I left Auxerre, capital of the Yonne, for Nevers, capital of the Nièvre, the two departments of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté that I’m looking at this trip. I’m now using the French rail app, SNCF Connect, for most of my planning; it has registered my Carte Advantage Senior and applies the discount automatically to any route I look at, and it stores my credit card, so buying tickets is a snap. Usually. But for the trip from Auxerre to Nevers, it was baffling. Going by train is a bit ridiculous, in that the suggested route is back to Paris Bercy and then back south. There just aren’t many east-west connections. It’s also possible to avoid going back north by taking three trains, with a bit of a layover in Dijon, after changing trains in a station with no elevators to the tracks, meaning I’d be lugging my suitcases up and down stairs, with very few minutes to manage the feat. The appealing choice was to take buses, and there was one option, leaving at 10:24 in the morning. Perfect. But when I tried to book that trip, the option simply disappeared from the app. I tried repeatedly and the same thing always happened. I went to ask Nicola, my kind auberge host, if he could understand what was going on, or if the bus actually existed, or how to book if it did. He did some internet searching, turning up sites I hadn’t found, but ended up as clueless as I. I decided to just go to the station in the morning and take my chances: worst case would be that Paris pivot.
Things turned out OK. Luckily the ticket office was open. The agent kindly explained that while the first bus was an SNCF option, which she could sell a ticket for, the connection I’d make in Clamecy (mid-route) was a regional transport, with tickets sold only on board. All good. 5.50 euros for the first bus, and 1.50 for the second, for which I had over an hour’s wait in Clamecy’s empty station. The trip was scenic and interesting, especially that second bus, because it made a couple of dozen stops and wound through many villages. A trip that would take a little over an hour by car became a full two hours – but it was comfortable and relaxing enough, since I could use my headphones to mostly drown out the bubblegum pop the driver played loudly over the radio.
The countryside was startlingly green. It’s January, and yet the hillsides looked like advertisements of Ireland. For a while, the route followed the Yonne river, making for delightful scenery. Otherwise, there were rolling hills with all their windbreaks – being the only vegetation that seemed wintry. The towns we went through were a mix of drab industrial sections and fascinating medieval villages, with a few archeological sites signaled along the way. I’d loved to have managed to snap a photo of one town’s pair of directional signs reading “Eglise” and below that, “Foie Gras.” Just the essentials!?
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get photos of the interesting villages, as the bus was always moving – except when it made its unphotogenic scheduled stops.
The long journey through mostly empty countryside made me feel I was in the back of beyond, too inland and remote for my liking; yet Avallon and Vézelay are nearby, and Dijon is about as close to Nevers as Paris is to Auxerre. I’m looking forward to exploring Nevers to see if it’s enough, nearly, in itself; and to exploring some of the towns just to the north, along the Loire.
Buy your Carte Avantage Senior online directly from SNCF; currently 49 euros/year, starting any date you choose, and available to anyone 60 years old and up, tourists as well as residents. But do a search first; I’ve seen some agencies offer the card at 50% off once in a while, and very likely around Black Friday.