Day 16: slingshot around Paris
Yesterday was in many ways ‘the day after the Alps.’ Any day after an experience like that is bound to be something of an aesthetic hangover. But Switzerland wasn’t quite finished with us. Taking the train from Zurich to Geneva, you pass through Bern – which looks like a clockwork toy of a city perched on a cliff – and then just when you think Switzerland must fall back into something approaching the topographically normal, Lake Geneva jumps out at you from around a rock and shouts “Surprise!”. Well, it doesn’t quite shout. It emerges, well-dressed and sophisticated and beautifully presented, and air-kisses you on both cheeks.
The train runs above the lake through vineyards, looking down on blue glass and the mountains on the French side. Somewhere over there Chris Froome was fighting his way up mountains while we basked in the visual splendour. A single cloud hung above the lake like a crown.
At Lausanne an old workmate of several of us joined the train to say hello and to bring us gifts of cheese, chocolate and wines, all of which were astonishing. The wine in particular was the local stuff, squeezed from grapes from trees which occupied every inch of ground between the mountain and the lake. On either side of us multimillion pound homes oozed with bankers and Formula One drivers. Finally, we reached Geneva.
The next leg of the journey was an essential diversion in our path, a moment of driving round the ring road rather than through the town. To get to Barcelona quickly, we needed to go via Paris, which meant going through Lyon. The train was astonishingly crowded, and in Lyon we had a three hour wait, which we spent in a French cafe eating steak and merguez sausages and watching the Tour de France where before we’d only be able to imagine it.
Lyon to France offered little culturally, but the railheads in the group cooed at the train, a twin-deck TGV which reached a top speed of 300 km/h. Paris was a quick meal in a brasserie, a switch of stations and then the Train Hotel to
Brussels Barcelona (see, even we’re getting confused).
A gentle day, in lots of ways, like an intake of breath before the final ascent. As I write this, Chris Froome is about to be crowned in Paris, and there’s something about the mental exhaustion we all feel that has a whiff of a Pyrenean Col. We’re nearly there, and thoughts are turning towards home. Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon, and then we’re done. The crowds are gathering along the side of th road, and our bikes are beginning to wobble. But I think we’re actually going to make it.