At Gare de l’Est Train Station, Grace, Manny, Jandy, Cheska, Kyle and I boarded the 7:50 AM high-speed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse or “high-speed train) train bound for Stuttgart (Germany). One of the fastest high-speed trains in Europe and the pride of the French rail system (it is operated by SNCF – the French national rail network), the iconic TGV serves around 150 destinations across France, as well as a number of international destinations. Our 629.5-km. long journey to Stuttgart was to take about 3 hours and 40 mins., with stopovers at Strasbourg in France, and Karlsruhe, Ulm and Munich, all in Germany.
Much of the TGV service, recently redecorated (the interiors were said to have been designed by French fashion designer Christian Lacroix) and rejuvenated to provide comfortable and clean interiors. The service offers a range of train types plus three classes of travel available to passengers – Standard Class, First Class and TGV Pro (Business Class).
In First Class, passengers can choose to have Solo seats, which are single seats, which each facing the back of the one in front. Duo seats are available to all classes (two seats next to each other, facing the backs of the ones in front). Pairs of seats facing each other across a table are available in all classes, whilst first class also offers single seats facing each other. TGV Pro customers get the extra legroom as well as a welcome service on some services, as well as access to business lounges, dedicated carriages and travel packs.
We all rode First Class on a dual-level, TGX Duplex train, Grace, Cheska and Kyle in one coach (Coach 11) while Manny, Jandy and I stayed at the adjoining Coach 12. The TGX Duplex was first built in 1994 to increase TGV capacity without increasing train length or the number of trains. They weigh 380 ton and are 200 m. (660 ft.) long, 2.9 m. (9.5 ft.) wide and is made up of two power cars and eight carriages. They have a maximum speed of 320 kms./hr. (200 m./hr.).
Our carriage had two levels, with access doors at the lower level that took advantage of the low French platforms. All of us stayed on the upper level where the gangway between carriages is located. A staircase gave us access to the upper level. We were allowed to bring two bags or suitcases on board (unlimited weight), as well as one piece of hand luggage. Beat that low cost airlines!
Our carriage, with 512 seats (it also has a wheelchair accessible compartment), was very spacious and comfortable. We chose pairs of power-assisted seats facing each other across a table, with plenty of legroom, plus drop-down tables and access to electrical sockets for portable device charging. First Class and TGV Pro Class customers may choose to have their meal served at their seats, if travelling between Monday and Friday.
Since we travelled on a Monday, our meals were served at our seat. Our meal (croissant, omelet, jam, butter, coffee, Tropicana orange juice, yoghurt, etc.), which showcase local cuisine, was tasty and balanced. Everyone also has access to a buffet car which serves hot and cold food, as well as drinks. There are also vending machines for snack purchases.
If there is one word to describe the TGV, it is “Fast!” The TGV train is a world speed record holder. It zips from city to city at up to 322 kms./hr. (201 mph), sweeping you from Paris to Saarbrücken in under 2 hours, to Mannheim in 3 hours 15 minutes, and to Frankfurt in under 4 hours.
This high-speed French network, with Paris as its hub, offers passengers the chance to travel anywhere within the country in a matter of hours, making it an attractive alternative to the plane. The service was fast, efficient, comfortable, reliable and cheap (Paris to Stuttgart or Munich fares start from €25 single if booked in advance, closer to the day of travel, this rises to more like €80 each way).