Tag Archives: France; travel; living abroad; SNCF; Geneva airport

A little weekend trip…

I’ve only described one complicated journey so far; you might think that my 3-day Christmas Travel Saga was just a one-time occurence and not a yearly tradition, or worse, start to doubt my vehement assertions that I am the prime victim of Murphy’s law when applied to travel.

OK. So, tell me, how far can you travel within a 36-hour time frame?

Normal person: from Lyon, France to Auckland, New Zealand, and that’s being rather generous, because it should be about 24 hours.

Me: from Lyon, France to Warsaw, Poland.

I don’t know why I got it into my head that it would be a wonderful idea to take advantage of a long weekend (called a ‘pont’ or ‘bridge’ in French) on November 11 and visit my family and friends in Warsaw. It was all supposed to be so simple: on Wednesday, leave work a few hours early to take a train from Lyon to Geneva, arrive at Geneva airport at 5 PM with plenty of time left before the direct flight to Warsaw, scheduled for 7.40 PM. I was then going to spend three days in the Polish capital and celebrate my grandfather’s nameday before transiting back to France on Sunday afternoon.

The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and I had plenty of good food in my bag as I stepped onto the TER (Regional Train) that was supposed to speed me across the French-Swiss border.

The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and I was desperately yelling into my cell phone only an hour later. We were still at the station; first, they had had to add on 4 cars to the train as youngsters with ski equipment and elderly ladies with all their prized possession could not fit on board. Strangely enough, no one had foreseen that a train headed for the Alps before a long weekend might just risk being packed. The additional cars alleviated the crowd, but there was still not much room.

Once the additional cars had been connected, those of us who could leaned back in our seats, others created comfortable dents in their suitcases and we all waited for the train to start. It didn’t (you’ll find this is a common theme in many of my narratives). The SNCF kindly informed us that the train before ours had broken down, was blocking the tracks to Geneva, and that when or rather if we left at all, we would be taking an alternate, longer route north through Macon. Minimum anticipated delay – 2 hours.

Quick mental calculations (somehow when it comes to time my mathematical handicap doesn’t exist) showed me that there was no chance I would make it to the airport in time, as the train would roll into Geneva central station a mere 30 minutes before take-off.

Train personnel when besieged questioned by anxious passengers, told us the SNCF did not foresee providing us with  a bus or other means to get to Geneva. The SNCF’s monopoly on that route meant there was no private bus company that went to Geneva either, so no alternatives existed.

I pulled out my cell phone and called the person I always contact in such emergencies –  Trusty Colleague, who has rescued me multiple times from travel scrapes and has rescued my wet laundry from oblivion (and mold) when it got locked in a local laundromat the night before my previous trip to Poland (long story). In short, Trusty Colleague is a lovely friend from work with a heart of gold.

And a car.

Either I didn’t sound desperate enough (although goodness knows the prospect of losing over 200 euro on a ticket did make rather concerned) or he really DID have an urgent assignment to finish before the end of the work day. I didn’t really blame him – being my travel guardian angel is quickly evolving into a full-time job.

But he very helpfully did some internet research on alternatives and on some obscure site came up with a number for a shuttle service that goes from Lyon to Geneva airport (silly me, thinking a train would be more reliable!). The desperation in my voice was clearly audible to the man who picked up – I am assuming that, and the immediacy of the request, is why he quoted me a price of 200 euros for the trip.

I was about to hang up and give up on the whole idea of leaving Lyon when I got inspired. “You said you have a whole minivan to fill. Can we keep the same total price if I find people willing to go as well?” He said the price was per minivan and he didn’t care how many people were actually on board; I told him to be at the train station in 10 minutes.

And then I got onto a train full of French and Swiss people. When I got off 5 minutes later, 2 guys, a girl my age and a middle-aged woman were with me (yay Toastmasters skills!). But it wasn’t that simple – drama ensued as the train actually started to move and some of the travelers started second-guessing themselves and jumped back on; I remained steadfast on the platform as I knew that the train would never make it to Geneva in time. The blond girl tried to pull me back onto the train; I yanked my suitcase from her hand and yelled in my best French that it didn’t make any sense and that I was taking the shuttle, even if I had to do it myself. The four wavering passengers jumped off the train to join me as the doors shut and the train moved away very, very slowly.

The motley group of strangers stared at me somewhat apprehensively, not sure if they had done well in letting themselves be talked into leaving the train. I shepherded them to the square in front of the train station and we stood in front of the hotel to wait for the shuttle to arrive…

To be continued.