You only have twenty minutes before your train leaves, thats right, the platform number is only shown twenty minutes before the train’s departure-sometimes even less. Some platforms and stations are incredibly long and finding a lift, if you have suitcases, is not always easy. And then there is the intricate task of finding out exactly where your carriage will be located on that very long platform. As every train is different, car 7 for one journey at one station may correspond with place x…or not. You can never tell…usually until the last minute.
Sometimes these correspondences dont work and you are left rushing to the other end of the platform when you finally get to see the dimly lit carriage number as the train rolls in. The trains rarely are at the same level as the platform so there is a hefty task to be faced in lugging your suitcase(s) up those two steps. But this is where help usually arrives-there’s a camaraderie involved in train travel in this country and there is without fail some gallant chap (occasionally a woman) to help you get your bags stowed away without too much trouble.
On a recent trip from Bordeaux to Auray in Bretagne, we were informed of the platform only ten minutes before departure. I placed myself next to the elevator as I waited with my two suitcases then moved like lightning to platform three. A lovely young man carried my heavy (filled with wine of course) suitcase up the steps and I then enquired of a friendly guard as to where my carriage would alight.
Positioned at the right spot another helpful person aided me in lifting the suitcases. Finally I settled into my seat and observed the etiquette of French train travel which seeks to maintain the peace and quiet of the carriage by speaking softly and if you have to use your phone do so only in the corridor. When you think of the constant clamour of modern life, this really is a tradition to be savored and cherished.
Just before arriving at Gare Montparnasse in Paris, I moved into the hallway to ready myself with suitcases before alighting. And this is when the conversations started with fellow travellers. Coming from Bordeaux the conversation fell naturally to wine-a woman from Bordeaux whose family owned a Chateau appellation, was born in China and fluent in three languages ; another woman told me not to miss the church of St Anne d’Auray. We said farewell and I took the time to settle myself at a friendly cafe before the next leg of my journey.
While I’ll never perfect the art of train travel in France I can say I’m getting better at it and have certainly learned to appreciate its delights-as well as those inevitable upsets.