Viva Espana: Day 2 – Breakfast in Paris, Bed in Barcelona

My hotel was in a district that was a combination of residential and industrial – with 18th or 19th century warehouses, finding themselves in competition with 19th century apartment buildings and much more recently constructed glass and white rendered blocks of flats.

It was a fascinating bus ride back to Gare de Lyon, where I was still not yet catching a train but was heading for breakfast.

I had carried out a quick Google (other search engines are available) search for interesting little independent bakeries or coffeeshops in easy walking distance of my hotel. Nothing. I decided to see if I could book a table for breakfast in Le Train Bleu  – the restaurant in the station where I had enjoyed a slightly hurried lunch on my way to Italy last year.

There were no tables available but I reckoned some would be kept free for walk-ins. It had to be worth a try.

As I walked into the restaurant, having rehearsed my French apology for not having a reservation, I was a little surprised to see that every table was empty. “Oh, we don’t do reservations for breakfast,” came the answer, and I was shown my options for tables.

I could have been seated in the main restaurant, but sitting by myself at a table for six seemed a little excessive. So, I selected a cosier table with two armchairs in the corridor leading out. Two armchairs? Well, I needed one for my rucksack.

When the Train Bleu Petit Dejeuner began to arrive, I did wonder if I should have chosen the table for six.

First came the hot chocolate – a small jug of hot liquid chocolate, a large jug of milk and a cup served with a madeleine. Minutes later, a platter of breads (and a huge pat of butter, small pots of honey and apricot jam) and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, plus a plate serving a warm pain au chocolat and a croissant. I had almost finished the pain au chocolate when a piping hot mushroom omelette arrived. The waiter and myself looked at the lack of space on the table and, clearly, a decision was made to hold the fruit salad and yoghurt until I had cleared some room.

The last time I was here, I had less than an hour before my train was scheduled to leave, so didn’t feel I could linger over my meal. Breakfast today was a much more leisurely affair.

Even so, by the time I finished, I found I still had five hours before I had to catch my train. I eyed my rucksack. It’s only 40 litres, but I still didn’t fancy lugging it around Paris. A quick internet search showed there is a left luggage facility at Gare de Lyon so, having paid my bill (while I CAN run with this rucksack it is not for long) I headed in search of the consigne.

A friend asked me yesterday how good my French is. It’s rusty, but I am endlessly pleased by how well I do manage, especially when the conversation is constrained by the context. (Asking to buy train tickets is unlikely to result in philosophical conversation about the meaning of life). It also helps that the French often incorporate English phrases into their language.

At the luggage storage facility, the guy on duty explained that the lockers were cash and when I asked where the nearest cashpoint was, he explained there were no banks nearby (which is weird but true) and my best bet would be to go to the ‘Relay’ (newsagent), only 50m away and get cashback. This entire conversation took place in French. What is the French word for ‘cashback’? It’s ‘le cashback’.

Cashback sorted, luggage deposited, I headed off for a walk along the Seine.

If I had done a little more homework, I would have discovered there’s a Garden Bridge five minutes’ walk from the station. It’s a red brick 19th century arched railway bridge and has been converted into a park. I discovered it as I headed back from my walk via the Bastille. Next time.

It was a grey and cold morning, but Saturday morning in Paris is still enjoying a Saturday morning in Paris.

I crossed the bridge towards the Austerlitz station. It’s amazing how many mainline stations are within this small area of Paris. Austerlitz is five minutes walk from Gare de Lyon and Bercy is less than three. Admittedly Kings Cross and St Pancras are across the road from each other and it’s only ten minutes to Euston, but Paris just seems to be awash with large and grand railway stations. I could be exaggerating, of course.

The river walk along the Seine was busy with joggers, cyclists, walkers and people joining exercise classes. At the imaginatively titled Jardin des Plantes (Garden of Plants), a couple of people were sitting among the blossom trees and admiring/ critiquing/ puzzling the statues.

Notre Dame was still shrouded in scaffolding, but there was no shortage of people taking photographs. The path along the river was also busy with traders selling Moulin Rouge and Le Chat Noir posters as well as prints of Parisian views.

I spotted only one person wearing a beret. It’s all about pompom hats this year – the bigger the pompom, the better.

Having reached the Eiffel Tower and taken a photo, I headed back along the opposite bank in search of a coffee shop before returning to Gare de Lyon in plenty of time to collect my luggage and find out which of the Departure Halls my train was departing from.

Trainline had been texting me on an hourly basis to let me know that my train would be departing on time but was being very mysterious about which platform it would leave from.

Around 20 minutes ahead of departure, the platform was announced in the station, and people leisurely moved towards platform 17. This was no panicked migration of the wildebeest as seen at Euston when platforms are finally stated. There was no surge, no panic and there were six ticket gates for people to use, instead of three. Groups and families strolled up the platform rather than frantically running like they’re racing for the last place in the nuclear bunker at the end of the world.

I found my seat. Top deck: yay. Aisle seat: boo.

“Good afternoon dear customers…” came the train announcement. ‘Dear’ customers? That makes a pleasant change.

My companion was a Dutchman, also on his way to Barcelona, visiting a German friend who lives there, though she also has a job in Germany. She’s never been to Granada, so they’ll be hiring a car. He left his village on the Eastern border of Holland at 9am. this morning and had a book for the journey. Pleasantries, mostly of his and his friend’s lifestories, plus a viewing of his friend’s artworks on silks, exchanged… he settled back to read his book. The train started to move away from the platform.

Across the aisle from me were two women knitting socks. I knew I should have brought my needles with me. In front of them were a German couple with their two small children. One boy was requiring both of his parents’ attention. The younger boy had discovered that he could stand on his seat and smile back at the two women. He was fascinated by the knitting. For the next hour, he climbed up intermittently to observe their sock progression.

The train’s first stop was at Valence in two hours and once we left Paris, the rails took us through flat, though occasionally rolling, farmland and woodland. The fields were mostly green and yellow and speckled with small villages and hamlets of white cottages with red tiled rooves.

The route was heading through the South of France, stopping at Béziers and Narbonne along with Montpellier and Perpignan, so I was seeing the landscape that I had missed on my October trip.

Families with small children occasionally passed along the carriage, swapping high-pitched squeals and garbled baby-talk with two German toddlers. I have no idea what they said to eachother but all parties were clearly delighted with the conversation.

The sun appeared from behind the clouds, warming the carriage and creating a haze across the landscape. The views were beautiful.

As the train travelled South, nearing Valence, the landscape changed and diversified: hillier, vineyards among the fields, electricity pylons marching across the countryside, roads, towns, industrial areas and forests.

One of the small German boys began to wail. Nothing could placate or distract him. His mum wandered up and down the train carrying him until he tired himself out to sleep.

Most of the adult passengers were beginning to doze too. There were still four and half hours to go until we reached Barcelona.

My companion grew weary of his book and was glancing over to see what I was reading. At this point I was looking at a map to record where photographs had been taken. “Oh, I love that region of France. It’s my favourite wine producer.”

I smiled and nodded. I enjoy discussing wine, but I was quite happy as I was, and not looking to entertain this chap just because he was less enchanted with his reading material. To be fair to him, he didn’t push the conversation any further and instead went for a walk once the train pulled out of Valence, which meant I got a break from his checking whether I was looking at anything that he could use to start a discussion. With any luck, he would find the buffet car and somebody more sociable than me to talk to.

Half an hour South of Valence, the scenery became more mountainous and the train passed solar farms (as well as the wind farms I’d seen from the outskirts of Paris). There were small stone villages on hilltops, the village churches taking prime position in the centres. Occasional sprawling towns spread among the fields in the flat expanses between, though farmland dominated.

The train crossed the Rhone twice around Avignon and I spotted a solitary castle on a hilltop.

My seat companion returned almost an hour after he had set off just before the train pulled into Nimes Pont du Gard. He’d obviously found the buffet car and was now ready to read his book. I’d save my own walk for when he next got bored and when it was too dark to look out of the window.

The sun was sinking as the train pulled out of Montpellier – a rosy glow across the sky. The man in the seat next to me put down his book… yawned… and settled back to snooze… but then the next train announcement startled him and he picked up his phone to listen to a podcast.

The train pulled out of Sete with the sea on either side of us. The sun had disappeared below the horizon, but there was still some daylight as we reached Béziers.

A marvellous feature of this train was that it had comfy ‘cubby holes’ in the corridor – cushioned seats tucked into the wall where passengers could take themselves off to make phonecalls in privacy (and avoid disturbing their fellow travellers).

When my companion tired of his podcast and then his book, he twisted in his seat to face me and spread out – the body language was very much ‘I am ready for a conversation now’. Well, I wasn’t. I took myself off for a walk, past the buffet car, and down to the next carriage to temporarily take up residence in its corridor ‘cubby hole’.

The train crossed the border just before 8.20pm. There was just over an hour of the journey left before arriving in Barcelona. I had returned to my seat where the chap in the other seat was studiously reading his book.

The rest of the journey was utterly uneventful. The small German boys work up after a nap, had something to eat and then chortled to eachother. The knitter across the aisle switched to a different project (though, in answer to yarn addict questions, no she hadn’t finished the sock).

At 9.25pm, the train pulled into Barcelona-Sants, bang on time (as it had at every other stop on this route). With the now familiar conductor’s congratulation for choosing InOui, who were providing the greenest mode of travel and a wish that we all had an excellent evening, I left the train and headed off to find my hostel.

Categories: France, Paris, Public Transport, Travel, Viva EspanaTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 comment

  1. I’ve seen the inside of le Train Bleu, but never dined there; I can imagine it must be a beautiful (and delicious experience)! I think you were referring to the Promenade des Plantes near Gare de Lyon, and I can vouch it’s a gorgeous oasis in the midst of a very urban city! Have a great time in Spain!

    Liked by 1 person

%d bloggers like this: