Monday, 15 November 2010

Cologne - Mannheim - Basel - Neuchatel - Marin Epagnier - Thielle

Some days you've really got to love gadgets.

So here i am, going from Cologne to Neuchatel, a town in switzerland I'm acutely aware I don't know at all. It's sunday and it's raining. The information and ticket offices are closed. I hardly speak the languages. And i've made a bit of a mountain for myself by booking my hotel late. The only one with rooms left is some distance out of Neuchatel, in fields, with no public transport.

This is going to be tricky.

My train arrives 20 minutes late (because of a connection problem at Utrecht. The train at the next platform is also late due to engineering. When I get on at last I find my seat is broken. British people note, their trains are just like ours. And it rains all the time too!)

Anyway, first train late. I miss my connection at Mannheim but the timetables are good and it's easy to find another train to Basel. But Basel has two stations which I don't realise until after I get off at the wrong one. Easily sorted - outside the station I find trams and I hop on a number 2 green tram that winds slowly through the sunny town and after a short trip through the centre of Basel I'm at the right station. What a pretty town.

I'm way behind time and my heart is sinking with the sun. I had hoped to avoid having to find my way around Neuchatel in the dark.
I sleep most of the last leg, awakening grudgingly at each stop and at last I arrive in Neuchatel. The station's concrete corridors are empty. It's dark and it's raining here, the streetlights all smeary in the dampness.

The big problem is my hotel is miles away, north east. A taxi there will cost about CHF 70, around 50 sterling. I could pay, but i've got to make this trip eight tiimes and there's no way I'll get the expenses repaid by the time by the time I leave for antarctica. I've got better things to spend the money on right now.

Time to get my phone out: GPS and mobile internet and google. That's all you need.

I study the info google can provide. The hotel seems to be about 10 km away. It's about 3 km away from a station called Marin-Epagnier. Can I get a train there? No, but there's something else, marked 'trolleybus' on the map. Search the trolleybus info, number 1 from the University. I look around the station and there's a sign funiculair sign marked Universite. I find the yellow, automated, empty funicular in another concrete corridor. I go down and outside i come across tram cables. Following them I find a stop. There's a map: it goes to Marin!

The ticket machine takes bank cards so i buy a ticket, and a few minutes later a trolley-bus pulls up and I climb on. It follows twisty, narrow alpine streets and twenty minutes I'm at the end of the line; Marin. From here I walk. Thankfully the rain has stopped, it's warm and still. GPS and googlemaps guide me unerringly throught zigzagging streets of shuttered, whitewashed houses and into unlit countryside. It's a half moon but a bit cloudy so I dig my little torch out. I follow the GPS instructions down a cycle track through planted fields to the river bank, and then up a dark footpath along the river. Willows separate me from the water but i can still see the river and it's shadowy reflections of trees and occasional houses on the far side. Loud splashes from the river signal fish catching insects. Streetlights in the far distance through the trees show me where the hotel is. It's a lovely walk.

What a great day. Superb.

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