Ever since learning about the TGV as a child, I dreamt of one day taking it. When I finally rode the Paris Gare de Lyon – Lyon Part-Dieu two-hour stretch as a newly-arrived exchange student in 1997, I was giddy. It was the end of August, early in the morning, and the French countryside was covered in shades of green, grazing cows, and houses whose walls and roofs changed as we moved a kilometer every twelve seconds (300km/h) from cooler northern France to its central region.
Since then, I had only ever taken the TGV once in a while. I promised myself that if I ever had a job that sent me away from home, I would take the train – not just because it’s cheaper and more convenient, but because the sight of France from its windows was so breathtaking.
On a flight from Nice to Paris, you get a lovely view of the Mediterranean Alps, and when flying over Switzerland, an enviable sight of some of the tallest mountains in the world from the air. Once you’ve seen them a couple times, however, that’s about it. You’re too high up to benefit from much detail.
Yesterday I took my third morning rail trip from Paris to Nice. I’ve been accustomed to taking in scenery on my bus commutes between Nice and Sophia Antipolis; this third time by TGV suddenly made me aware of another reality. I’ll be seeing France as she changes seasons! In just one month, from early March to early April, she has gone from grey and muted greens with bare deciduous trees and huddled cows to relishing in the returning sun. Bare-earth fields have now become resplendent in yellow canola robes. Hibernating vineyard stumps have begun pushing out their first leaf buds. Countryside roads are graced with cyclists in short-sleeved jerseys wearing smiles on their spring faces. Such a happy metamorphosis to witness.