluid reserves. Then off to the train.
Yet more bloody tourists, billions of the buggers. All with two rucksacks each. Since when did this become the normal way to travel ?. The girls look like they are on a pregnancy training regime. The boys like they are arriving at a hall of residence with their entire belongings. My spine twitches every time I look at them. We board. It’s 2 berth but small. But the real downer is, contrary to the implications of a number of sources, there are NO showers on ANY 2nd class European sleepers ANYWHERE. Got that ?. We will have one shower on-board on the entire trip. That is in a 1st class carriage conveniently open for our use in Romania. That’s as good as it gets.
Barcelona here we come.
Start: In a dorm in Zurich
Train 38 08:32 Zurich to Geneva
Train 39 11:29 Geneva to Lyon
Train 40 17:04 Lyon Paris
Train 41 22:08 Paris Barcelona
Finish: Somewhere in France
Also on this day
Paul’s Photos http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/sets/72157634712390061/
Lloyd’s Blog http://www.lloydshepherd.com/2013/07/21/day-16-slingshot-around-paris/
Darren’s Blog http://blog.darrenf.org/2013/07/tourisme-grande-vitesse.html
Dave’s Blog http://disorientateddave.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/transport-of-delight.html