I’ve just come back after 10 relaxing days in the south west of France with my family. We took the train there, changing in Paris. It takes a bit longer than flying, but is more relaxing with small children.
British trains are very often contrasted with the French system, and the French rarely come out second best. Indeed their system is often described as the best in Europe, and there’s no doubt that it is extremely fast, very punctual and reasonably priced. But it isn’t all perfect. Certainly not if you want to eat in a French train or go to the loo. On a 5 hour journey with two small girls you end up doing a lot of both.
Let’s start with the loos. They smell. Not just at the end of the journey, but right at the beginning and the get progressively worse. French male railway travellers have a very poor aim. Next, the paper is almost impossible to extract from its dispenser. At one stage I found myself on my knees before my bemused 2 year old daughter, swearing (in French) at the dispenser as I tried to get enough paper out for her to wipe her drips.
Next the buffet car. You might expect, this being France, that you’d enjoy a superior dining experience to that available this side of the Channel. But no. The ham and cheese sandwich contained a slice of tasteless factory ham and a slice of rubbery processed gruyere cheese. Then there was the feta wrap which I presented to my wife. She took one bite and refused any more. She is not squeamish about food, quite the reverse in fact. It was a slightly worrying shade of orange and what was inside appeared to have been scooped from something Cow & Gate might have made. I was hungry so I ate it but I wouldn’t buy another. Finally there was the cost. Three sandwiches, 4 yoghurts and 4 drinks came to over £30.
Still, the weather was lovely.