The last time I was here, 2009, it looked much the same as I first experienced in the Seventies. The old and odd charm is part of what makes Paris a desired city to visit. The fifty year old mechanical timetables will be replaced with new electronic boards. Can you believe 2100 trains each day serve about 700,000 people? It is also a haven for the homeless, with free toilets, and a ready supply of discarded food in the trash cans.
TGV POS, France
Operating Speed: 199 mph
Record Speed: 357 mph
Launch Date: 2008
One of the first nations to leap onto the high-speed bandwagon, France introduced its revolutionary Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) in 1981. There have been numerous upgrades since then, most recently the speedy POS, a hybrid of existing TGV Réseau passenger carriages with brand-new Alstom locomotives. The train operates on two lines—LGV Rhin-Rhône in eastern France and LGV Est between Paris and Strasbourg—with more lines on the way. The POS set a world speed record for travel on conventional rails of 357.2 mph during test runs in 2007.
Eurostar Class 373, Britain, France and Belgium
Operating Speed: 186 mph
Record Speed: 208 mph
Launch Date: 1993
Thinking of flying from London to Paris? Think again: the Eurostar makes the trip in two hours and 16 minutes, with no airport security hassles. The longest and fastest train in regular service in the British Isles, the Class 373 operates via the Channel Tunnel between three beautiful train stations: London’s restored St. Pancras Station, the Gare du Nord in Paris, and South Station in Brussels. The train also stops at Disneyland Paris, and there are seasonal routes to Avignon and the French Alps. Italian design firm Pininfarina is currently updating the interiors of all 373s.
1. Buy your ticket in advance. Skip the queues and ticket booths (many accept only credit cards with chips). In France and Belgium, e-tickets are fast replacing paper; in Sweden, they’re sent via text message.
2. Plan ahead. Porters are a rarity nowadays. If you can’t manage your luggage alone, make advance arrangements for extra assistance through your hotel or travel agent.
3. Get stamped. When you have a train ticket that’s not issued for a specific departure time, you’ll have to validate it at a machine near the platform before boarding. If you forget, the fine can run as high as $300.
Europe Train Passes
Eurail is a longtime favorite among the backpacking set, but it’s also a great option for other types of rail rider, especially when spontaneity is a priority. The popular Eurail Select Pass—which covers up to four adjoining countries—can now be used to visit Turkey. Note that fees apply for seat reservations (usually required on high-speed and international routes) and that passes can’t be used on certain trains, including the Circumvesuviana railway between Naples, Pompeii, and Sorrento. raileurope.com.
On my very first European trip, I bought a student Eurail pass for 60 days. I had to leave before the 60 days were up, as my Father had passed away unexpectedly. Over the years, I have not been on the train on the continent very often. I am looking forward to the little jaunt between Paris and Epernay.
It is only an hour and 36 minutes from Paris Gar d’est station to Epernay. The cost is 70 Euros on the TGV or as low as 23 Euros on a regular train. And after my Trans Siberian trip last May, you know how much I love rail travel.