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A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

Elegant French Train Travel

Thursday, August 28, 2014

In the 1980s was my first train ride in France on a 
Train à Grande Vitesse. 

TGV pronounced tay-jay-vay,
three letters that rhyme with hay,
with the middle letter uttered with a soft j-sound.
Ah, the French language even makes
train travel sound elegant with its name. 

My first train trip was in second class, on an 
overnight train, not a TGV, in which I was too excited to sleep 
in the couchette bunks our ticket prices included. 
Most of the high school French language students I was helping 
chaperone were just as excited and also got little sleep. 

A few years later came real excitement, traveling Paris to Nice, 
still in second class with students, but on a TGV.

Speeding up to 180-200 miles per hour, 
the 579 miles from Paris to Nice 
whizzed by in a mere 5 hours, 35 minutes. 
A recent internet search predicted the driving time 
from Paris to Nice as about nine hours 
along a restricted access autoroute. 

From the crowded scenes in the Paris Gare de Lyon train station, 
it is evident that train travel is extremely popular in France. 
Many French people living in Paris do not own cars  
and travel outside Paris by train instead. 

Since my days of chaperoning students are now over, 
I sometimes get to travel to France with friends and 
 splurge on first class tickets on the TGV.... 

when I can get a good deal.  

The first class Eurail Saver Pass tickets in 2006 were not a really BIG splurge. 

Here I am onboard the first leg of our 2006 trip filling out a 
Eurail Saver Pass form that was a good deal. 
The form had to be completed the first day of travel and not before. 

The first class tickets were only a few dollars more than the standard price tickets. 
The Saver Pass tickets required at least three people buy the tickets 
at the same time and required that all of us travel together at the same time. 
What luck! 
There were three of us traveling together --- my sister, a work colleague and me.  

We went to France to realize a dream that my sister and I shared....
to tour distilleries and factory museums where perfumes are created, and 
to stroll the narrow streets of hilltop villages perched high above the lavender. 
For those who know me, they know the lavender pants and sleeveless sweater 
I wore that coordinated with the lavender plants was not an accident. 
Styling has always been in my blood. ;) 

To get close to the lavender fields, the three of us took a TGV 
from Paris to Avignon that departed from Gare de Lyon. 

2hr 38min by TGV
6hr 22min by car 

Speeding past the lavender fields, we excitedly looked forward 
to a small van tour that would take us into the fields where 
we could touch the flowers, smell the clean scent of fresh lavender, 
and learn about the French lavender industry. 

TGV travel is not only super fast, there is an added bonus. 
It retains some of the elegance associated with The Orient Express. 

For the French, train travel is commonplace, 
but for me it is still an exhilarating adventure, beginning with awe 
of the train station architecture that exudes the grandeur of the Belle Epoque era. 

While the modern electronic board with the train 
schedule for departure times and locations of quais 
(much like airport departure/arrival boards) 
is necessary for getting aboard at the right time and place, 
I spent most of my time looking at the building's details 
instead of the usual newsstands, billboards, and vending machines. 

Details like the intricately carved columns that support 
the glass roof over the train platforms, 
the scrolled ironwork on the stair balusters,  
the huge clock like in the movie Hugo, 
and then, there on the second floor,  
a Paris landmark.   

Le Train Bleu was a luxury night express train that operated 1886-2003. 
Until 1949, the name of the luxury train was 
Calais-Mediterranée Express Ventimiglia-Calais, 
but was commonly known as The Blue Train because of the train's color. 
In 1949, the train's name was officially changed to Le Train Bleu

Today, there is a landmark restaurant in Gare de Lyon named Le Train Bleu 
in tribute to the former luxury train that only had first class service and 
catered to the ultra wealthy before the advent of airplane travel.  

Opened in 1900, the restaurant was originally known as 
Buffet de la Gare de Lyon and catered to the rich and famous who 
traveled on grand Le Train Bleu
The word buffet conjures standing in a serving line holding a tray, 
not the opulence of this ornate setting with 41 original paintings.  
Travelers and Parisiens, who come for business luncheons, 
are whisked back to the Belle Epoque. 

Around every corner, in every arrondissement, lie 
breathtaking beauties with haunting stories of former lives.  

Le Train Bleu restaurant is undergoing renovations and 
will re-open its doors to travelers and residents on September 12, 2014, 
with renewed splendor to a 
Véritable Initiation au Voyage.

For more information 

History of Le Train Bleu 

Le Train Bleu Restaurant 

Rail Europe - Current Travel Information