Tuesday, November 30, 2010

France: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Our trip took us all over the country!  This was my kids' longest plane ride, first ever train ride, and (possibly) longest car ride ever.  Here's what we learned...

Airplanes:  For once I gave us plenty of time to get to the airport and the gate.  (The last time DH and I flew we were the last ones on the plane!)  Good move.  I was traveling alone with the kids and it was just good to be leisurely in checking in, getting dinner at the airport, and even being able to move our seat assignments around so we could be together.

All airplanes are not created equal.  Our flight over had individual screens on the back of each seat, so the kids could choose what they wanted to watch.  Coming home, we had only the screens at the front of each section, so they were stuck with what might or might not be a great choice to watch with kids.  I guess I should have known this but I didn't really think about it when we left.  It wasn't a big deal but the kids came home with no charge on their iPods, so it was a loooooong flight!  (Yes, we charged them throughout the week, but we had an unanticipated four-hour layover in Dusseldorf on the way home--there went the charge!)

Charles de Gaulle airport is HUGE when you arrive.  It takes a lot of walking to get through customs and baggage claim.  However, when you depart, it is teensy-tiny.  You can see the gate from the check-in counter outside security!

It also takes a tremendous amount of walking to get to the train station at CdG, too.  Which brings me to...

Trains:  I always loved taking trains in France.  They are easy and on-time.  However, train stations are no place to hang out.  Let me back up just a little:

I think this is pretty new because none of my guidebooks noted this station at CdG.  You no longer have to take a bus or RER (suburban commuter) train to get from CdG to the trains that will take you throughout the country; they have built an awesome train station right at the terminal.  This is great because you can take the TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse, literally "High-Speed Train") in almost any direction from one station.  In the city of Paris, there are about five main train stations, each one departing to a different direction.  So in the city you have to know where you are headed in order to pick the right train station.  Having the SNCF (French train system, Societe Nationale de Chemins de Fer, or "National Iron Horse Society") right at the airport means you can go in a multitude of directions from one spot.  Super convenient--Thanks, France!

So we walked miles (it seems) to get to the train station.  Unlike airports, people arrive at trains about five minutes before the train arrives, the train stops for about three minutes while everyone piles on and off, and then away you go.  Being cautious about our flights, though, we booked a TGV to Lyon that left about three hours after we landed.  When we realized how easy the connection was, I tried to change the reservation to an earlier departure but couldn't do it at the ticket kiosk (a problem I'll talk more about later).  The line at the service counter really long, so I thought it wouldn't be a big deal.  In hindsight, I should have waited in that line!

So we were stuck in the station with all that baggage for almost three hours.  Train stations are just about the outside temperature; in November, that means cold!  And super-boring:  remember, the smart people arrive just before the train arrives, hop on, and away they go.  Anyway, we finally got to ride on this:

This was the kids' first train ride.  I'm afraid that we have now spoiled them.  The TGV is sleek, quiet, and most of all fast.  They loved watching the countryside whisk by as they enjoyed some snacks I had bought in the station.  Chocolate and cookies in the warmth of the train cabin--that was a great way to get to Lyon.

This post is getting long, and so I'll continue with automobiles (and taxis!) in the next post.  A bientot!

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