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2012-May-14 - France Trip 2012 - Taxi to Monparnesse, TGV to Toulouse, Train to Bram, Boat Pickup(Monday)
We had booked a TGV from Paris to Toulouse and from there an SNCF train to Bram to reach our canal boat hire. The train was scheduled to leave Monparnesse station at 9.00 am.

We were absolutely paranoid about missing our train so we went to enormous lengths to be early.

We were up at 5.00, had breakfast by 6.30, packed our bags and had a taxi arrive at 7.00 am, reaching the station by 7.45.

The taxi driver owned his own vehicle and worked for himself.

He told us how he could work 80 hours a week if he wanted to get ahead.

However, if you were employed by someone you could only work 29 hours a week so you would always be struggling to pay your bills.

We queued up for half an hour at the ticket office to show them our electronic bookings and to check that they were valid (I had visions of attempting to board the train only to be told that we had missed some step that should have been performed several hours ago).

It turned out that the tickets were ready to go - no complications - apart from validating them (pushing them in to a wall mounted machine that went "Kachunk").

We then sat around for the next hour watching our train's announcement on the schedule board and waiting for the platform to be decided.

Finally at 8.50 the platform was displayed and we galloped down a 200 m stretch of wagons to find voiture 20 and claim our seats.

The train left dead on time - so the lesson here is that when it comes to French trains you need to move pretty smartly and get on board (once you know where the train is standing that is).

The first 50 kilometres of the journey seemed to be down in tree lined embankments (a noise reduction measure ?) so we could not see much of the country side but very soon we were viewing large sweeping agricultural plains and the occasional town.

The journey was very smooth and you had no real impression of travelling at high speed.

Five hours later we pulled in to Toulouse station.

I have to admit that after Paris I was expecting something on a much grander scale.

Each of our suitcases weighs 30 Kg and I was forced to carry both at once down the steps while Linda carried the lighter hand luggage.

Once again, the railway worked with the convention that the platform for a scheduled train is announced only a few minutes before departure so I stayed at the base of the stairs and sent Linda up in to the main station to observe the announcements board.

Then I had to carry 60 Kg of bags back up another stairway to reach our departure platform.

I was worried for a while that I had buggered my back, but the kinks wore out over the next day.

The trip to Bram took another hour and was easy - apart from having to constantly watch for the station notice board as we pulled in to each station.

Once we landed in Bram, as per the instructions from Nicols Boats, we needed to call a taxi to take us to the nearby canal (about 3 Km away).

My local Sim card had already run out of talk time so Linda was forced to call the local taxi via roaming from Australia. ( the phone at the station was broken).

The taxi took a long time to turn up and by now Linda was worried that the boat office was about to close up for the night.

We dug out the local Nicols office phone number and called them saying that we were on the way.

They said "No problem we will come and pick you up" but just as we were considering cancelling the local taxi, it turned up.

A few minutes later we were down at the canal filling in our paper work and then Patrick took us out on the canal for some brief instuctions.

I have to admit, I have never operated a launch before and I was very uncertain in handling the boat.

Patrick showed us how to turn around in the canal and kept calling me "Captain" - I don't think that helped instill any great confidence.

I found that I had a tendency to oversteer but later, while watching other skippers, I noticed that they also were having to make constant adjustments.

I don't think Patrick was over impressed by my driving ability and when we came back to the dock he rigged the boat up with its stern to the harbour wall so that we could make an easy get away.

By now, Linda was starting to freak out that she had not had a chance to buy any supplies so Patrick very kindly orgainised for us to be taken down to the local supermarket while he worked on fixing the non functioning canopy lock on the door.

I could have sworn that I had taken my back pack with me, but suddenly, in the middle of the supermarket, I realised that I did not have it.

I was stressing out that I had already lost it but when Patrick took us back to the boat, there it was, happily sitting inside the cabin - what a relief.

As you can guess from this narrative - the whole process of signing on for the boat had been very chaotic and rushed.

Incidentally - one nice touch I encountered while at the supermarket was the fact that they did not sell bread - you had to go to the local baker (boulangerie).

I walked up the road from the supermarket and found the baker.

I tried talking English to him and he gave me blank look.

I tried talking high school french to him and he gave me an even blanker look.

Eventually I was able to point to a baguette on the shelf and we concluded our transaction.

Back at the boat, Patrick dropped us off and with some relief, zoomed off in to the approaching night.

We climbed on board the boat, took stock of our facilities, unpacked our bags and sat down to a simple meal of bread roll, ham, cheese and terrine. We ate this sitting out on the deck along with a cheap bottle of champagne.

I have no resistance to alcohol so shortly after I was making up the bed with Linda while completely sloshed and then retired for the night.

The Nichols N900