After doing our research ahead of time and researching how to buy tickets (SNCF vs RailEurope.com post here) and then arriving to Charles de Gaulle airport and making our way to the train station (post: Taking a train from Paris Airport CDG-Charles de Gaulle), it was time to begin our first train journey of the trip.
We were scheduled on the 16h21 train (that’s 4:21pm to you Freedom-fry-loving guys in ‘Merica). Because this train didn’t originate at the CDG airport, we had to wait until about 15 mins before departure to see which track it would be on. The trip was scheduled to take 4 hours 16 mins (!) and put us at Bordeaux St. Jean right at 21h37.
The TGV has been in service since 1981 and, to be quite honest, some of the cars are starting to feel like they were one of the pioneers back in 1981. That said, everything was rather old and dated and this model didn’t offer power ports at the seat, but we were traveling in 2nd class, so it’s possible that only 1st class was power-outlet equipped. (Update: Double checked and these particular cars were built between 1988-92 and then refurbished between 2005-09.)
The bathrooms were dirty but, all-around, this wasn’t a bad trip, just pretty sparse when compared to the “glamorous” European train travel that we’ve all heard touted by our brethren from across the pond.
As with anything quintessentially French, wine and coffee wasn’t too far:
The full-service dining car had about anything and everything you could want/need on a 4+ hour train ride.
TGV: Not as fast as you may think
If you’re like me, you were thinking 4 hours 16 mins to go from the CDG airport to Bordeaux?! That’s a substantial trip! For comparison, a direct train trip from Paris Montparnasse takes 3 hours 14 minutes. While it’s absolutely easier to take the train, it’s only marginally faster and only cheaper if you’re going with no more than 2 people.
A drive would take you 5h28 vs 4h16 on the train:
Part of the reason that taking the train from the airport adds an extra 58 minutes is that they take you all the way around Paris to get there:
And, at the end of the day, while the TGV has achieved speeds of up to 190 mph on this line, it’s all about averages and actuals:
I wore my Garmin GPS watch on the trip and have the the train-nerd stats here:
Check out the Garmin Connect Player to see it in action: Garmin Connect Player
Interestingly, when researching this route, I found that the SNCF is currently working on a €7.2 billion project to rebuild over 300 km of this line to shorten the distance and make higher speeds possible. When opened in 2017, Bordeaux-Paris route is expected to take 50 mins less, down to 2h24 from 3h14–glad to see the the French are still investing money in rail!
BOTTOM LINE: I still think nothing beats train travel in Europe, but this particular journey had me questioning my loyalty–from the slightly dated train and dirty bathrooms to the rather slow 95 mph average for a “High-speed train.”