Tuesday, March 13, 2012

St Etienne Chateauxcreux Station

11:30 to Firminy: off it goes

11:50 to Lyon, track E, waiting already at half past, a double -decker. I like those. You can sit upstairs and see over most of the hedges that line the tracks for miles and miles.

11:52 to Roanne, track F, the other side of the same tongue of concrete between the snakey tracks. Hanging out on the quay are 40 or 50 people, either waiting for the 11:52 to Roanne to appear, or having a smoke before boarding for Lyon. I'd say about half and half - Roanne isn't a very big place; how many people could possibly be going there? They stay huddled in the middle, between the vending machine and the stairway. Nobody moves down the quay far enough to get out of the Lyon trains's shadow and into the weak but helpful sunlight. They tighten their scarves against the chilly breeze, then flick their butts onto the tracks before boarding for Lyon.

The conductor gets on at 11:49, and the agents on the quay speak into their walkie-talkies over the last loudspeaker announcement. A whistle blows, doors close, and the train squeaks and rattles its way east.


Roanne will be 10 minutes late.

12:04 to Lyon, track B. A dozen waiting travellers are revealed by the departure of the 11:50. I wonder why they didn't just take the other train, but then there are two stations in Lyon, and maybe they have their reasons. My view is quickly blocked by the arrival of the 12:08 to Montbrison. That's on my way home. I could take it and lunch there and then continue. Though...why? I was in Montbrison years ago, and there's nothing.

*Correction: the 11:52 to Roanne will be 15 minutes late* Sorry.

The train to Montbrison promises also such exotic burgs and hamlets as Bonson, and Suny-le-Comtal, or St Romain-le-Puy. Interesting places I'm sure. I could eat my sandwich in one of these unexpected locales, and my lemon cake, but you can get stuck there for a long train-wait, and this cold wind says Not Today.

*Correction: the 11:52 to Roanne will be 20 minutes late* Sorry.

If this continues, it will leave later than the next train to Roanne, scheduled for 12:22.

12:13 to Paris, track B, loaded up and ready to zip down the rails at high speed, has closed its doors and blown its whistles. Off it goes. Via Lyon, naturally, in case anybody needs to go there.

Ah, here is the 12:22 to Roanne, track F, taking on passengers. Not everybody wants it, since this one is going direct to Roanne and the other stops at the wonderlands of Boutheon, St Galmar, Montrond, Feurs, Balbigny, St Jodard, and Le Coteau. And indeed, here that one comes, ready to load up at last. No worries - the SNCF will get you there eventually.

12:20 to Lyon, track B. Again. Can't fail to go to Lyon if you're in St Etienne. Incontournable. Can't get around it.

12:30 to Clermont-Ferrand, track E. A train of interest - let's go.

Clermont is only an hour and a half from St Etienne on the freeway, but we'll take more than 2 hours to get there, taking the scenic route and stopping to smell the roses. The sun is deliciously warm with the window between me and the wind. For the first time today I take my coat off.

12:34 St Etienne La Terrasse. Not out of town yet.

12:46 Bonson. Sandwich consumed. A splotch of low houses on the plain, I think I've seen enough of Bonson from the train.

12:58 Montbrison. LIke Bonson, only very much larger. Lemon cake consumed.

13:16 Boen, nestled into the hills of the Haut Forez area. Barely a village with a bar and a grocery, I bet there's good kiking here if you can find the trailheads.

13:32 Noiretable, still in the Haut Forez. This is another place I've always meant to come explore, a mix of fields and forest and steep hills with white water in the creases between them. Soon.

14:02 Thiers, city of knives. Well, with all these cows around, you've got to have good knives. Thiers, where pasture is limited because of the steep hills, has made steak-facilitators a specialty.

14:33 Clermont-Ferrand. Time to get back to work.

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