Saturday, January 22, 2011


Having lived in France for 33 years, it is perhaps surprising that we (DS & I) have only just had our first trip on a TGV.

Part of our excuse is that the TGV didn't get anywhere near Alsace for the first 30 of those years.
Even if it had, the cost of using it with 2 adults & 4 kids would have been out of the question.
Not to mention that we hardly ever went anywhere we could have reached by TGV anyway.
And usually had a trailer or at least a car-full of something or other as baggage.

So what changed?
Since 2007 the TGV gets to Strasbourg, though the last 100km of track are not high-speed yet.
We usually get to travel without the kids these days.
The TGV website is getting easier to use & you can find reasonable-priced tickets if you look in time.
For once, we wanted to go to Paris, and without an Espace-full of luggage.
So that was decided - a couple of days in Paris by TGV.

I had heard of "iDTGV" which is some sort of sub-division of SNCF which sells TGV tickets (on-line only) at prices from as little as 19€ for Paris-Strasbourg.
Or even 15€ overnight.
So I went to their site ( & managed to book OK.
But not at 19€.
That bargain price requires several months of advanced planning.
Later on, I realized I would have done better by using the normal TGV site ( which includes all the iDTGV trains & also has pages showing the best prices available each day for a month.

Part of the iDTGV offer is a choice of "ambiance".
Choose "iDNiGHT" & you sign up for "DJ, music, dancing, games, happenings".
Choose "iDzap" for "conviviality, laughter, conversation..."
Choose "iDzen" for "complete peace & quiet".
No hesitation there then!
We chose our iDzen seats & printed our own tickets.

So far, so good.
Except that meant 4 tickets, each A4 size in full colour at my expense...
Surely they could economise for their customers there?

A week or so later, I got an e-mail saying that the carriage number had changed & I would have to print all the tickets again!
The old tickets said wagon 18.
When I went to the reservation page, it said wagon 8.
But when I reprinted the tickets (just to pdf, not in expensive ink) they still said 18.
That went on for several days.
Finally, I contacted iDTGV & asked for clarification.
They e-mailed back quickly to confirm wagon 8 & suggested turning up with the old tickets & a copy of the e-mail.

On the day, we got to the right platform, early.
There was a nice picture of the train, showing wagon 8 next to mark "Y" on the platform.
But the train had not yet arrived by the time it should have left...
When it showed up, we wasted no time getting into wagon 8, only to find our seats occupied by other travellers with good-looking tickets.
By the time we found an official, we were already moving.
He said we should be in the iDTGV bit of the train, whereas we were actually in the ordinary TGV bit.
And they are actually 2 different trains, joined together, so you can't go from one to the other...
Fortunately there were enough spare seats, so no problem.
Except what I suppose is normal-TGV "ambiance" with fractious kids & mobile phones vying for prominence.

The actual trip is as smooth & quick as you would expect.
Impressive without feeling dramatic.

On the way back, we knew to check the map of the train carefully & sure enough the iDTGV bit was wagon 18 not wagon 8.
In any case, there were staff checking tickets & directing passengers, as you might expect.
Our seats were vacant.
But next to a solid bit of non-window, so we changed to window seats once the train moved off.
The iDzen ambiance was just what it said on the tin, and very welcome.
No kids, no phones, no music, pure hush.

I ventured through the iDzap zone on my way to the coffee bar.
No sign of "conviviality, laughter, conversation..."
Just overcrowding & lots of families with kids &/or hangovers.
Like the back end of a 747 after a 12-hour night trip.
I was very happy to get back to my iDzen & tried not to slurp my coffee too noisily.

We noticed that we were driving on the left in "France", but on the right in Alsace.
Didn't see the switch, but apparently one track swoops over the other just as they both cross the N4 near Sarrebourg.

For cross-France trips, TGV is a lot faster than a car & makes better overall sense than flying.
Providing both ends of your trip happen to be connected to the network...
It can be very cheap if you plan far ahead, or rather expensive otherwise.
It is smooth & comfortable, but not always punctual.
There is a little learning curve for booking.
iDzen is an attractive no-cost option for old fogies.

Parting thot: "Time Flies Like an Arrow - Fruit Flies Like a Banana " - Anon

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