I’ve always wanted to travel by train in France and I wasn’t disappointed.
I bought my ticket in advance through Rail Europe on the phone. The website is great for future trips but I wanted to speak to a real person and she answered all my questions about rail packages and making a reservation. She took care of the ticketing and mailed me the tickets, specifically a return trip from Paris and Avignon with a reserved seat. My train reservations are for traveling from Gare Lyon in Paris to Avignon direct and returning from Avignon to Charles de Gaulle airport.
Notes for the newbie:
Get to the station early so you can scope out the situation. I knew there was a checkin involved using a machine but this first time I prefer a real person – must be my age! The ticket line was short, the person understood my French then switched to English (sigh!). He took care of the checkin and I was done. No track number was available yet (20 minutes prior to departure) so after finding out where the track board is located and seeing the track locations, I hit Starbucks for much needed coffee.
Brian and I each had a taxi waiting outside our apartment at 7 am. Brian for the airport and me for Gare Lyon. The lovely Anita, our apartment owner, offered to call taxis for us, which was a great help. My trip took 25 minutes so I was there early for my 8:37 train. Brian texted me when he was at the gate so I could stop worrying about him (of course there was nothing to worry about but mothers worry automatically).
It was easy to find the track and a railway person directed me to my car, seats were well marked. I knew I had an aisle seat- in hindsight I should have requested a window when I booked, but the person at the window told me there were plenty of empty seats and I could move as soon as the train left the station.
Seat Direction is also a consideration. Going that fast I found I was nauseous within a short period of time sitting backwards. When I moved seats I was facing forward in a window seat and felt much better.
Seat direction is important, who knew?
I’m traveling light this trip with only a carry-on and backpack purse. Getting my luggage up the steps to the second level isn’t a problem and there is room on the inside luggage rack so I can see my luggage. If the train were crowded this would be an issue – another reason to get on the train early.
The train leaves on time and the scenery is changing from inner city to outer city to small industry to farm land quite quickly. I knew I wouldn’t see the lavender or sun flower fields you see in the TGV pictures because September is too late, but the miles of fields (mostly corn) and the small farms and villages make for nice scenery the whole way. The trip is only 2.5 hours, the seats are comfortable, the viewing window wide and clean, great trip.
Arriving in Avignan TGV I have to switch to a local train to go into Avignan center but the train leaves often and is only 10 minutes. A station attendant points to a train sitting a few yards away and it leaves 5 minutes later. When I get off the train its a straight shot to the main square and I know my apartment is right off the main square. As I’m walking along the street I hear my name and its Anne, the apartment owner, who knew I was arriving about that time, had a picture of me from my AirBnb profile, and recognized me! She was having a coffee at a cafe watching the people going by! Anne is a dancer for the Opera, she’s lovely and friendly. We’re at the apartment in 5 minutes.
We enter through a very old, very heavy, wood door into a long corridor. Its clean and fresh but noticeably old, of course to North Americans everything is old in Europe. The apartment is on the second floor and as I walk up I wonder how many generations of people have walked up these steps they are well worn and have to be the original – fascinating. Anne and I chat for awhile as she explains some of the idiosyncrasies of the old building.
After unpacking and getting my bearings I head to Place de l’Horloge the main square in Avignon and very close to the apartment. Its a beautiful day and I’m hungry, lunch (Salad de Chevre chaud and a small bottle of Rose – an plenty of water) after a quick walk around I go back for a nap. At 8Pm I wander out to the Palace des Papes and discover there’s a light show in the Palace at 9:15 for 10 Euro. I’ve been to the square in the past during a brief stop on a tour several years ago. The Palace is huge and imposing and lovely.
The light show is in the inner court yard with the 4 walls as canvas and its quite impressive. All in French (fast French) so I get little of the history as its explained but the pictures projected on the walls is fairly self explanatory. Years of wars, followed by grandeur, fires, plagues, more grandeur then the end of the Popes in Avignan. I do want to do more research though.
The whole thing was quite impressive – the colors were vivid, the voice expressive and the floor even shook noticeably to emphasis war or horses hooves. Even without story comprehension it was enjoyable.
Tired, I need a good night sleep! I feel very safe and comfortable in my new home.