I’m knackered. Zonked, pooped, exhausted, had it.
Today we tackled:
4 train stations
3 changes of language
5 flights of stairs
2 ridiculously high steps onto trains
1 closed hotel
This blog post may be a bit truncated, because as I may have mentioned…I’m dog tired!
Station #1: We arrived at Geneva train station and entered from a different street, so we could walk straight to the ramp onto the platform and no need to even get in an elevator. Great. We got there in time to catch an earlier train, so we would have a longer window of time at our next connection. Terrific.
Train #1: The train pulled in…watch…watch…where is the bike carriage going to be? Down the other end… right, start power walking!…No, start jogging!…quick…get on, get on! Three steps up to get on the train, lift bike up, push from behind, lift second bike up, push from behind, nice rail attendant comes to our assistance…
Language #1: …“Merci,” I said, “merci,” as I thanked the nice man.
“You are welcome,” he replied.
…we were on! Now stand in cramped space between doors, while we unload the bikes and hang them from the ceiling in the narrow little bike space. No nice big bike carriage on this train. There was already a bike in one of the spaces so only room for one of ours. We hung Steve’s bike and packed all his panniers around it on the floor, before walking my bike up the passenger carriage (“Pardon…Pardon…Désolé…Désolé… Pardon”… I repeated as I pushed past people in their seats) to the next carriage with a hanging space. Now hang my bike from the ceiling and pack my panniers around it. Take a seat. Settle in for the 2½ hour trip to the next station, while watching the pouring rain and fog out the window.
With about half an hour to go before our stop, we split up, to go to our separate carriages to get our bikes, start packing them and get ready to haul them down the steps onto the platform. I kept looking out the window at each station, waiting to see Brigge, making absolutely sure I didn’t get off at the wrong station. There it was…Brigge. Time to wait for the passengers to get off, before I lift my bike and all its load, down the steps off the train and onto the platform. Some men stood by the door and one of them, a big fella with a bald head and long goatee, gestured for me to go. I said I’d go after him, but then he gestured for me to go ahead, so he could help me. What a champ! He ended up taking the front of my bike and his mate took the back and between them, they lifted it off the train for me. The man taking the back of the bike put his end down, then shook his arm and blew his cheeks out as if to say how heavy it was. Tell me about it, mate!
“Merci,” I said. He replied in German and I hadn’t brushed up on my German, so I said, “Thank you very much,” and clapped my hands.
“You are welcome, you are welcome,” he said. They were very nice, kind men.
Station #2: I met up with Steve on the platform and as it turned out, our next train left from the same platform, so we didn’t have to go anywhere. Great.
Language #2: We took turns to go down into the station to get a snack. By this time we’ve both thought about our German, since we are now obviously in the German part of Switzerland. It’s probably only limited to James Bond German, but I buy my banana and manage to say “Hallo” to the lady serving and “Danke”, before heading back up to the platform. Steve does equally well, remembering the basics and he appears with a bag of rolls for us. Time for elevenses.
Train#2: In rolled our connecting train and we leapt into action again, hauling the bikes up the steps, through the narrow doorway and onto the train. Same situation…a narrow space to hang the bikes, so we unloaded them in that tiny space while the train rocked and rolled, packed all the bags around them, then took our seat. This trip was only half an hour, so we had no sooner sat down than it was time to get up, reload the bikes again, in the sardine can space, then get ready to haul them off again.
Station #3: Off the train we jump and look around for our next platform. Can’t see it. Only a 20 minute window to connect to our next train. Thankfully there’s an elevator, so down we go in search of platform 5.
“Are we in Switzerland or Italy?” I ask Steve.
“I have no idea where we are,” comes his reply.
“I think we must be in Italy now, looking at the signs.” Yes, it seems we had crossed the border. We’re having trouble finding the platform. A man tells us we need to go back up, so up the elevator we go, to find we then have to go down…
Stairs #1:…bounce, bounce, brake, brake…down the flight of stairs we take our loaded steeds, with gravity fighting the good fight the whole time. Along the tunnel and then…
Stairs #2: …back up we go, to the other side of the platform…Steve at the front and me pushing and lifting from behind to haul those weights up those double flights of stairs.
Train #3: We get to the platform, huffing and puffing with the effort of carrying over 100kg up those stairs, to be faced by a rail attendant tapping his watch. We quickly power walk towards the end of the train.
“Phweeeee” I hear behind me, “phweeee” it goes again. I look around to see the railway man whistling at us and tapping his watch again. Fair go mate! A bit of help would speed things up y’know!
Now I jog to the end of the train and we are faced with the highest step up onto a train that we have ever faced, it was at least one metre between the platform and the floor of the train. The entrance also has two vertical bars on it, creating a very, very narrow space. Steve gets on and pulls, I get behind and push his bike, like I’m pushing Winnie the Pooh through the rabbit hole. Then we do the same for my bike. We’re finally on and the train takes off straight away. Well, I guess the Italians do, famously, like their trains to run on time! There’s no designated space for the bikes. We just have to stand them in the entrance. At least we have octopus straps with us, so we can secure them to a hand rail, because that’s all we could do. The nice lady at the ticket office at Geneva train station told us they don’t like bikes on regional trains in Italy, so it’s not very bike friendly. We discovered that! We sat down for the two hour trip through to Novara.
Station #4: The train pulls in and we push and shove to get each bike down that huge step between train and platform, at which time a girl who was getting off, takes hold of one of the bikes and begins to help us. What a treasure!
Language #3: “Grazie,” I say, remembering a tiny bit of Italian and we eventually had the bikes off the train and onto the platform.
Station #4: We see an elevator…yay! We head for it, only to see a sign on the front “OUT OF SERVICE”. Grrrrrr!
Stairs #3: Down we go, holding onto the weight of the bikes again, while we bump and brake our way down another double flight of stairs. Along the tunnel we go…
Stairs #4: …to find the only way to the street is up another double flight of stairs. Push…haul…pull….lift…We make it! We are out of the train station!
Closed Hotel #1: We had deliberately booked a hotel only 300m from the train station, so we could roll off the train and straight to our room. We find the hotel just around the corner. Locked. Two men from South Africa were also waiting there when we arrived and one of them said they had tried calling the number of the hotel, but it just went to voicemail. We wait…and wait…and wait…This is ridiculous. It seemed the hotel would open at 7:00pm, when the restaurant part opened. So…only a four hour wait now!
We took the bikes for a roam through the streets and the town looked quite nice, with lane ways and cobbles.
We decided to ride out to a supermarket, so we could at least use the time to achieve something. Steve waited outside, while I went in to gather supplies. I took ages trying to find things that I thought Steve would like and eventually found a pasta salad at the deli counter. I took my ticket and waited for my number to come up. When the man came to serve me I said, “Sorry, no Italiano. Inglese?”
“No Inglese,” he said. Okeedoke, time for some charades!
“Can I point?” I asked with a smile, pointing my finger.
He smiled in return and agreed this would be a suitable form of communication. “Insalata pasta,” I asked and pointed to the salad. He loaded up a container. “Foccacia,” I said next and walked the length of the counter to point at a foccacia. He followed me and bagged up the bread and handed it to me with a smile. “Grazie,” I said, then continued my safari around the aisles in search of “Steve snacks”. Quite some time later and after navigating the checkout, with the lady having no English and myself having no Italian, I eventually emerged with some nightly supplies.
We rode along a bike path back to the hotel. It was now 7:00pm and it was actually open.
Stairs #5: We managed to check in, then had to carry all our panniers and the bikes up another flight of stairs across two landings, to get to our room.
Finally…we are here!
Now…what’s Italian for “That’s all folks…I’m stuffed!?”