My Travel Book - France - All about (French) trains

This entry is dedicated to a very good friend of Swee'Pea who’s part of our family now. For a lot of reasons, he loves trains so much that he’s able to even think of travelling by train all the way from Southern France to Brittany. It’d take him more than 24 hours  but I’m sure he’d love to death to do it!

It’s also dedicated to another good...(blah, blah, blah) who only travels by car! (His.)  You’re missing a lot, my friend.

Back to my story:

I had an uncle who loved trains to distraction.

He created a very famous and international company but we remember him at his best when we start talking about his home basement.

We, women, we tend to think that deep inside a grown man, there is a small boy who likes to stay young, very young sometimes! Well, my uncle, this big important man, was a very endearing, small boy at heart.

His basement was a miniature/huge rail network (depending on your age)... complete with stations (freight and passengers), mountains, tunnels, switches, lights, «people» and of course, miniature trains always running on time and very safely since each one of them was worth a fortune.

In between his managing job and working in his basement, he’d go on trips (train trips of course) in very exotic places like the Andes or he’d be travelling aboard ancient steam trains running on rehabilitated tracks in the middle of nowhere.

Well, I love travelling by train. It’s fast, usually safe, very nice (which means that you get to talk to other passengers... or work on your computer... or read... or get your beauty sleep while travelling very fast.)

Swee'Pea created himself quite an international network while coming to visit us in Brussels (but not by TGV. We have our own international Thalys going from Paris to Belgium, Holland and Germany and very fast to boot: over 300 kms/hr. This way it does get very hard to do better by car!)

Plus you get right from the heart of one city to the heart of another one. (So do you by car but I was thinking about planes... Sorry!)

Whenever we don’t have too much luggage and our cat decides to stay home with his cat-sitter, we go to Brittany by TGV. It takes 3 hours (plus 20 mns to get to our house by car) door to door from Swee'Pea’s Paris apartment to Les Tertres.
By the way, in case I didn’t make it clear and I don’t think I did, TGV means Very High Speed Train.
Which allows people to make easily fun of the TGV logo!

So taking the Northern Brittany TGV has become quite a habit for us. Usually we take a «direct» TGV which means that it’ll only stop once in Rennes, the historical capital of Brittany, before getting us to our final destination. But sometimes, our TGV will stop definitely in Rennes or it will go farther to Southern Brittany. Then we have to climb aboard what we call a TER.  They are not always as brand new as the one I found on the web but they're clean and interesting!

TER means it’s a regional «fast» train - French snail eaters do have a good sense of humour. Try eating snails and you’ll see what I mean. It’s much safer than hallucinogenic mushrooms. (Sorry, just checking if my English was good enough to spell this «h....c» stuff.)

Well, getting on a TER in Rennes can be a pain in the neck if you carry tons of luggage because  the TGV platforms are not very close to the TER platforms...

Besides, the TER will usually stop at every station along the way, even the tiniest one. You see, it’s kind of an ombilical cord from rural Brittany to «the» city.

But once you’re aboard the TER, it’s actually delightful because it’s a wonderful means of discovering what you can’t see from the TGV railway system and of course what you’ll never see from your car driving on the freeway. Small villages and very small towns. Farmyards. Woods. People enjoying walks in very nice rural settings. And lots of peaceful animals in the greener than green fields.

The TER usually stops at stations you didn’t even know they existed. Our own exotic railway trip. Much less now since we end up using the TER a lot! But well, there is always a place you have forgotten! And then, you shake your head and wonder: «Have we ever been there before?»

We have, of course. In France, they don’t build forsaken train stations overnight! They tend to close them.

Oh yes, by the way, if your time schedule is not close to school and work schedules, there is no one waiting on the platform and no one ever gets off the train. Amazing! But the train stops nevertheless... And you are not in a ghost station. There may be a station master ready to whistle the train away from the tiny platform! And sometimes, he gives a parcel to the train driver who gives it to another station master a few miles away. Kind of cute!

So now that I have told you how idyllic it is to travel by train in France, let’s face the reality!

Never, ever buy a train ticket to go anywhere in France and/or Northern Europe (my two fields of experience) when ---

     it’s the day after the first morning of a school holiday or the day before school starts again.

     it’s a school holiday.

     it’s the start or the end of a week-end, especially an extended one.

     it’s winter time and the weather gets very bad.

     it’s summer time and France gets invaded by all sorts of foreign people, young and old! (In Brittany, a foreigner is someone who was not born in Brittany... That’s the way it is, sorry about that.)

So let’s get back to the subject!
I know, it took me a while but I hope I kept you entertained. If you decided to leave my blog before this point, just too bad... for me. I’ll have to improve my storytelling.

Yesterday, I went to Brittany to give my approval about some tiles our architect had chosen. How nice to be the one to approve such an important thing! I can’t believe how gullible I can be! Well, I have to admit that Philippe was very busy!

At 7 a.m., on the way to Brittany, everything turned out so perfect. The train was almost empty due to school holidays which will be over on Thursday.

I even got to choose my own seat (over at least twenty other possibilities). Your seat number is stamped on your ticket when you buy it but you still have the possibility to try another one if there are empty seats. (At least I do but only because I’m a seasoned traveller and I’m so unruly and so very French!)

I just couldn’t believe it. I even started freaking out. Oh my, this is the crisis knocking down our beloved train system! The Monday 7 a.m. train to Saint-Brieuc is usually quite crowded.

Allright so I did approve everything... I even managed to have a few good ideas (I was feeling good and relaxed!) Then our architect invited me for lunch at our very best friends’ restaurant in Saint-Brieuc. (I was feeling even better and more relaxed.)

Popeye (who is my husband, believe it or not) had taken care of my tickets so I trusted him... He knows me... Well, sometimes, you are in for big surprises!

I got my first shock getting onto the train platform on time for the 3 p.m. TGV from Brest. The platform was swarming with people, children, dogs, huge suitcases.

And when the TGV stopped, it was already overbooked (a nice French way to make you pay full price for your ticket and seat reservation... and then you end up travelling standing wherever you can. But you are on the train because the ticket inspector tells you that you may find a seat anyway!)

Well I was lucky not to have an overbooked «seat» otherwise I would have been real, real, real mad!

But it was quite a trip. It took us almost 5 hours to get to Paris because we stopped at every (big) station for the longest time ever and in Rennes, we had to wait to get hooked to the train coming up from Nantes.

Children were crying. Grand-parents/parents were getting nervous.

The woman seated in front of me kept falling asleep (good for her). One major problem though: as soon as she'd fall asleep, she’d start snoring and worse, she'd keep on stretching her legs out... sort of fighting me out of my seat space! Then she’d wake up and shoot mean glances at me. (Well, there was no talking this time. I promise I never kicked her, not even once!)

I’m so glad Apple happened to create this marvellous thing called ipod. After a very short while, I gave up on trying to work on my website and I clamped my earphones on my ears and flew away into a much happier world, filled with the music I love. Too bad I couldn’t lift my legs too.

You can’t have everything in life, can you?

*Good night, and good luck.*

1 comment:

Myrna said...

I remember you telling about your uncle's trains--I think Colleen got to go there and see it, too, and I was jealous. I always wanted to!