Friday, September 27, 2013

Trains in France

Yet another departure from Clermont-Ferrand. Same old station, with the usual magazines, the usual snacks, the usual ebb and flow of travellers. And always a few people apparently going nowhere. Just hanging out. 
Riom, eight minutes down the line. A sort of Clermont annexe, just far enough away to not be on the bus network. You can take the train there for free, though. They never check tickets between here and Clermont. 
Vichy, all beige plaster. I keep meaning to come here, and take a long walk along the Allier. With fall arriving, and the corn fields half green, half gold, it should be a very pleasant hike. Surely there's a GR trail that goes all the way to the confluence with the Loire. Or indeed, back to Clermont, make it a one-way trip. I should go someday, really. Pencil that in for October 5, unless I'm playing cards with Jean-Philippe. Jean-Philippe and his knobby hands two sizes too big for him. 
Roanne. I've stopped in Roanne twice now, briefly. Not much of interest in the town. The surrounding countryside of gentle hills with their white cows and wheat fields is nice, but much the same as countryside much closer to home. I wonder what the countryside is like around Angouleme. That's where Jean-Philippe has gone, visiting family. There are lots of parts of France I haven't seen yet. Never been to Lille, or Brest, either. Or the numerous islands. Too much staying at home. 
This morning's countryside I've seen many times, in all weathers. I've made all the station stops from Clermont to Lyon, excepting a couple on the alternate route through Noiretable. Once east of Lyon I'll be in nearly-new territory, and east of Chambery it's a proper adventure. 
Hey, there was a pheasant in that field. Pheasants all over if you stop to notice them. 
White cow. Brown cows. White & brown spotted cows. 
Knobbly cowlets hanging close to their mothers. 
The early haze has consolidated into picturesque cotton balls in the sky; a perfect late September day. 
The train yard at Roanne has a dozen or more tracks. What on earth do they do with them all? Stations like this usually have maybe six. The two extra tracks closest to the quays have idle passenger trains waiting for the short run to Lyon. Or just waiting. The rest don't get a lot of traffic, to judge from the weeds growing up, and the absence of that shiny strip on the top of the rail where the wheels rub.. Nary an empty freight to be seen here, not even one covered with bright graffiti. 
 Tarare. Tarare-arare-arare. I remember the kind man from the sandwich shop who gave me a lift to the only hotel around, a couple of miles up the busy road to Lyon. It's strange for a town to have nothing at all in the way of accomodation, either near the train station or in the old center. I'd never encountered that before. Sometimes you don't sleep in great comfort, but there's always a place to sleep. Not in Tarare. Do have a sandwich at the shop, though. 
I like the little train yard at Tarare (a reasonable, 4-track yard). Passing through today I see it's just the same. Years ago, the train people laid out all the things necessary for rail repair, neat little piles in neat rows. Pile of really large bolts. Pile of large bolts. Pile of small bolts. Stacks of concrete tie-ends, stacks of oily wooden ties. Pile of L-shaped metal things. Dozens and dozens of piles. Nothing mixed, no pile touching another. Then they left them there to oxidize and to take on spider webs, and the weeds grew all in and around them. The trains still go by, Lyon on the north track, Clermont on the south. Nobody disturbs the piles of rusting train gear. 
Standing in line for a sandwich at Lyon Part-Dieu, a Roma girl with a baby stroller is begging for change from the crowd. We're hungry, can't we see she is too? I have three apples with me, so I offer her one. What do you know, but she doesn't want it. Oh, she takes it, but she clearly isn't interested. Cash only, please. Yeah, sure. 
France has a lot of obsolete rolling stock. Old passenger cars are stacked up on the spur rails of every city and town. A dozen here, a handful there, it must add up to thousands. Sometimes they're not so derelict as originally thought. Take the 18503 to Modane. Not yet graffit-covered, but you'd expect this square model with its plain corrugated metal exterior to be retired. No, no. Not yet. The inside was redone maybe 6-8 years ago, with the same seats you find in the nice car I just arrived on. It could use another change of carpet. And seatcovers, and some serious window washing, but it's alright. I hope I will not need to discover the quality of the toilets, but it's a ways to my next change. 
Bourgoin-Jallieu. Still more or less Lyon. Our jokey conductor tells us we are all prisoners: nobody get off the train! Alright, alright. Nobody thought we'd be stopping here anyway. Nobody's desire to stroll around Bourgoin-Jallieu is strong enough to make them rush for the door in the 30 seconds we're stopped, baggage and cellphone in hand. Then we start moving, and the opportunity for this particular serendipitous adventure is over. Could be fun to just get off at some random stop, though. Surely there would be a park bench under a generous oak in a town square, where I could have my sandwich. Surely there would be a dirt track winding up the riverside and then up the crest of the ridge, giving a glorious panoramic well worth the effort. Surely there would be a tiny restaurant down a cobblestoned alley with just the most fabulous roast rabbit you've ever put a fork to. Surely! Some other time. I have plans for Italian tonight. 
Pont du Beauvoisin. Bridge of the Handsome Neighbor. From the track, I see nothing but corn, cows, hedges, woods, pear trees. Finally a village. Nine new passengers, 2 bicycles. The pause here at Pont du Beauvoisin drags on, and it is announced that there's a broken rail ahead and we will be delayed. In French, the delay is "indefinite", but in English it is specified about 15 minutes. Hmm. Why? If you say 15 minutes to French people, is there trouble at 16? But English people, they just keep waiting. Do they realize the language does not divide us into these or those people any more? He didn't tell us not to get off the train, and the smokers make a beeline for the exits. 
15 minutes. If it is 15, that's fine. I have 40 to catch my connection in Chambéry. If it turns out to be a 5-hour SNCF classic, that would not be so good. Ah, here we go again. 
LePinLeLacLaBauche. The pine, the lake, and whatever a bauche is. 17 years, and I have not yet needed that particular word. Nice little place in the lower Alps. I was here once, for a random hike. And there's that bluer than blue lake. Seems too blue for a real lake. Like a swimming pool with the bottom painted. But no, it's a regular lake. As for the pine, take your pick. 
Chambéry. We drive through the city of Chambéry a good ten minutes before arriving at the station. I hadn't thought the place was that big, and perhaps it isn't, it's just spread out along the valleys. No time to explore today, just enough to snap a bit of nice train graffiti. Trains do have some of the best work. The rail problem in Pont de Beauvoisin held us up for just 12 minutes, but the problem seems to have gotten worse since. Trains passing that way are being announced with half an hour delay (their way of saying 30 + but probably less than an hour). The train going back the route I just followed is even being re-routed, and they've put a bus in for the small stops. So it seems I was lucky to make my connection here.  
Or was I? 
I'm waiting for the daytime Paris-Milan TGV, and it stops in Lyon. So why didn't the SNCF just have me catch it in Lyon? Mystery. Perhaps they wanted to show off the variety of trains they have. This one is great, a shiny new TGV, gigantic seats, clean, comfortable. 
Modane. Last station in France! Last one! Get off while you can! Now, there is some good, good hiking around Modane. Mountains and jagged rocks, not gentle little softie hills (no matter how steep and nettle-filled the ravines). People with boots and backpacks mill around on the quay. No snow on the spiky hieghts yet, but that will come soon.

1 comment:

The Bug said...

I loved this journey through France! I would like to hear more about Jean-Philippe's knobby hands though ;)