An Alpine Adventure

It’s the morning after the night before, and reports of last night’s protests across France are all over the news. I heard sirens throughout the night, but there’s no sign that anything terrible happened, at least around the station and the hotel.

The usually reliable OBB (Austrian Railways) website shows my first train to Geneva as running on time. But at Lyon Part Dieu station it’s not showing on the departure board. It’s an important connection, because without it I’m unlikly to get an onward journey to Salzburg, unless I’m prepared to take several slower regional trains. Fortunately there’s anothe train to Geneva just an hour later. So with an hour to kill at a railway station, what is there to do?

Pianos on railway stations is definitely a thing. But dogs on pianos on railway stations? Perhaps that’s a social media trend that’s yet to take off. A manage to plonk my way through The Winner Takes it All – my theory being that Abba is suitably universal for any audience. Nobody applauds, but importantly, nobody throws me off either. And piano seats are comfortable.

My original TER train had listed Second Class only, but the double decker that pulls into Lyon Part Dieu has a small number of First Class seats too. They’re not greatly more luxurious than the rest of the train and there is no Wi-Fi, but at least they have power sockets.

But why look at a screen when you can look out of the window? As we make our way along the Rhine the landscape changes from the flat green farmland of central France to the more rugged foothills of the Alps. It’s March and at the level of the railway line there’s no snow – unsurprising as the temperature outside is a balmy 11c. I’m travelling in a week when world scientists have produced yet another stark report about the effects of climate change, and things are warming up faster in these mountainous regions than anywhere else.

Strange, random things can happen in trains. The first today is an enthusiastic man asking people to fill out an extensive transport survey. Obviously it’s in French but I take one anyway. I can just about make out the questions on page one but then it all becomes a blur. I think Ive described where I have come from and where I’m going – and which mode of transport I took to get to the station. Short of revealing my inside leg measurement I’m unsure just how detailed the rest of the questions can be.

Then, random event number two. The smartl dressed man in a three piece suit, complete with two laptops and a phone, gets up to answer a call. A whine emerges from the seat next to him. We’ve been on board for an hour but I didn’t notice this guy.

Clearly a dog with this icy fashion sense can only be heading for Geneva. I’ve only got around 90 minutes to look around, so it’s straight down to the Lake and arguably the city’s most famous attraction.

This is the Jet D‘Eau, spraying around 100 metres into the air where the River Rhône meets Lake Geneva. Today’s version is purely for show, though the original jet – dating back to 1886 – was actually a safety valve for the city’s hydraulic power network. It costs over half a million Swiss Francs per year to run, which I am told is roughly the same price as a large beer.

I jest, of course, but there’s no doubt that Switzerland is incredibly pricey. A simple sandwich and crisps from a convenience store comes in at over £7. While I’m not exactly scrimping on this trip, I dread to think what anything approaching a luxury lunch would be.

Swiss Railways. Now there are two words that surely scream “efficiency”. And here’s the thing – you rarely need a reservation on any of its services, unless it’s crossing a border (in which case it’s likely to be a partnership with another country’s operator. All of which means I can board a slightly earlier train to Zurich. And while Lake Geneva certainly looked attractive, the views over Lausanne as the train snakes around Lake Leman are stunning.

The lakes give way to the mountains and by mid afternoon we arrive in Zurich. I hadn’t planned to leave the station but there are a few minutes to take in the outside world before the final connection of the day. The station itself is as grand as anything you’ll see in Europe, although at the moment there’s an extensive renovation project underway. The cranes you can see in the photo are servicing building work on both the exterior and interior, where grand new retail units are being created.

It’s time to catch the final train of the day. The Railjet is a network of cross border services run by OBB of Austria. First Class here isn’t quite as fancy as the Swiss trains, but the seats are comfortable and as we head even further into the mountains, the views get ever more spectacular.


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