Très Grande Tchou-tchou to Torino

We arrived in Turin on Wednesday night after an eight-hour trip from Montpellier.

Despite heavy luggage, two transfers and temperatures hovering around 33 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit), it wasn’t too bad! I did end up with three bruises, but that’s to be expected. A short-order cook in Moscow once answered our cavils with the gnomic phrase: “No meat without bones”. In a similar vein, I give you: “No travel without bruises”.

The first leg, from Montpellier to Valence, was unexpectedly pleasant. Halfway through the journey, we realized why; we’d accidentally boarded the luxurious first-class carriage even though we had second-class tickets. The prospect of relocating all our suitcases to another car was too awful to face, so I persuaded John to wait until someone came and forcibly pried us from the seats. This did not happen, in fact no one even checked the tickets.

Valence train station was designed by someone with a strange sense of humor. The floor of the station slopes quite steeply upwards from the entrance. This design gives Gravity a gratuitous assist when one is trying to pull heavy suitcases along the floor. The feature is even mentioned euphemistically in the Wikipedia entry on Gare de Valence TGV :

 

Valence TGV has some unique station architecture. Built primarily of reinforced concrete, one of the main features is the glass on all walls of the station building. The station is built on a slight incline, which makes it slightly harder for handicapped people to move around the building.   

 

In another twist, it was very difficult to find the entrance to our platform. When we finally did, it turned out to be via an elevator perched at the very top of the slope!

On the leg from Valence to Chambéry, there was no air-conditioning in the car and the train stopped for half an hour, during which time I almost completely died. Even in my enervated state, though, I could appreciate the scenery. We’d stopped next to a row of poplars whose leaves were dancing in a soi-disant breeze. The effect was that of a kinetic green mosaic, or an animated Impressionist painting (or maybe I was hallucinating from heat-stroke). Nearby was a little cottage and garden with several gnarled old fruit trees, a couple of goats, a child’s paddling pool and a big vegetable garden. If it had been 15 degrees cooler I might have thought it looked nice.

 

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Les Peupliers by Paul Cézanne (just imagine the leaves wobbling)

 

For much of this part of the journey we followed the Isère river and looked out on a weird landscape of some flat bits and other spectacular rocky outcrops, mountains and sheer cliffs. This ‘department’ is called Drôme.  

 

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Drôme

 

Arriving at the station, I realized we had no cash, so I had to find an ATM. This involved a 10-minute walk around the station. Finally I found one and went to get some mimolette and bread from a supermarket nearby. By the time I got back, it was already time to board the train for Italy.

This trip was odd because the carriage was full of passengers, but they were all eerily quiet. John and I spoke in whispers so as not to unduly distress anyone. Meanwhile, the terrain became more and more rugged and alpine (we were now in the department of Savoie) and when we got to the last station before the border (Modane), something funny happened. The French driver switched with an Italian one, and soon afterwards everyone started speaking at a normal volume in Italian. The further into Italy we got, the more they talked. In fact, the lady in front of me proceeded to methodically phone at least eight people on her ‘contacts’ list–I could see her reflection in the window. She kept scrolling down the list even though it was dinner time and she kept having to cut the conversations short with ‘Buon appetito’.

Somewhere near Oulx it was raining and she phoned someone especially to tell them how beautiful it was. I must admit, I shared her excitement. The dark, rainy forest with water-blackened rocks and white rivulets gushing down the mountainside was a wonderful sight after a month in the oven of the Midi.

The remainder of the journey was grey skies, a few castles on hilltops, jungly foliage and suburb. Occasionally we got a glimpse of the Dora Riparia, which was so fast and wild in places it created its own mist. At last, we made it to the city and our friend very kindly met us right on the platform.

We’re pleased to be back in this ancient and interesting city! Here are some shots from today’s run, where I took a familiar route along the Dora, the Po and Via Federico Nietzsche.

 

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The Po from Ponte Sassi

 

 

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The confluence of the Po and the Dora, and a man fishing in speedos.

 

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Basilica di Superga

 

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Happy trails

 

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A lizard

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