Meanwhile, back in Provence…

I am now back in Provence with sunshine, blue skies, warm temperatures and lavender. I arrived via:

The TGV

If I were to drive each time from Paris to Provence, from the door of ou apartment in Paris to the door of our home in Provence, it would take over 7 hours. I am lucky enough to be able to take the TGV, a high speed train, back and forth and the ride only takes three hours. The train goes all the way down to Marseilles with occasional stops in Avignon and has turned out to be so wildly popular that the French are now planning to do the same thing from Paris to Alsace up by Germany. And, of course, there is the Eurostar as well going from Paris to London via the chunnel.
I have been going back and forth and now that the newness has worn off it seems to take every single minute of the three hours to reach my destination. Luckily I love to read and pass many happy hours occupied by books. I usually have my laptop with me and do a little writing and wish there were some way to get online-wouldn’t that be a great way to pass the time. Occasionally, I will make my way to the dining car which is really more like a snack stand with very few stools screwed to the floor and it is often necessary to stand at a bar, much like in French cafes, and eat my sandwich or drink my diet coke. It isn’t a bar so you can’t while away the time sipping drinks although, this being France, you can have beer or wine.
There have been a few bad trips where there is a whining or screaming child in the car and there is usually an adult or two who talk very loudly. Once, during a very hot summer, the car I was in had a nonfunctioning air conditioner and it was like an iron box used for touture by evil Japanese army personnel in some POW camp. I really wanted to get a refund for my ticket as I spent most of the time in the dining car or sitting on the stairs out in the luggage area. Usually, the trains come with cars that are two levels, or duplex as they call it, and they are the newer ones, so there are stairs to sit on if you wish, which I did when my car was so oven-like. With the newer cars there is alot more space to store luggage, between cars, in an area in the middle of the car, and some can be squeezed behind most seats-this is where I usually store my cat in his carrier when he is with me. Although he howls and complains at first, by the time I get on the train he has become “catatonic”, pardon the pun, and is quiet for the whole trip.
On my last trip, the train was packed, this being June. There wasn’t a spare seat to be had and, to my dismay, as I neared my seat I got a look at my companion. She was a nice enough girl but she had a huge bag at her feet and an even larger golden retrever. I was supposed to take an aisle seat and she tried to squeeze her dog and her huge bag over in the one seat area. The bag and the dog both were well onto my side. For a brief moment I hoped to get another seat, and had even sat there, but someone came to claim it and I trudged back to my original place. She gave me the window seat which was much better and the dog sat in the aisle blocking access to anyone trying to get to the bathroom or dining car. Except for a few dirty looks, no one said anything, just tried to squeeze by or take a giant step over him. I love dogs but I wondered at this. The lady who checked our tickets didn’t say a word, so I guess it is standard although I thought all animals had to be in some sort of holder.
For some reason the clerks selling the tickets for the TGV can never tell you what kind of seat you will have. I assume they must change the train cars at will, adding more if there are many bookings. All I know is, no matter how I beg, I almost always end up in a family seat of four with a table in the middle and touching knees with a stranger. Sometimes I am also facing backwards to the direction the train is heading which really bothers me at first but after a while I forget about it. I always seem to get a window seat which is fine except when the sun comes pouring in and I have to pull down the shade in spite of the dirty looks my neighbors give me. The last time I was in a family seating, the lady directly across from me had a huge bag that she kept between her feet. It intruded into my space and it was an uncomfortable 3 hours. I don’t know why she didn’t put it with the luggage as there was plenty of room. I was by the window and a man was next to me who promptly fell asleep so I didn’t feel comfortable waking him up to get into the aisle to make a trip to the bathroom. My legs started aching and I longed to just stand up to stretch them but didn’t. It is great when I get on the train, walk down the aisle and find I am in a seat for two, unless the other occupant has a huge bag and dog. I used to always want a seat by the window, whether train or plane, but, unless I am with Maurice, I now want the aisle so I don’t have to bother my neighbor getting up and down.
The trains heading south in France from Paris originate at the Gare de Lyon Station, one of five huge train stations in Paris open to the air on one side with the trains waiting in rows to take their turn leaving. There is a fabulous restaurant here called le Train Bleu, full of painted walls and ceilings, wood and brass, and arched windows soaring to the ceiling with lovely lace curtains. It gives you a taste of what travel must have been like at the time when women wore hats and gloves and traveled with trunks and maids.
As the train leaves the station, we pass through the suburbs of Paris and are quickly into green countryside and are soon passing small villages and fields with herds of white cattle and an occasional castle. I always know when we are getting into Provence as the vegetation starts changing with parosol pines grouped on the horizon, the dirt taking on a yellow ochre tinge and vineyards everywhere. The stations newly built for the TGVs in Provence are new and modern with fantastic archetectural details and are mostly made of glass. Although the windows are tinted, it can be very bright inside the station and hot in the summer. The winter can be horrible as they have these little convection like ovens that put out a very small amount of hot air that does nothing to heat up the room, even if you are standing immediately next to it. The stations in Paris, because they are wide open at one side for access of the trains, are the same without any heaters that I can see to warm it up.
Despite all of my complaints, the TGV is the way to travel. There are no long security lines to go through, no sitting and waiting in some lounge in an airport. You just show up where you might have to wait a few minutes to see on a screen up above which quai the train is leaving from and go find your car. The worst part can be lugging your luggage down the quai looking for the car usually, as in Murphy’s law, being at the very end, and then struggling to get your luggage up the stairs and into the storage area-if it isn’t full. I am lucky enough that I now have everything I need duplicated on each end and only have to carry my computer case and, occasionally depending on the length of my stay, Elliot, my cat. What a great life I have dividing my time between Paris and Provence, and having a rapid way to get between them.