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Archive for the ‘France’ Category

SNCF – booking trains in France

Posted by dan on December 8, 2010

SNCF - France TGV fast train

SNCF - French fast train TGV

To know how to book train tickets within France in advance is important if you plan and organize your trip independently. It is a straight forward process. For the fast TGV trains you can use the or websites. The first is in English, the second is the official website of the French rails (SNCF) and is in French. Using the English website give the details of your journey and select ‘Great Britain’ as ‘Ticket collection country’, then do your search. Do it this way, even if you’re not in the UK – if you write USA, for example, you’ll be redirected to a more expensive site; if you say France, you’ll be redirected to the SNCF website in French. A list with a number of possibilities will come up – they often differ in price.* After selecting the trip that suites you, you will have to ‘Choose how to collect your ticket’. Now you have the choice of printing your own ticket – the most convenient way. You can also pick up the tickets at any station in France, either using the ticket machine or personally from the office. One important point if you collect the ticket yourself: you have to have exactly the same credit card which you used online for the booking, and if there is no chip in your card (like the American cards) you have to collect your ticket from the office where they can wipe the card.

Note: the TGV site is only for TGV trains while the SNCF site has all the other types of trains as well as TGV trains. Unfortunately if you want to book a train other than TGV you will have to use the SNCF website in French.

Travel Tip*The eralier you book the better prices you might be able to get. Also there are other discounts at times – right now SNCF is giving some special rates for 1st and 2nd class trips, probably as a Christmas present.

TGV Europe website in English for TGV trains:

Official SNCF website in French for all trains:

See also blog posts: Budget hotels around Gare du Nord and The Montparnasse district

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Snapshots – Saint Malo

Posted by dan on November 28, 2010

Swiming pool and Le Petit Bé

Swiming pool and Le Petit Bé

Saint-Malo is usually thought of as a summer destination, since its long sandy beaches offer a pleasant holiday, but I believe any time of the year is good. While in summer the beaches are a big draw, off season it is much quieter and less touristy. In winter there are only few locals on the beaches and the restaurants and cafes in the old town are also more relaxed. Even if it rains the sun often appears and the dipped angle of the sun and the clouds paint a dramatic background. An awesome sight is when the high tide rolls in hitting the city’s wall hard and sprinkling the streets. In summer, be prepared for crowds – in winter, be prepared for rain.

Saint Malo is also a good place to visit Mont Saint-Michel from, as there is a regular bus link. See blog post: Visiting Mont-Saint-Michel

Travel TipTidal predictions for Saint-Malo with graph for 7 days:

Weather averages for Saint-Malo:

Suggested hotel in Saint Malo:

Hotel Central

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Chief Marshal Cruchot of Saint-Malo

Posted by dan on November 28, 2010

Louis de Funès is one of the greatest French comedians, along with actors such as Bourvil and Fernandel. Although he only became known in the USA with the 1974 international hit ‘The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob’, he has performed in several other films, including the hilarious ‘Gendarme‘ series, where he plays Chief Marshal Cruchot of Saint-Tropez.

Source and further info:

The inspectors of St. Malo

Like the port authorities of St. Malo. (Image:

Although wearing Police and not Gendarme uniforms, when I was boarding my ferry in Saint-Malo, the port authorities reminded me of the characters played by Funès and Michel Galabru. I am sure you can find the same comic couple everywhere in the world. Anyway, I’ve learned an important lesson from it; if you are a dual citizen, keep your two passports separately.

Attempting to board the ferry, the sharp-eyed inspector noticed right away I had two passports in my valet. “I am just a dual citizen, it is pretty normal” I explained “and the only reason I came is to visit St. Malo and Mont Saint-Michel.” But the inspector and his side-kick are not easily fooled. After searching my bag and me very thoroughly – the ferry was already announcing the last call and I thought I would miss it, even though I was one of the first to arrive – the inspector finally found a ticket to the Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel in my pocket. “Ah, so you really came to visit Mont-Saint-Michel – merci beaucoup, au revoir!”

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Visiting Mont-Saint-Michel

Posted by dan on November 26, 2010

Mont Saint-Michel is the highlight of the region, but there is much more to see. The best way to visit the sights is definitely by car – this gives the flexibility and freedom to explore the area and stay wherever one decides to stay.

Organized tours are also a convenient way for getting to the main sights as you don’t have to worry about logistics in advance and worry if the trip will work out well.

You can rent a car and there are many tour operators in the regional cities, such as Cherbourg, Caen, Roscoff, St Malo, Bayeux or Rennes. You can get to these places by train within France and/or by ferry from the UK.

Although very infrequent, public transport is also an option, at least to some of the main sights such as Mont-Saint-Michel (MSM). You can arrange the tickets in advance for longer trips and you can take local services without  advance booking.

MSM can be connected to Paris using the combination of the TGV fast train and local buses. The whole trip can be booked online in advance on the or websites. For further info see blog post: SNCF – booking trains in France .

Visiting MSM from the coastal town of Saint-Malo, itself a worthy destination, is even simpler. Saint-Malo can be reached by TGV directly (SNCF – booking trains in France) or by ferry from the UK on the website. For further info see blog post: Brittany Ferries – crossing the Channel .

From Saint-Malo there are two buses a day to MSM, departing from the railway station (Gare TGV) at 9:40 and 16:30 – the bus also stops a few minutes later at the tourist information office (Saint-Vincent), which is 5 minutes walk from the ferry terminal. You have to change bus at Pontorson railway station but there are connecting buses. If you take the morning bus from Saint-Malo, you can get back the same day at 15:45 from MSM or 16:25 from Pontorson. If you take the afternoon bus, you can get back the following day at 9:20 from MSM or 9:55 from Pontorson. If time permitting, the overnight visit is better – you can see the mont at sunset, illuminated at night and early morning – the best colours and least crowds – and at different tides. There is a wide selection of accommodation in the area including MSM itself. The fare for the whole bus trip from/to Saint-Malo is 5.50 euro one way.

Travel TipBooking trains in France: or

Ferry from/to UK:

See also blog posts: Saint-Malo , Mont Saint-Michel SNCF – booking trains in France , Brittany Ferries – crossing the Channel

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Mont Saint-Michel – it’s a rainy day…

Posted by dan on November 26, 2010


Rainbow, Mont Saint-Michel, France

Rainbow over Mont-Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel, the “Merveille de l’Occident” (Wonder of the West) owes to its original setting and its fine architecture its ranking as one of the major monuments for visitors to France. Around a kilometre in circumference, this rocky islet rises to a height of 80 metres and is linked to the Bay by unfloodable causway built in 1879. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mont Saint-Michel can be easily reached from Paris or the UK – see blog post: Visiting Mont-Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel official tourism office site:

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Remembering all – Armistice Day

Posted by dan on November 23, 2010

Poppy flowers on Southsea Beach, a D-Day embarcation point

Poppy flowers on Southsea Beach, a D-Day embarkation point

Although my great grand father died on the wrong side in World War I, being sent as a K und K soldier to the Russian front to fight for the Austrian empire, he was just as a victim as soldiers on the other side or any other innocent people who died, and continue dying, in wars. And although no poppy flowers grow on the streets of cities and the victims of wars are not always uniformed, as far as I am concerned, they all are remembered.

In the UK you could see people wearing the poppy flowers weeks before and weeks after the 11th of November. Chinese officials complained about the use of poppy as it reminded them the Opium wars, but I can assure them this is not the same poppy. A handful of Muslim extremist made a bit of noise, but the Muslim community in general understands that most British people think about this event and the victims of wars the same as I or most of us do. Even we, thousands of miles away from conflict zones, are victims of these same wars, even if in much less drastic ways.

“Armistice Day (also known as Remembrance Day) is on 11 November and commemorates the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.

After World War II, the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day in the United States and to Remembrance Day in countries of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Armistice Day remains an official holiday in France. It is also an official holiday in Belgium, known also as the Day of Peace in the Flanders Fields.

In the UK after the end of WWII, most Armistice Day events were moved to the nearest Sunday and began to commemorate both World Wars. The new commemoration was named Remembrance Sunday or Remembrance Day. Both Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday are now commemorated formally in the UK.”


Images of Armistice Day around the world:

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Connecting Paris and London

Posted by dan on November 18, 2010

Paris and London are some of the highlights for many visitors to Europe, along with other popular destinations such as Rome, Barcelona, Edinburgh, Brussels, Amsterdam, Munich and Vienna. While most of these cities are some distance apart and it is more convenient to fly between them if someone is constrained by time, London and Paris can be easily connected by different means.

Budget flights: There is a number of budget airlines which offer very cheap rates, but considering the time and costs of transfers, probably the best way to connect Paris and London is by the Eurostar train service.
Travel TipMore info on budget flights: see blog post

Eurostar at St Pancras railway station

Eurostar at St Pancras railway station. Image: Oxyman, Wikipedia

Eurostar train: One of the easiest and fastest way to connect the two capitals is by the Eurostar train, which takes a little less than 2.5 hrs. The biggest advantage is that you can start in the center of one city, and arrive in the center in the other one (St. Pancrass station and Gare du Nord), saving you time and money. Considering transfer times and costs, it is very competitive – and probably better – than the budget flights. You have to book as early as you can to get the best rates, but making a test booking today for only one week ahead (November 25) I found the cheapest rate, for the early morning service, was £39.00 – not bad at all.

Travel TipCheck rates and book tickets:

About Eurostar:

See also blog posts: Connecting Paris and London by Eurostar and Hotels around Gare du Nord

Euroline coach: Coach journeys tend to be more tiring than traveling by train, but this is not necessarily true for the Euroline coach. Although their buses are slower than the Eurostar train, you have the chance to get out on the ferry and breath some fresh air or have a drink in the bar. You will pass the White Cliffs of Dover, an impressive sight.

Travel TipCheck rates and book tickets:

Brittany Ferries, connecting the UK, Spain and France

A Brittany Ferry sailing out from Portsmouth, UK to France

Coach-ferry-train combo: This is the slowest and probably the most expensive of the options – but this is the most interesting and it can still be done fairly cheaply. From London you can take a coach or train to one of the port cities in the south – Portsmouth, Poole or Plymouth – and take the ferry from there to either Caen, Cherbourg, St Malo or Roscoff. An interesting route would be London to Portsmouth by train or coach – the closest destination to London – then a ferry to St. Malo, with a side trip by bus to Mont Saint-Michel, and then onto Paris by train.

Travel TipCheck rates and book tickets for the ferry:

See also blog posts: Brittany Ferries – crossing the Channel , Long distance coaches in the UK and Booking trains in France


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