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Thursday, October 31, 2019

Things We Learned about Ourselves in A Paris Train Station

Sometimes the convenience of what some perceive as luxury is the pleasure that makes a journey healthy and meaningful.

Recently we were inspired by our love of history, wine architecture and the countryside to plan an adventure to the Loire Valley. We belong to many online collaborative travel groups, some of which reinforce several things that may influence your preferred travel modes: carbon footprint, convenience, luxury, time, or cost just to name a few.

There are limited ways to get to and through the Loire Valley. Renting a car is an easy method to get around but the thought of renting a car at CDG gives one palpitations. However renting a car in the Loire valley isn't very difficult. We chose to rent in Tours. As suggested by our Airbnb host, there is a high speed train from CDG to Tours (and back). FYI the train station at CDG is easy and of course the regional train stations such as St Pierre des Corps are simple to use.

Important points about the TGV train

1. CDG station is conveniently located at the airport. You never have to enter Paris.

2. Buy your tickets ahead at this site if you are on a tight schedule or like us hate waiting since prime time trains may fill. Unfortunately the train we wanted was full, resulting in a 4 hour wait at CDG. Allow 2.5 hours if you must claim bags and clear immigration/customs with a coach seat. If you are flying business class you will have priority access to immigration saving at least 30 minutes and taking carry on only will save you at least 45 minutes.

4. Only bring as much luggage as you can navigate onto a train. Storage, even in first class is limited and accessing the platforms and cars involves rushing passengers, stairs and escalators.

5. Pay extra for first class to give yourself more room, assigned seats, serenity and safer conditions.

6. Always secure your belongings! The airport itself is known for pickpockets and your luggage on the train may be out of your sight. We recommend planning your packing to include your valuables in a lockable day pack that you can keep at your seat - passport, cash, etc.

7. Rental car companies in the small regional towns may close for lunch due to limited staff. Be prepared and plan accordingly. Missing the first train added another hour of waiting.

TIP: Paris, including the train stations is rampant with pickpockets and thieves.  Make sure you protect your luggage like we suggested above!  We prefer to use Lewis N Clark triple security locks.  These lock zipper pulls together, lock luggage handle to zipper pulls, or lock your luggage to fixed objects.  They are lightweight and we never leave on a trip without them.  Please click the photo below to learn more at Amazon and support our blog!  Thank you so much!!!

Well onto the return....the difficult segment of our entire week. We decided to get near Paris so that we didn't have to rely upon a train to get to our morning flight since delays MAY and DO occur! After checking the American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts website, we became inspired to visit Versailles. The Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace had an amazing rate including breakfast and meal credit and certainly we were ready for a little comfort and service.

BUT oh boy, Versailles was not as easy to get to by train - at least for us! The route involved a high speed train to Paris and then a regional train to Versailles. The high speed train was delayed by nearly an hour. Now what??? Some nice passengers told us when the next trains to Versailles were and that we probably didn't need to buy another regional ticket. However instructions are not clear on the printed tickets or SCNF website. Arriving in Montparnasse is very disorienting with poor signage, large rapidly moving crowds and very few customer service agents, especially ones who speak English. As much as we read about it ahead of time, nothing prepared us for this experience and sorry folks, we can't offer any advice except consider another way to move through Paris like a taxi or car service.

Eventually we found the SCNF ticket office, waited in line for 30 minutes (there was no benefit for first class bookings) to be told our paper tickets would work. GREAT! The boards that we THINK are correct tell us our train is coming, and we, like many others, go to the turnstiles with our paper ticket, only to find out it won't work. There is absolutely NOWHERE to scan a paper ticket. We still don't know what we were supposed to do. Everyone else was using what looked like a metro ticket like we saw our seat-mates getting ready on the train. We didn't have one and customer service didn't indicate that we needed one. After looking for customer service agents which were NOWHERE TO BE FOUND and trying to use a ticket machine to print a "metro" ticket until well after our train departed the nuclear meltdown began. Time for a taxi to end this comedy of errors.

Signs for a taxi led us to the street where of course there was no taxi line. We ask one person and he sends us to a "hotel" to get a taxi (turns out he was right). We then ask a bus driver who can't speak English. We still don't know what he said but we truly believe at that point we became marked as victims. Within a few minutes several men were gathered, some who came out of "nowhere" with expressed altruistic intentions. This situation became extremely uncomfortable and we retreated quickly to the station. Everything we had was secured with locks and money belts but why tempt fate? When you have a bad feeling about something trust yourself - you can always regroup. As we regrouped we saw the line of taxis and got in one with a BIG sigh of relief.

Things we still don't know:

What was the proper thing to do at the station? We still don't know!  We wonder if there was a way to scan our printed ticket for the ticket we saw everyone scanning at the entry to the train.

Where was the actual taxi stand? We learned later from the taxi driver that there is an actual taxi stand under the building.  We never saw any signs to direct us there - only outside.

Lesson learned: Understand your priorities to make your trip enjoyable. This was an experiment and the result was a self education about what means the most to us: convenience, peace of mind and safety.

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