The by-train ski holiday has been likened to a jigsaw puzzle, with the difference that the challenge is not complete when you have fitted the pieces together.
The key piece this year was the direct train from Paris to Interlaken: 606km in five and a half hours. This is not spectacularly quick by TGV standards – appreciably slower, in fact, than the usual journey which involves a change of train and longish walk/border crossing at Basel. Nor is its arrival time of ten minutes to midnight ideal. But I was so thrilled to discover tickets available for this rare beast on the Saturday of half term, for 25 euros, that I found myself unable to resist buying them. The rest of the puzzle then had to be made to fit.
A two o’clock Eurostar would give us an hour to cross Paris before the departure of the Interlaken train. That ought to be enough, even allowing for the time it might take to find a non-dysfunctional yellow machine to print our tickets. But with most of southern England under water and lashed by winds of cyclonic intensity, would Eurostar be up to speed?
Assuming we caught the train to Switzerland, and it completed its journey without let or hindrance, we would have ten minutes to catch a bus to connect with another bus to take us to the last cable car to Mürren, at five to one. The more I thought about this itinerary, the crazier it seemed. Our cheapo train tickets were non-refundable and non-transferable, naturellement.
“The bus and the cable car will be on time, don’t worry about that,” said our hotelier Adrian, “but if the train is late, you’re stuck.” (And it is a mostly French train, after all). “There’s a youth hostel beside the station at Interlaken. Maybe you should stay there.” This suggestion did not find favour with the family.
Half way through the night before departure, after all the bags were packed, a nightmare about Eurostar’s baggage allowance woke me. Gone are the days when rail travellers could take as much as they can haul. I jumped up, hit the computer, found a stipulated maximum length of 85cm for our bags, scrabbled around for a tape measure, squeezed our biggest bag like an Alpine accordion and ….. it was OK, by at least 5mm. But what about our skis?
“You may have to register them with Euro Despatch and the skis might not travel on the same train as you,” said an unusually polite customer service operative when Eurostar’s call centre opened for business at nine. “I suggest you get to St Pancras in good time.”
We arrived with 3 hours to spare. I parked the family on our mini-Matterhorn of bags and skis and went in search of a check-in attendant. Having had dealings with Euro Despatch before, I knew that entrusting skis to it would reduce our chances of making the connection in Paris to nil. “Skis? No problem at all,” said the check-in man. “But you can’t check in for two hours yet.”
Why so early, daughter asked irritably. To give you time to go. St Pancras International could do with a few more Ladies lavatories.
In the fullness our skis found a comfortable home on the overhead rack, Eurostar made light of gale and flood, we caught line D of the RER in the right direction unlike last time, the yellow machine spewed out our tickets without a murmur and after five and a half hours of sandwiches and scarcely bearable anxiety our train slowed to a halt at Interlaken Ost precisely on time. The night bus appeared out of the rain to gather us in, Adrian was waiting for us in his 4×4 golf buggy at the cable car station in Mürren, and the Tächi bar was in full swing, jaws wide open to welcome us.
“Is there any particular reason why we don’t fly to Switzerland like everyone else?” asked son. “Megan (cousin) left home this morning and snapchatted from Méribel seven hours ago.”
Fly? That would be far too easy.