Friday, 1 September 2017

Verbier wedding preparation

Another train journey this morning, to the Val de Bagnes for a wedding preparation session in the ski resort of Verbier, meeting Gary and Nicola, the bride and groom, for the first time, following a long series of email exchanges over the past three months, which has certainly reduced the number of explanations needed to be made about the whole event. We planned to meet at the Telepherique station in Verbier, and continue in a nearby restaurant.

My carefully timed journey nearly came to grief. I crossed the road to Territet gare with half an hour to spare before the Train Regional took me to Montreux gare for the InterRegio to Martigny. Yet again, I was unable to make sense of the information presented by the automatic ticket machine, which presented me with four Verbier destinations and connection details. I didn't know which to choose. Also the touch screen search mechanism seemed not to be functioning adequately to give what I needed when I returned to the beginning and repeated my search. Perhaps the network was busy, but I didn't know what to do, and panicked. 

Rather than travel one stop without a ticket and have a repeat performance by another machine at Montreux gare, I decided I still had enough time to make the fifteen minute walk to the booking office there, and gamble on there not being much of a queue. I reached there with ten minutes to spare before the Martigny train arrived, queued for five minutes and made it on to the platform a few minnutes before it appeared. The marked destination was Verbier, with none of the local options offered by the machine At Martigny, it's a two minute walk through the underpass to branch line platform 50 beyond the main station building where the Train Regional to Le Chable was waiting. 

An hour and ten minutes after leaving Montreux I stepped off the train in Le Chable on to a wooden temporary platform. The station area is a building site at the moment, with a huge trench excavated beside the railway line, I imagine, to house a car park for those who drive up the Val de Bagnes and then take the téléférique to Verbier. There was a yellow Car Postal waiting for passengers in the car park, and as it was conveniently there, I got on it, rather than waste time finding out how to access the téléférique. The fare is included in the ticket.

The bus climbs up from 850m to 1,530m over 7km from Le Chable to Verbier on a very good alpine road. The journey is fifteen minutes, twice as long as the téléférique, when the roads are empty of visitors. I can see it taking much longer in the ski season when people drive up laden with ski equipment and passengers. I fooled myself into believing the bus station would be in much the same location as the téléférique. No such luck. First, I had to ask directions, then walk uphill half a kilometre to reach our meeting place. I hardly recognised the town, as I was last here in the summer of 1999, on a week's study leave to prepare for the trip I was about to make to Mongolia. It's changed a lot. So it was like being a first time visitor, unfamiliar with the town layout and how things work.

Gary found me at the téléférique and took me to a nearby restaurant he'd mentioned. I'd not been able to find it for myself as it was in among several shops and its signage didn't stand out enough to make it recognisable from a distance. I discovered it was the couple's first Verbier visit also, so they were unfamiliar with the town plan, and thus unable to give clear directions for finding it. Anyway after introductions, I gave them a full briefing on the wedding service procedure, and then we drove a kilometre uphill to the ski village of Le Hameau at the foot of a nursery ski slope, which is a section of a golf course most of the year.

We had difficulty finding the chapel, and Gary called the local wedding arranger who came to join us. It took her a while to find the place. I got the impression this wasn't a venue she'd used before, and hadn't visited it, only seen it on the internet, like the bride and groom. It was in a courtyard with modern chalets of wood and stone in the style of Valais houses with a restaurant, all around the courtyard. The entire complex was deserted, possibly having few or no permanent residents, but could be accessed most easily by driving into an underground car park. Summer holidaymakers had already gone, so the place won't see many people coming to stay until autumn half term, or until December, when the nursery slopes are once more snow clad.

At one end of the courtyard stand La Chapelle du Hameau built in wood and stone, matching the chalets. It's of the same age as is surroundings, also in traditional alpine style re-imagined, with some lovely stained glass panels, a full sized glass window overlooking a small enclosed rock garden, with the sculpted image of the Crucified One strikingly suspended in mid-air, over an altar table made from a granite boulder. It's designated as an Ecumenical chapel, dedicated to Our Lady, represented by a life sized image on a wooden panel on the north wall of the sanctuary, said to date from the 13th century, brought from elsewhere. Its pews hold up to fifty people.

A stone embedded in the church's threshold is engraved with a mason's mark and dated 1903, suggesting there was a previous chapel sited here, as the present one, like the housing complex, dates from 1990. A lovely place for a wedding, though the shuttered buildings and the absence of local occupants made it feel somewhat folorn, under low cloud and spitting rain. But, a far better place to be than a thousand meters further up the mountainside in the outdoor venue originally planned.

With the day's preparations completed, I was driven back to the téléférique, where I discovered the hard way that my train ticket didn't extend to a cable car ride as well. SBB/CFF rail travel booking app and timetable gives timings which include this way of getting to the top, when there is no bus, but doesn't mention that you have to pay extra. I went up in the left to the departure platform only to find an automated access gate which scans bar coded tickets. Mine had no bar code, so I returned to the entrance area and found ticket machines which again offered me all kinds of travel options in the Quatre Vallées region ski lifts, none of which made sense. There was no single button to press for an aller simple to Le Chable.

In frustration, I stomped down the main street to the station Car Postal only to find I'd just missed the bus on which my train ticket was valid, leaving me 55 minutes to wait, so I stomped back up the hill to find a booking office open with a real human being to pay nine francs to ride the cable car back to the Le Chable station, in good time to catch the 16.11 train to Martigny, and soon life went back to being normal, smooth and predictable.

No comments:

Post a Comment