Solipsism and Me

Idle reports from an idle fellow

Festina Lente (4)

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STAGE 4

A leisurely breakfast after a good night’s sleep. The sky outside is very gray, and I did my tourism yesterday, so I spend the hour or so before my train is due to go sitting in the very comfortable salon and banging my head against the agora stylesheet, to little avail alas.

20130602_110918_v1Back to the station in plenty of time for the 11h59 which turns out to be the same style TER as yesterday, i.e. a real loco with one 1st class carriage containing some fairly unkempt compartments without doors … one is empty for me.

12h10 Belleville sur Saone. People stand in the station and wave us off, how charming. The old engine shed has been turned into a functioning car park. Large industrial sheds alternate with an English style countryside complete with gray sky. The towns seem to be coming more frequently round these parts, but maybe it’s just because the train’s going faster.

12h20 Villefranche sur saone for example

12:28 : St Germain au mont d’or has a rather impressive re-constructed station with some fancy brickwork. The train from here on is following the Saone river, which means glimpses of holiday homes, posh hotels, and speedboats for a change. After a few more miles flirtation with it, the train metaphorically takes a deep breath and zooms across the river, into a tunnel, back over the river again and so eventually into the proud city of Lyon, where it is time for lunch.

Lyon Part DieuI’m too lazy to leave the immediate surroundings of Part Dieu, so I chomp my way through a bavette frites at the Cafe des Vosges, sitting in the shade and ignoring a really bad street musician outside the station which (I discover after lunch) has now installed a free wifi service. Which is nice, though it takes me about 15 minutes to get connected and send a status update to Fessebouqe, before reluctantly concluding that it’s also a bit crap.

My 14h38 departure turns out to be another proper train with a locomotive. It even has a modern first class carriage with comfy seats, and a scattering of prises electriques, though the windows are grimy and small.

15h01: Bourgoin Jallieu  (altitude 254 m) is already up in the hills and boasts an immense locable bike shed, as well as a fine graveyard. The terrain constrains the train to follow the same route as the motorway  A43: there is a mountain to the right and this is becoming alpine country, trees everywhere, villages on the hillside. The train slows down with the gradient and crawls up the side of the mountain. You can see why the tgvs dont come this way.

1517 La tour du pin  (altitude 339 m) looks as if it should be in Italy, and the sun comes out to underline the fact. The train picks up speed over the mountain top pastures and little villages. There’s grazing land here, and also I think some vines. A herd of goats. Beehives. Carefully enclosed sheep. The train takes a sharp right turn onto a branch-line  and continues to descend, through deep cuts, and now we have some fairly spectacular views or would do if the windows were cleaner and the sky less overcast.

1533: Pont de Beauvoisin  (altitude 277 m ) is another Italian style station mysteriously transported to the french alps, affording delightful prospects over the river valley below, not to mention the occasional lake. Some serious looking mountains loom ahead, but the train is going down a steep gradient, through cuttings and past neglected stations. On the mist-topped mountains above there are occasional little villages. There seems to have been a major outbreak of scenic cuteness hereabouts, with added lakes and chalets. I expect Julie Andrews to start singing at any moment. It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon so people are out walking their dogs and their families. A couple more tunnels, and we are through the mountain that has been looming ahead all this time, emerging into a deep cutting that leads down the valley, past the timber yards, the allotments, the sportive centre, a quick glimpse of the celebrated round engine shed, and here we are at the rather unprepossessing Gare de Chambery Challes les eaux.

Famous round engine shed at Chambery

The short walk to my chambre d’hote starts off with some unpromising road works (they’re installing a new tramline here too) but my opinion of the town takes a sudden leap upwards on my first glimpse of its celebrated elephants, known locally (I later learn) as the quatre sans q.

20130602_153646These adorn a monument to the memory of local benefactor Benoît de Boigne  (whose biography is worth a read). Benoit is on top of the tower, and there are four elephants at its base, spouting water magnificently from their trunks. It stands at one end of a fine colonnaded street leading to the ducal castle and definitely vaut le détour.

Tonight I am staying in the next best thing to a château: a carefully restored 18th c hotel. My room is huge: all parquet and antique furniture, and includes (amonst others) a painting of supercilious 18th c lady who clearly thinks I don’t belong here. But my hundred euros are as good as the next man’s ma’am, so I spread my goods and chattels around the room, and check out the wifi.

Chambery’s old town is also famous for its traboules – unexpected little passageways and courtyards linking the narrow twisty streets – so I have a nice evening wandering around exploring them until my feet say it is dinner time. I dine at Le Sporting on a rather disappointing tartiflette (potatoes a bit dry) washed down with an interesting local white wine and find my way back to my immense chambre

JeanJacques Rousseau wuz ere

JeanJacques Rousseau wuz ere

Jean-Jacques Rousseau stayed here in 1732, with Mme Warens across the way, and they don’t seem to have done much to clean up his digs since he left. All very pleasant.

STAGE  5

A lovely sunny morning. Sit in my salon for an hour or so after breakfast trying to deal with some minor domestic crises by wifi, then a pleasant stroll through Chambery, which I now know almost by heart (it’s a VERY SMALL TOWN)…. see photos. Last night’s dinner weighs heavy, so I pause at the Café du Théatre for a tarte aux oignons and a glass of a different local white wine before strolling back to the station in good time for the 14h24 departure.

20130603_131637The last TER of my trip is more like what might have been expected: about four elderly much graffitoed carriages being shunted between Annecy and Grenoble by an old fashioned loco. Hey, these carriages are so old they actually have windows that you can open. Which I do, since the sun is still shining brightly as we rumble out of the tunnel and gingerly start advancing back up the hill.

20130603_134555As it picks up speed the train starts shaking about in an appropriate way. Yesterday was quite mountainous, but this line (the alternative approach to Grenoble) is the real alpine thing. The semi-vertical fields we pass are planted with young vines in rows like cornrows.

14h35 Montmelian  (285m) is evidently a wine growing centre, but the main crop in the areas beyond it is tree. The mountains looming to left and to right as we rattle on are snow topped and imposing.

20130603_13471714h42 Pontcherra sur breda (256m) has a grand marché bio and a scattering of alpine houses.

14h:49 Goncelin (242) has a nice new station with some fancy lampposts. There are just a few houses on the lower part of the mountains to the left, linked by a line of electric pylons to the valley below.

14h58 Brignoud. (229) Another typical tiny halt, this one with a lockable bike shed, and a nice pink station.

This train doesnt start smoothly like others. It gives a warning siren call, lurches into motion, honks defiantly, and then starts picking up speed. This end of the valley is mostly planted with young trees, though I did see a few cows.

1503 Lancey (229) seems to have more houses, but its station looks just the same, Big timber yard, followed by quite a lot of recent housong development. Do people retire to Lancey in the heart of the Savoie to enjoy the mountain air? Presumably so. Or maybe there are jobs here? Certainly there are quite a few nice new clean factory buildings as we approach the Grenoblois conurbation. All very green and geo-thermal of course.

15h08 We stop at Gières, (216) which is also the station for Grenoble university. The train on the opposite platform is a TER bound for Geneve – nearer than you might think. Modern high rise buildings, presumably associated with the University campus, shoot by. We’re still surrounded by mountains, but they no longer dominate the view, as the city of Grenoble rushes up to engulf us. Here’s a motorway. Here’s 15h16: Echirolles a typical suburban station surrounded by tall blocks of flats. Could be anywhere in France, except for the mountain backdrop. And so to Grenoble proper.

Grenoble: view from my hotel window

Grenoble: view from my hotel window

I am here to attend the newly constituted conseil scientifique of the MSH de Rhones-Alpes, which is due to meet tomorrow afternoon (and not morning as I thought when planning this trip). But that’s another and quite boring story. My heroic journey from the top left corner of the hexagon to the bottom right corner has been successfully accomplished, without taking a TGV or passing through Paris. Total travel cost 108.6 euros in first class (where available). Total time sitting on a train 11 and a half hours.

And the return journey you cry? OK, I confess. I took the TGV from Grenoble to Paris (3 hours non-stop) the Eurostar ftrom Paris to London (2.5 ditto). Total cost 172 euros. Total time sitting on a train 5.5 hours. But time isn’t everything, is it…

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Written by Lou

June 6, 2013 at 11:38

Posted in Biographical

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