Thursday, January 28, 2010

Going to Strasbourg

It's always nice to get on the train and go. Especially a nice new comfy train that's not too crowded. Some of the trains they have serving Clermont-Lyon are real relics, should be taken to Culoz for graffiti and breaking. This one's a good new one.

Our first destination I've been to many a time: Lyon.

I'll have an hour and twenty minutes and the Part-Dieu station. It's the nicer one, with decent shops and coffee & pastry, a major shopping mall across the street and a dozen restaurants all close by. Just perfect since I'll be there right at lunchtime, ready for a hot meal rather than a cold sandwich.

From Lyon it's off to Strasbourg, where I've also been but only once. And it didn't count fully because I saw it with Iris, which meant we saw the insides of the museums and never got a chance to walk just everywhere and see it all in person.

In Clermont, waiting to go. The train is waiting at the quay; no need to get cold outside. I pick the best window, facing forward. People are spilling out of the train across the quay, just in from somewhere. They hurry off to the tunnel and then to work, school, appointments.

Here we go. Gently, without warning but for the clock ticking over to 8:58, we head slowly north.

It's a grey, grey morning. Did the sun come up? It must have by now.

It's cold enough to snow, but hasn't. The crows' nests and mistletoe stand our in the naked trees. Interesting - none of the mistletoe trees have nests, and the trees with nests don't have mistletoe infestations. I wonder if there's a reason for that, or if I just don't have time, for a heavily infested tree, to see that each clump is plant, not nest. Could just be chance, too. If 5% of trees are infested, and 2% of trees have crows, then only one in a thousand should have both, just at random.

Past Roanne, fields dusted with snow. Closer to Tarare the patches in the tree-shaded gullies are big enough to gather snowballs. Then back to grey.

Rolling through the stark and shivering countryside there are not many crows about, just a few picking at the leavings in the cornfields. Plenty of hawks instead, sitting fluffed up in the trees and on poles.

Lyon Part-Dieu station is unheated, as far as I can tell. And why should it be, with all the open stairways leading up to the quays, and people constantly going in and out of the big doors to the street. Happy to be out of the wind and weather, but it isn't warm!

I have lunch at the only sit-down restaurant I don't have to go outside to get to. Yes, it is heated, though there has long been no fire in the generous fireplace along one wall. The restroom, in spite of the code to get in, is full of young women begging and warming their gloved hands under the blower. Over the noise I can't tell what language they're begging in, but it isn't French.

The news lately has been doing a series on pickpockets in France. The footage is mostly from the Paris metro. I'm not the sort to take all my baggage with me to the restroom, though one of my Paris friends certainly would. I have my shoulder bag with me, but the beggar girls remind me of the Bulgarian gangs working Paris and other major cities, making me wonder about my duffel, which contains my computer and my knitting, and not only the irreplacable Maurice but the visiting gecko, Warren. Not to worry - all is in place at my table when I return, guarded by my travel-weary poster tube.

This tube, in fact hasn't travelled all that much. It went by car once from Toulouse to Clermont. Its only major journey has been to Denver, where the airline did in fact lose track of it, delivering it to my hotel in extremis the morning of my poster presentation two days later, covered in stickers and barcodes and black gummy areas where stickers had been removed. One of the orange end parts has been lost, so it's closed on one end with an old TSA notice of inspection and some laboratory tape. What bearer of such a ratty-looking poster tube (the contents, I assure you, are first class!) could ever have treasures worth stealing in a small, cheap duffel bag?

Un dessert, madame?

I shouldn't, but by the clock I've got 40 minutes to go. I say I'll look at the menu, meaning to marshal my resolve and order just coffee. But I remember the coffee here is nasty, and see they have crème brulée...

An excellent crème brulée, in fact, surprising considering the dubious quality of my gnocchi gratinée.

The restaurant has quite filled up since my arrival. Everybody else is having roast chicken, steaks & fries with salads, large glasses of beer. The carpaccio at a table nearby, when I finally figure out that that's what it is, is so covered with oil and garnishes that I'm glad I didn't go with that as I almost did. It's a steak place: go with the faux filet next time and you won't be dissappointed.

12:30. Time to go find my train. I hope it's not coming from Perrache, the other Lyon station, and just passing through here. I'd like to be able to get on early, out of the cold, and settle in for the 5 hours to Strasbourg. On the way I pick up some schedules for trains from Lyon. I have a discount pass to travel to this particular region that's good until May. I should take advantage. See some more of the little places.

Well, the train is coming from Perrache, so the crowd waits for it. I tried to reserve a window seat online, but was given an aisle, often a sign that the train is full. But no. They just decided to fill the reservations back to front. There are seven reserved seats in the entire car, which seats more than 50. All elbow to elbow at the back. So once again I pick the cleanest, unobstructed window I can find.

It's a pleasant ride, through the countryside of eastern France. The vineyards of the Jura roll by on their low hillsides. A paddock of shaggy ponies. A huge castle in the distance. Going through towns we have a good view of backyards, strewn with the things of life, swimming pools with ice on their covers. I took this day on the train instead of flying mostly to have this time of relaxation, time to look out the window and think of random things, read a book, just be still for a while.

1 comment:

Bagman and Butler said...

If you wrote a travel book, I'd buy it. You mention of pickpockets reminds me of a couple of stories I need to blog sometime. Thanks.