One thing I’ve learned in 18 months of using regional buses across Europe is to always be at the stop a few minutes before the scheduled departure. The further down the route the sooner you want to be there as drivers don’t really care about departure times. If they don’t see you when they approach the stop, they won’t stop.
I cross the street in front of the Les Aravis at 6:26 pm for the 6:35 pm bus. The last bus no. 62/63 for the day.
The driver opens the baggage compartment for me, takes my €6 to Annecy — I still can’t get the pronunciation right: it’s Unsea, not Ongsea — and dials to a jazz station on the radio.
He zooms along the winding mountain roads and gets us to Annecy station 15 minutes early. 3 hours, 15 minutes before my train to Paris leaves.
Sometimes in WorkAwaying, I get lucky, and my hosts give me a bonus. On top of food and lodging, Paul offered to buy my €140 ticket for the night train to Oléron.
I watch a few guys making Skype calls to their loved ones via the free WiFi in Annecy station. I would say, somewhere in the Balkans. They eventually move on to the station piano. I love that part of French train stations: in the larger ones, you usually find a piano available to anyone who wants to play. And it always sounds quite pleasant.
An old guy approaches me and asks whether he could call a hotel in Aix-Les-Bain. In parting, he warns me to always keep my luggage with me on the train and to beware of pickpockets roaming the streets of Paris. I smile and promise to follow his advice.
Two minutes later a young woman asks me to call her mobile to see whether it works. It does.
The lower berths in the French IC la nuit are too low for my large bag to fit underneath. But my roommates for the next 8 hours are sure that one of the top berths will remain unused. So we hoist the 23kg up there.
SNCF provides a sleeping bag, water and a vanity pack with earplugs for Pullman passengers. An upgrade from Deutsche Bahn’s white sheets and wooly blanket.
I go straight to bed, don’t sleep, but keep my eyes shut and listen to the train’s rhythm. Occasionally we stop. The windows are darkened. I don’t know whether we are at a station or in the middle of nowhere.
At six I put my shoes back on, pull the backpack down and watch out by the door for Paris, the city lit like a night sky in the desert.
I have 53 minutes to get from Paris Austerlitz to Montparnasse.
Even though there is no information on this, I pretend that my SNCF tickets include the transfer from one train station to the other. The 91 bus passes every 11 minutes on the other end of Austerlitz station and takes 25 minutes to negotiate 5km.
It is dark, and rain drizzles as I make my way across Paris. Somewhere along Port Royal merchants are starting to set up shop for the Saturday Farmer’s market.
The TGV is going fast. I should have brought some candy to pop my ears.
The sun slowly rises and tinges the empty fields, forests and occasional villages in pastels.
We arrive in Surgères at 10:06 on the dot. I get a coffee and follow the crowds to the bus stop. We wait 15 minutes, I’m wearing gloves, in the hazy morning sun. Next to me is one of those pocket dogs. He pees on the same pillar over and over again. Until he runs out of pee. Upon which he gets even more nervous and starts barking in that high-pitched voice. His owner puts him back into his bag. A black leather handbag with a red checkered interior.
In the seat in front of me, a girl with a skateboard is knitting a brown and white scarf.
We cross the bridge to Oléron in low tide.
The bus drops me in Dolus. 4 minutes behind schedule.