Visiting Vichy

This past weekend we went on our first intra-france adventure. For the nine months we’ve been here, we’ve both left the city only once, and always for other countries, so when a friend of ours invited us to stay for a weekend at her parent’s place in Vichy, we couldn’t say no.

Vichy is in the middle of France, about 400 km from Paris. Despite having a long history of being a spa town for the rich and famous, it does not have such luxuries as an airport, or even a TGV line (the super fast trains), so the 400 KM ends up being three hours from town by the ‘slow’ train. Although that seems optimistic in retrospect.

At some point along the trip we noticed that the train had slowed to a stop. Not a scheduled stop, more the sort of stop where you see official looking men with clipboards and funny hats wandering up and down the tracks with confused looks on their faces. In fact, this is the sort where you run for the beer car in hopes that you can beat the rest of the crowd before they realize what’s going on. Thirty minutes, and a lager later, the loudspeaker let us know that the train had hit a tree, and that we might be there for a ‘while’.

So, this brings the following thoughts.

  1. First – Cool! We hit a tree, that’s a pretty interesting reason to be stopped.
  2. Second, how did a tree manage to grow through the middle of the tracks without causing a problem before now?
  3. Third, how did it take half an hour to realize that the train had hit a tree large enough to stop a train. One would hope that this would have been noticed pre-collision, or at the very least would have been obvious within a few moments of inspection.

Perhaps it was invisible…

In any case, this ended up being a 7 hour train ride to Vichy, but we managed to while the time away pretty successfully. Once it became obvious that we were going to be there for an indeterminate amount of time, people popped outside the train to smoke, and started socializing with the other passengers. Our party ended up tossing disc for a while in a farmer’s field by the light of the passenger cars. All around, not so bad a way to spend an evening (but it’s worth noting that the food car had run out of beer by this point).

Fortunately, this didn’t throw off or plans in any meaningful way. The nicest part of the weekend is that we really didn’t have much to do at all. Emeline’s main mission on this trip was to visit with her folks, and go to a bar-b-q Saturday evening. All around, it was pretty chill.

Saturday morning we slept in until quite late, and grabbed breakfast before heading into town for a tour and a haircut (I got a decent haircut! For those that have not heard the hair cutting horrors of Paris, this is big news.) As we drove through the center of town, Myron pointed out a building and remarked “That’s the building with all the dancing old people.”  This of course, piqued my interest, and was our first, and only real, tourist stop that we made within the city.

The building we found was not, in fact, the Geriatric dance party advertised. In reality, it was basically just a really fancy water fountain, surrounded by a decorative building. Vichy is home to several hot springs, and the water here is supposed to have curative powers. Apparently, the elderly come around in the evenings to sip the mineral rich bubbly water, and then cha-cha the night away having been cured of all that ails them.

That evening, we went to a double-birthday-bar-b-q for two of Emeline’s friends. The ladies integrated well into the French conversation, but the three English speaking guys got to play the part of the weird foreign people at the end of the table. Highlights included disagreeing with someone’s name (In French: <>; Me: “No, thank you.”) and confusing the phrase “You must be hot” with “I’m hot for you.”

Sunday we decided to tone it down even further. We started the morning with a 2 hour walk of the village near where we were staying and met some of the local delicacies.

Afterwords, we went back to the house for a traditional 8 course lunch…

  1. Aperitif [Cocktails]
  2. Appetizer [Honeydew Melons]
  3. Main Course [A T-Bone steak the size of a poodle, sliced like a roast of beef]
  4. Salad
  5. Cheese [6 of them]
  6. Coffee
  7. Dessert [Superb!! Basically a Strawberry Tiramisu]
  8. Digestif [Brandy]

This is the kind of meal that really makes me appreciate living in France. It’s not often that you get to eat all of these courses – to be honest, I didn’t know you could even go past 7 without being celebrating Chinese New Year. But the real benefit is the leisurely pace of the meal. We managed to spread this out over more than three hours while we drank wine and shot the breeze in our best attempts at speaking a language that by no means could be called French.

The one thing that we missed that I’d like to go back for is a closer look at the volcano that fuels the hot springs within this region. It’s been dormant for over a hundred years now, and is apparently the third most popular tourist site in France, after the Eiffel Tower, and Saint Chapelle church in Paris.

We’ve been told that there will be a next time, so this adventure will have to wait until then.

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