Thursday, August 19, 2010

To Paris by train

Since beginning of this week I'm in Paris, France. Not for a holiday, but that doesn't matter. I still intend to enjoy it as much as possible :).

I was traveling by train all the way from Vienna, which took me about 12 hours (including a stopover in Frankfurt, Germany). Some might say that this is too long for a train ride and prefer to fly. I love train rides. According to my grandma I already enjoyed my first big train ride without parents at the age of 3 (we moved houses between two towns in Austria). My granny feared that I would start to cry because I would miss my close family, but instead I happily looked outside the window, pointed at sheep and giggled.

IC (Intercity) train of the German railway company DB at Frankfurt train station

features of frankfurt train station
Features of the train station Frankfurt am Main [click on the picture for an explanation]

Many happy train rides in my early childhood followed, and my grandparents were many times part of it. My grandpa -- although already retired at the time -- had once worked for the ÖBB, the Austrian railway company. Thus my grandparents traveled a lot by train, and took us kids along. Very often we visited Bregenz, the capital of Vorarlberg, went on a boat trip on the Bodensee and left a poem on my dads windshield (my grandma and me always made up some rhymes on the way).

I had a great time back then. And I still have. I can travel in trains for hours without getting bored. I just look outside the window, watch the landscape, the people at the stations and so on. I love to see the changes in all these things rather than getting in a plane on one side and getting off at a completely different place. The part in between is just missing, don't you think?

Crowds at Frankfurt (my stopover)

My longest train rides were from Vienna to Macedonia (more than 26 hours) and from near Barcelona to Vienna (almost 24 hours). Compared to that, the train ride to Paris is peanuts. I love that Europe has such a well-established railway system and that it is so comfortable and fast to travel by train.

bikes at frankfurt train station
Few bicycles at Frankfurt main station

Ok, there are also many things that should be improved. Letting the regional problems aside, the transeuropean connections have the problem that one cannot buy one ticket online (or, for that matter, even find out how much a ticket would cost), but has to go to the train station. When I went to Barcelona last year, the ÖBB travel agent itself offered me a flight rather then a train ticket (how sad!). Another problem is the the basically non-existent international bicycle transport. These days bicycles are not allowed on high-speed trains, and I could not even send a bicycle (as a paket) by train. Ok, in Paris there is the bike share system Velib', but such systems don't exist everywhere. On the other hand, one can easily carry a bike on a plane, and transport a bloody car on a train. When are these railway companies ever going to implement existent European rail passengers' rights?
"The railway companies are obliged to enable passengers to bring their bicycles onto any train, if they are easy to handle, if it does not adversely affect the specific rail service, and if the rolling-stock so permits."

What I liked about the French railway system SNCF so far? The retro conductors (they even still wear these fancy hats!). And that the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) are pretty goddamn fast.

More about Paris and Velib' coming soon...

arrival in paris est
Arrival in Paris Est


Ryan A. said...

Awesome. Can't wait to hear your chronicles upon your return.
I love trains too. I visited New York City at the beginning of the summer and I wanted so badly to go by train. But due to the sad state of railroad infrastructure in the southern US air travel proved to be the only way.
Great post.

Justine Valinotti said...

Your post combines two of my greatest passions: train travel and Paris. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve taking train trips with my grandfather, and some of the best times in my adult life were spent during the years I lived in Paris and the times I have visited.

I wish the US had a rail system like Europeans have. And, of course, I wish all rail systems had better access for cyclists.

Brent said...

What great experience! My knowledge of trains comes largely from Europe in the 1980s, so it's interesting to have a fresher perspective. Some part of national identity must be bound up in trains; when the system changes, perhaps so too does the identity. Of course, the Germans will probably always have sprightly, clean, efficient trains. But the Spanish have their new AVE, replacing the old, slouching Talgos, where no one paid any attention to the "No Smoking" signs, and which used to creep their way across the landscape. The French still power forward with the TGV, and have become a shining star of transportation prowess for us in California.

Still, as you point out, the essential remains: people still gather in stations, still hunt for their platform, and still board with too many bags and tears in their eyes, still settle into their seats for the trip ahead, and still look at the window at the ever-changing landscape. It's nice to know some things don't change at all.

Jean said...

We just returned a combined cycling-rail trip in southern Germany, (with side trips to Strasbourg, France and Basel, Switzerland, Prague and Copenhagen) for the whole of this past June.

Several recent articles that were written up in our blog:

Includes an article where he rates 10 cities internationally (several in Europe) for bikeability to the airport.

By the way, we did land in Frankfurt from Canada and transferred straight onto the train with our bikes to Freiburg. Our impressions of Freiburg are more in my personal blog:

with bits of cycling. I enjoyed myself. I loved the ease of rolling bikes onto European trains.

The worse thing for us as Canadians from a big city was the amount of smoking in public areas. Non-smoking bylaws in major Canadian cities for all public buildings, have been in effect for awhile. In Vancouver, a smoker outdoors must be 6 metres away from windows, doors and air vents of buildings (shops, restaurants). That's how strict..and helpful it is to many non-smokers.

So sad to us, to go to European train entrances...walking through a cloud of smoke. That's the only thing we didn't like and we have strong memories of this.

Unknown said...

I once got an OeBB guy to do me a train ticket from Vienna to Nice, via Innsbruck (just for the hell of it) Was quite funny, he patiently (!) printed out tickets for every section of the (4 or 5 different stretches) Was well worth it. :o)

Nick said...

I love trains, hate aeroplanes too. If I can't cycle I go by train. My favourite journey: the 17 hours or so from Eindhoven NL (where I live), via Munchen to Zagreb, especially in winter and through Austria at night with snow flying round the train. Fantastic!

Post a Comment