What a day! Today was the day we were to travel to Valence, France to meet with my Skype friend Jean François Girardot and his wife Sophie for lunch. Jean François is a director in the University of Franche-Comté library department.
I have already recounted the train ticket fiasco we experienced earlier this week wherein we had to buy replacement tickets, even though we had perfectly acceptable original tickets, for an extra 100 euros. With that unpleasantry behind us and only one connection today between Villefranche-sur-mer and Valence, what could possibly go wrong?
Let me count the ways. The day started early at 5:45 AM for Jill and Henry Warner, as we had to catch the 6:56 AM train for the nine minute ride from Villefranche-sur-mer to Nice. We go to the train station about 10 minutes early, validated our tickets, then checked the reader-board. Bummer! Our train was going to be 20 minutes late! Since we only had a 21 minute layover in Nice, this left only the slimmest margin for making the connection in Nice.
So we decided that perhaps we could just skip the train and catch a cab to the Nice train station, which would have been around €50 tacked on to our already over-priced journey. Nevertheless, we trotted off through the still-sleeping streets of Villefranche looking for a cab. Nothing. By this time we had used up about 15 minutes and we concluded a cab wouldn’t get us to Nice any quicker than the 20-minute late train, so we returned to the train station.
Guess what? The readerboard now announced that the train was running 40 minutes late! We immediately launched into panic mode, as we knew that once we missed the Nice connection, there was a considerable time gap until the next departure. Henry Warner fired off a text to Jean François advising him of developments and seeking counsel regarding options. Finally the 40-minute late train arrived and after a quick trip we were in Nice at around 7:45 AM. En route we had been searching the SNCF schedules on the internet and saw that there was an 8:04 AM train departing Nice for Valence. But rather than being a direct route, this one went via Marseille and arrived in Valence around 1:30 PM – fully two hours after our original itinerary. Nevertheless, that was our only option for getting to Valence.
It was not to be, however. The agent at the Information counter told us we would not be able to directly use the tickets we were holding – we would need new tickets issued for the changed trip. So we raced to the ticket-issuing office and grabbed a “now serving number XYZ” ticket. We were issued #41 and the three agents were currently processing #29. By the time we reached an agent, it was about 8:00 AM and we were informed that the 8:04 was no longer an option. Now what?
All this time, Jean François and Henry Warner had been furiously texting back and forth and he volunteered that we could optionally meet in Avignon instead of Valence, as he had been looking at the schedules and driving distances and concluded that this option could work. We agreed and the ticket agent re-issued our tickets to Avignon instead of Valence. This change resulted in an additional two-hour drive for Jean François and Sophie, so they were also feeling the pain.
As Avignon is closer to Nice than Valence, Henry Warner asked the ticket agent if we would be receiving a reimbursement. No, she said. Why not, I asked? Because we were just making a change to our itinerary, I was informed. What? SNCF caused us to be 40 minutes late and is now taking us a shorter distance that will get us there after we would have been at the longer distance and “we” are making a change to our itinerary? That didn’t feel quite right.
So Jill asked her what if we just canceled the original trip and rebooked a roundtrip to Avignon? After a few pecks on the keyboard and with a not so happy look on her face, she informed us the fare would be lower by €48. Voilà! After all that had gone wrong so far with this trip, we were getting 48 of our lost 100 euros back. Not that this was a make-or-break deal, but at least we finally had one small victory in the day.
We made it to Avignon, found Jean François and Sophie and settled in for a tasty (and much appreciated) lunch. Since Jean François and Henry Warner have been talking for quite some time via Skype video, it was not a get-acquainted session for us like it was for Jill and Sophie. Jill did not know either of them and Sophie did not know either of us. Sophie claimed to speak only a little English, but we soon discovered that her English was better than she had advertised. Jill, too, made an effort to ask and answer some things in French, which I always find heartening. I must congratulate both Jill and Sophie for their willingness to humor their husbands. This entire meeting was just because Jean François and Henry Warner wanted to meet in person after Skyping for so long. Our poor wives only went along with the program to be good sports. Merci d’être venu, Jill et Sophie !
Jean François and Sophie invited us to visit them sometime in Besançon and we returned the invitation for them to come visit us on Bainbridge Island. They are actually leaving in a little more than a week to spend several weeks in Canada visiting with their daughter. The shame is that they are going to be in Vancouver and Victoria at the same time that we are still in France. Otherwise, we could have easily met them in Canada, as they would have been only a few hours from our home. As it turned out, they drove over 10 hours this weekend (back and forth) to meet with us and we spent about the same number of hours on the train. Hopefully our next meeting will be much less complicated, hectic and stressful!