Rouen - Paris - Toulouse - Munich: Train rides with Bike Friday - To France the Long Way - CycleBlaze

July 30, 2009

Rouen - Paris - Toulouse - Munich: Train rides with Bike Friday

We pack up and head for the car rental place, just around the corner. When we finsh filling out the necessary papers to rent a car, Janos is asked for his driver's license and credit card. Well, that credit card was lost, returned but damaged in the process back in June. No problem, I think, we'll use mine. But, the people at the rental agency stipulate they must have the renter's credit car, not his wife's. Okay, let's take out the car in my name, I suggest. The problem here is that I didn't bring my driver's license with me on a bicycle tour, why should I have? Now I know.

Although we try, while remaining very civil I believe, there is no way we can convince the young employee dealing with us to be more obliging and look for a solution, although in the background her co-workers are protesting that it is possible. She becomes very cool, claims my credit card is invalid (which it isn't since I am able to buy train tickets with it an hour later), comes close to treating us like potential criminals and almost orders us out of the place. A humiliating experience.

No cars for Janos and Suzanne
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To the train station. I didn't really want to drive to Toulouse anyway. The best rail route to Toulouse is via Paris. So as not to arrive in Toulouse too late in the evening and to avoid stress, we buy tickets for the train to Paris today and tickets with reserved seats on the TGV from Paris to Toulouse for tomorrow.

To the train station
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Now comes the part where I tell why it isn't always all that easy to travel by train with folding bikes. In this case, it isn't just 'not easy', it is terrible. The first problem is that the Rouen train station has no public lift to the platforms and there is no way I can carry my loaded bike up and down stairs. The alternative, carrying things bit by bit, means leaving your bags or bike unattended while you fetch the rest. In some rural train stations we do this, here I don't feel comfortable leaving my things out of sight.

We find out that there is a lift for the handicapped and we can use it, however only accompanied by a station employee. If you know anything about railroad employees, you know they take themselves in their spiffy uniforms, and above all their authority, seriously. And so it is. We aren't allowed to go to the platform until five minutes before the train's arrival. We haven't folded our Bike Fridays since we were told the train had a baggage car for bicycles. We have the logistics all worked out and figure we will roll the bikes to the baggage car, remove the panniers, get the bikes on and then board with our bags. Easy, we've done this often on other trips.

Unfortunately, they never open the baggage car for us. It's a nightmare. The crowds of people getting on and off the train block the entrance. In the very last minute we manage to jam our bikes into the entry and climb on board.

Once in Paris we have a nice ride across town to where we have booked a room. The hotel is inexpensive, good and near the Gare Montparnasse where we will catch the train to Toulouse the following day. We breathe a sigh of relief, we have the worst behind us. We know that in Montparnasse Station we don't have to negotiate stairs to reach the platform and we have reserved seats on the train. We will take the folded bikes in their bags on as normal luggage.

After a good night's sleep, we leisurely proceed to the station.

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When we reach the station, we realize it is Saturday and August first, the first day of the French holidays. The station is so packed that we can barely push our bikes through the crowds. The fact that in France they don't announce which platform your train will leave from until ten minutes before departure makes the situation even more challenging. How the heck are we going to find the right carriage on the right train and then fold our bikes in that amount of time? It doesn't take long to fold the bikes and get them into their bags, but that's cutting it close.

The solution is obviously to fold the bikes in advance and put them on one of those luggage carts. I manage to find a cart, unfortunately just one not two, and we stack the two bikes, now folded and in their bags, and the eight additional bags on top. Making a mad dash in the last minute with this wobbly pile of luggage through the masses of people is a precarious undertaking. We do make it of course - at the cost of much adrenaline and sweat.

And that is, finally, the end of our woes. The train ride is comfortable and uneventful. My sister is waiting to pick us up in her car when we arrive. The little bit of hassle getting our bikes and bags into her car, standing in a no parking zone and people honking that we should get out of the way, doesn't faze us.

After a fun and relaxing two weeks with my sister and brother-in-law, we get the TGV to Paris and another TGV to Munich.

Good food and wine with my sister and brother-in-law in Durfort
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Oh no, trains again! Our train to Paris leaves Toulouse early in the morning, in Paris we will cycle from Gare Montparnasse to Gare de l'Est and arrive in Munich by the end of the day. But this time it couldn't be easier. We have no stairs, no crowds and enough time to fold our bikes and board our train in Toulouse. The last bit of cycling across Paris is fun and we have time for a beer and baguette before getting on the train for the very last leg of our trip. This TGV takes bicycles and we have bought reserved space for them. Again a smooth and comfortable train ride to the Munich Train Station where we hop on our bikes and ride the short distance to our front door.

Bike Fridays riding the TGV
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Scott AndersonI think I enjoyed this page the most of any from your journals, Suzanne. It is so easy to relate to. Has enough time passed that the two of you laugh about it now?
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1 year ago
Suzanne GibsonTo Scott AndersonGlad you enjoyed it! I guess I can laugh now. I'm glad I wrote about the experience because I have a way of forgetting the difficult parts of our trips and only retain the things that were gratifying.
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1 year ago