All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

This is the age of the train.....

Record-breaking TGV V150 train on a barge on t...Image via Wikipedia
We are going to stay with friends and must gird our loins for the journey. I don't know why people are always going on about how wonderful public transport is in France...out here, out in the sticks, there isn't any. No street lights either, but I digress. We have had to reserve our ticket yonks in advance to get something we can afford. Not being an area frequented by holidaying politicians, etc, there are not many good offers either, and there is the small problem of booking online and having to retrieve the ticket at the station - always a dicey maneouvre when short of time, fifth in the queue and the woman at the head of it wants information on train times to Marseilles for a proposed holiday in three months' time. It might take us those three months to get to the head of the queue. To avoid having to leave the car in the station car park where it will be vandalised friends have to take us to catch the local train...a mere forty minutes' drive the ungodly hour ordained by French railways, SNCF, if we are to make a reasonable connection to Paris, rather than making endless changes and waiting about on passenger unfriendly platforms. I don't know what they think a terrorist might do with a bench, but they must think they'd do something, so the old benches are disappearing and you end up having to sit on a plastic bucket type of thing in the waiting area.

The train, to be fair, will be a comfortable push me pull you, well, it is after you haul yourself and suitcase up the steps into the carriage from the platform. You can feel like the daring young man on the flying trapeze as you reach backwards for the suitcase to be handed to you...the alternative being to practise tossing the caber and launching the thing ahead of you up the steps, a good recipe for a hernia, in my book. Why do the French think we invented platforms, for goodness' sake? None of this problem on a British train.

The mainline train will be a TGV, so fast that the countryside is a blur beyond the window, except when the catenaries are down or someone has left a few tons of straw bales on the line, in which case you repair to the buffet car so that the interior of the train becomes a blur instead. It has the same problem with steps, and an infuriating luggage rack just inside the vestibule, so that you can't see your luggage and get a crick in the neck from turning round every time there is some movement in the carriage in case some enterprising fellow traveller is making off with your smalls. It is comfortable, your seat is reserved and if you have forgotten to punch your ticket before getting on you will be fined by the conductor. SNCF also have a delightful wheeze if you buy a last minute ticket....they will sell you one at full price without a seat number, despite their policy that all seats must be reserved to ensure that no one stands! I have travelled down from Paris hopping from unoccupied seat to unoccupied seat as people came and left at various stations, but, having varied viewpoints, did not on this occasion get a crick in the neck watching my luggage.

Then, the horror. We will have to cross Paris. Always supposing that the trains and the busses are not on strike, which some of them inevitably will be. We were trained on the London tube with its' wonderful map and its' sensibly named lines and what will now face us is a journey in which we shall walk for miles looking for place names that mean nothing to determine that we are travelling in the right direction, have to change three times at least, so more walking miles looking for place names and then will probably get stuck in those alarming doors that clang as you leave a station. Worse, there will inevitably be an Irish band playing in our carriage...and probably in all the carriages we use.

We will eventually arrive at the Paris terminal for our friends' line, go through the ticket punching and caber tossing again, get a crick in the neck, and descend, exhausted, to be met by these kind people at the main line station. They are making the long drive to pick us up as their push me pull you won't be running by the time we arrive in their area, nor is it as good as our reminds me of the old British Rail poster at the station I used to use...'This is the age of the train'...under which someone had written 'Mine was one hundred and four.'

We are looking forward to seeing has been a long time...but we reckon we'll need the holiday to recover from the journey as we will feel as old as the train.

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  1. Oh that is so bad. I love traveling only when it is easier and not tiring. Then all the fun is taken out of the journey.

  2. I hate travelling. I just like the getting there...I loathe the bit in between. I will be flying to England a week Sunday which means on this occasion, Bodrum to Istanbul, then a wait (I hate lurking in expensive airports with overpriced coffee)then onwards to Heathrow. Fortunately I have a direct flight back, but it means travelling an hour and a half to Gatwick first. Theres nothing pleasant about it..the queuing to check in the queuing to board the plane, the wait at baggage reclaim, the queuing at passport control...If I didn't have my daughter and grandson at the end of the journey, I wouldn't bother!

    Anyway safe journey and I hope you have an enjoyable time with your friends. xxx

  3. Dear Fly,

    Safe travels to you and Mr. Fly.

    Here on Corfu, we have no trains. So it's buses all the way (except for the ferry the bus drives on to get you to the mainland) for us if we want "inexpensive" public transport to Athens! (gruesome experience that...) Airplanes are of course more practical but often costly.

    I remembered public transport more fondly in France, but of course, I was much younger then (40 years ago??). It doesn't sound nearly as amusing now.

  4. I laughed at the "mine was a hundred and four".
    Indeed, public transport utterly unheard of in deepest rural France (oh hurrah for the carbon tax, which will go down so well amongst country folk who have no choice but to use a private vehicle). Even here in the city, we have somehow managed to end up with a home + place of work + bus route combination which means the alternative to a 10-minute drive would be a 35-minute bus commute (plus 10 minutes walk each end). Eh?
    Enjoy your time with your friends!

  5. recipes for the life, it must be age...when a student I used to travel France by war relics with hard plastic seats...but I wasn't carrying so much luggage.

    Ayak, I have to make sure I take sandwiches, but at least on the train they don't confiscate my bottle of water.

    truestarr, yes I have golden memories of the trains in France in the past, but I think the limbs were a bit more flexible then.

    Liz of the North,
    I've always loved that comment. It sums up the British reaction to dubiously pretentious publicity.

  6. Hi Fly, I hope you both have a well-earned break!

    It really is like tossing the caber! When I have to travel from Nice to Cannes for the film festival I always have an enormous bag so that I am prepared for any eventuality (raincoat and evening dress, boots and high heels - it has to be that extreme) I DREAD getting the train and having to launch my bag up. So much so that I opted to drive this year, seven hours across the country, so that I could avoid it!
    Be safe and look forward to you being back soon.

  7. Frances, just don't get the combination wrong! It is a real nuisance, and I dread pulling back muscles or something getting the bags aboard.
    Thanks for the good wishes, a break from routine is always good.

  8. It does indeed sound like you'll need to rest up from the journey. I hope you get to enjoy your visit!

  9. Mary Anne Gruen,
    it's fine once you get's the thought of it that's worst!

  10. It sounds like such an ordeal. I did love the TGF trains when we were in France, however. But, as you say, that is just part of the equation.

  11. Superb descriptions abound... happy travels, you will be missed.

  12. mrwriteon, I used to love trains....from going off to Scotland for the holidays on the Royal Scot to tootling across France on anything from the first TGV - ergonomically designed for dwarfs - to wartime rolling stock. But, the sword outwears the sheath and these days I dread the humping of luggage and the endless complications of sorting out the timetable when some trains aren't shown as existing when you book online - you know they exist, but you can't book the so and sos without going miles to the station and having a set to with the booking clerk.

    Jimmy Bastard,'s good to know you're back and on form. The worst thing is knowing I have to do it all again for the return trip! Best to stay away, perhaps....