At Charles de Gaulle Airport and Using the French Trains
When arriving at Charles de Gaulle you will first pass through ‘Immigration’ or ‘Passport Control’. This is where you will legally enter the country. (Do not use your cellphone or camera until you leave customs.) You will line up behind the line on the tile and wait until the person in front of you has left the front of the ‘booth’ where the Immigration officer sits. When it is your turn, you (and your family can go together) will approach the Immigration officer. You will hand them your passport, open to the photo page. He/she will probably not speak to you. Sometimes they ask why you are entering their country. You will tell them, vacation in English, Vacance in French or Holiday in the UK. They will stamp your passport(s) and you will leave that area and follow the hall to Baggage Claim. Here you will look for your flight and pick up your bags. Unless you are carrying over €8000 cash or diamonds or treasures, you have “Nothing to Declare” and just pass through the ‘green’ customs area. You do not need to stop unless one of the Customs agents stops you. Then you will be sweet and kind and follow their direction. They usually will not stop you and if they do, it is usually just for a random search. They usually speak English. If you see soldiers with machine guns, do not be alarmed. They have been at the Paris airports and train stations since we have been traveling to France (back in the 70’s!).
When you leave the customs area you will pass through double doors and then you need to turn right. Here you will a see a sign for Transports. As in all French and British directional signs, they start very general and then become more and more specific.
Continue to follow the Train emblem signs (also the RER is the Paris train and you don’t need that right now)
Keep following the train emblem. The Green Cross is always a Pharmacy in case you need something
Now the sign says “Gare SNCF” this means French National Train Station
These people are looking for the station too!
You found it! The Grandes Lignes is what you want-it is the TGV.
You will go down an escalator. There is an elevator, but you may wait a long time for it to come and then it may be full!
Follow the Grandes Lignes. Not much farther!
Okay, now this is the ‘board’ that shows the trains, very important.
Look at this board carefully from left to right.
“SNCF” is the French National Rail line
“A l’heure” means ‘on time’
A lot of times what comes next is the ‘train number’ like a flight number ie. 8574
Next comes the time of the train’s departure in military time
Now don’t be confused, because the ‘destination’ is the END of the line, and your destination may be well before the end of the line. Many times you will see a list of cities or towns ‘trailing’ underneath.
At the far right is the Platform number ‘3’ sometimes written as Voie and north (Porte N) or south (Porte S) doors or ‘porte‘
The amazing thing is that the train platform will not show up until about 15-20 minutes before departure and you will see a hoard of people staring up at the display board just waiting for the platform to show up! Then they are off!
Okay so now you are on the platform or “Voie”. This is really cool. It is the actual train diagram. You can find your ‘coach’ number and then the ‘letter’ below the cars corresponds to the letter position on the platform. That way you will be standing right in front of your coach when the train stops! No running for the train! And don’t expect just to ‘hop on’ any coach on the train and walk through to your coach because some of them don’t connect. And make sure you sit in your reserved seat in the correct coach, because some of them split and go to other destinations!
So this is what you will see when the train arrives. The ‘3’ corresponds to Coach 3, the big ‘1’ means First Class. The rest of the info on the digital sign is usually the train ‘number’ such as ‘8547’ and the destination.
Once inside the clean and comfy coach is the sign that tells you where your reserved seat is. “places” means “seats“. Usually there is a place for your suitcase just inside the entrance to the car. If your seat is upstairs, there is usually a luggage area up there too. No elevator! Your luggage is safe, but we usually watch it if the train makes a stop and folks get off. Just make sure they don’t mistake your suitcase for theirs-deliberately or not! About 5-10 minutes before your scheduled arrival (as seen on your ticket), make your way to the landing near the doors and have your suitcase ready to get off the train. We usually set our cell phone alarms in case we doze off! Although there is usually enough time to disembark, and the train personnel watch the flow of departees and when the flow ends. if you are too slow and lag behind, the train might start up again and you will have to double back to your train station!
If you have to connect to another train, you will see another board and you will start the process all over again!