Happy cats in Paris

Posted in Cats, La France, Travel at 19:07

Susu and Kanoko sharing a chair on the balcony

At home on my lunch break, I took what is quite possibly my favorite photo of the cats to date. They had never shared the chair on our Courbevoie balcony before, but today they did, and my camera caught Kanoko in another of his quintessentially feline “I am happy” expressions.

I’ve now taken the TGV often enough to earn Grand Voyageur status. My new card came in the mail today; Susu seemed quite interested in it.

Grand Voyageur card and curious Susu

There are two higher levels: Grand Voyageur Plus and Grand Voyageur Le Club. It’s nostalgic for me, because I’m just old enough to remember when airline mile clubs were all the rage, and business travel with one added up to a lot of perqs. Now that those have all but disappeared, I’ve nonetheless gained a… train card that comes with perqs! I’ll hit Plus status in a month, and likely Le Club not too long afterwards. You can exchange points for train tickets and/or gifts, get hotel reductions, use the special travel salons in stations, exchange train tickets much more easily, and for the highest Club level, if you miss your train for whatever reason, you can even get on the next one without exchanging your ticket. For free. All you have to do is notify the train controller.

No matter which card you have, the Voyageur programme is pretty nice. It’s free, and means you don’t have to print out your ticket, since it’s linked to your card’s QR code – those square barcodes you see everywhere nowadays. Controllers have QR code readers and simply flash your card. Bienvenue au futur !

Paris-Nice by TGV

Posted in La France, Travel at 12:32

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.

Monaco today, Paris tomorrow

Posted in Journal, La France, Nice, Travel at 21:36

Monaco - Monte Carlo casino at night
This afternoon I attended a performance of “Eugene Onegin”, an opera by Tchaikovsky, in Monaco. While “going to the opera in Monaco” may well seem tinged with a bit of snootiness, in reality, performances in the principality are often more reasonably priced than elsewhere.

Tomorrow I take a TGV from Nice to Marseille, up through Lyon and on to Paris. I’ll be in the city a few days on business, leaving the kitties in the capable hands of a pet sitter. If you’re interested, keep an eye on my photostream; I’ll be updating it with shots from my mobile phone while in Paris. Pictures taken with my DSLR will have to wait until my return to be uploaded.

I’m really looking forward to the long train ride — my company was sweet and got me first-class tickets. It’s 1,000km (about 620 miles) from Nice to Paris, which takes just over 5 hours by TGV. The TGV still runs “slow” (about 120kmh, or 75mph) from Nice to Marseille, but gets up to speed on the Marseille-Paris stretch, which takes only 3 hours. Marseille to Paris is 660km, or 410 miles. That makes for an average speed of 220kmh/137mph — keep in mind the TGV comes to a full stop in Lyon.

Once I stepped off the train in Nice this evening, the familiar woman’s voice announcing arrivals and departures came on with one that first caught my ear because of its very short train number: 19. I stopped dead in my tracks when I heard the train’s destination: Moscow. “Le train numéro 19 à destination de Moscou va partir.” It’s a new line that was put in place just two months ago: French Riviera train for Russia. With fares starting at about 300 euros, I’m sorely tempted to try it out some day. It’s anything but a fast trip though, at 53 hours!
Nice - Moscow