We learnt quite a lot about our train pass and the trains themselves in the very first journey from Koblenz to Liege and Spa in Belgium.
The best thing was to learn that we could use the Pass on more than just the trains and the most frustrating was that, although I believed that I had booked us into hotels ‘within a 10 minute walk of the station’ I had not confirmed that it was the station at which we would arrive. This caused a few frustrating walks with our luggage in Liege and elsewhere. There was still plenty more to come of course. “Expect the Unexpected”
To divert for a moment, you will notice that I refer to our staying in hotels and not other forms of accommodation such as B&Bs or Pensione. There are 2 reasons for this. Firstly, I do the bookings through Booking.com now as they are so efficient and user friendly and secondly, because when a Senior Citizen, our defined comfort zone decreases and we tend to prefer those luxuries such as an en-suite bathroom. Most of us have to get up in the night and having to walk down the passage to a shared bathroom is not quite what we want to be doing. Another advantage is that hotels tend to be open later than the others so one does not have to panic if there is a delay.
Having spent a full day and 2 nights in Liege and Spa it was time to move on again. Today we are off to a little town in NE France called Pontarlier. We had heard of it when in Basel in 2006 but did not get there due to time constraints. Why did we choose this strange and out of the way place to visit? Cars!! There was a Vintage Car Museum and we decided that it would be a good place to see. To get to this town we had to take a train to Nancy in Northern France and then another to Pontarlier which included changing trains twice on that journey.
We had heard that the rail system in Europe is so wonderful, they go to every little corner and run absolutely on time. Well that is probably true but what the adverts etc don’t tell you is that sometimes there is just 1 train a day to a particular place. In my naivity, I had believed that if it showed only 1 possibility on the internet that was because that was the most popular time for travel. In discussion with the train conductor while on the train from Liege we discovered that I had made a big boo-boo! There was just ONE (1) train from Nancy to Pontarlier each day. Fortunately we had taken an early enough train that we should not miss our connections.
We arrived in Pontarlier soon after midday and asked at the station for directions to our booked hotel. Now there is only 1 train station in the town so I could not be wrong on that assumption this time. It turned out that the hotel was at the opposite end of the town – definitely well more than the advertised 10 minute walk, with luggage. This time, the lady assistant at the station was very pleasant and helpful. In fact, she said that if we were willing to wait 10-15 mins she would drive to the hotel. What a wonderful surprise that was.
The introduction at the hotel, which was part of a chain, in France was anything but wonderful. We had to wait quite a while for someone to attend to us and then we were directed to a room across the car park and up a very narrow spiral staircase. (Remember my comments and reminders about keeping your luggage as light as possible.) The room was acceptable and suitable for 2 nights but I would not recommend the place otherwise. I won’t be controversial and name the chain of hotels.
We enjoyed a wonderful walk around the town during the afternoon and discovered that Pontarlier is actually a town with quite an interesting history. The area was won by France in the Franco-German war in the 18th Century and to commemorate a very high Triumphal Arch was built at the entrance to the town. There is also a very interesting and well maintained Municipal Museum of History. Probably the best reason this town is considered to be one of the must visit places in NE France is that Pontarlier is a recommended detour town. Pontarlier was also famous for the production of Absinthe until 1915 when it was banned. In 2013 its manufacture was once again legalised and made in Pontarlier.
The Triumphal Arch
But, guess what?! The vintage Motor Museum had been moved a year earlier to a neighbouring town. Unfortunately there was no train to the town and we could not afford the taxi fare. I did not consider the moving of the museum my fault this time as it was still advertised on the internet. So another Plan B – we explored the town and actually really enjoyed our day.
Fountains and statues for fun play
Come the next morning, we had to be on the way to the station bright and early as we had a long day in the train all the way south to Montpelier.