Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The slow train from Paris

Paris, Gare de Montparnasse.

My mission today is to take a train to somewhere. Chartres sounds nice. I've always wanted to go see their impressive cathedral. One hears so much about it in books and paintings, it'd be nice to see it for myself one day. Chartres it is, then.

Torn between stopping for a muffin & coffee and getting my ticket right away, I hear an anouncement: Incident on the line to Chartres. All trains in that direction are grounded for at least two hours.

Ah. Well, that's that. Breakfast first, then.

But where to, now?

Mantes-la-Jolie promises to be pretty. Bonus: the next train makes a bunch of stops before getting there, so I can dink around all I want. Sounds good. Departure at 8:39. In 9 minutes.

Miraculously, there's no line at the ticket counter. It takes me longer to elbow my way through the trainfull of people just arriving from Rennes as they scurry and stampede toward their Parisian jobs.

Bonus bonus: double decker train, with plenty of seats upstairs.

First stop: Sevres Rive Gauche. Paris suburbs all the way. Houses, small apartment blocks. The Seine must be near, but I can't see it from the train. Some of the graffiti along the tracks is quite artful, but not worth a stop.

Stop: Chaville Rive Gauche, just two minutes farther. Could be the same town, except the graffiti is lame and monotone.

Next: Viroflay Rive Gauche, two minutes again through the same endless suburbs. Some of the houses are larger and quite nice, now we're farther away. Some have a fabulous view of the tracke - they must have been thrilled when this line was put through. Now the bourgeois can watch the trains go by every few minutes as they lounge poolside or trim the roses.

Next: Versailles-Chantiers. Can't see the eponymous castle from here. But it's there. You just know.

Next: Saint Cyr. Finally we're passing through more open territory, hopping from one discernable town to another, with patches of woods in between. More os less hidden in the trackside woods are numerous schacks and shanties, smoke rising from cooking fires. No people are visible there.

The valley at St Cyr is full of fog and buildings as far as one can see. A bit of woods doesn't mean we've left the Paris burbs. They continue.

Next: Fontenay-le-Fleury in the same continuum. Not exactly fleuri (flowered) today.

Now the burbs are indeed breaking up. Between the patches of woods are occassional fields ready for planting and pastures with a scattering of horses.

Next: Villepreux-les-Clayes. Rows and rows of apartments on one side, early 20th century houses on the other. By the station is a giant parking lot for all the cummuters. A little farther down the trackes, houses with yards, laundry trying to dry, wheat fields...

Next: Plaisir-les-Clayes. I wonder what a claye is. To the left is a big mall with the usual stores, to the right an open field. Fields until they are lost in the haze.

Next: Plaisir Grignon. Not even two minutes from the last pleasure.

Next: Beynes. Pronounced "Ben". Now we have rolling hills, generous green or soon-to-be green fields lined with rows of trees, creeks in the hollows filled with willow tangles. An isolated farm stand is advertising asparagus and strawberries (strawberries?? whether imported from Morocco or the local hothouse kind, I'll pass. Try again in a month or two).

Next: Mareil-sur-Mauldre. Just like Beynes. If the thick ceiling would lift and brighten the day, it would be a nice place to go for a walk out of town between the fields and hamlets. If you could find the way, one train station to the next would only be half an hour on foot.

Next: Maule. Many taggers have signed their names to the defunct freight station here. There's even a portrait, though whether self-deprecating or a mockery of someone else is hard to say.

Next: Nézel-Aulnay. Nowhere much, here. There's a 2-court tennis club, but nobody is out playing.

We are warned that at the next station, Epône-Mezières, the door of the last car will not be at the quay. Our train is too long. So you'd better move forward if you want to get off there. Yeah, if there's anybody left. I'm all alone in my car now.

Interesting. I was expecting some tiny hamlet, that the quay would be too short for a standard train. But no, this semi-industrial town is the largest we've been to since leaving the burbs. WTF?

Last stop: Mantes-la-Jolie. It's 9:58.

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