It was a long way from Melbourne. Melbourne – Sydney – Tokyo – Paris. The taxi came to my door at 4am Christmas Eve, and I landed in CDG at 4am on Christmas Day, 10 hours behind Melbourne. So that means… 2pm?
Well, that was not the end of the journey .When I arrived at TGV station underground beneath the CDG Airport, it was very dark and there was no office open. There was not a single SNCF uniform in sight. It looked like ‘we are on holiday here. It’s Christmas. don’t expect us to be here at 5am!’ I panicked. My EuRail pass needed activation (later I learned it was possible to activate through the travel agency you buy it from – why didn’t the people at STA suggest doing it?) I also had 2 trains to take to get to the day’s (two days’) destination, but I did not have a reservation. The high speed trains are all reserved so I was looking into a potential problem here. What if I couldn’t get my tickets activated? What if there was no seat? What if the station office did not open until 8am, which the business hours diagram outside seems to be indicating, though I couldn’t quite read the detail of the holiday calendar in French.
I was really worried about being stuck in Paris with no way to get to Toulouse. Maybe I should go back to the airline terminal and took the next flight down. It would be much quicker. But just when I was feeling quite nervous, some other tourists and local train travellers arrived at the concourse, and one of them, a middle-aged, clearly French lady found somebody behind the door, probably one of the staff who just came to work to prepare before opening the counter, and managed to find out that it was opening at 6:10am. Great. I was the second in the queue and there were over a dozen people now waiting behind me. I had the train time written down on my notebook after checking the times on Oebb website before leaving home. I was hoping to take a TGV down to Lyon and take another one to Toulouse. Unfortunately, the one between Lyon and Toulouse was full, and the young man with his perfect English behind the counter (who happened to be the only one servicing TGV queues) suggested taking a different service to Montpeollier and take an express. It didn’t sound like I had any choice.
As it turned out, though, the TGV from CDG was delayed at departure and more delay at arrival, that there would have been no way I could have made the 10-minute connection that Oebb suggested initially. After a quick lunch and walk near Montpellier station, I was on a SNCF train. Unlike the TGV’s 1st class seat, which is big and quiet, this was much lower in the scale of comfort, especially because I was allocated a seat that is the very back, just next to a door, and toilets on the deck… I ended up spending most of my 3-h0ur ride in the deck of the train behind, talking to a young man, Benjamin, who was on his way to spend the Christmas with his father’s family, after spending some time with mother in Nice.