I had a taste of nomadic-on-a-shoe-string-backpack traveling last weekend.
And I liked it! All I needed was a floral hippie head scarf and I would have been set.
I will explain… Elle, Pippa and I set off from Annemasse early Saturday morning for our big bob sleigh adventure. So early in fact, that we nearly missed the train. It was 8.30a.m. Our bob sleigh was due to take place near a ski resort in Savoie called La Plagne at 18.45-and finish approximately 1 minute later.
It was a complicated journey. Our 35 hour weekend getaway felt more like a traverse of the entire European continent. From Annemasse we took a train to Annecy, then a train to Chambéry, where we missed our next train by 4 minutes and were stuck for nearly a hour and a half. Fortunately there was a wonderful Saturday morning market. We bought apples and strawberries, eating them straight from the punnet as we strolled past stalls of fresh flowers, cheese, saucisson, honey and bread.
Chambéry to Albertville. After staring directly at the Albertville spot on the map of France in my french room at Uni for a year and a half, Albertville feels strangely dear to my heart, like I have visited it many times before. I was glad to arrive here and to see that it appeared a very pleasant town. But the journey was not over yet.
We walked through Albertville in near scorching heat to find our sweet little bed and breakfast. After a brief chat with the lovely woman who ran the “gîte” we were off again, back to the train station. A la gare, we discovered that the train we had intended to take was reserved for passengers only from Brussels… A strange rule indeed but, this break in trains did allow us to have a long leisurely lunch. Creamy salmon and spinach lasagna pour moi and while I sat aching over the richness of the lasagna, delicious chocolate ice cream was being consumed next to me which I had to try…
Back on the train, a little siesta, ready for our next mode of transport. Slightly less luxurious than the TGV, we took a bus up through the winding mountain road towards La Plagne Centre. This is a custom built ski resort town and in the late afternoon spring sun, skiers wandering around with bare arms, it was lovely.
At 6.00pm we took a taxi a little way back down the mountain to the bob sleigh place. The excitement was truly beginning to take hold as we saw the track and realised what we were about to do. Thirty minutes later we had signed the release forms, donned our helmets and were strapped into a slick blue bob sleigh. Photos were taken, au revoir was said to the children standing on the side watching us and the rope was released. We built up speed at a cracking pace, soon reaching a maximum of 120km/h. For the first few seconds I could hold my head up high enough to see around the driver and anticipate our movements. I was giddy and in the in between stages of laughing and crying. But soon, I could make no noise whatsoever and my mouth was just filling with air. Nor, could I lift my head up: the intense forces took hold of my neck, pinning it to my chest. At the bottom we stepped out with slightly wobbly legs and goofy expressions on our faces, looking at each other but the words weren’t coming.
We took some more photos deciding photographic evidence would come in handy later as we were still unsure how to describe what we had just done. Once we had recovered, received our certificates and eaten about 5 chocolate biscuits to re-stock our blood sugar levels, we began our next challenge: getting back to Albertville.
We followed the track along the side of the bob sleigh to the bottom of the hill where there was a bus stop. The next bus wasn’t for another hour and a half so we contemplated calling the taxi company again or hitch hiking. Dad, you will be pleased to know we decided against the latter. The taxi’s were all booked so wait we did, munching on a very nutritious and sustaining meal of more chocolate biscuits and jus de fruits. 8.45pm, darkness was truly upon us and the bus was due to arrive any minute now. It came and it went. It didn’t stop. Momentarily stunned, all we could really do was giggle. What were we going to do now? Stuck in the mountains on the side of a road, freezing and now with no means down to the train station to catch the last train back to Albertville in an hour… Hitchhiking suddenly seemed a good option again but as we couldn’t see who was in the cars in the dark and the cars were becoming less and less frequent this wasn’t going to work.
Just below the road was a car park, the bottom of a ski slope and a bar. There appeared to be people in the bar, so leaving Elle and Pippa on the side of the road to practice their car-hailing abilities, I went to the bar to see what help I could find. As I walked through the car park, quickly trying to think in french of how to explain our current situation, comedic road trip movie scenes were playing through my head. I stepped into the bar and discovered that I had stumbled upon the bob sleigh workers end of season soirée. They all seemed to remember me, I am hoping because we were a group of girls doing a bob sleigh and not because, at times, I appear to have written on my forehead “I am not French!” The men had drunk sufficient amounts of alcohol that they were both overly helpful and extremely unhelpful, in the way only slightly drunk people can be. A fair amount of pigeon English was thrown about, lifts from drunk men were offered and then taken back when they thought their wives wouldn’t approve, and meanwhile, the bar woman just stood in confusion, wondering what was happening in her bar.
Elle and Pippa gave up trying to hail, and suddenly we were three lost English speakers in a bar, in the mountains, in France. A taxi was called and the bob sleighers found new interest in their drinks. We jumped in the taxi and quickly explained to the driver that we had a train to get. She didn’t need to be told twice; we were even early for the train. When the train arrived we were delighted to discover that it was an overnight train to Paris so, like children, we silently ran through the sleeping carriages, darting into spare rooms and taking photos.
We arrived back in Albertville near 11pm. It had been a long day but one I am not likely to forget. I will tell the tales of my nomadic back packing days to my children. And like the stories of my father’s travels where the snake’s head gets bigger or the mountain ridge gets narrower every time it is told, perhaps the bob sleigh will be faster and the men in the bar falling over drunk.