I journeyed back down south again yesterday. This time I travelled by rail so I left home in a taxi at 11.30am, which took me across to the railway station at Le Buisson de Cadouin, the place just south-west of Le Buge that I flew over a couple of weeks or so ago. Then came my big shock of the day. The taxi that took me there came from Rouffignac and the journey only took half an hour or so as the distance to Le Buisson from my home is only 33km. When I got the fare, I almost fell over, as it was 66€! I could hardly believe it because my (concessionary) rail fare for the whole journey from Le Buisson to Carcassonne was only 38.50€, and not only that, after changing at Agen they’d even very kindly allocated me a 1st class seat for well over half of the total distance!
Anway, I just had to bite the bullet and cough up, but I’ll remember that for the future although hopefully I’ll not have much need for a taxi again after this. Not having travelled in France before by train, I’d hoped that I’d be able to take quite a few photographs of the journey. However, I was to be disappointed because the weather was dull and wet the whole of the way. The rain stopped briefly when I was waiting on the platform at Agen for my connection to Carcassonne and I just took a few shots as a kind of flavour of the journey.
As usual, my experience of travelling from Le Buisson to Agen was not without incident. When I picked up the ticket that I’d booked and paid for previously over the Internet, from the booking office at Le Buisson, it turned out to be two tickets, one for each leg of the journey. Not knowing the form, naturally I just jumped onto the train with them and sat down next to an elderly French lady who, it turned out, was returning to Marseilles after having spent several days with a group in the Dordogne visiting a number of local chateaux. The train we were on was a little two-coach diesel local service that had a driver and a conductor who walked down the train checking the tickets of the new people who boarded and announced each station that we were stopping at as we approached it. I handed him my ticket for the Le Buisson to Agen leg which he punched several times before handing it back to me and solemnly informing me that I should have ‘composted’ it before boarding the train. I just gave a suitably non-committal reply and after he’d gone, asked the elderly lady what he’d said.
She and another charming middle-aged lady who spoke some English together explained that at each station there’s a yellow machine that you have to shove the end of your ticket into before boarding the train, carefully making sure that it’s the right way round. It’s some kind of anti-fraud measure that prevents a ticket being used more than once, apparently, and if you don’t do it, the conductor, they told me, is entitled to impose a surcharge on you. So naturally, after I arrived at Agen, I asked the elderly lady, who also had to change and wait for the same incoming inter-city train as me, what I had to do. She suggested that I dashed off the platform into the main ticket hall where I would find the said yellow machine, ‘composted’ the ticket to Carcassonne by shoving it into the appropriate slot, and then dashed back to the platform we were standing on. And that I needed to make it pretty quick as well, as there was only a delay of nine minutes before the second train was scheduled to depart.
So I found someone to take care of my case for me and duly legged it. It turned out that all ‘composting’ involves is having a date printed on your ticket so it can’t be used on another occasion and obviously if I’d known about this, all I would have had to do was find the machine at Le Buisson and ‘compost’ both of my tickets to cover the whole of the journey to Carcassonne. In fact I subsequently found out that all of my efforts sprinting down and up and down and up steps at Agen were totally unnecessary because no conductor came along to check our tickets on the inter-city train in any case – at least not where I was comfortably ensconced in First Class anyway 🙂
What else was memorable about my journey by ‘local’ train service? I think it was how relaxed everything was. On several occasions along the way, the train stopped at little local stations and several passengers alighted from it. They then frequently just descended a short ramp down from the platform and walked directly across the tracks to the station exit on the other side, in front of the train as it stood there, with some of them occasionally bidding ‘adieu’ to the driver with whom they were obviously acquainted. The train itself was very up-to-date, comfortable and modern but passengers must have been doing this ever since there was a rail line running through their little villages. Such is the charm of rural France with its intriguing combination of the new with the old traditional way of doing things. I thought to myself as I watched people walking across the tracks with their shopping bags, brief cases and knapsacks, what ructions there would be with the Health and Safety brigade in the UK if someone even suggested that such a thing should be permitted there, let alone tried to do it. They would brand them as being practically insane, whereas such things just happen here without incident as a matter of course.
As I hadn’t requested either, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had been allocated both First Class and a reserved window seat for the onward inter-city leg to Carcassonne. The carriage had a side corridor with direct entry into a clean and bright compartment seating six people. I sat in a very comfortable seat upholstered in beige leather facing a small table below which there were two plugs for powering lap tops or charging mobile phones. The seat had a switch in its arm that allowed me to make it recline automatically and as the tilting train hurtled comfortably and fairly quietly southwards, save for a hoot and a loud thump on the window each time a train passed travelling in the opposite direction, I thought to myself just how pleasurable the journey was. And how, unlike in the UK, I had also been able to make it without totally breaking the bank. Well done SNCF, you have apparently managed to unravel mysteries to do with rail travel that have baffled both British Rail and a succession of governments on the other side of the English Channel for years!
I was met at Carcassonne by my friend Val and it was lovely to be back in her company as we strolled back to her car parked just down from the station in what was a rare break in the rain. The purpose of my return journey south to the Languedoc was to pick up the car that I’d spotted on Le Bon Coin, the French small ads web site, and had made arrangements to buy, and that we did today. Here are a few shots I took of it a bit earlier this afternoon while it was parked in the little lay-by just up from Val’s house.
This is the first car that I’ve bought in France and first left-hand-drive car that I’ve ever owned. I’ve not had a chance to drive it that much yet as I’ve only had it for a few hours, but I love it to bits already. I’m hoping that it will be the ideal vehicle for my needs, but we’ll have to wait and see and I’ll keep people posted as my experience with it progresses 😉