I didn’t have plans for this summer in France. I rarely plan anything when I’m travelling, I find it easier to go with the flow and to make the most of opportunities.
Last year, it was unusually cold in Nantes and around. This year, it’s unusually hot, so we’re taking many day trips to seaside towns—La Baule, Pornichet, Le Pouliguen, Saint Gilles, and Les Sables, we have plenty of options even though we don’t have a car.
This is the story of my life and the story of most French people—I have a driver’s license and no car, and I’m lucky because many, including most of my relatives, have no driver’s license and no car (both are quite expensive in France).
But there are other easy ways to get around, including by train.
I was in full French mode the first time I bought tickets—I cursed the SNCF (a new word Mark learned, it stands for Société nationale des chemins de fer français) because I found pricing illogical and too high, plus the bloody app was tricky to master. Also, in France, you’re kind of supposed to complain about the state-owned railway company.
But secretly, as a Canadian, I was grateful to just have the option to travel by train.
I can go anywhere I want from Nantes, most of the time directly, comfortably and pretty quickly. Hell, I could even go to Spain, Italy, Belgium, the UK and more. All it takes is a ticket you can even buy at the last minute and yes, I wish they were cheaper, but travelling by train is still pretty affordable, especially if you’re flexible with dates.
I miss getting around easily when I’m in Canada.
Feng and I used to take Greyhound buses—we even took a combination of buses all the way from Toronto to the Mexican border for about $50 in 2005, and it was our top choice for years for Ottawa-Toronto and Ottawa-Montreal trips. Greyhound buses had a bad rep in North America, with people complaining about having to travel with—gasp!—other people but frankly, it was a pretty cheap and reliable carrier. Alas, Greyground Canada ended all operations during the pandemic because of travel restrictions.
Domestic flights in Canada are very, very expensive. I get it, it’s a big country with a small, limited market. Travelling by train is also a luxury, not a practical and efficient way to get around. Most Canadians take road trips—driving is not really a choice in Canada, it’s the only option if you need groceries, if you’re going to work, if you feel like going away for a long weekend.
I find headlines like “Canadians love their cars so much that high fuel prices won’t make most of us change our ways” insulting. Public transportation sucks in Canada. There’s a reason why I’m known to be “this weird neighbour walking to places”—Octranspo, Ottawa’s bus service, is both expensive and unreliable, I just stopped using it a few years ago because I was tired of waiting for buses that would never show up. And don’t get me started on the O-Train, a colossal debacle.
So yes, I’m grateful for a convenient network of buses, tramways, subways and trains in France. Sometimes, it would be nice to have a car to get to more remote places, but I don’t feel stuck as I do in Canada.
And we’re going back to the beach tomorrow… expected temperature, 37⁰C!