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Paul Ben-Itzak

Returning to Paris: The voyage

by Paul Ben-Itzak
May 10, 2010
Alone and ready in the city of light
The good thing about the trains in France is that they go a lot more places than, say, the trains in the United States. So *in theory*, as the French like to say, I could get from the small pre-historic village I left Saturday to Paris with no problem in just two trains and less than six hours. But *in theory* doesn't really allow for temporary exigencies, above all strikes — the last, which ended just a few weeks ago, was for two weeks; the workers wouldn't stop their strike until the directors agreed to negotiations, and the directors refused to negotiate until the employees went back to work. But before and after the strike, getting around in my region, and from mine to the Ile de France, was already constrained by so-called track maintenance work. For me, that meant if I wanted to take the usual cheapist and fastest route to Paris — Les Eyzies - Perigueux - Limoges - Paris — I'd have to board a bus for a two-hour drive from Perigueux to Limoges. Thus I instead chose a slightly labyrinthine but more decorous and all-train itinerary: Les Eyzies - Le Buisson - Libourne (about a half hour from Bordeaux) and then Paris on the Bordeaux-Paris line.

The hardest part of the journey for me was that this was the first journey I'd taken without my cats, the last of whom, a beautiful Siamese named Sonia, died February 24 after a very rich 20+ year life, during the last three of which she'd been my constant, uncomplaining travel companion. (And a great way to meet strangers on the train.) I started crying on the first train; it had already been a blow when for the first time I didn't have to buy a ticket for my cat. (Actually labelled a 'small dog' ticket.)

To re-cap: In general there are two ways to get from Les Eyzies (in the Dordogne department of the southwest of France) to Paris:

Les Eyzies - Limoges (normally one train, that passes through Perigueux) - Paris, arriving at Austerlitz.

Les Eyzies - Libourne/Bordeaux - Paris.

For the latter you actually make a retreat — Bordeaux is farther south than Les Eyzies — and re-trap the time by the Bordeaux-Paris train being a high-speed model, so that the Bordeaux - Paris leg takes the same time (three hours) as the Limoges - Paris leg. The scenary is a lot more bucolic — more country-side all along the route, starting off with wine raison fields — but because the TGVs or high-speed trains are older they tend to be hot and stuffy.

Compounding the stuffiness in my wagon were four Canadian students, one of whom kept scowling at me… Maybe it was the Stetson.

Debarking at the Montparnesse station, I didn't have the same euphoria as during my last return to Paris a year ago, when I debarked at the Gare Austerlitz on the Seine. The ordeal of getting out of the station didn't help: Barriers at the top of escalators make it imposing to squeeze your baggage through, a long flat moving floor seems to go on forever; and above all, I did not have Sonia with me and no one was awaiting me. My morale rebounded when the neighbor who was supposed to have the keys (she didn't, my pal had left them than reclaimed them because he forgot something at his flat) gave me a warm greeting and took me around my new neighborhood, a neighborhood that commences when you emerge from the train station at the Place Edith Piaf, marked by a statue of 'la Mome,' as she was called, sing-crying her heart out. Quelle bonheur!

For more information and booking you *could * go to the web travel agency for the train company, www.voyages-sncf.com, but be warned that while they're looking up your train times, they'll be flashing commercials across your screen.
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