Tag Archives: SNCF

TGV – France Train Tips – Riding the Rails in France

tgv[2]France enjoys one of the most modern, extensive, high-speed rail networks in the world.  The renowned Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) network will whisk you across the country in a just a few hours.  And the Eurostar is heaven….central Paris to central London in a mere 2 hours 15 minutes.  Here are some of my top tips for enjoying the trains in France.
 
1. First things first – If you’re heading out from Paris, know that there are 7 major train stations, plus the Charles de Gaulle airport station, each serving a different region, based on proximity.  Know where you’re headed.

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Gare du Nord – Paris’ busiest train station, with Eurostar to London; also Belgium, Netherlands, Northern Germany

Gare de l’Est Eastern France, Austria, Germany, German-speaking part of Switzerland
Gare du Lyon – Central and south-east France, French Riviera, French speaking part of Switzerland, Italy and connecting service into Spain through Montpellier

Gare Montparnasse – Western and south-western France (southern Normandy, Brittany, Pays de la Loire, Tours by TGV, Poitou-Charentes, Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrénées) and north-western Spain.

Gare d’Austerlitz – South Central France, Toulouse and Pyrenees; night trains to south of France and Spain

Gare du Bercy – near Gare du Lyon, provides service for overnight trains to Italy:  Florence, Milan, Rome, Venice

Charles de Gaulle – Gare Aeroport CDG – most convenient if you are flying in and making an immediate connection – you may not have to transfer to central Paris at all.  Travel directly from the airport via high speed TGV to Avignon, Brussels, Lille, Lyon and Nice.

Gare St. Lazare – serves Normandy, including Caen, Vernon, Le Havre, Cherbourg, Deauville, Lisieux

 Detailed practical information on each station can be found here at Rail Europe’s Paris station pages

 2. Travel like a local – Second class travel is just fine, and you’ll meet more Europeans that way.  Who wants to be upfront with the business travelers?

 3. Tickets – Don’t count on purchasing your ticket at the train station kiosks.  Most accept only European credit cards that have a chip which U.S. issued cards don’t have.  Purchase your France rail pass before you leave home, or purchase point to point tickets at the train station office. Check with a travel agent or Rail Europe for details on the many great options. France rail passes are offered for 3-9 days of travel.  If you plan to travel only 1 or 2 days, you’ll want point-to-point tickets.  Also, if you have a short-haul trip in mind, it may be more cost effective to purchase a point-to-point ticket for that leg, and save your Rail Pass day for a longer, more expensive journey.  Click here for the SNCF website in English, which has point to point schedules and prices. 

 4. Reservations – Eurail and France pass travelers, be aware that the high speed TGV trains and night trains ALWAYS require advance reservations, payment of a nominal fee, and space may be capacity controlled.  Reserve your train early to ensure your place, especially at peak travel times.  When I arrive in one station, I usually visit the ticket window before I leave to make reservations for the next leg of the journey.  You can also make reservations in advance from your travel agent from whom you purchased your pass, or directly on Rail Europe’s reservation page.

 5. Dining – Most French trains of any distance have an informal dining car, with drinks and snacks, and some even offer kids meals in a cute plastic zip container.  Convenience can be pricey though.  Take a tip from the locals and pick up a fresh baguette, some local cheeses, fresh fruit and beverage of choice before you head to the station, and enjoy your picnic onboard.  Many train stations also have surprisingly good patisseries – yum! – and sell sandwiches to go (emporter).
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6. Travel light – Chances are you’ll be lifting all the bags onto and off of the train by yourself.  Most trains have overhead shelves to store smaller items.  Storage areas for larger bags are at the ends of the cars, where you may not be able to keep an eye on your belongings.  If you’re concerned about theft, bring along a bicycle-type lock to secure bags to the storage shelves.
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7. Be alert – Like any major gathering place in the world, train stations have their share of pickpockets.  Carry cash, credit cards and passports in a money belt, and keep a watchful eye on your bags. 

8. Right Place at the Right Time – Note the platform your train will be leaving from and arrive early.  You may need to traverse up and down several flights of stairs to reach your platform, so again, travel light..bring only what you can comfortably carry yourself.  Most platforms have an electronic (or manual) board noting the composition of the trains, i.e. first class and second class cars.  Position yourself accordingly on the platform while you wait for the incoming train.   Each car will be marked with a 1 or a 2, indicating whether it’s first or second class.  Stations stops can be brief, and they don’t wait for you, so be ready to board.  Likewise, be alert as to when it’s time to get off.  Know the names of the stations that are several stops prior to your stop, so you can begin to collect your belongings and position yourself towards the exit doors.
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9. Onboard bathrooms – Okay, maybe not the most glamorous, but serviceable.  Most cannot be used while the train is in the station (I won’t go into detail here), and the water is usually non-potable.  Traveling with your own hand sanitizer and small pack of tissues is always a good idea.

10.  Eurostar – I saved the best for last.  You really can’t beat the convenience and modern amenities.  Easy to see why high speed Eurostar service under the Chunnel beats air travel – no checked bag fees, no long security wait lines, no 2 hour advance check in.  It’s a breeze traveling from Paris’ Gare du Nord station to London’s bright new St. Pancras station. St. Pancras is almost a destination within itself with shops, restaurants, bars, and Europe’s longest champagne bar.  For the best insider tips on traveling Eurostar, check out frequent Eurostar traveler’s Paris Perfect blog post for excellent suggestions, including which cars are most convenient.

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Great Day Trips from Paris-Monet’s Gardens at Giverny

If you’re going to be in Paris more than a few days, take advantage of the great public transportation system and venture out to see some of the glorious sights nearby.  I’ll be highlighting 3 of my favorite day trips from Paris in the next few weeks.   You can do all 3 of these excursions via organized tour companies…..but if you like scheduling your own day, and saving money, don’t be afraid to venture out on your own.  Let’s start with Claude Monet’s glorious home and gardens at Giverny. 
 
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Monet’s gardens are one of the most visited attractions, and no wonder why.  This famous leader of the Impressionist movement retired to Giverny and made his home here from 1883 until the time of his death in 1926.  He spent many years planning and planting his famous gardens.  You have seen pictures of them many times…..even if you have never been there.  Monet created his beloved water lily paintings here….dredging the pond, building the Japanese footbridge, framed by weeping willows and wisteria, and planting a riot of colorful blooms, designed to flower all through the growing season.  Rose arbors, delphiniums, spring bulbs.  But Monet was captivated by the water lilies, capturing them in different lights and changing seasons, from many perspectives….close up to far away.
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Entrance fee to Monet’s house and gardens is 6 euros for adults, discounts for children and seniors.  http://www.fondation-monet.com/uk/  Open April 1 – Oct. 31. 

Flowering calendar http://giverny.org/gardens/fcm/calendar.htm explains what’s in bloom every month.

 

 

Getting There

Take an early train from Paris Gare St. Lazare to Vernon.  Cost is approx 24 Euro round trip, and direct trains make the trip in about 45 minutes.  Here is the English website for France SNCF train schedules:   http://www.tgv-europe.com/en/home/?rfrr=Basket_header_Home

 

Public buses depart Vernon train station about 15 minutes after the train arrives.  The short bus ride from Vernon to Giverny is about 2.5 miles, and costs about 3 Euros round trip.     

Try to arrive early, before the hoards of tour buses disgorge their day-trippers. 

 

Organized bus or mini-van tours are available from Paris through Paris Visions, ranging from 70-89 Euros.  http://en.parisvision.com/15,226-visit-giverny-monet-house-and-gardens.htm

 

For something delightfully different, try Fat Tire Bike Tours.  For 65 Euros, you receive round trip train transportation Paris to Vernon, a guided bike tour from Vernon to Giverny, picnic lunch along the Seine, entrance to Monet’s house and gardens, and a visit to his gravesite.  It’s an easy 6.5 mile round trip bike ride.  http://fattirebiketours.com/paris/tours/monet-bike

Be sure your camera is fully charged and has plenty of storage memory, as you’ll need the space to capture the beautiful surroundings.