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Train Travel to the South of France

Posted in family, and travel

It was quite an adventure making our way from Paris to the South of France using the Metro, both high speed and local trains, which took us to our final destination the coastal town of Bandol. We started this leg of our trip glad our pre-booked high speed SNCF/TGV train wasn’t affected by the summer train strikes, which is a common recurrence in France. We easily arrived at the Gard de Nord from our apartment using the Paris Metro, which is one of the densest metro systems in the world, but also should be note least equipped with elevators or escalators. After a bit of searching we found the correct machines to print our pre-purchase tickets. My family teased me about selecting the print all tickets option, as the machine spit out 27 tickets, which turned out to be all the future train legs we’d be taking in the month ahead bringing us to our furthest destination of Barcelona and then back to Paris for our return flight. Though it was my user error in interpenetrating the foreign machine’s options, I figured it would be wise to have all tickers printed for those just in case scenarios. At the station we purchase pastries for the children and cafes for the adults to fortify us for a long day of travel ahead, plus the sandwiches, cookies and individual water bottles already acquired at the local market the night before, now snugly stowed in my carry all bag.  We’d be very glad I’d brought lots of provisions, as it would turn out to be a day of much waiting for trains to arrive and tracks to be announced with last minute mad dashes, luggage in tow to find our train cars then assigned seats.

Once on the high speed SNCF/TGV train we found comfortable roomy seats with wide tables in a booth setting in our first class air conditioned train car. The children enjoyed playing cards games and of course, video games on their devices, while we watched the scenic French countryside speed by the window. When we arrived at the train station in Marseilles we found a chaotic crowded  station and no listing of our connecting local train on the departure monitors.  Once we pushed through the crowd we saw the expanse of tracks we realized that half of the station was blocked off to passengers.  After searching we located an attendant who advise us their was an abanded piece of luggage on one of the adjacent platforms and they were treating it as a possible bomb threat and the police had blocked off half the stations until the special agents arrived. (To our knowledge no incident occurred & the French Authorities handled the threat with amazing calm). A kind young man overheard our typical loud American discussion on what to do next since our booked train was cancelled. He explained we could take the next local train in the direction of our final destination, if we had pre-purchased tickets, as he had just learned after waiting in a long line for information and was booked on the same train as our family. Merci beaucoup to his kindness! Just then over the intercom came the announced that this train would be departing in five minutes.  We all ran outside to find the alternate train platform, lugged our baggage around the exterior of the building, over curbs and through parked cars to safely reach the platform without nearing the roped off area by the fire department but passing very near the police bomb squad vans with dogs waiting to conduct their inspections. The delay in Marseilles lead to us arriving hours late at our destination in Bandol, but glad to be have arrived safe.  

Unfortunately on arrival, we found no taxis were available to take us to the top of the village hill were our friends apartment was located, due to a auto race event in a neighboring area which took all taxis out of town.  With starving children and weary parents we decided to change our plans and find a restaurant or cafe for dinner then tackle the climb to our accommodations.  Here my basic French language skills came in handy, as we learned quickly unlike Paris most residents and other tourists in this coastal area only spoke a few words in English. Dinner at an outdoor cafe along the harbor of cool glasses of Rose, crisp summer salads and bubbling pizzas was the much needed fuel to continue our journey. We did not fully realize as we set out with full stomachs what a trek lay head us, but I’ll let you know now that later in the week we learned it was equivalent to 42 flights of stairs to the top of La Katkins apartment complex, including the added challenge of pulling our luggage through the town on cobblestone sidewalks.  The view from the apartment’s porch was truly break taking, the whole coast, village and sparkling aqua Mediterranean sea framed by the clean white modern building outline. This we would not appreciate until the next day when we awoke to sunshine pouring in through the wall of windows.  In order to earn this splendor we had argued about which route through town to take on foot, which map was more efficient; digital via phone with spotty reception or paper version without much detail. We were tired, sweaty and generally done with the adventure of twelve+ hours of traveling together. Plus at one point during the hike uphill one of our children exhausted pulled their roll-away through a pile of dog poop. We arrived in the dark, the first of the season, weary but glad the only task left for the day was airing out the apartment, moving furniture outside and collapsing into our beds.  True family bonding… Luckily we have one week to recover in the South of France overlooking the sea before our next travel destination.


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