I’m writing this now on my laptop as I’m zooming along on France’s high-speed TGV train, passing by fields of vineyards and ochre hills worthy of a Van Gogh somewhere between Marseille and Lyon in Southeastern France, on my way back to Paris. (What? Don’t hate. It’s my first visit to France in about 7 years. I’m overdue!)
Presently, I’m on my 10th day in the empire formerly known as Gaul and I’m on my third day of train travel using my France Rail Pass from Rail Europe, and again this trip reminds me how fun, handy and comfy it is to take the train in Europe.
Yes, I’ve got a first-class pass good for all travel within France, so I’m doing it a bit swankily by some travel standards. But the ease and comfort surely makes it worth it. Unless you’re planning a backroads, in-depth holiday where you’ll need a car to get really deep into the French countryside, using a rail pass to bop from city to city in France (or in most countries in Europe) is a fairly unbeatable way to do it.
Like I said, I’m zipping along in a comfy seat through ridiculously scenic hills dotted with castles and green expanses, and I’m getting from Marseille to Paris is just barely over 3 hours. C’est magnifique!
RailPasses come for just France or for any combo of Euro countries that you can pretty much scheme up. The more countries, the higher the price, of course. But if you want the ease of just training around and getting from city center to city center all across Europe, plan ahead and snag a pass.
One note: If you take the high-speed TGV as I have, you can’t just jump on any old TGV train with your France Rail Pass and grab a seat. You must purchase a reservation for the specific train you want in advance. But it’s easy to do this online at RailEurope.com in the States before you depart. And, I found after missing my train from Paris to Lyon by about a minute when my lunch ran late (Urgh!), you can zip right into the main ticket office (as I did at the Gare du Lyon), present your rail pass and the attendant behind the ticket counter will reschedule you for the next possible train. Maybe I got lucky and did this without charge or incident (the next Lyon TGV train left exactly one hour later), but it was done with ease. Crisis averted!
AND, ONE MORE NOTE ABOUT MISSING THAT TRAIN… By and large the French trains run on time. If departure time is 1:54pm, that’s when it pulls out. Not at 1:55 or 1:56.And chances are if you’re getting on at the route’s origin (like the Paris to Lyon trip I was taking) you can typically board the train and settle in comfortably to your seat at about 20 or often even 30 minutes before departure time. So… Get there early. And don’t trust the rustic old clocks on a station’s historic tower, or even the old antique-y clocks still possibly visible perched on a post inside the station. Find the REAL up-to-date digital clock in the station. Or just consult that watch on your wrist. Point being: Don’t be late, or your train will leave without you.
So, bottom line? “Hurrah for train travel in Europe!” The options for varied packages for the time period and number of countries you’re traveling to are varied and generous. RailEurope.com can lay it all out for you. And best of all, riding the train from city to city in France — or anywhere in Europe, really — is still as handy, comfy and old-school romantic as you remember from your collegiate backpacky days.
Gotta run. I’m heading up to the bar car to get a cafe creme and watch more of those rolling French hills, scattered with sassy white cows and freakishly picturesque villages go whooshing by. See ya back in Paris!
AND… If during your Euro train travels you meet someone, fall madly in love and then must part with a weepy goodbye on a train station platform, do it like this (when in doubt, always ask yourself “What would Catherine Deneuve do?”):