So about those marvelous French TGVs…

train_steps_dead
Yes, these look like happy people on a train, desperate to try and get off quickly just in case they might make their connection.

Normally it’s the air travel part of the trip that’s stressful, but not this time. This time it was the beloved French TGV high-speed trains, those same trains that have served me so well for… over a decade… not once being off-schedule by even a minute. Seriously! But this time? Wow. Like a different world. The first train left the airport on time, but within half an hour came to a stop in the middle of nowhere, with an ominous 5-beeps coming over the PA system. And an announcement that the train was stopped for “security.” This happened again. And one more time. At its first stop, it was 18 minutes behind. We had a 10-minute connection to make.

It never made up the time. I really thought, over 4 hours, that it might. That it could. That it would. But no, it remained frighteningly-consistent. Until just outside of Bordeaux, when it happened again. We arrived at Bordeaux 22 minutes late, certain that our connection was already gone. Nevertheless I looked at the platform display and it still showed our connecting train on the schedule, even though it was in the past. And on the adjacent track, no less! Within a few minutes an announcement came in apologizing for this train being late, and it showed up a couple minutes later.

So many bikes all over the place that people are literally tripping on them.
So many bikes all over the place that people are literally tripping on them.

Relieved? Well yes, but let me tell you it was one sorry excuse for “First Class” TGV. Run down cars, packed to the gills (nobody was checking tickets), no place for luggage.

But we did finally get to Lourdes, 45 minutes late, but that’s a whole lot better than had we mis-connected and arrived 4 hours later! To say we were tired is an understatement.

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It’s Tour Time; all roads lead to France!

Not that it’s a habit of mine or anything like that, this thing about heading to France each year for the past 13 (OK, I did miss 1). The combination of France and this little bike race they have over there seems to be irresistible. Thought that maybe I’d gotten over it just about the time that Kevin became strong enough to ride with me, so these pilgrimages have gained new momentum.

Today has been another long travel day to France! Fortunately it began better than planned, as a nice customer service agent agreed with me that the 35 minute connection at Dulles (DC) wasn’t a good idea so, instead of flying from San Jose to Denver to DC to Paris, Kevin and I were able to fly from SFO to DC to Paris, with the added bonus of being able to get up at 5:15am (yuck!) instead of 4:45am.

The flight from DC to Paris was probably the most-pleasant flight I’ve ever had, and yes, it was on United. The flight attendants were disarmingly friendly, the service was great (your water cup was never less than half-full), the food was by far and away the best I’ve had on a plane, and yes, this was in business class, not coach. The first time in my life I’ve ever paid for a business-class seat, but it was an odd situation in which a business-class seat was actually cheaper than coach. Computer glitch? Don’t know; the fare lasted a full day before it was taken down. I’ve flown business a few times before, using upgrade certificates or miles, but it was never this good. Good enough to pay the normal $4000 price instead of the $1550 we paid? Don’t think anything could be that good; the $2500 price difference would pay for some nice wheels or camera equipment that I’d appreciate for a lot longer than a day on a plane.

One of the perks of flying United Business or First is being able to take a shower at the Sheraton at CDG airport.
One of the perks of flying United Business or First is being able to take a shower at the Sheraton at CDG airport.

We did leave DC almost two hours late (“late arriving aircraft” was the reason given) but made up a fair amount of time in the air and arrived in Paris just over an hour late. Not an issue for us, because arriving at 8am still gave us plenty of time to make our 10:16 train connection to Lourdes, even including a stop at the Sheraton Hotel (which sits right on top of the TGV train station) for a shower, a little-known and rarely-used perk of flying on a paid business class ticket.

We are, however, in danger of misconnection our train from Bordeaux to Lourdes though. This is the first time the TGV has ever let me down; it’s never before been even a minute behind schedule, but we had a couple of unexplained stops in the middle of nowhere which have put us 15 minutes behind schedule, and our time between trains is 10. That’s not looking too good!

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