There is an unconventional train which goes from France to Spain and back (well, not only). This train is one of the fastest in the world (seriously!). On top of that, it offers quite a unique travel experience, and I am about to share my vision of it right now. Have a smooth reading!
At Gare de Lyon
The high-speed train from Paris to Barcelona departs from Gare de Lyon. The 19-century building of the station has a tall clock tower of recognizable shape. It faces the square named after Louis Armand, an engineer who was a general manager of the French national railway company back in the day.
Train tracks beyond the historical facade are labeled with letters instead of numbers. This is interesting. And apparently frustrating for those who are not familiar with the Latin alphabet. Anyway, the last one is marked as N, which means there are 14 tracks — quite a lot. But this is just the first hall of the station.
There are also two other halls, located separately from the Hall 1. If your train departs from one of those (in my case, for example, it is Hall 2), it makes sense to have five additional minutes at your disposal. Some walking has to be done!
The second hall is more modern, and it has even more train tracks than the older one. An impressively high and big glass roof allows the sun to fill the place with its bright rays. When I get here, the hall is not only full of light, it is also full of people.
It just so happens, I catch a massive shift in the schedule — which explains the presence of a big waiting crowd. The departure of my train, as informational panels and voice announcements say in French, is delayed. Well, for the better: the suddenly acquired half an hour allows me to discover a yard behind the railway station. There are much fewer people and even some vacant benches.
Then, after enjoying the fresh air, I get back to Hall 2. There is an obvious movement near the track 15. That means it is finally the time to get on board of the TGV train to Barcelona!
A thing to notice: there are gates at the beginning of all the platforms, and a valid ticket is necessary to get through them. At least, as I guess, in regular circumstances. I pass this control system while it is temporary (and reasonably) turned off — due to numerous delays and station overcrowding.
Inside the 1st Class of TGV Duplex
TGV Duplex is an interesting vehicle: it is a high-speed train and a double-decker at the same time. This combination is rather uncommon, and I am especially excited to have a reserved seat on the upper deck.
By the way, let’s quickly deal with a couple of acronyms. SNCF stands for Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer français — it is the national railway company of France (the one where Louis Armand was working in the past century). TGV is the name of French high-speed railway service, it means Train à Grande Vitesse, which is translated as “the high-speed train”.
Now, back to the train itself. The stairways inside the cars are of moderate steer. Also, they are constructed with the idea to make a way to the upper deck as optimal as possible. The number of steps that passenger has to make here is minimized. My applause to the designers!
I get to the second level of the car quick and easy and enter the 1St Class compartment. It has rows of three seats: two on one side and one on the other. The chairs have the upholstery of two different colors, playfully arranged in a seemingly random order. Though, the choice of colors is non-accidental: they both come from the SNCF logotype.
The overall feeling here is not much different from a regular, one-level car. Maybe, except for one thing: the ceiling appears to be closer to my head than usual as I am standing. However, when I sit in a chair, I forget about this and simply enjoy the comfortable ride.
Speaking of comfort, there is a power socket near my seat. I also have access to a tray table, a trash bin, a footrest, a net for small things and a rolling window blind.
The latter fixture appears to be especially important during my trip, when for the most time the sun hits real hard. The window blind works for two seat rows simultaneously and requires a coordinated decision from at least two people. Well, me and some stranger find a consensus quickly: the thing is lowered down.
While the main star of the Solar System shines too bright, I focus my attention on the interior of the car and make yet another observation. I notice that the overhead luggage racks are quite small. There is enough space for a jacket, but my backpack does not fit in. It must be said, though, that my backpack is fairly big. And that there is a huge luggage storage at the end of the car, near the stairs.
Anyhow, I do not search for any faults and enjoy the ride. The very fact of being pretty high off the ground while inside the train is more than enough for me to have fun. This immature elation always gets me, whether it’s hot and sunny or cold and snowy.
On the map
There is free Wi-Fi available on the train. In order to start using it, you have to enter the unique ticket code and your last name. The address of the page for logging in is wifi.sncf. The same webpage, even without authorization, entertains you with real-time information about the trip. It shows where you are at the moment and how fast exactly the movement is.
The system is not without bragging: when the train reaches the speed of 300 km/h, I receive a virtual badge for witnessing this. But hey, this is actually impressive, isn’t it?
Another notable fact is that TGV gets from the French capital to the main city of Catalonia in 6 hours and 27 minutes — which is not bad for a distance of about 1100 kilometers!
There are two departures of TGV from Paris to Barcelona every day: at 10:07 and at 14:07 (I use the second one). On this route, the runs are served by two companies in cooperation: French SNCF and Renfe on the Spanish side.
Outside the window
The second floor of the bilevel train is surely a great observational spot. And the scenery of the route is variable enough to be interesting to look at. First, it offers a good portion of agricultural landscapes with fields, cattle, trees, hills and ponds.
Apart from that, there is a proper amount of resort-themed pictures, containing floating boats, palm trees, cute houses and trailer parks.
For a change, from time to time you can take a look at the results of an illegal activity of some irrepressible graffiti guys.
But the part that definitely competes to be the highlight of the trip starts after Montpellier. There are some really nice Mediterranean waterfront views! All sea lovers, I am sure, will be delighted.
Closer to the destination point of the trip it gets dark outside. The journey quite logically and beautifully ends at sunset.
The train arrives at Barcelona Sants, the main railway station of the Catalonian city, and stops at a track on one of the underground levels. After the pleasant and entertaining trip, I leave the soft seat number 91 and step out the double-decked car number 11.
A couple of farewell looks at the TGV Duplex, and I go outside. The station itself is not interesting in terms of architecture and history, but it is an important and elaborately designed modern transport hub. Most of its facilities are located under the ground, which stimulates me to act sharply and put away all the useless wandering.
My next, and the very last for this day, stop is a hotel called Megatzem 128. It is about half an hour from Barcelona Sants, but this is a really nice walk. I recommend to make a path through the Park of Joan Miro - it is beautifully quiet at day and hypnotically charming at night. As for the hotel itself, it is small and friendly, with the unique yet homelike atmosphere. The room I occupy is nice and stylish, and the hotel staff is English-speaking and personable. This is, without any doubt, one of the best hotels I have ever stayed in.
No need to praise Paris and Barcelona one more time — everybody knows that both places are gorgeous, worth visiting, and so on. I can only add that the TGV Duplex is an efficient and fun way to travel between those two cities. And here are some links which can help you to book tickets and get more information: cheap tickets are available on Omio, Trainline, SNCF or Renfe.
I wish you to have only the best impressions from your train trips. And be sure to stay tuned for more fancy content on rail.cc!