Sunday, June 17, 2012

Travel From Chamonix , France and a Night in Genoa

On the bright side of things, my train from Chamonix did not leave until 10 o'clock in the morning, so I didn't have to get up particularly early and I was able to have a lingerly breakfast in an outdoor cafe just by the train station. On the minus side Plans were that Ihave 4 changes of trains and a 4 hour layover in Chambery, France and a 20 minute layover in Torino, Italy and would not arrive in Genoa until 11:30 p.m. Actually, it turned out to be much worse than that.

I was lucky that the first train was running. My new friend, who I met on the train in from Lyon, was to leave for Paris on this same train on Thursday and when he arrived it had been cancelled due to a strike. I found out later from the hotel staff that the strike had been a local thing, confined to the Regional line and was perhaps because "someone needed to do some shopping". Given all my connections, I was hoping that there would be no added complications. There weren't and the train left at the appointed hour for the 1 1/2 hour journey to St. Gervais.

It was a very pleasant ride in the panoramic train cars that are used on this line. We wound through the narrow passes in the valleys making our way to St Gervais which is the doorway to the alps from the south west of France.

From there I hopped onto the train for the 1 1/2 hour ride to Annecy. This is a TGV train and I had comfy a first cass seat, which enabled me to recharge my iPad as I used it to catch up on my reading - Rick Steve's Italy guide book. If you look at the map below (cut and pasted from map quest) you can see the distance travelled is not that far. St Gervais is in a big valley, but it is surrounded by mountains, so it isn't a straight line from a to b. It took a windy path thought the valley and foothills and went through several tunnels before we got to Annsey. The scenery is a picturesque view of green alpine meadows and I am in a mellow mood as I write this blog.

I took the opportunity of the long stop in Annecy to have a bit of a walk about (not far because I had all my luggage - there is no locker facilities at the train station). There was a lovely park where I sat and ate my orange and then I was able to go to the Tourist office and use the WIFI to post some catch up blogs. Then I headed to the pub opposite train station for a beer and a bite to eat.

I had a great beer - Leffe Ruby which for their web site "a traditional Abbey beer with the refreshing taste of red fruits". I had asked for hoegaarden which they didnt have. It was a very tasty alternative

I headed over to the train station with a half an hour to spare only to find tht the Paris-Lyon-Milan TGV, which has stops in Camberly and Turin was running 40 minutes late. Fortunately I had an hour layover at Torino (which seemed to be now called Turin at the station) and I thought I would still be able to make my connecting train.

By the time we got to Turin, where I needed to change trains we were running an hour late and my connection to Genova was in jeopardy. To make matters worse, once I heard the announcement for Turin I got off, as did all sorts of others, (as I later discovered), and it was the wrong stop. I was supposed to stop at Torino Porto Nuevo but I got off at Turino Susa. I was directed to a train to get me to the right station by a very helpful guy and was told that there were more trains to Genova - not to worry.

It was at this point that I met two English speaking Scandanavian girls who were also going to Cinque Terre. They were wandering around dazed and confused and had exited the train a stop too early also. So luckily I had some company to wait for the next train to Genova from Turino, which was (predictably) 45 minutes late. Given the number of English speaking folks wandering around like lost sheep at that train station, I would guess that there were at least a dozen who had made the same mistake as I did. To make matters worse, the Torino P.S. station is unmanned for the most part and the ticket office was closed. I just happened to find someone who was able to help me. He wasn't wearing any train employee uniform, but he sure knew what my problem was and how to resolve it. I am so glad I came across him.

The girls were planning to sleep at the Genova train station until the first train to Cinque Terre at 5 a.m. I regretted that I had booked a room which now I would only need for a couple of hours since I wanted to catch an early train also. This was doubly irritating since I still had to pay for the hotel room in Riomaggiore for the 16th as there was an 8 day cancellation notice requirement and I had only discovered that I couldn't get there in a day when I was in Lyon - 5 days ago.

I thought our difficulties would be over once we got on the train to Genova, but I was wrong. It was a pretty sleepy ride and by the time we approached Genoa's Principe station it was 1:30 a.m. The station announcement came as we pulled in to stop and the girls, which were between me and the exit, were slow in putting on their packs and moving to the train door. By the time we got there the doors were closed and could not be opened. As we moved frantically forward on the train, thinking that the door in the next car might work, the train started moving. We had missed our stop!

We quickly moved forward on the empty train (ours was the last stop so there was no one left on the train) and searched for a conductor. I had frantic thoughts of being left at some overnight train yard. Finally we found the conductor at the front car and he told us that there was another stop and we could get a cab back to the other stations for a few Euros. All was well - or at least well enough. I made a mental note to be faster to the doors in future.

By the time I got to my hotel room it was 2:00 and given my plan to leave early for Riomaggiore, I really wondered why I was bothering. But the room was nice and I did mange to get 3 1/2 hours sleep, a nice shower and a great breakfast (included with the room) before setting out again.

I caught the 7:11 train, unfortunately a milk run with 20 stops. The trip was just wonderful, if slow with wonderful sea and hillside views. I had my fijrst view of the Mediterranean from the traintoo start my Italian leg of my "grand tour of Europe"!

I checked into my hotel and am going to devote today and the next 2 days to hiking and beaching and eating and enjoying. Today I explore Riomaggiore. The next two days I will hike the 5 villages and the Cinque Terre National Park.

The tunnel from the train station in the village is lined with pieces of tile. Some look like they are just left over broken bits from some building project other sections are artfully arranged.

Stay tuned my friends,

Buongiono and arrivederci!

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