July 2, 2019: Luzern and the Day of Trains

Tuesday. GT2 Day Twenty Four. Paris, France.

We were up at five this morning. We all felt awful. I managed to get about four hours of sleep, which is amazing. Three hours of light sleep, and one hour of deep sleep. Realistically, that was the best I could possibly have hoped for. So we are calling that a victory for the second night of attempting to sleep without the CPAP.

Today, we go to Paris. But first, we are spending half an hour in Milan, and a little time in Luzern, and a little time in Basel. So the actual activities of the day will be in Switzerland, but we will sleep in Paris tonight.

We were out the door at forty past five. Ten minutes later than we had wanted to be. So early. This is not fun.

We piled into the Ford B-Max for the last time and pulled out of the gated little parking spot that we have and drove out of Montecatini Terme. Off to the Firenze Airport to drop off the car.

We fueled up just before the airport. The drive was super easy and the A11 dead ends into the airport, so you can’t go wrong. There is a gas station just before the airport so it is as simple as can be to top up the tank before returning the car.

The tough thing is that the car returns are not labeled in any way. Nothing. We used Google Maps and it took us the wrong way on some one ways, but we were in a hurry and there was no traffic since it was so early in the morning so we just went the wrong way and found the Hertz drop off, dropped off the car with the key drop, and caught the shuttle bus to the airport. Once we got to the airport, the Firenze city tram is right there.

We could not catch the first tram because there wasn’t time to buy the tickets before it left. We tried to catch the next tram but they had two there at once and the one with the driver turned out to not be the next one. That was not good. The trams run about every five minutes, so these were not huge blows to our time table, but with getting fuel, having driven around a bit looking for the drop off, missing the tram our time was slipping and if everything ran on time, we would have maybe nine minutes from the time that we got to the outside of Firenze train station until we had to be boarded on our train and at this point we were not even sure how to get from the outside of the station to the tracks, nor which track we were looking to get to! A lot to go wrong in a very small window.

I should note that we found a great ATM at Firenze Terminal and we had intended to use it this morning to get more cash at a better rate, and obviously did not have time to do that. So that really sucked. I am not sure if Dominica has realized this yet or not at this point (writing this just before midnight.)

So the third tram was a charm and we rode into the terminal (Firenze is actually a terminal, not a station, regardless of how many times I accidentally call it a station.) While on the tram we could see that our train was delayed about five minutes (fingers crossed, we really do not want to miss this train) and eventually that it was on track ten. The girls had not spoken one word all morning at this point, and were really unhappy about being up so early (but hey, Emily is the one that scheduled this, I had tried to talk her out of it.) We were all set and made a mad dash out of the tram to try to catch our train.

We actually did pretty well and had probably three minutes to spare. We got onto the train, and it was pretty much immediately in motion. What a sense of relief. Missing that train this morning would have cascaded to so many other connections! We have a connection in Milan, another in Luzern, then one in Basel to deal with today. We could have missed all three!

So this first leg of our journey is from Firenze in Tuscany, to Milano in Lombardy. We were all so tired, we all napped pretty heavily on this first bit. Madeline literally slept the entire way and basically didn’t even know that we had been on the train. She was out like a light. Emily attempted to sleep but could not as there were too many people making too much noise. Dominica nosed off a bit. And even I probably got thirty minutes or more of sleep in. Maybe an hour! I dropped off several times.

We got to Milano and never even entered the station proper, there was not enough time. We only had about thirty five minutes before it was time to catch our SBB train to Luzern. Madeline and I attempted to get us breakfast while Dominica and Emily tried to find a rest room. Because of lines and the immense size of the terminal at Milano, it took them a good twenty five minutes to use the rest room that is right there on the platforms! Insane. We almost didn’t have time to make it to our next train. The place where Madeline and I were was so busy that we could not get any food or anything there, there wasn’t enough time. Thankfully Dominica and Emily spotted a sandwich shop on the way back from the rest rooms, texted us, and knew to just grab whatever they could there. Madeline and I grabbed all of the luggage and met Dominica and Emily at our track so that we could get right onto the train. Cutting it pretty close all day, today.

On this train we have a four person table so we can all sit together and eat. That worked out really well. Dominica got me a bagel that was just loaded with veggies. It was fantastic. She and the girls got sandwiches, she and Emily had focaccia. Madeline got a plain sandwich, but it turned out to the Swiss cheese that she can’t eat. Then the three of them had muffins, too. Huge ones.

This trip from Milano to Luzern was just the most incredible scenery. Madeline fell asleep again for nearly the entire trip. Emily slept some, but managed to see a lot of it, too. It is impossible to describe how gorgeous Switzerland is.

Once we got to Luzern, Dominica was tired and did not want to go out sight seeing with us. So she just took all of the luggage upstairs to a cafe and camped out there with a large iced coffee, some waters, and a comfy little spot to read and overlook the train station. Emily, Madeline, and I set out to walk around the really touristy little downtown area and get pictures.

We hit the arch, the famous wooden bridge, bits of the waterfront, some of the main shopping streets. We did some shopping for souvenirs. I was super excited to stumble on a Jack Wolfskin shop. It was one of those shops that I found my awesome traveling hat at in Hallstat, Austria in 2012. I’ve not had that hat on this trip and I have been so sad. I bought a new one, just like it, in black today for thirty dollars. This is awesome. I will throw out my seven dollar paper fedora from Greece today, it is terrible for traveling days. It just gets so hot and cannot be packed, it is too delicate.

We did all of our stuff in about an hour. It was not terribly hot, but it was pretty warm. The heat wave is breaking for us, finally. But the sun still made it more than we wanted to stay out doing for too long. So we returned and relieved Dominica. We all went down to the grocery store two floors down and did a little shopping for cheaper snacks to take on the next leg of the train with us. No one was really in the mood for a meal yet, so Dominica did some research and figured out that there was an earlier train out of Luzern than we had planned to take, and that our tickets were good for it, too. So we hopped an earlier train and headed off to Basel with the expectation that we would find dinner there, rather than in Luzern.

I have a new Twitter account now for people who want to be able to follow along with the never ending travel stream. Putting it anywhere else just did not seem to make sense. So if you are on Twitter and want to see where we are and what we are doing at every moment, just follow @takeflightscott

It is only about an hour on the train from Luzern to Basel. Very easy. We got there and had close to two hours, because we had arrived so early, before our train to Paris. We walked all over to see what food there was. There was not much. Luzern had loads of food options like Turkish, Thai, Cafes, Burgers, Fruit Smoothies, and more. It was really good, and the grocery store there was large. Basel had a tiny grocery, a couple little cafes, a pretzel stand, and a Nordsee. Dominica and I were excited to see a Nordsee, we need something different. Madeline managed to find a pretzel sandwich with salami that worked for her. Emily ended up trying a butter pretzel and found out that they sell them cold here, which did not make her happy. And she eventually got fried shimp at Nordsee. I got the standard Nordsee fish sandwich. Dominica got the Nordsee pulled salmon on a bagel and it was completely amazing. I am so sorry that I did not get one. We have to find another Nordsee before we head back! We hung out in the Nordsee until the girls and I ran to the Coop grocery to get snacks for the last train, then we headed down to platform five to catch our last train of the day.

My dad will be excited because we got to ride the TGV today, which goes up to 320kph and holds some speed records like around 574kph! This route took us from Basel right over the border into France and across France to Paris. A little over three hours. The ride was comfortable and went well.

We arrived in Paris on top, around nine thirty. We are all so tired. We started so early, and doing all of these trains and connections is just tiring itself.

While trying to figure out the subway, Dominica figured out that with four of us going such a short distance that it would be cheaper to Uber than it would be to take public transportation. That made the decision easy. We went to the pickup point and called a car and got a nice, quick drive to our apartment. We are going to be here for four days.

It was a bit of a walk from where the car dropped us off to the actual apartment. This apartment is in a totally crazy district near Notre Dame that is so jam packed with restaurants. It’s like something out of a movie, I can’t believe that this place exists in the real world. It was crazy. We wound through this intense maze of streets with more food than I have ever seen in one place before, then found this unassuming door on the alley, put in a code and went into a little courtyard behind all of this madness, down a long hallway in the back, and then up six flights of stairs super quietly (we are told that the neighbours are insane and that we cannot even talk in the apartment) and up to our apartment. This was super tiring since we are carrying our backpacks and bags with us as we do this climb.

The apartment is tiny. An itty bitty room with bunk beds and two other beds in it. One little window to keep us cool, no air conditioning, a small desk fan, and, well that’s all. This is the real Paris experience. This is the kind of apartment that real people live in in Paris. So small, so old.

We probably should have gone out for dinner, but not one of us felt like doing that. Emily asked me to get photos uploading since we finally have some Internet again. Not fast, but it works. So I set up, sitting on the corner of my bed, uploading pictures to Flickr, and writing todays’ SGL update. It is nice to get to do real media maintenance for the first time in a week. I am just now uploading the first pictures from our arrival in Tuscany. So that is a full four days in Tuscany, including our trip to Pisa and the Cinque Terre, and our time in Firenze, that has all been lagging behind. And I think that there are some videos that have yet to be posted from as long ago as our last day in Rome!

The weather is actually really nice tonight in Paris. Even with just the one window, the air feels good and sleeping will not be a problem. That is important, tonight is the night to make up a bunch of lost sleep. We are so lucky that we got to Paris on the first cool night. It has been a week of hell here, record setting high temperatures as recently as yesterday. Without air conditioning this could have been so terrible. But as it is, this is not a big deal at all. The fresh air is quite welcomed.