This is one of those travel stories that is kind of amusing in its hopelessness when you tell it afterwards, but absolutely horrendous as you experience it unfolding…
The Princess and I had planned to travel to a ski village in the French Alps, called Megeve, where the riders would end their first stage of the Haute Route. We’d be at the finish for The Husband, cheering for him and congratulating him on successfully completing the first stage of this hardcore race.
The most convenient way of getting to Megeve, about 100km from Geneva, would have been by car, but I didn’t fancy driving on the wrong side of the road, in unknown territory, up into the mountains, with very precious cargo… And so I enquired of the concierge about alternative means of transport several weeks ago. I was told that there was a bus from Geneva which would be alot simpler and more direct than a train. So that was the plan. Here was the route we’d take:
Unfortunately, when I enquired about bus times the night before, the new concierge on duty discovered that, in fact, buses only ran between Geneva and Megeve during the ski season, so our only option was to take a train (or a taxi, which would only set us back around R7,000 there and back, but “that wouldn’t cover a Mercedes, Madam.”)
The train it was to be, then. Normally, a train journey to the town closest to Megeve, called Sallanches, would involve a one-way journey of roughly two and a half hours and we’d have to change trains twice. Not ideal, but especially not ideal with a baby in a stroller. Fortunately, there was one train option at a convenient time where we’d only have to change once, so naturally I decided on that one. When I asked if we could book the tickets on-line in advance, the concierge discovered that we’d only be able to buy tickets for the first portion of our journey, which would take us over the border into France. Thereafter, we’d have to purchase more tickets for our onward journey with the French train authorities.
We only had thirteen minutes to alight the train, find the ticket office, buy more tickets and then find the platform to catch the next train, but we actually made it and got onto what I thought was our final train journey before we’d alight in Sallanches and catch a five minute taxi drive to Megeve.
Our journey seemed to be going well until I vaguely caught the tail end of an announcement in French, that I thought may have suggested something about certain passengers needing to change trains. I brushed this off at first, but then decided to check with my neighbour to be certain, since there was no conductor in sight and moving through a train with a stroller wasn’t a quick exercise. Unfortunately, my neighbour didn’t have a clue and I figured that everything should be fine, so I relaxed and watched The Princess finally pass out in her pram after the morning’s excitement.
When I no longer saw Sallanches listed as one of the stops on the digital screen above our carriage, I started to panic. The panic rose as the train pulled off. Just then the conductor appeared as if out of nowhere. He confirmed my fears. He’d made an announcement stating that everyone travelling south, should have changed trains at the station we’d just left, Annemasse.
And this was not a train line with regular trains, so it was not a case of hopping off at the next station and hopping back onto another train 30 minutes later. I decided then that the best thing to do would be to take a taxi from the next station that would be geographically nearest to Megeve. The conductor told me that none of the stations would be near, but I insisted that he told me which would be the nearest. He then checked his little pamphlet and told me it was “Thonon-Les-Bains”. Still, I wanted greater certainty, so I turned on my data roaming and tried to get Google to tell me where we were. Of course, we were in the sticks and so for ages I couldn’t get a connection. When I finally could, it didn’t look pretty. It looked like this:
We’d left Annemasse (point “B” on the map above), which was east of Geneva (point “A” on the map) and instead of travelling south towards Sallanches (point “D”), near Megeve, we were in fact very much heading north, in exactly the wrong direction. To me Thonon- Les-Bains (point “C” on the map) did not look like the best place to catch a cab to Megeve geographically speaking.
This led me to make the executive decision to get off at the next stop before we travelled any further north at all. The next stop was called Perrignier – point “C” on the map below:
As I dragged the sleeping Princess off the train backwards in her stroller, I had a strong feeling I may have made the wrong decision. It looked like we were in the middle of nowhere. But of course, before I could change my mind, the regional train had gone chugging off and we were stuck on the platform of Perrignier.
At first, I literally could not see how one exited the platform. There was no subway in sight and there was a fence surrounding us. Then I noticed some cement slabs where one was literally expected to cross over the tracks – that’s how small the Perrignier station was. Just for a laugh, I decided to venture into the microscopic building where a ticket office might have been. But of course, it was only a musty waiting area with a bench.
All hope was not lost, however, and like every one-horse French town, Perrignier boasts its very own Cafe de la Gare (station cafe). This is it:
Unlike the picture suggests, the parking lot was full last Sunday when we arrived and I accosted a man climbing into his truck, wanting to know how I could find a taxi. I had to pause in between because the reality of where I was with my 17 month old baby had dawned on me and I was struggling to complete the sentence in between panicked sobs. He patiently told me that I should go into the bar and ask for help there.
You would think that at 11am on a Sunday morning, Perrignier’s Cafe de la Gare would have resembled the waiting room of Perrignier’s train station, but you’d be wrong. The place was packed. A number of the patrons could no longer boast anything close to a full set of teeth, but nonetheless…The bar was single-handedly run by the only woman in the establishment besides myself – an angel called Caroline, who took pity on The Princess and I and set about asking her patrons if they knew any taxi drivers who’d be willing to take us to Megeve on a Sunday. Just as I thought things may be looking up for us, one of the patrons put the front page of the local newspaper in front of Caroline and I. This was what it said:
And it translates to: “The Big Pain Of Finding A Taxi”. I confess that I can’t recall what the article said but the point was clear – taxis in the area were not exactly prolific at the best of times.
Fortunately, however, Caroline didn’t quit. She eventually got hold of a guy she’d been at high school with about thirty years earlier, who said he’d be there in half an hour. In the meantime, the sleeping Princess and I found a table by the door to try to avoid the smoke fumes, settled down to wait and I surveyed the bar scene I had somehow found myself in, despite having woken up in our comfy Geneva hotel by the lake five hours earlier…
About 35 minutes later, our taxi driver arrived and couldn’t have been nicer. I hadn’t even thought to request a taxi with a baby seat for The Princess as I thought that that would have severely hampered our options, but he said that he had a seat in his garage which was five minutes drive in the wrong direction. I decided it would definitely be a good idea, so we set off with The Princess fast asleep strapped into a seat belt on the seat next to me.
Nothing could have prepared me for her reaction when I tried to transfer her onto what turned out to only be a booster cushion and not an actual baby car seat. She went absolutely crazy. She was screaming her lungs out, her bottom lip was quivering and she was almost hyperventilating. It was quite scary. I had to ask the taxi driver to stop the car so that we could get out three times. Every time I tried to put her back in the car – not even strapped into the booster cushion – she went nuts. Eventually, I asked the taxi driver to take us to the nearest and largest train station as I just didn’t see how The Princess would stay in the car for the next hour. He told me that the nearest station was Annemasse (where we were supposed to change trains for the second time on our morning’s journey) and that we were currently about 35 minutes drive from both Annemasse and Geneva. With The Princess’ hysterical crying vibrating in my inner ear, I took the flash decision to return to Geneva.
The Princess continued screaming blue murder for what seemed like eternity. Other than trying to remain calm, I had no idea what to do. Any attempt at distraction only seemed to fuel her anger and/or frustration even more. What finally did the trick was quietly humming “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star”. I was too terrified to stop singing lest she start up again and ended up humming the tune all the way back to Geneva. Yes, the taxi driver was very kind and long-suffering…
So sadly, we never got to Megeve to see The Husband at the end of his first stage of the Haute Route. He had a brilliant first stage, coming around 260th out of nearly 600 riders. And he continued to do phenomenally well in all of his six subsequent stages, coming in amongst the the top 300 riders or better (barring the time trial when he came in the 300’s).
Well done, my love! You have just proved that you can do anything you put your mind to!
I am pleased to say that The Princess and I were at the end of the seventh and final stage which finished on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice on Saturday. Well, sort of – the peleton procession entered Nice earlier than the organisers had warned everyone and so The Princess and I saw them pass us about 1km from the finish line and had to dash after 600 riders to try to get to the finish before them. We didn’t quite make it before the Alpine cyclists, but when we finally got there and The Princess saw The Husband, her undisguised joy at seeing her daddy again after a week, made it all worthwhile, for all of us.
And there ended our 2012 Haute Route adventures. Next up was three days of beach time in Antibes, when The Husband’s bike stood on the balcony in pieces, not to be touched for a glorious 72 hour period…