Rennes railways station is about 15 minutes from the Balthazar Hotel on foot if you’re walking at a leisurely pace or if you’re carting along a suitcase. The station is an interesting design and looks fairly new.
At the entrance to the station I find this sign of the name of the station in both French and what I presume is Breton.
Access to the trains is via the upper level of the station. To access the platforms, passengers need to show their ticket to one of the SNCF staff waiting by the stairs. It’s a lot like boarding a plane.
There’s even a lounge, but seeing as I only arrive at the station about ten minutes before departure, I don’t have the time to visit.
The TGV to Paris today is sold out. Access to the platform is restricted to holders of a valid ticket for exactly this train. In Rennes two TGVs are merged to run as a twin composition nonstop to Paris. The first train to arrive is the TGV from Brest. This is followed a few minutes later by the train from Quimper. The number of the carriages are numbered through from the first train to the second.
I know, I know. I’ve already said this before. But damn it, that TGV is really something. We slowly pull out of the station at Rennes at 11h35, so we’re on time (are you reading this Deutsche Bahn…?). We run over a few points to change tracks until eventually we’re on the TGV’s own dedicated line. And then, about five minutes out of Rennes, the TGV accelerates to 300km/h and just keeps on going like that until we reach Paris ninety minutes or 350 kilometres later. Trains heading for the Atlantic coast arrive and depart from Paris Montparnasse, which is one of the smaller stations in Paris. Deutsche Bahn, are you still reading this? Because we actually pull into Montparnasse station four minutes ahead of schedule.
But I’m going off again. Sorry. In any case, the short-haul trains that serve Fontainebleau leave from Gare de Lyon, which is also the station for the Mediterranean division of the TGV and all trains heading south to France’s Mediterranean coast. Funnily enough, this also includes Switzerland, which is in fact landlocked…
To get from Montparnasse to Gare de Lyon I take the metro line 6. I alight at Bercy station, which is then only a short walk of about ten minutes to Gare to Lyon. I guess you could also change to another metro line at Bercy to take you the one stop to Gare de Lyon. But with all the walking you do in the metro, I doubt you’d be any faster.
By the time I reach Gare de Lyon it’s just coming up to 14h00 and I haven’t had lunch yet. They’re also working on the line to Fontainebleau until 15h30. Which is why I wisely made a reservation for 14h00 at the Train Bleu to while away the time with some good food. At least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it…
Today my pleasure is pissaladère of langoustine with shellfish cream bavarois and anchovy purée.
Followed by a divine gratin of macaroni with lobster in a thick bisque, served with nice, crusty bread.
And the fluffiest lemon soufflé I’ve ever laid eyes on, served with wild thyme sorbet.
Tickets for the RER short-haul train to Fontainebleau can be purchased at the machine. Just be warned though that there are machines for the long-distance and TGV trains, and other machines for the short-haul and île de France trains. The trip to Fontainebleau takes 39 minutes and costs EUR5 for a oneway in second class. To the best of my knowledge, there is no first class carriage on this train.
I alight at Fontainebleau Avon, which is a different village to where the château is. From here I can either take the bus lines 1 or 8 to Fontainebleau. It’s a journey of a little less than 15 minutes and costs EUR1.50.
I’m aware of the fact that I probably don’t travel enough on the TGV to say I’m an experienced TGV buff, and I’m sure they have delays like other trains too. Nonetheless, I think the state of the French railway network is nothing short of impressive. It’s not just that they have the funkiest, meanest rolling stock out there and a very nice onboard product. It’s also the fact that the network and infrastructure have been invested in continuously to be able to offer passengers a good and reliable service. Which is exactly where the Deutsche Bahn have failed. The ICE trains may be nice and comfy, but the obsolete infrastructure make the trains prone to serious delay and unreliable service. I fully support shifting to rail travel within Europe. But for that to happen on a large scale, the railway companies need to put on their big-boy trousers and step up to the plate. From what I can tell, the French railways with the SNCF are already doing a pretty good job with their extensive TGV network.