First overnight excursion away from Lyon (for the Tour De France!)
Updated: Dec 31, 2019
There we were, in Lyon, France with limited knowledge of the French language. Discussing our plans with our local host, we learned that the heroic level athletes of the Tour de France would be speeding through towns and trudging up mountains in a village not too far from our location. Like children on Christmas morning, we look at each other with wonder in our eyes and begin jumping around, clapping.
Well, not quite like that, but we were talking to the host of our Airbnb when we learned that the tour was still going to be close-ish while we were in Lyon and it did make us quite happy. It was decided right then and there that we would do whatever it took in order to see this amazing event in the beautiful French Alps. As with the tour, our plan had many stages and at this point stage one was complete. We decided to go :)
Stage two of our plan: How do we get from Lyon to the tiny town of Albertville, France?
We don’t have a car. We can’t Uber there. We could probably engage our inner Tour De France champion and cycle, but we would have a higher chance of dying from exhaustion along the way than making it in time to see the actual race. That left us with the train or bus.
How far away is it and when do we have to be there?
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“Oh… we’re in Europe, I’m sure it’s not THAT far away...” is what we were thinking as we pulled up Google Maps to find that Albertville is roughly 11 hours away via bus (mostly due to the terrain, we suspect).
Nope, nope, aaaaaand nope. We can’t “waste” a full day on a bus, despite the epic scenery along the way.
Train it is! Stage two of our master plan complete.
Well, how do we get train tickets to Albertville? Stage three begins….
In this day and age of technology, we immediately go online to the SNCF website. The Société nationale des chemins de fer (French National Railway Company) or SNCF for short, is the organization that handles the French National Railway (if you didn’t guess from the name). We quickly found that their website is generally useless. There is some good information on it, but it appeared to have been created in the 1990’s and not updated since then. Clearly they hadn’t figured out how to process online ticket purchases.
For a short, sad, moment we thought we would have to trudge all the way back to a main “gare” (French for "train station"… see, Eddie is learning!) in order to purchase the litany of tickets we would need for our excursion (more on this in a minute). Luckily, we combined our Google-Fu powers and TOOK OVER THE WORLD! Just kidding. But the amount of effort it took to figure everything out makes it feel like we did...
Long story short, you can go to a site like Oui.sncf which HAS figured out how to sell online train tickets. Their site still isn’t perfect and their mobile app on Android still leaves much, much, much (did I say much?) to be desired BUT we were able to purchase all of our train tickets and have them in digital format so we can just show QR codes on the train and not have to keep track of paper tickets. supER cool (must be pronounced with a thick French accent)! The French have actually adopted this phrase from English...we find it fit a wide variety of scenarios.
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Let’s circle back around to the litany of tickets we had to purchase….
We basically ended up deciding to make this a longer trip than just to Albertville, France to see the start of stage 20. The festivities and the riders will be gone in the blink of an eye and then we’ll be stuck in a wee tiny French town when there’s so much more adventure out there to partake in! So now we are staying in Chambéry, France (about 40 minutes outside of Albertville) the night prior to the race. This allows us to get to Albertville less than 1 hour prior to the start of the race so we can experience as much of the pre-send off festivities as we can. Then, after the maniacs on two wheels have taken off, we’re going to SWITZERLAND! Why not right? I mean we’re basically right on the border already...might as well make a pit stop in Geneva for a few days to see what the Swiss are up to...maybe run into Roger Federer? Yes, please! Pick me! Pick me! Megan is probably packing her sharpie for autographs as we speak.
“Hold on” you say? “This sounds too amazing to be financially possible” you say? “Only the extremely wealthy get to bounce between countries on a whim for a long weekend.”
Let us break it down for you…
Train Lyon > Chambéry €23
Stay overnight €42
Train Chambéry > Albertville (in the AM to see the race) €12
LE TOUR DE FRANCE - Stage 20!
Train Albertville > Chambéry €12
Stay overnight €42
Train Chambéry > Geneva €23
Stay overnight €113 (this is a liiiiiittle steep, but we agreed it was worth it)
Train Geneva > Lyon €35
Total Cost: €303
(or only $345 USD!)
We’re not staying in the ritziest of places and not taking first class on any trains (there doesn't appear to be a big difference between 1st and 2nd anyway).
We’ll be gone from our home base for a total of 4 days, get to see some amazing athletes perform toward the end of one of the world's most grueling endurance races, see Switzerland, and take a few trains through the Alps.
All in all, well worth the money if you ask us! In the end, you can’t take it with you. Don’t be irresponsible, but live life. Enjoy the ride. See things, do things. Go trippin!
Check out our YouTube video of how our trip went!
Below are photos from our long weekend in Chambéry, Albertville, and Geneva. Looking back, we think our first attempt at traveling within Europe was a great success!