June, 2016 – Megan Miln

Transport Troubles

A visiting family member was a great excuse to visit the house last weekend. Except we couldn’t get there. The worsening train strikes have made it more and more difficult to visit the house, and last weekend they finally defeated us.

Aside from the disappointment of missing a visit that we were looking forward to, we have another site meeting coming up. The search was on for an alternative means of getting to the house. One that didn’t involve the now impossibly unreliable trains.

So, early on Saturday morning, we found ourselves sitting on a bus to Clermont-Ferrand. Clermont-Ferrand will be our largest nearby city in the future, but it is both further from Lyon and further from the house than Vichy. It adds a considerable amount of extra travel time to an already long day.

Views of Puy de Dome from the bus
Views of Puy de Dome from the bus

The bus journey was much more pleasant than I expected. It deposited us at the bus station in the centre of Clermont-Ferrand, right near the main tram line. This was useful, because as a large city, everything is more spread out. There were no car rental places near the bus station; we had to take public transport across town. We chose our car rental carefully, based on how accessible it was on public transport and how easy it would be to drive out of the town.

One short tram ride later we were there, but there was a problem. A big problem. The car rental office had closed down. There was no car for us to collect, just a sign on the window with the address and phone number of another office. Rather ominously, the address ended with the letters ZI, signifying an industrial estate. They are frequently in the middle of nowhere and impossible to access without a car, which obviously we didn’t have. Why would the car booking system give us the option to book a car from an office that no longer exists? And what were we supposed to do now?

Graham optimistically suggested they might come and pick us up. I phoned the number on the sign. Through bad phone reception, background traffic noise, and the ever-present language barrier, I managed to understand we could get to the new office by bus. The woman could tell me the bus number, but didn’t know which stop we had to get off at, just that it was 5 minutes by bus from the train station. One thing I did know was that we were a long way from the train station at that point.

We made our way back to the tram, found a public transport map, and scoured it for the bus line we needed to take. Following the bus route along the map, we noticed the street name of the new car rental office address (a little bit of luck), and noted the name of the nearest bus stop to get off at. Then it was back on the tram to somewhere we could connect with the bus, and a long wait, because being the weekend, the buses were few and far between.

Clermont-Ferrand cathedral
Clermont-Ferrand cathedral

After a very stressful two hours or so, we finally arrived at the car rental office. Walking towards it, we realised with horror that it was now lunch time, and there was a very real chance the office would be closed. If it was closed, it would be closed until 2pm, and by then it would be too late for us to get to the house and back again in time for the bus back to Lyon that evening.

We were lucky. The doors were still open and there were other customers inside. And although the woman at the desk protested that we were late and they were closed for lunch, she served us and gave us the keys. After many hours of running around and a lot of stress and frustration, we were finally on our way to see the house.

Watch the video for this visit.