I stumble from the plane into Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport, tired and disheveled and wishing I didn’t have to continue on to Rouen where I am staying for a week.
I have downloaded a map of the airport and while I wait at the luggage console I looked around to get my bearings. I sympathise with laboratory mice that are placed in a maze. Large terminals are very disorienting and this one doesn’t resemble my map that fortunately is in English.
Grabbing my suitcase I set off from Terminal A where my Cathay Pacific flight arrived looking for the signs RER and line B. After walking for 10 minutes I see the sign for the trains located just before Terminals E & F. There are lifts, stairs and escalators to get down the two floors to the enormous waiting area that at 08.00 was already crowded with travellers, suitcases, backpacks, security people, cleaners, and hospitality staff.
The station is well set up with an information office that wasn’t yet open, a Eurostar office that was open, and rows of Billeteries, the automatic ticket machines for purchasing train tickets to Paris and other destinations in France.
You can buy the tickets for RER trains to Paris and metro tickets at the Billeteries BUT make sure you have coins as these machines would not accept notes or my Australian or UK debit or credit cards. A moment of panic but common sense kicked in and I thought that if I didn’t have coins others also wouldn’t and there must be a place to get change.
Just off to the right as you exit the escalator is the Monnaie machine that does take notes.
It is difficult to get to regional France other than via Paris unless you are catching the Eurostar so I buy a train ticket from the CDG to Gare du Nord then on to Haussmann Saint Lazare, Paris which cost €9.27 (October 2014). The Billeteries are programmed in the following languages: French, English, Spanish, Italian and German. Just remember that instead of the Enter button, you have a V or Validation button on the keyboard.
I couldn’t see a platform so followed other travellers through the doors at the end of the lobby under the RER & B sign that led to ticket gates. These gates provide a challenge to travellers with luggage. You put your ticket in the slot, it swishes through the machine and out at the top, where you grab it and as you do, the doors slide open for you to pass which is easy when you don’t have suitcases. The trick is to push your luggage through first (or hand it over the turnstile) and then dash through holding the other bags. Once through on the left there is an escalator leading down to the platform. The trains, all of which go through Paris leave about every 15 minutes so you don’t need to panic about catching one.
The Gare du Nord is 12 stops away and the stations light up on the console above the train door as you approach them. I find this so comforting as it is easy to miss the station names if the train is crowded. Please excuse the quality of the photo, I took it balancing with one hand while trying to hang on to the train and the luggage with the other hand.
From the Gare du Nord I took the RER line E train one stop to Haussmann Saint Lazare. Remember, not all the metro trains have automatic doors and you sometimes have to lift the lever to open the doors when the train stops at your station. It was the usual peak hour experience with trolley bag balanced on the suitcase that was jammed against my legs and my handbag slung across my shoulders and placed in front of me with my arm wedged tightly against it. I have been targeted by pick pockets in the Paris Metro previously and I reckoned I was an obvious target with a big sign above my head saying pick me, I am tired, confused and travelling by myself.
At Haussmann Saint Lazare I followed the signs for Grand Lignes and exited into the square in front of the entrance to this grand station. A short escalator carries me to the lobby where in addition to the ticket office, I found the Billeteries. These machines are easy to use, with a search facility so when you key in Rouen it brings up the trains and their timetables. The next train is the Intercités which stops at 7 towns before Rouen and I buy a second class ticket for €23.50 (October 2014) to Rouen Rive Droite which is the name of the train station. The machine also validates the ticket. This is something you must do when travelling by train. You will see small yellow boxes often located near the platforms where you insert the ticket, bar code end first. This is the compostage or validation machine that stamps the ticket. Once you hear the ping sound, you can remove the ticket. Keep the ticket handy as the conductor will ask for it once on the train. They are also a great shape for bookmarks.
I am lucky; I have time for a quick look around at the interior of the station before I board. There are large screens identifying which Voie (platform) your train leaves from and staff are helpful. Second class is perfectly comfortable but get on quickly as there is only a very small space allocated to luggage as you enter the carriage. Now I am really starting to get tired so set my alarm, in fact I set two alarms in case I fall asleep and end up in Dieppe instead of Rouen. The Intercités take 1 hour 33 minutes, and the TER takes 1 hour 11 minutes but they run less frequently. Nearly there.