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travelling by rail to
and within France
by invincy

A TGV arriving at the Gare St-Jean, Bordeaux

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new! Cathedrale Saint-Gatien at Tours  Cathedrale Saint-Gatien at Tours

Romanesque churches and cathedrals in south-west France updated: Romanesque churches and cathedrals in south-west France

 the perpendicular or English style of cathedral  Manchester cathedral

the fire at the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris
the fire at the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris
cathedral giants - Amiens and Beauvais

Stone tracery in church and cathedral construction illustrated
stone in church and cathedral construction

stained glass and cathedrals in Normandy illustrated graph

fortified churches, mostly in Les Landes

cathedral labyrinths and mazes in France
using metal in gothic cathedral construction

Germans in France
cathedral destruction during the French revolution, subsidiary page to Germans in France

Click for an introduction to cathedrals and stained glass in France.

on first arriving in France - driving
France is not England
paying at the péage (toll station)

Click for motorways and motorway aires in France.

Transbordeur bridges in France and the world 2: focus on Portugalete, Chicago, Rochefort-Martrou
Gustave Eiffel’s first work: the Eiffel passerelle, Bordeaux
a fifth bridge coming to Bordeaux: pont Chaban-Delmas, a new vertical lift bridge

France’s western isles: Ile de Ré
France’s western iles: Ile d’Oleron

Ile de France, Paris: in the context of Abelard and of French cathedrals
short biography of Pierre (Peter) Abelard

Marianne - a French national symbol, with French definitive stamps

la Belle Epoque
Grand Palais, Paris

Click to go to pages about Art Deco at

Click to go to 'the highest, longest: the viaduct de Millau'

Pic du Midi - observing stars clearly, A64
Carcassonne, A61: world heritage fortified city

Space City, Toulouse

the French umbrella & Aurillac

50 years old: Citroën DS
the Citroën 2CV: a French motoring icon

the forest as seen by Francois Mauriac, and today
Les Landes, places and playtime
roundabout art of Les Landes

Hermès scarves

Hèrmes logo

bastide towns
mardi gras! carnival in Basque country
country life in France: the poultry fair

what a hair cut! m & french pop/rock

Tour de France 2023s

Le Tour de France: cycling tactics illustrated

tickets, maps and booking
so why travel by train?
end note

This year, instead of flying to the continent, driving there, or flying and driving, I decided to travel by train.

There were a number of destinations to be visited: Mulhouse in France for the motor museum, the Alps for the famous cycling hill climbs, Adenau in Germany for the Nurburg Ring, and I chose a few more destinations because they were en route.

Part of the famous Schlumf collection of motor vehicles at the Mulhouse motor museum
Part of the famous Schlumf collection of motor vehicles
at the
Mulhouse motor museum

A ski resort in the middle of summer, when it is used by walkers,
downhill mountain bikers, and other cyclists.

tickets, maps and booking

I bought a French rail pass [1], which allowed me to travel for a set number of days in a month. Prices start at £117 for 3 days travel, or £100 each for two people travelling together. This pass also gave me discounted travel on Eurostar: travelling between London Waterloo and Paris cost £50 each way. I accidentally bought extra days travel for those days we were going to be on Eurostar, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t required.

I could have bought an Inter-rail pass, as I wanted to travel in Switzerland and Germany, but the pricing structure didn’t suit me. We paid for journeys in Belgium, Germany and Switzerland separately.

A TGV locomotive

The TGV (Train de Grande Vitesse) is France’s most famous train, but just because you travel on a TGV doesn’t mean you will travel avec grande vitesse [with great speed]. TGVs also travel on ordinary lines at ordinary speeds. Still, as we found, there is nothing wrong with travelling at slower speeds if you have a good view! The TGV network map that is linked by the TGV UK website doesn’t distinguish between high speed routes and other routes served by TGVs. However, the map I received from Rail Europe with my rail pass does. It is also possible to buy a rail map of Europe, which I did to help plan the trip.

A double-decker TGV carriage.
The double-decker coaches are not much taller than single deck ones,
and seem to make better use of the space between the wheels.

In addition to buying the rail pass, some intercity trains, and all sleeper trains and TGVs require a reservation. When searching for trains on the Rail Europe web site you will either see ‘No reservation required’ or ‘Reservation required’. On French timetables, you will see ‘Réservation obligatoire’ if a reservation is required. We bought our reservations at the station on the day before travel, which worked out quite well. There were a couple of cases where we couldn’t catch the train we wanted because we had left it too late. In the first case, it only meant an hour’s delay; in the second, we travelled in the afternoon instead of early morning. This was during the peak holiday season at the beginning of August. Reservations usually cost 3 euro each, and an overnight couchette [sleeping berth] 17.50 euro.


French rail was not the model of efficiency. One day standing on the platform at Nîmes, we could see from the departure board that about half the trains listed were en retard [late]. However, as holidaymakers we weren’t in a hurry and we also had plenty of time between connnections.

Generally the further you go, the more pleasant the train. We didn’t try any onboard food, as we tended to be organised and buy our sandwiches and drinks before getting on the train. The most discomfort we experienced was due to the heat, with the air conditioning being unable to cope with the high temperatures near the Mediterranean. We always had pleasant, and sometimes surprising, views.

so why travel by train?

  • to have a stress-free journey gazing out of the window, with plenty of leg room and air at atmospheric pressure;

  • to arrive in the centre of the city, rather than at an airport on the outskirts;

  • to reduce your environmental impact.

swimmers in the Rhine at Basel.
‘Swimmers’ float down the Rhine in Basel.
The current pushes them along at 5-10 mph.


end note

  1. The Rail Europe web site is a bit idiosyncratic. Once you have bought your rail pass – French or Inter-rail, it doesn’t seem possible to reserve your seats from the web site: there is no option “I have an Inter-rail pass” or “I have a French rail pass”. Also, I spent ages trying to get the web site to show me trains between Basel and Koblenz (no trouble with Köln), and its response was “we cannot accept online bookings for travel within 7 days” though my date of travel was not within 7 days. However, it was helpful in my journey planning and, most of the time, gave me times of trains, journey times and helped me discover which routes were direct, even though, sometimes, I had to pretend I was travelling in the opposite direction!





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