Welcome to the first installment of a series of posts that form part of my grand tour of Europe. There are a few places that have been on my bucket lists for a very long time, but that I never got round to visiting. It’s not even that I never found the time to visit. Rather I was put off by the horror stories one hears of having to queue for three hours in the sweltering heat to enter Versailles or being ‘processed’ through the sistine chapel without ever managing to see any of its exhibits.
As travel to Europe is still very restricted by the Covid pandemic, I figured I might just get my chance this year, if I play my cards right. Without the American and Chinese tourists to contend with, I reasoned that my chances of a hassle free experience, or a least a less cumbersome one, were as good as they were ever going to get.
Getting to the station
The first leg of the grand tour sees me taking the TGV Lyria from Basel SBB to Paris Gare de Lyon. As I live close to the station, I leave my flat six minutes before the train’s departure at 08h34. After a brief spell of nice weather, we’re back to the rain and the grey here in Switzerland.
After a long restoration that lasted a few years, the French railway station that is adjacent to the Swiss station has been reopened. In the picture below you can see the hall connecting the Swiss part of the station to the French part.
Today, only trains originating their journey in Basel and heading for France use the French station. My TGV will be departing from the Swiss sector, as the train originates in Zürich and only transits through Basel.
The train is departing from track 9.
TGV Lyria is a joint venture between the French SNCF and the Swiss SBB, who jointly operate the services between Switzerland and France by TGV. Currently, the Lyria service operates to Zürich via Basel, Geneva and Lausanne in Switzerland. With the change to the winter schedule of 2020 in December 2019, all services between Switzerland and France have been shifted to trains with twin deck carriages. On demand, two trains sets are merged together. I always prefer sitting on the upper deck, simply because the view is better.
The seats are in a 2 + 1 abreast configuration, and there are several options to choose from: single seats facing backwards or forwards in an airliner style layout, twin seats next to eacher other or facing each other, and sets of four seats for larger groups.
There is also ample space to store large and small pieces of luggage. There is a power outlet at every seat and there is also a bistrot car in between the First and Second class sections serving snacks and drinks.
The seats are plush and offer a level of comfort that is simply unimaginable on a short-haul airliner in Europe these days. The seat also has a good recline, which is operated electronically by means of a switch in the arm rest.
The 08h34 service makes the journey from Basel SBB to Paris Gare de Lyon in three hours and four minutes and only calls at two stations on the way, in Mulhouse and Bélfort. Up until Bélfort, the train uses the regular train lines and goes at what I would call a normal speed for a train. However, no sooner does the train pull out of Bélfort station, that’s when the TGV comes into its own, as it accelerates up to speed of 300 to 322km/h on its own dedicated track.
As far as I’m concerned, the TGV is nothing short of amazing. The speed at which it goes is impressive and the comfort inside the cabin is exceptional and so much superior to an airplane. Usually, I read a lot when I travel. But on the TGV, I never seem to be able to concentrate, distracted by the rapidly changing views outside.
Eventually we pull into the Gare de Lyon on time, at 11h38. While I wait for the platform to empty and passengers to pass through the barriers, I take a moment to take a few pictures of my chariot.
In the picture above, my train is the one on the right. The train on the left is an older generation TGV, but no less impressive.
Getting to Versailles
So the first stop on my grand tour is going to be the palais de Versailles. The quickest way to go is to exit the Gare de Lyon and then walk the short distance across the Seine river to the Gare d’Austerlitz. Normally, there is a direct train, the RER C, to Versailles Rive Gauche. However, due to construction on the line, I will have to first take a metro line 10 train to Duroc, change there to a line 13 mentro to the Gare de Montparnasse, and then from there catch the Île de France N train to Versailles. I know it sounds a bit inconvenient, but public transport in Paris is easy and trains are frequent.
So let’s see what happens next… In the meantime: get your vaccine as soon as you can. Get your vaccine as soon as you can, not just to protect yourself, but to protect others too! It is your civic duty.
Stay healthy, all of you!