All Aboard

If you’ve never made a train voyage, you must. It has an entirely different sense of adventure from jumping into your car and taking off. I’ll be making a total of three legs of my journey via train. The first one was today: a four hour trip from Paris to Arles. Thats almost the total length of France: for $33!

Happily, my train didn’t depart until almost 11:30, so technically I had time for a leisurely breakfast at my simple little hotel then walk about 2 miles to Gare de Lyon, one of Paris’ largest stations. A fitful night’s, jet-lagged sleep played a little havoc, however, and I woke for good at 9:30. High gear.

I made it to the station a sweaty mess. The kind of sweaty that results from exercising in the cold, wrapped all up in sweaters, coats and scarfs like when we were kids and played in the snow. The moment of truth came when I had to retrieve my e-ticket from the kiosk asap and get my sorry self to the track. But which track? Add some nervous sweat to the equation, would you?

In desperation, I took advantage of a sweet looking young Frenchman who looked like he wouldn’t bite off my head when I accosted him with my bad French. He graciously showed me how to read my ticket in time for me to rush full speed ahead to track 7: a totally different wing of the station. I got on the train in time to collapse in my seat with two minutes to spare.

Having calmed down, I began the adventure of watching France pass by. Half an hour south of Paris, snow appeared, dusting trees, fields and buildings. Snow-covered stone farm buildings look like spice cakes dusted with powdered sugar. Although the TGV moves at a good clip, I finally took the opportunity to test my visual memory skills and sketched sixty second pencil notes of what I saw. Finally the rolling, green hills gave way to rocky outcroppings and the low slung houses of Provence and I knew I was getting close.

Other than the obvious, here’s what I think is important about riding a train. You realize that there is a ceremony to travel: getting on, passing time in transit reading, eating, texting or talking, and finally, getting off. The arrival is the sweet culmination of a mission accomplished. After watching people gather belongings to disembark, you have the curious pleasure of watching a new cast of characters waiting at the station to meet them. Private welcomes in public are delicious moments for an observer. That joyous abandon of kisses and hugs is a vicarious something you carry them with you wherever you go.

Tomorrow: my welcome mat in Arles at L’aubergine Rouge!

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