Route des Grandes Alpes

With my mates we do shorter trips several times a year for quite some time but never went for more than 5-6 days before 2009. The main reason was usually related coordination difficulties in terms of vacation, destination, etc. The usual destinations were within Hungary or neighbouring Romania, Slovenia or Austria. In 2009 I came up with the idea to do the Route des Grandes Alpes in France which promised breathtaking scenery combined with fantastic roads and a high likelihood of good weather. The only issue was the distance. When I came up with the plan my mates came with the usual excuses hence it seemed the trip will remain a vague idea. After a couple of nights spent on research I had a second try but this time I presented a detailed plan including pictures and videos I found combined with an estimated budget and an alternative option to shorten the travel time to and from the destination. The latter one meant we would take the train from Vienna to Feldkirch – at the Swiss border – that runs during the night meaning we would travel almost 800 kilometres while asleep thus saving a complete day of the journey. Based on everyone’s availability we only had 10 days hence the trip was planned around these limits.

The 6 of us scheduled to meet at the MOL petrol station near Budaors (Hungary) on Route 1. It might be due to the excitement but everyone was on time. Well, everyone except Attila but he was only late a couple of minutes. We fuelled up and left the station at 9.45 am. We headed for Austria at normal speed. We had time as we only needed to be in Vienna  by 9.00 pm. On the road we tested the Cardo comms which seemed to work fine – and luckily it stayed that way throughout the trip. We were connected in pairs which helped a lot and made the monotone sections rather pleasant. 
The first stop was at the Tata lake. We had coffee and a snack and took a rest. We had nice weather. It wasn’t too hot and we even had a couple of light clouds. The forecast said 26 degrees for the day. 

We continued along the same road until Hegyeshalom where we fuelled up the bikes and took a turn to Paprika Csarda (restaurant) for a well deserved lunch. most of us opted for the veal marrow and a nice soup beforehand. For dessert we chose the pancakes which were delicious. Service was good and food excellent as usual. 
We arrived in Vienna around 4.00 pm where we searched for biker shops. We set up “camp” in front of the Louis store. Some went in for shopping and the rest of us headed to a supermarket to prepare for the long train journey – we had to stock up on beer and some crackers. 

At 7.00 pm we were already at the train station and picked up the prepaid tickets. We parked the bikes on the platform and headed for some dinner as we couldn’t get on the train before 20.45 anyways. We opted for the local kebab stall. Waiting time didn’t seem long. We chatted and laughed about jokes and such. 
One of the porters tried to persuade Csabi to exchange his Varadero for his luggage carry vehicle but he seemed reluctant as the small engine would surely not have dealt with the trip ahead…
Passers by looked at us amazed and wondered what the hell are these bikers and their bikes doing on the platform? 
Getting on the train was not easy. You have to crouch on the bike and run along the whole length of eight waggons. Once at the end a couple of guys quickly jumped on the waggon and started to tie down the bikes not even waiting for us to get off. 


With some difficulty everyone got their stuff together. Some were more thoughtful and already packed separately what is needed for the night while others had to search through their boxes to pick the necessary items one by one…
We then went on to find our sleeping car. What we booked under the name “couchette” seemed a bad choice at first and it didn’t get better when we were informed of two things. One being that there will be no restaurant waggon on the train despite the info on the website and the other being that there is no place to shower. There were two toilets at each end of the waggon with a small motion sensor tap. Well try to wash your feet in it on a moving train… 🙂
The sleeping car was obviously too small. Six people can not fit in. Or they can but only if they all lie down to sleep. So we opted to stand on the corridor and have some beer and eat the sandwiches and snacks we stocked up. It was easier said than done. There was significant traffic as some passengers were still searching for their cabins and others just wanted to walk around stretching their legs. Once it became more quiet we just stood there and chatted about the past day and our expectations about the trip. Our conversation was interrupted more than once by the conductor who tried to persuade us to move back to our cabin. We explained to him that not only we do not have space in the cabin but the smell of our gear makes us want to stay outside and never return in there… 
Once in we opened the window and tried to get a sleep at around midnight. 
The fare is €124 per person for the trip which includes a place in a 6-seater sleeping cabin with breakfast and the transportation of your bike. I booked the tickets by phone and paid by credit card. In order to do so you need the name of every passenger, the type of each bike and their plate numbers. It turned out no one checks any of the above data. You can also book on the Internet but that is way too complicated as you need to book and pay the cabin first and then the bikes one by one. You can opt to book by email at a info@ address if you are willing to submit your card details through unsecured mail…

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