The French conniption? Derailed plans, Gallic shrugs and stuffy stations – yes, my TGV trip was infuriating but c’est la vie
Having been bitten by the travel bug in my mid-teens, at this point of my life, I am a seasoned traveller, thinking nothing of jetting off to foreign climes at the drop of a hat.
ore often than not, my travels go by without any major hitches, with everything going largely according to plan and a good time being had by all. But, of course, there will always be some mishaps when you venture away from organised holidays and take things into your own hands.
Over the years, I’ve encountered several and have found that the trick is to stay calm and carry on.
At time of writing, I am in France, having spent a few weeks travelling around Spain before heading north by train.
I chose the French diversion to avail of a better flight option while also allowing myself to explore a new city in the process.
The Spanish leg of the trip was perfect – everything, from accommodation to the various locations were better than anticipated. But things took a different turn when we headed to France.
Having booked tickets on the high-speed TGV, the journey should have been seamless, but after standing for an hour in the sweltering heat in Barcelona waiting for the train to arrive, the journey got off to a rocky start.
I joined other passengers on the platform trying to flag down harried staff who studiously ignored us
But finally, it arrived, and we breathed a sigh of relief, albeit reluctantly admitting that the 75-minute delay meant we would miss our connecting train in Nimes – but we would worry about that when we arrived.
So, we settled in for the first few hours of the first part of the journey – but two hours into the trip, our carriage began to feel airless and hot and when the train stopped at Narbonne, there was a flurry of activity as staff began urgently rushing through the train.
While in Spain, I can always get by as my command of the language is decent enough. However, in France, with just my Leaving Cert French to rely on, I had no idea what was going on.
After a few minutes the train engine cut off, so in a bid to find out what was happening, I joined other passengers on the platform trying to flag down harried staff who studiously ignored us.
Eventually piecing together some bits of information delivered in French, Spanish and English, I discovered that the air-conditioning system on board had caught fire and we had to wait for firefighters and engineers to put it right – enquiries about how long this would take were met with a disinterested Gallic shrug.
I couldn’t just sit on the train indefinitely so we took our chances and having discovered that a train was leaving “immediatement” for Marseille on the other side of the station, we hastily grabbed our belongings and ran in 36C heat up and down steps only to reach the platform as the doors closed.
But things happen for a reason, and we soon discovered that the train we were instructed to board, was actually heading a different direction altogether. Ten minutes later, the right train arrived and although the cramped, local train was in stark contrast to the plush, high-speed TGV, we applauded our quick thinking as we were on our way again.
Or so we thought – as the minutes ticked by, we discovered that we couldn’t depart until the police arrived to arrest a man, who, under the watchful eye of a guard, was seated next to me. I wasn’t entirely sure what crime he was guilty of, but he didn’t put up a fight when a team of armed police came to escort him off the train.
Such drama – a fire and an arrest and we hadn’t even gone halfway – surely we would leave now? Apparently not, (without explanation) the doors didn’t close for a further 40 minutes. But finally, just as we had given up hope, it started again. Then, at the next station, there was an announcement for passengers to voluntarily leave the train as it was overcrowded – needless to say we didn’t oblige – and finally arrived at our destination (many hours overdue).
There’s no point in getting annoyed or having a go at staff as it rarely helps
It was an eventful trip to say the least.
But I’ve had similar experiences in the past with cancelled flights or trains seeing me on an entirely different journey (or destination) than planned, baggage stolen or lost (on one occasion, in my teens, my suitcase ended up in Santiago, Chile, rather than Santiago de Compostela, Spain) and accommodation being vastly inferior (or non-existent) to what was expected.
However, I’ve learned to keep my cool – there’s no point in getting annoyed or having a go at staff as it rarely helps and could waste hours of precious holiday time.
In my experience, finding an alternative route, keeping receipts to claim back expenses for alternative journeys made, (or spare clothes bought while waiting for lost luggage) and avoiding angry queues waiting to complain (save that for an official letter at a later date), is the best way to minimise disruption.
So, if the issue is minor and you can’t do anything to change it, the best way to salvage your trip is to choose another option if possible, then put your feet up, grab yourself a glass of something chilled and enjoy the holiday. Bon voyage.
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