Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Rushing through France

Mark has lost the keys to his brain apparently. He's sitting opposite me, speeding backwards through undulating countryside between Paris and Lyon, grumbling about the lack of sleep he's suffered in the past couple of days. To be fair, he's also throwing potential blog post titles at me and, extremely helpfully, giggling at the curvature of my bluetooth keyboard,, apparently distorted from the pressures inside my rucksack - so the cheerful Mark we know and (sometimes) love is still in there somewhere. After ten minutes of massaging the keyboard back the other way and considering the relative merits of writing about our travels so far or preparing for our next destination with a quick Italian lesson I think I finally know what I'm doing.

It's been a slightly mad twenty-four hours or so, beginning with my departure from my parents' local station in East Sussex, leaving behind my guide dog for a couple of weeks, and finishing with a rather civilised stroll next door from the Mercure Gare de Lyon to catch our TGV service to Turin, sitting at platform D (who's idea was this strange lettering system anyway?) an almost lliteral stone's throw away. It almost feels rude to be rushing through France so quickly, with barely a moment to breathe. We arrived just before eight last night, having enjoyed a stress-free trip from St Pancras, crossing to Gare de Lyon and settling intoo the Mercure without having to give it much thought. It was all a far cry from the middle of the day, as I frantically completed my packing before crawling painfully along the District Line to Bow Road, all the time attempting to keep tabs on Mr Rogers in the vain hope that he wouldn't cause me to run for our international departure. I'm personally no stranger to cutting it fine when heading off from London, but when the train is merely the first link in a 1,800 mile rail journey there is a little extra impetus to get it right and avoid messing up the the rest of the trip. I'd be lying if I claimed not to be just a little nervous as I waited for Mark outside the Tube, the clock ticking away the final minutes before check-in closed, in fact I'd be lying if I claimed not to have threatened him with a slow and grrzzly death if he made me miss the train. Thankfully Mark was spared a premature meeting with his maker, and I could look forward to a great continental railway journey rather than decades in prison.

The threat of indefinite incarceration may have receded a little as we squeezed our way through the ticket barriers, security machines and two sets of passport control crammed into the tiniest of spaces at St Pancras, but I wasn't without a ball and chain - and this one would be joining me forr the entire journey to Sicily. One of these days I will learn to leave the kitchen sink, oven and cupboards in their rightful place at home, but for this trip, as for so many that have gone before, I'm lumbered with an enormous holdall filled to the brim with sufficient clothing for a Grand Tour of Victorian proportions. That's all well and good when it only needs humping to the airport conveyor belt, but a little different when your trip involves ten station changes and goodness only knows how many flights of steps. As Mark keeps reminding me, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger., though I may reserve judgement until I returrn in one piece.

Talking of death, or at least pushing one's body to the limit, and then a little further, Mark is not only testing my hhheart rate on this trip. Seeing him arrive yesterday with three rucksacks to cart down to Sicily, wheezing from exertion, or tucking into an enormous meal at the wonderfully grand Train Bleu restaurant, complete with champagne and half a bottle of wine, one would be forgiven for questioning the merits of undertaking such a trip following a diagnosis of sky high blood pressure. Thankfully for him we're heading to the world of olive oil and heart-sustaining cuisine, which should at least appease his doctor should he return in an even worse state than when he left.

In the meantime, a couple of hours after I began this post, and as we twist and turn through stunning Alpine scenery I can hear sleepy breathing from across the table. I'd better not wake him, he needs all the stamina he can build to get through this mammoth adventure.

*Please note that this post was written on a dogy bluetooth keyboard which is inclined to omit or invent characters. I hope you will therefore forgive the inevitable errors.


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