Click here to read the first five most helpful tips in part one of my guide, 11 tips for foreigners travelling by train in France.
Six: Pack light. One doesn’t want to be staggering through a station dragging a dead weight. Also, many trains don’t have much luggage-stowage space. I saw one woman struggle to hoist her gigantic pink bag into the overhead luggage area; almost being squashed as it came crashing down on top of her. I’m sorry, but before I could help her I had to pick myself off the floor first, I was laughing so much.
Seven: Book early. Like with cheap flights, the train costs less if one books early – especially TGV tickets. If one doesn’t, it costs an arm and a leg! Not literally, but almost. Perhaps a left kidney.
Eight: Travel 2nd class, not first. Honestly, travelling first class just isn’t worth the difference in price. Second class is quite comfortable and clean. Except on the Thalys – from Belgium to France. There, first class is a real winner – with free wifi, drinks and a meal thrown in … A pity the trip is so short, what with the train bulleting along at over 250km/hr. Before one can hoist one’s Beaujolais aloft to toast all that is Belgian, one is already rolling into Paris’s Gare du Nord!
Nine: Use the toilet on the train, not at the station. It costs to go to the toilet in the station … And I hate paying to go. Anyway, going to the toilet on a train is just plain funky – all that rocking and rolling makes abluting a real adventure.
Ten: Bring music. If you are someone who is used to being surrounded by noise constantly, then you may find the train (especially the TGV) disquietingly, um, quiet. After a few minutes stuck with the commotion of one’s own thoughts one might consider striking up a conversation with a fellow traveller. Don’t. This is a sin worthy of the guillotine, I’m told. No, bring music, or a good book. Or both.
Eleven: Don’t try photographing the scenery. This is probably the hardest one for me. None of the trains’ windows open. Try taking a photo through a car window – one that hasn’t been washed for an eternity. It’s impossible. The same is true on France’s “slow” trains. Also, one has to deal with the law every travel photographer knows, “When trying to photograph from a train, a bush, pole or other obstruction will manage to find its way into your frame 69% of the time just as you push the shutter.” An even bigger problem (apart from the reflection off the glass) with the TGV is that one just doesn’t have the time to compose a shot. Well, there may be other superhuman foreigners out there who could – like well-trained Asian tourists, perhaps. Me? I don’t.