One of the things I love about being a grad student is being able to go around to various cities for conferences and scientific meetings. It gives me so much opportunity to see random places all over the place, and the cost is covered by the school most of the time!
In May, I went to a polymers conference in Houffalize, Belgium, a place almost non-existent on the map and inaccessible by train. I wanted to go around and take pictures of the place, as it was a tranquil little town that reminded me very much of Luxembourg, but unfortunately I didn’t have time. Just a week ago, I went to Clermont-Ferrand for a small-scaled, one-day colloquium. Before such event, I had not heard of Clermont-Ferrand, so it was a new and curious destination for me. As the colloquium started at 8:30 on Friday morning, I had to leave a day earlier from Bordeaux, which gave me sufficient time on Thursday to explore the mysterious city a bit.
Before I even talk about the city itself, let me just mention that it’s a PAIN IN THE NECK to travel between Bordeaux and Clermont-Ferrand. As there are no direct trains connecting the two cities, going from one to the other requires at least one transfer. And if you can do it with only one transfer, you’re pretty lucky. Let’s take a look at the maps below for routes that I had to take (click for full version).
So there you have Bordeaux in southwest France and Clermont-Ferrand in central France. Doesn’t seem too far, right? If you have a car, then no problemo, but by train, it was a nightmare of transfer after transfer. For my trip to Clermont-Ferrand, I only had to transfer once at Gannat, but as it was a slow local train, the entire trip took about 6.5 hours. That’s a round trip from Bordeaux to Paris. As for the return trip, it was even more ridiculous as I had to get off at Nevers, then head to Tours, and take the TGV back to Bordeaux. Even the TGV itself took 2.5 hours, so you can imagine how far I had to go. I mean…come on. Tours is closer to Paris than Bordeaux, and it’s not even on the way! There was no other way to get back to Bordeaux on that day, unfortunately, and by the time I arrived after my 7.5-hour journey, it was 1am. Add another 2 hours and I could have been back to Canada. Seriously.
Alright, now for Clermont-Ferrand itself. As the train entered the station, I noticed that the city didn’t seem or feel as old and historic as Bordeaux. However, hills and mountains were aplenty around Clermont-Ferrand, and that’s definitely not something you’d see very often in Bordeaux. As you walk around, you begin to notice that the city is surrounded by mountains, as if enclosed in its own natural shelter. One place I’d really like to visit if I ever get the chance to go back is the Puy de Dôme, a dormant volcano not too far from the city. Apparently there are awesome hiking trails all over the place, perfect for you if you’re an outdoor fanatic!
View outside the window from my 6th floor hotel room near the city centre. The view would have been perfect if there wasn’t a construction site right outside and if the cranes weren’t blocking the magnificent church in the distance most of the time. Then again, being able to see that church from my room gave me the incentive right away to explore the city and find that mysterious place!