Thursday, May 7, 2015

Round trip to nowhere or…

To the mountains via Zurich.

I already knew that May was going to be a very fully-packed month travel-wise and had warned my landlord in the mountains that I probably wouldn’t be there much when I dashed up to make the beds and haul out the stored items this past weekend.

What I didn’t realize was that it was also going to be “one of those” months.

Already the various downpours, flooding rivers, raised lakes made the beginning an unusual one: imagine if you can a lake that is approx. 72 km long by 13 km wide (at its widest point)  containing 89 billion cubic meters of water actually raising half a meter on the average- and depending upon where - up to a meter!

However, due to good coordination in between the French and the Swiss Geneva managed to avoid a major catastrophe and with a few days of sun, the current danger level is back down to almost normal. Due to a series of barrages they are able to retain the waters from the Rhone which flow out in Geneva as to let the waters from the Arve (coming from the Mont Blanc area in France) flow more freely: they still had to close all the bridges crossing that river with the exception of the oldest (built back when the so-called less technical engineers dealt more closely with nature so allowed greater margins of safety).

Upon my return home Monday from opening the flat in the mountains, I started packing for my trip to Germany – that involved basically trying on everything in my wardrobe (don’t ask). The good news is that when I go to pack for Prague later this month, I should not have to spend any time at all, as I will surely remember my combinations (anyone tempted to bet on that would be well advised not to).

Tuesday dawned “normal”, I had coffee up in the village as usual then set off for the train station with plenty of time allowed for minor problems: just as well as due to the lights being out of order (why, you ask? Just another of the results of having 5 bridges still closed so with two major entry’s melding into one road to cross the main bridge let’s just say it took 25 minutes to drive the usual – even in main traffic time – 10 minutes).  Had time at the train station to have my parking ticket stamped and go buy a banana for mid-morning.

When they started switching around tracks for the various trains I should have perhaps already have suspected that the day wasn’t going to be “normal”, but in my naivety just thought – oh the poor people going toward the Valais are having to be bussed due to a mud slide, glad I’m going elsewhere.

Second clue was getting on and in a compartment behind one where a young businessman proceeded to make call after call on his cell phone – calls which all of us in that particular train car could easily follow. He had finally calmed down an hour and a half later when an elderly woman asked if she could join me in my compartment then proceeded in an even louder voice to chat with me until Zurich. Now remember that I am slightly deaf and could hear both of them very, very well indeed: that will give you a clue as to the volume at which they talked (was going to say conversed, but that would imply a more logical volume and way of speaking than either of these two possessed).

Higher altitude along the way so more lovely Colza fields
water, water everywhere
In Zurich I had a quarter of an hour to grab a sandwich from one of the many choices – I always make a beeline for Nordsee and a fish sandwich – so having duly located the track from which the ongoing train was to leave I did just that.  On one of the billboards I read that the German trains were on strike, but as my train had been posted thought no more until I saw my train disappear from the schedule board and in its place “cancelled” written. Gulp.

Niki de Saint Phalle's "prtoecting angel" in the Zurich trainstation

Sent the first text message to the friend who had organized the get-together. Got into line to find out what the possibilities were for proceeding to Lindau (with many others… meanwhile all the trains to Germany had been cancelled) that day.  Duly arrived in front of a pleasant chap, explained and he started looking.  Continuing would have meant 4 different stops and changes… even so was hesitating until the notice popped up that on one of the stretches there had been a “personal event” – the euphemism for a suicide on the tracks.
Yes I could have gotten there, but by then I was remembering the train ride after the strike in Germany last summer when I was returning from the in-laws and knew that even in a best-case scenario I was going to arrive hot, bothered and tired with a few minutes to change for dinner. At that point I sent the second text telling my friend to cancel my hotel room, I was going back to Geneva. It wasn't a birthday celebration, a wedding or memorial - I'll see them sometime.

The chap at the counter asked if I was sure, I replied yes, he re-routed my ticket on a direct train, I had onion rings at Burger King and got back on a train for another bout of three hours.

I can attest to two things: all the rivers in Switzerland are full and muddy brown and three hours in a “silence” car are much better than three in one where people talk too loudly!
Silence, blessed silence
Actually a third thing – the Swiss train system, personnel and routes are some of the best in the world!

Another great mode of travel, the Swiss Postal Cars

Once back in Geneva I again stood in line to see what could be done about a partial reimbursement (as advised by the chap in Zurich). The wait was a wee bit long however the young girl, Ms. Garcia, more than pleasant. After trying to cancel the ticket she had to go get the assistance of a colleague (you try cancelling a ticket when the date and time are already passed), but in the end the ticket was cancelled and my credit card credited with the entire amount. I said, o.k. now you can charge me the Geneva – Zurich – Geneva portion to which she replied “no, it’s all taken care of”.  I have never complained about the Swiss train system and did just renew my half-tariff card for another three years, but that was beyond belief. They actually reimbursed me the entire amount when it wasn’t their fault at all that I didn’t continue my journey. I certainly won’t be complaining anytime soon and can only encourage one and all to take advantage of our wonderful train system!

To recuperate, and as I have my delightful younger son currently at home to take care of the house and cats, I made a snap decision to “bail out”, “abandon ship” or whatever you wish to call it and head for the mountains where life is simpler.  May might turn out to be easier than I thought.