Fifteen years ago, TGV tickets were still affordable and the French high-speed train was an efficient way to travel from point A to point B. Then prices went up and French people started looking for alternatives, like rideshare services or budget airlines. Nowadays, buying a train ticket seems to be like buying airfare—maybe you’ll get a good deal, maybe you’ll spend twice as much as the passenger next to you.
The three pre-booked tickets from Paris to Nantes were €130 in total, an acceptable price considering the 420-kilometres trip would be conveniently completed in two hours with a single six minutes stop in Le Mans. Not that we had any other choice—there’s no Greyhound in France and flying was expensive. I even told Feng to upgrade us to “Première classe” for an extra €10—may as well enjoy this French train experience.
We packed, took the subway from Vaugirard to Montparnasse-Bienvenüe, then we made our way through the long, crowded tunnels, passing by a few buskers and a fruit stalls (??) and finally found the unreliable, crowded moving walkway that connected the subway station to the train station.
Gare Montparnasse changed a lot since my last TGV trip in 2010. It’s brighter and more welcoming with a lot of shops including a Havaiana store, Marks & Spencer Food and a FNAC.
“This way,” I asserted.
“Trust me. I know Montparnasse.”
I led Mark and Feng to a waiting area where technically you can find a seat when fifty other people didn’t have the same idea just before you. I went out for a smoke then browsed magazines at Relais H, two mundane activities that always kept me busy and entertained in train stations.
What was I thinking 18, 17 or 16 years ago when I was waiting for a train to Nantes? I was probably hoping I did well on whatever university exams I had just taken in Paris. In 2004, I remember being excited because I had just gotten my Working Holiday Visa to Canada. Most of the time, I was looking forward to going back to Nantes—my stays in Paris were never very comfortable or relaxing—or planning my next backpacking trip.
I looked at Mark and Feng who had managed to find two seats in the waiting area.
Back then, I never thought I would ever get married, never thought I would be with someone as unique—through good and bad times—as Feng. Back then, it rarely occurred to me I could be a mother one day.
Life is full of surprises.
“Let’s go, guys.”
The boarding process changed, now you have to scan your ticket to access the train platform. Railcar design changed as well—there’s a mirror and a plug but seats are narrow and hard.
“Look, Mark! We’re going at 299 km/h!”
Mark didn’t give a damn because he was playing with the tablet.
I tried to find the best position to sleep, my legs on Feng’s lap, my head against the window. Fuck. These TGVs were clearly designed for business travellers who aren’t planning to catch up on sleep.
The old lady behind us had a long, boring phone conversation with a relative.
The train stopped in Le Mans.
I closed my eyes again, this time hoping I wouldn’t sleep because we would be in Nantes in an hour or less.
I fell asleep.