Hopping on a train to go to another city is super easy, affordable and convenient. On a recent visit to Switzerland and France, I took the TGV between the two countries. The TGV is France’s high speed train that travels within France, but also connects with other countries, too, such as Switzerland, Italy, Germany and Spain. It is operated by SNCF, hence all of the abbreviations you’ll see online.
A trip between Geneva, Switzerland and Avignon, France took three hours. Along the way, we could stretch out in comfortable seats, walk the train, go to the bar car for food and enjoy scenery of the countryside. Not a bad way to get around Europe, without the hassles of airline travel.
We booked our TGV tickets before leaving the U.S. through Rail Europe. This wasn’t the first time we had taken the TGV. We traveled within France by TGV two years before. After checking the available trains online, and knowing there was only one train itinerary we could take in order to be in Avignon for the Viking River Cruises christening on time, we didn’t want to leave anything to chance. We booked through Rail Europe, but certainly there are other ways to book a ticket on the TGV before leaving home. If your schedule is more flexible, or you are not traveling during peak times, you can also wait until you get over to Europe and book through a ticket station at the train station.
We weren’t sure what seats we would have, since booking through Rail Europe gives you a guaranteed seat assignment, but you’re not sure where it is. Seats face both forwards and backwards, as well. Kind of disappointing when making travel plans, but that’s the way it is through their website. Our paper tickets arrived in the mail before we left for Europe. We were all set.
On your ticket, you’ll be given a coach number and a seat assignment. In the train station, the ever-efficient European rail system has digital sign boards along the boarding platform that indicate where the specific coaches will be. Just walk to your coach and hop on board.
Our tickets were in Comfort Class, which translates to First Class. There is also Economy Class, which is also considered Second Class. Think of it as a difference between First Class and Economy on a plane – only with much less of a price difference.
Economy Class coaches have more seats, as well as a few less amenities. In Comfort Class, the seat configuration is two seats side by side, the aisle, then a single seat by the window. The seats in Comfort Class recline and are more plush, with power ports at each chair.
There are plenty of luggage racks available for travelers, with a luggage compartment by each entrance to the coach, as well as in the middle of the coach. Overhead storage is located above each seat, and coat hooks are readily available. After storing the luggage, we had to gently ask two travelers to move from our assigned seats. Turns out they weren’t too familiar with the whole train system. They moved to another seat, but then when a train conductor came through to check tickets, it turns out they were not supposed to even be in that coach. Yes, the train conductors will be checking your tickets so you better make sure than you have them in hand and readily accessible. Sometimes, your tickets are checked more than once depending on if the train conductors have changed shifts during your journey.
Blissfully, we scored a seating configuration with one single seat opposite another single seat along the window, with a table in between. There was no need to share space with any other travelers, not that we had to be concerned. The coach was less than halfway occupied.
A small table in between the seats folds out for work space if needed. A power port makes working or charging electronic equipment easy and convenient, and a small trash can underneath the table makes quick ease of disposing garbage. We were in a cell-phone free zone, so the quiet calm of traveling for three hours with great scenery was refreshing.
Bathrooms are readily located between coaches, and they might be the tiniest bathrooms you’ve ever seen. With eclectic photos lining the walls, the triangular space wedged into a corridor is not designed for being able to do anything but use the toilet and wash your hands. Outside of the Comfort Class coach was a tiny lounge area next to the stairwell to have conversations and make phone calls.
There are two levels to the TGV. The upper level is great for scenery, but you will need to walk up a staircase. A restaurant car is also available. The selections are surprising, not just crappy train food here! The menu features organics and local food selections with healthy meals. Wow. Yet another reason to travel Europe by train rather than plane.
While we didn’t experience it, the TGV is actually very family friendly, with children’s activities during certain times of the year, making it a great alternative to plane travel for families. There’s also a children’s menu available on board.
Over 450 TGV trains now serve more than 230 destinations with more than 2 Billion passengers traveling since 1981. Is it your turn to be on board a TGV?!?