Saturday, May 4, 2013

Traveling Solo

To some people, traversing Europe by train is routine and uneventful. And today was not my first experience with the French SNCF rail system. But it was the first time navigating on my own without someone to hold my hand, buy the ticket, remember to validate the ticket at the yellow composteur machine before boarding, and figure out which train on which track.

Traveling without adult supervision presented a potentially confusing sequence of events in which I envisioned D-L on the other end of the phone line, asking incredulously, "You ended up where?!" (Except I didn't have a working cell phone with me, and I'm not sure I could have figured out the French public phones.)

Fortunately, I managed to board three different trains in Argeles-sur-mer, Montpellier, and Lyon, and succeeded in getting to Geneva, Switzerland.

Not without a few nervous moments.

I thought I had ticked all the preparation boxes for the journey. Yet, I seem to forget something significant just about every time I travel. One time, heading for Montreal in winter, I left my overcoat in my car at the long-term parking at DFW - had to ask the shuttle driver to take me back to retrieve it. Another time I went to Dubai and Europe, and forgot the power cord to my computer. After the battery gave out, I survived by iPad and borrowed computers from friends.

This morning, knowing Geneva had not yet thrown off the winter chill, I intended to wear my heavy suede bomber jacket. Wasn't in the closet. Nor on the chair where I had last seen it. Aha! I must have left it at Barbara's (good friend of D-L's) the night before when we watched a couple episodes of the Big Bang Theory (Season 1) and had cheddar popcorn.

After retrieving my jacket and walking with Barbara through the marche (Saturday street market) to the boulangerie (bakery), I continued to the train station, thinking I had plenty of time. Even started reading A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle. Took a couple photos of Canagou, which still has snow on the peaks.

I was about to put the book away and get in the queue to board - thinking I still had a good 10-15 minutes - when the regional ter train rolled into the station. Mmm. 10 minutes early. Maybe this is not the right train, I thought. And the final destination for the train was Avignon, not Montpellier, where I was going first. Should I board? There aren't that many trains that stop in little Argeles, especially on Saturdays. So I figured I'd better get on. I was relieved - after we started pulling away - to see (on the digital crawl message sign) that Montpellier was indeed one of the stops.

In Montpellier, had about an hour before the TVG high-speed train to Lyon Part Dieu. No problem identifying the right train. However, this one required an assigned seat, and I found, quite by accident, the correct car (16) with an upstairs seat on the double-decker.

Lyon-Geneva, the last of the three legs, was a bit more problematic. When the signboard in the rather large Lyon station announced the Geneve Voyageurs TGV would leave from Track E, I headed up the ramp immediately. One thing I've learned - some trains don't hang around the station very long. Barely time for exiting passengers to get off and the wave of new occupants to jump on.

By the way, throughout I was lugging a large rolling duffel (which I am pleased has straps to use as a really big backpack) and a rolling carry-on. Just before the ter arrived in Argeles, the carry-on handle broke. The prospect of carrying its 40 pounds all day was not appealing. But I had fortuitously packed a roll of duct tape - which I use to seal baggies so liquids don't leak all over my clothes - and I trussed up the luggage handle sufficient to manuever it.

Lyon-Geneva was supposed to be a high-speed TGV. But around the appointed time, a regional ter pulled in. Dilemma time again - get on? It was on Track E. Spotted a couple of SNCF agents, and asked in my rudimentary French, "A Geneve?" "Apres," the female agent responded - after this train. Shortly thereafter they announced the TGV was running about 15 minutes late.

I won't bore you with the scene of my fiancee Donna-Lane greeting me in Geneva after being apart for the past 10 weeks. I'm sure you can fill that in with your imagination.

Oh, the trains weren't running "early" as I thought in Argeles and Montpellier. When I turned on my tablet in Lyon to try to connect to the free WiFi, I discovered my watch was about ... oh, 10 minutes slow! The last time I had set it was a week ago by guesstimate when my plane landed in Barcelona. (Note to self: new item for travel checklist - synchronize watch.)

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