Sunday, September 07, 2008

In Chamonix I saw a Tree…

At 11.15 I was in central Geneva. 10 minutes later, the tram dumped me outside a building which, had I not known better, would have looked like a station that had not been in use for a good ten years: the Gare des Eaux Vives: a French railway station in Switzerland. This is not the kind of place one expects to find in Switzerland, least of all Geneva, indeed the last time I saw a station even vaguely similar was in the middle of absolutely nowhere, in rural France near Le Puy... Still, in I went. Inside was a lino-floored hall containing six orange plastic railway seats and a pay phone. One door led to "acces au quai" and the other to "espace vente". There was no-one to be seen, no departures board, and no announcements, just a printed timetable on the wall. The railway line was overgrown, and there was an automatic ticket machine that looked like it had been there since the 1960s. Actually, it almost certainly had. Anyway, since I didn't have a ticket yet, I went through to the 'espace vente' and sat in the waiting area while an old man conversed with the one man in the ticket office about various journeys he wanted to make at some stage, and whether he could have a senior fare and a first class seat. Eventually, he finished his long ramblings. I bought my ticket for Chamonix-Mont Blanc and was told to wait patiently and that the train would be on platform 1 (which was no surprise, as there was only the one platform in use). Feeling slightly as if I had taken a step back in time, I popped to the boulangerie across the road to purchase some lunch, and then gathered with the few other people who had turned up in the waiting area. There was a sign fixed to the wall on our way out to the platform that said "Customs: nearest manned border Moillesulaz. Permission to pass with: valid ticket for travel; goods: nothing to declare." Since we then didn't pass any kind of border on the train, I guess that WAS the border.
At 12.01 a train pulled into the platform. There was no announcement, but we hopped on, and one minute later, it left. There weren't many people, so the train was quiet and I enjoyed reading my book and watching the countryside get steadily prettier as we headed towards the alps. Until, that is, one of the in-the-middle-of-nowhere stations, where a rather bizarre Tunisian man got onto the train. People often decide to talk to me on trains, and this was bound to happen at some point on the journey. In this case, it was because I was reading a book and therefore, he surmised, I must be intelligent and able to help him with his life's problems (uh-oh, thinks I, but by now it is impossible to pretend I don't understand French…). So the guy proceeds to launch into telling me his entire life story (which I will spare you) which, in short, involved a rather complex problem with some french bureaucracy (quel surprise) and ask me whether I think that he will be successful in his fight against said bureaucracy's injustices. So I told him that logically he was in the right but his chances of winning were slim. This seemed to satisfy him, and as he was only travelling two stops, he had to get off the train again. So I was able to return to my book, and the mountians, for a few minutes, before getting off the train at St Gervais Les Bains, and changing for the little mountain train to Chamonix (via some exciting viaduct scenery). At Chamonix, Helen was there to meet me and take me to her little chalet in le tour, together with her mother, uncle and walking-friend-with-broken-leg, Nick. I heard all about their last week of glacier-climbing, and accidents (yes, plural!) and then the adults headed off to take Nick to the airport, and Helen and I drank tea, watched Walk the Line, chatted and watched the rain pour down outside, before the adults were back and we went to eat lots of cheeeeeese in a restaurant just down the road. And sleep. It was just what I needed after a busy week, lovely to see Helen, and in nicer weather would be a beautiful place indeed. Hopefully I might make it back again in the ski season ;-)

2 comments:

Philip said...

It sounds a most interesting line to travel on, and rather typically rustic French (I suspect some Italian lines could be a bit similar).
In my experience the border posts between France and Switzerland, in the suburbs of Geneva and at St. Gingolph on the south side of Lac Leman (there's me trying to not sound too English), are completely open most of the time, even if there are one or two bored officials reading the paper inside the office.
The skiing around Chamonix is pretty severe stuff - not for recreational skiers! But, with a quick and easy journey like that and access to a chalet, it sounds a good opportunity.

Anonymous said...

You should talk to Jane about people telling her their lifestories on trains at bus stops ....