And then it was time to board, destination Valence.
"Which Valence?" the bus driver asked, as I handed him my ticket.
Um....."There are two Valences?"
"Valence TGV or Valence Ville?"
"Do I have time to go check at the ticket counter?"
"No, get in, we'll go to Valence Ville."
Throwing myself to the mercies of bus drivers who know more than I do, I boarded and promptly fell asleep. Valence would be dealt with later--after a good cat nap to take another layer of jet lag off. I drifted off as we passed the white Chartreuse mountains and woke in Valence an hour later.
I schlepped into the train station to find my connection. Next stop: Montelimar, where I would get a bus to Aubenas, where the Bouchers would pick me up at the 'old station.' Not the new, Place de la Paix, the old station, Gilbert had been careful to underscore. With a half hour wait to go on track 5, I milled with the French and their dogs, wilting in the heat.
When the train pulled in, on time, the crowd surged forward, but I hung back. The sign was right, the track was right, the hour was right. But this train was definitely wrong! Not the sleek French bullet train we were all expecting, but a lumbering giant from Moscow! What?!
To add to the confusion, French conductors descended, to fend off the frenzied and perplexed mob, shouting things I couldn't understand in the uproar, but didn't need to. I knew we weren't going to Moscow!
While we all tried to decode this bit of fun (I think this is when my sense of the absurd kicked in), behind us and the lumbering gray from Moscow the bullet train whooshed to a discreet halt, and doors opened.
The mob--this time including me--surged backwards and scrambled for correct car and seat (the bullets are notoriously brief in their station stops). And promptly two minutes later, we were whisked away deep into the French interior, the Massif Central, geologically the oldest part of France. Goodbye Valence--both of you!!!