Guest poster John Williams of Travel Crunch relays an eventful European train journey combining two of his passions: snowboarding and slow travel.
This was a journey I was really looking forward to. To catch a train out of Brussels at 8pm and arrive at my apartment in Chamonix by 10:30 am next morning, having slept overnight on the Lunea sleeper train. Riding a snowboard in the mountains by noon. The next part of this post was a travelogue of my journey, but after several attempts at making it interesting I gave in.
So instead I will pick up the story at Gare Austerlitz after leaving Brussels on Sunday 23rd March and enjoying a fast Thalys train ride followed by a slower journey on a slightly disrupted Paris Metro.
Gare d’Austerlitz, Paris
Deep inside me, I sensed something was wrong. The departures board looked sparse and there were only two trains in the station. A queue of disheartened passengers was trialling out from the Information Desks. I queued patiently. The cheerful man on the desk took my ticket and initiated a computer search. He handed me an itinerary, informing me that he had good news for me? I read it and disagreed, the printed A4 paper read: 24 March 2010: Depart Gare de Lyon, 10h50, arrival Chamonix, 19h12.
He spoke of a “pertubation” (disruption). “Where am I going to sleep”, I asked. He pointed to one of the sleeper trains at the platform. An official checked my ticket and allocated a couchette. All of the toilets were locked on the train and I was directed to a smelly SNCF employees’ toilet about 600 metres from my train compartment. I slept fitfully, until woken at 6am. I sprinted to the workers’ toilet and washed with cold water.
The “pertubation” turned out to be a “grève” (strike). I had purchased my ticket from Chamonix station, if I had booked online I would have received an e-mail warning. I also missed the TV programmes announcing the strike, as I was out of France when they had been aired. With just over 4 hours to kill in Paris, I found a small café and ate breakfast. Afterwards I walked across the river and explored a little of the Arrondissement, taking a few photos and carrying out some people watching, as the clerical workers arrived in the city. One man in a pin-striped suit stood out. He was riding a child’s scooter to work, I supposed it was faster than walking.
A stop off at Annecy
The rest of my journey involved a ride on a TGV Duplex train to Annecy, where timetabled wait was just under 2 hours, so I took the opportunity to see if the town lived up to the hype as being picture postcard perfect. I wandered off to the Lake edge passing the canal and the Palais de l’Isle. I was not disappointed. Two more local trains and I was heading up into the Chamonix valley.
By the time we reached Les Houches it was too dark to experience the thrill of seeing the trees, glaciers and jagged peaks of the Chamonix Valley appear before me. The train arrived just after 7pm and a few minutes later I was back at my apartment ready for a meal, a drink at the Couleur Café and then good night’s sleep. At least the neighbours were quiet that night.
I was disappointed, but not enough to stop me attempting this journey again!
If I had purchased online, this would have been a much shorter account, along the lines of “went to sleep in Paris, woke up at Cluses…”
On the positive side I enjoyed a journey in daylight. I visited a little more of Paris, saw lots of French countryside and fell a little in love with Annecy.
On the negative side, I missed half a day’s shredding! At least it wasn’t a powder day! All of the other inconveniences or should I say lack of conveniences and washing facilities, were just another adventure.
Welsh powder fiend John Williams lives in Brussels. His main blog Travel Crunch looks at budget travel done in a sustainable way. He’s an active and fun travel tweeter too. Follow him there as @eurapart.