Annecy

Back to Gare de Lyon – where it all started when I made the first day trip to Fontainebleau in November 2014. I didn’t sleep for more than 2 hours because that run to Nord (Lille) still gives me nightmares. I took the RER to Gare de Lyon and was well in time for the train. I had a connection at Lyon Part Dieux and it was a one hour wait. So, I had two hours to sleep. I was quite dead to the world when my neighbour elbowed me – the SNCF staff was here to check tickets! Damn, it is amazing how my body has programmed itself to switch off when I travel. I don’t even need a travel pillow these days.

I reached Lyon Part Dieux at 9 and scoured a Relay store for food. Miracle of miracles – they had a section of books in a foreign language! And guess what I found – Bones Never Lie, by Kathy Reichs! I have no idea why she is famous in France because this isn’t the first time I have seen her books being sold here. The last time I saw a copy was in Latin Quarter and it was an old, battered French edition. I was over the moon to find a copy in English and so I bought it!

I had brought along Gone Girl to finish but I switched to Bones for obvious reasons. I reached Annecy as scheduled at noon. One smart thing that I have started doing is picking up maps at the SNCF stations. This way, your trip isn’t ruined if you can’t locate the Office de Tourismus. I always believed that they place incorrect signs on the roads so that you will never find their offices. I got proof this time! Anyway, so I picked up a map and decided to go to the lake and have a snack.

Once you get out of the SNCF station, Rue de la Gare is on your right. That is the new part of the town. The Office de Tourismus, the lake, and the old town are on your left. I followed the map and found the tourist office. It was closed for lunch. So, I went to the lake to eat my Milka cookies – my travel food on every trip. It began to drizzle so I walked back around the lake to the centre of the town. It is funny that all ice cream shops have the word “glacier” in their name. I picked up Nutella flavoured ice cream before my walk in the old town. The shopping opportunities here, I must say, are excellent! I picked up these really cute gloves with beavers on them, a scarf, a bag, and an umbrella (out of pure necessity). The rain worsened and I was forced to find my way to the hostel.

There is only one hostel in Annecy and I recommend that you do NOT go there. Sure, it is a 20 minute walk from the station and not very far from the old town. But it is the most dingy place I have ever laid my eyes upon! I have a thing against tiny spaces but that’s not my only strike against the hostel. It was small, damp, and smelly. Also, it just happened to be next to a fuckin’ cemetery. With all due respect to the dead, the non-living creep me out. I had no energy to walk in the rain to find another place to stay. So I went straight up to my room and slept. It was only 5PM but I slept so I didn’t have to think about the burly Algerian dudes in my room (seriously, why do hostels take in people over 35?) I refused to wake up until 8am the next day. I showered, picked up my bags and ran out as fast as I could.

The original plan was to go to Geneva for the day. But I found out that there was nothing scenic about the route, and also the few hours wouldn’t be worth the cost of the trip. So I decided to explore the Sunday market which btw was fabulous. If you are a local, that’s the place to buy your bread and meat. If you are a tourist, shop to your heart’s content! I bought some more scarves, a wooden box and a tray for my tea, a wicker basket, and a donkey.

It started raining again when I reached the canals and the ice cream shop from the day before. There was an Italian church just opposite to the shop so I went in. I prayed for a while before going to the lake for lunch. The panini and the coffee I had in the market was long digested. Since the rain refused to stop, I headed to the SNCF station for some respite. I couldn’t move my tickets to another train – too expensive. So I sat there watching Downtown Abbey until my train home. All in all, it wasn’t the best weekend.

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SNCF

SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français) is France’s national state-owned railway company and manages the rail traffic in France and the Principality of Monaco. SNCF operates the country’s national rail services, including the TGV, France’s high-speed rail network. Believe me, you don’t want to miss the TGV experience. What works in your favor, is that there is plenty of competition in the transport sector. This means that there will always be cheaper ways for train travel in France, unlike in Germany.

You will need a fair bit of patience with this one. The SNCF website, though available in English, is not recommended. It happens to be connected to an English vendor. If your booking is stuck, or you cancel it, the refund might not be directed to you immediately. In fact, I never got my refund for the tickets I booked to Nice. And those were expensive! SNCF also has a phone app. I used it to track ticket rates. I found it useful to check the trend of the rates before I booked them. Even advance tickets can get expensive, so it is advisable that you verify tourist season and make your bookings early. The tickets can be printed at home (make sure the bar code isn’t damaged) or you can keep a PDF version on your phone/tablet.

OK, now here comes the best part about SNCF. They have loyalty programs! Ta-Da! This is a very good reason to celebrate if you plan to live in France and travel extensively like I did. SNCF calls these Cartes de réduction. If you are between 12 and 27 years of age, Ma Carte Jeune is the one for you. If you are neither young, nor a senior, then I am afraid, you can only use the Ma Carte Week-end. I was 24 and promptly got a Carte Jeune. For a mere €50, you can use this card for a whole year. If you travel long distances, you will get your value back in as less as 3 trips. Also, there is a waiver on renewal of this card for the second year. You can buy your card at any SNCF office. The major ones are La Défense, Lazare and Nord. But really, you can get them at any SNCF office. Make sure you always carry it when you travel. They check quite rigorously!

How does the SNCF card work? If you look at the picture below, you will see that I selected my age and the Reduction Scheme. You can try to check a fare without this selection and compare the difference. Believe me, you will wish you had a discount card!

Reservez votreLike I said earlier, the French website might look difficult but it will grow on you in time. After initially using it book tickets, I moved on to just finding cheap fares. I liked the security of the hard printed ticket and a physical transaction (after I lost money on the Nice fare). But don’t let my experience with the English website stop you from using the French one. I have the highest recommendation for it. Don’t be afraid to change the departure and arrival time window. You can get some pretty good deals if you move your travel time by an hour. Do choose Fenetre (window) when you book tickets. Don’t be tempted by ‘First Class’. The second class is quite royal!

If you have questions or need assistance, feel free to ask.

P.S. – I traveled with SNCF quite extensively. I covered Fontainebleau, Lille, Provins, Nice, Amiens, Rouen, Chartes, Blois, Chantilly, Mont St. Michel and Annecy in 3 months.