Toulouse à Grande Vitesse… or not.

By Eva Kristinova, (Sciences Po Toulouse, France)

Hello everyone and welcome to my year-long study exchange journey in Toulouse! We will start off with the good news so far: I’ve arrived.

And I’m afraid that’s where it ends. To be fair I am somewhat to blame for all I’m about to tell you, but I hope that after reading this, you will admit that no amount of extra preparation could have helped. So let’s dive into my voyage from Brussels to Toulouse… oh, did I mention it was all by train? Well, now you know (and those of you familiar with the French TGV probably guessed as much from the title).

Destination: Toulouse train station

If you are fond of travelling, visiting new places and exploring the nooks and crannies of different cultures, then you probably know that with all those awesome benefits come a few drawbacks. By these I mean, of course, the process itself, the actual move from one place to another – buying tickets, getting all the documents ready (plus the extra ones required because of COVID now), being on time for all the connections, etc. As someone who has been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit, I was well aware of the tedious preparation and the stress associated with getting to where you want to go. Unfortunately, no amount of previous experience had prepared me for what I was about to go through.

Now, let me briefly justify my in-hindsight-not-so-smart decision to take the train through all of France. First, it was actually cheaper than flying. Second, it was a great opportunity to see the country. I’m going to live here for a year, I might as well try to see it all up-close, I thought.

So, as for the journey itself… it all went unexpectedly well at the start. I took a train from Brussels to Paris, then the metro from Paris-Nord station to Paris-Montparnasse, got my COVID pass checked and sat down to wait for my direct train from Paris to Toulouse. I documented all these steps to my dad as I was going, and after my arrival in Paris he replied with the fatal words: I see that everything seems to be going smoothly 🙂

I say ‘fatal’, because at that moment, it all started to go wrong.

First – the train was 50 minutes late. 

Great! That already means that I won’t make it for the key retrieval appointment for my accommodation. I was told later by a friend that this is typical: “Yeah, the French public trains are notorious for being late,” he pointed out, laughing. For anyone planning to travel by train in France in the future, you have been warned! Thankfully the train did arrive in the end and we started off to Bordeaux.

Second – there is a security threat on the train.

An abandoned and unlabelled bag can (unfortunately) mean anything in France, and in most cases people assume the worst. So when no one came to claim it after two warnings, the train had to stop, we all had to get out and wait an extra hour for the local police to get there and examine it. This is when I really started to get worried. If we arrive in Toulouse after 5pm, I will definitely not be able to get the keys to my room. The reception will surely be closed already. On the other hand, you can’t help but feel a little thankful for how seriously they responded to the situation. Anyway, I won’t keep you in suspense, the bag was fine and we were allowed to continue to Bordeaux.

Third – the train stops in Bordeaux… and that’s it.

Yep… after two major delays, we finally arrived in Bordeaux, only to be told that the train will not be continuing any further. It seemed at that point that I could not get more unlucky. Miraculously, I still had some luck left, as they allowed us to use the same tickets to get the next train to Toulouse. But that one was another 90 minutes away.

There were also positives to the journey, though. For example, the French countriside is quite impressive. It’s also got a special ambiance when looked at out of a train window.

Afterwards, long story short, I finally got to Toulouse on the next train, no stops, no delays. Except, of course, for the fact that it was 3 hours late overall. I’m not a very superstitious person, but after boarding this second train I decided to not keep anyone updated on anything until I reached the final destination… just to be safe (the last thing I needed was for someone to jinx it again). When the train stopped, I got out of my seat, collected my bag and opened Google Maps to figure out where to go next.

But at that point all I could think was… I’ve arrived.

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