I have recently travelled around part of France by train and learned a few things along the way that I thought was worth sharing, as I did when I travelled around Italy by train.
1. Travel to Charles de Gaulle Airport from Lille rather than Paris
When I was in Lille in May, I considered staying in Paris for one night before catching a morning flight from Charles de Gaulle (CDG) Airport. That, however, would mean finding somewhere to stay in Paris that was within my budget, which I knew wouldn’t be easy. In addition, if I did find a place in my price range, I would have to get there from Lille and then, early the next day, travel to the airport. I explored the option of travelling by TGV from Lille to CDG and found out that I could get a TGV early enough. When I worked out the price of staying in Lille and catching the TGV compared with the cost of travelling to Paris and then staying there, coupled with the hassle of it all, it worked out to be a quicker, cheaper, and easier journey to take the train from Lille so that’s what I did.
2. There is a direct train from Charles de Gaulle Aiport to Brive la Gaillarde
When I returned to France, I wanted to go to Brive la Gaillarde in Limousin. Once again, I thought about staying in Paris for the night but I had the same problem as before – the cost and hassle just to stay one night. Luckily, I discovered that there are direct trains from CDG (2F) to Brive, which take 5 hours. I’m glad I opted for that because it was very easy. I got an airport shuttle from Terminal 2G to 2F and then walked to the station for the TGV. This took me straight to Brive la Gaillarde. What sealed the deal for me was the price. It only cost me €46 to travel first class. You won’t always get bargains like that but it’s worth looking for them. The journey from Paris to Brive la Gaillarde or vice versa takes 4 hours.
3. Paris Gare d’Austerlitz to Gare du Nord
If you travel from places south of Paris, you might end up in Paris Gare d’Austerlitz, as I did. From there, you have two choices to get to Gare du Nord. You can take Line 5 of the metro, which is a direct route, or Line 10, which requires you to change to Line B at St Michel-Notre Dame. It’s only one stop to St Michel and then two stops to Gare du Nord. I took the latter route, which I think was slightly quicker. You can check out the Paris Metro Map for more information.
4. Seat allocation on trains
On some journeys, you will be allocated a seat. I think it tends to be long-distance journeys. The carriage (voiture) and seat (place assise) allocated to you will be printed on the ticket and that is where you should sit, otherwise you might be asked to move. When there are seats allocated, you are likely to find a very useful electronic sign on the platform (pictured above) that shows a diagram of the train with the carriages on it. This will help you work out where you need to board the train. Some of the trains are really long so it’s worth taking note of that.
5. Validate your ticket
It is really important to validate your ticket with one of the yellow machines you will find at train stations unless you have either an e-ticket you printed off yourself or an m-ticket (mobile ticket).
If you buy a return ticket, you get two separate tickets – one for your outward journey and one for the return. At the start of your journey, you MUST validate the outbound ticket and then do the same on your return with the other ticket. I travelled by train to a small town one day and the train station didn’t have any machines to validate my return ticket. I didn’t worry about it because I had my ticket which had the correct date and time on it from that train station. But, it was a problem. The train inspector said that in such cases, I should have checked before I left or validated the return ticket at the time I validated my outbound ticket. Thankfully, there is some leniency towards foreigners and the train inspector didn’t fine me – phew!