This day was so long and crazy, this post is only about our transportation to France. I’ll be back with more info about Fayence in particular, and the remainder of our trip, after it’s over. The previous blog post has info about our week in Sitges.

So after a week, it was time to go to France. We had rented a car in Barcelona for the week (a Renault Leganza – a real boat. Christina thought it was maybe a Chrysler since it has so many elements of a cheap American car. Renaults must be the lowest rung of French cars. The clutch had a terrible springiness, and first gear was almost impossible to find instead of third. It definitely felt like I was driving a Crown Vic.). (I won’t go to far into my digression about how the cheap car makers use names for cars, while the better companies use numbers for their models – but someday . . .) We had to return this car in Barcelona, take a train over the border to France, and rent a car there. Renting a car in Spain and returning it in France is extremely expensive due to some European regulations. So when I called AutoEurope (really helpful people there) they recommended just doing two cars with a train in between. Christina wanted to get a train involved in the trip, so we reserved two cars, each for a week.

The train we needed turned out to be the same train that the Koetters were taking to Paris. But they had tickets and we didn’t. I almost bought them online, but I was a bit shocked to see them at $178US for the three hour ride – and that’s each person. Finally, when I couldn’t buy them online anymore (for some reason, they don’t seem to have e-tickets, so you have to buy them online five days before the trip) I went to the train station in Sitges to buy them. But they can’t sell them. Only the main stations in Barcelona can. So we decided to just show up and go from there.

That morning, early, we took the car back to the airport, and took the airport train to Barcelona Franca, only to find a “Montpelier – sold out” sign at the ticket office. And it said they were sold out for the next three days. So the ticket agent told us to rush back to Barcelona Sants, jump on an 8:30 to Cerbere (right across the border) and then get a train from there to Perpignan, where our car was waiting. So we ran, go on the train to Sants, and missed the train to Cerbere by five minutes. If anyone is reading this and wants a tip – the guy should have told us to get off at Passeig de Gracia, which eliminates two legs, and thus ten minutes, and would have gotten us on that train.

In any event, the next train was three hours later. So that put us pretty far behind schedule. We checked through the options: other trains (nothing), taxis (crazy expensive, and they didn’t seem willing to even do it), busses (seem to be pretty frowned upon by all we asked for info, and the best info would have taken us another subway ride to get), and one day rental cars ($900). We decided to wait the three hours. We bought tickets (34€ for all four of us) to Cerbere. After some snacks, we got on our third train of the day, after a last-minute track change. This wasn’t too bad – we got seats together and a place for our luggage. But the train was packed. Then, three stops later, the conductor announced that passengers to Cerbere had to, instead, switch to another train. Half this train was French, and most were foreigners, so everyone was helping everyone else figure out what to do, and we all got off this train on to another one, smaller, one level, and even more packed. 

Here, a very, very nice Frenchman asked a man to move his luggage so Christina could sit, and she really needed it. He was very chivalrous, and that was the first of several pieces of help he graciously offered to us. Leo and Maya sat on some of our luggage in the aisle, and I stood/leaned, crushed in the group near the door. I will say that, after the initial jostling for space, all of those I was with in the mosh pit were very nice and respectful, and everyone understood that we were in this mess together, and to try to make the most of it. So even though it was painful positionally, the attitude was very positive. At one stop, by which I had made my way to the aisle with the rest of the family, a woman and her two kids got on. The kids were pretty young, and again the same Frenchman helped. We also tried to make room for them, but one kid couldn’t even stand, he was so tired. A woman, must have been a grandmother, probably Russian, took the kid on her lap, and he fell asleep almost immediately. Slowly, as people got off, the situation improved. Finally, an hour and a half in, by Figueres, even I had a seat.

So we arrive in Cerbere and need to get to Perpignan. We knew the train left about 75 minutes after we arrived, but we were late, so we had less than an hour. We waited in both lines – for the one ticket agent, and for the one automated machine. And waited. And waited. After almost no movement in our line, Christina got to the front of hers with the machine, so I went over to help. I had spoken with the helpful Frenchman in my line and pointed the machine out to him, so he had gotten in line just behind Christina, luckily.

I left the kids in the ticket agent line and went over to the machine. For an automated machine, this thing was interminable. And slow. And there was only one. The questions about options went on ad nauseum. Did the first adult have any special discounts? Non. Did the first adult have an SNCF pass? Non. How about the first child? Each question was slow, and totally unnecessary. How about a ‘special-options’ button or something? It probably took five minutes just to get through that, and the line behind us grew.

Then, time to pay. The machine takes, among other cards, Visa and Mastercard. Except that it doesn’t. Between us, we produced six different Visas from our wallets. None worked. Cash wasn’t accepted at the machine. Enter the chivalrous Frenchman. I couldn’t thank him enough for buying our tickets (22€). And we were able to pay him back with exact change. We later wondered what we would have done if he wasn’t there – I think I would have offered 50€ to anyone in line who would buy these for us with their credit card. In the end, with the painful delay and hot, crowded trains, and taking four trains instead of one, we did save $600, so all wasn’t lost. And the kids got a taste of traveling in Europe like a student instead of like a family that properly prepares for these connections.


Some ice cream after we finally got the train tickets in Cerbere

Some ice cream after we finally got the train tickets in Cerbere



And, so, we got to Perpignan, after a 45 minute train ride. This time, we all had seats pretty near each other, but, alas, no air conditioning. Nothing’s perfect. But it was short. 

We knew we still had a four-hour-plus drive to Fayence where we were staying for the next week. We got to AutoEurope and picked up our car. I have to say, I was hoping for a VW or a Citroen or a Peugeot after that Renault. Amazingly, we got a BMW. I’ve really never driven one a long distance before, and I have to say, having this car for the drive made it much more enjoyable. The car was a 118i, so it was pretty small, and sporty. We just barely fit all of our luggage in, and headed off, with the Garmin in charge. The first leg, to Montpelier, was riddled with stop and start traffic, that it was totally painful. What should have taken about one hour took well over two. But then we started really moving, about 160 km/h, and covering some ground, finally. 

We stopped at an awful highway restaurant and I saw an andouillette that looked good, since I was so famished. Waiting for the rest of the order, I started in the french fries. They do it best. Amazing. But the andouillette was truly horrific. Leo’s burger was pretty bad, too. But they had a salad bar with steamed leeks, roasted fennel, and other salads that made up for it.

Finally, at about 11 PM, we got to the house in Fayence that was lent to us by a friend of Christina’s. We really had no idea what to expect, and (writing from the porch, overlooking the hills of Provence) I’d have to say that I’m completely amazed by both the house, and the substantial, pretty, walkable hill town that’s a three minute walk away. We haven’t yet explored a ton, but we went to the Sunday market, bought tons of local foods, milled around, had some local wine, and just took in Provence. So far, so good.

No Responses to “Summer Vacation: Travel to Fayence, Provence, France”

No feedback yet.

Leave a Reply

Name Email Website URI