After a quick breakfast, I had a morning free before catching the TGV to La Rochelle. No time to relax though as I had an assignment.
Prior to arriving in France, we had bought a wifi dongle device as experience last year was that using our phones for Internet while in France was not really viable. I had established the night before that while Orange had several shops in central Paris, few were open on Sundays. The only viable store, timing wise, was at La Defense. This store opened at 11 and even with some time to buy the required mobile data sim, would allow me time to get back to Montparnasse station to catch the TGV south. The RATP website told me that it would take 30 minutes to get to La Defense from the Metro station close to my hotel.
Paris Metro Ligne 6 was a surprise as, soon after leaving Montparnasse station, it emerges from tunnel and passes through Paris on viaducts through the streets. In fact, you get a great view of Paris architecture and of the Eiffel Tower. The Seine is crossed on a bridge before the line descends back into tunnel as it gets close to its terminus around the Arc de Triomphe.
When I reached the shopping centre at La Defense, I soon found the Orange shop. Unfortunately the shop was closed. Despite the Orange website’s information, it clearly didn’t open on a Sunday – there were no signs of life inside. This was a major blow as there was no chance to get to any other Orange store and back to Montparnasse before my train left some 2 hours later. So, after using my new camera to take some picures of La Defense, which I’d last visited around 19 years ago, it was time to retrace my steps back to Montparnasse.
My trip to La Rochelle was a repeat of one I’d made almost exactly a year previously when joining my brother and family on Ile d’Oleron, so I knew my way around Montparnasse and knew that it was worth getting food before boarding. British railway catering may have a bad image but it beats TGV catering hands-down. In fact First Class travel on TGV is just more comfortable than 2nd class – there are none of the benefits like wifi, free food or at-seat service that you get on East Coast etc. that said, the First Class fares are generally only slightly higher than in Standard.
The countryside south of Paris is fairly flat and mostly arable farming. A few industrial sites are noticeable and Poitiers is an interesting sight – the biggest station that is served by the La Rochelle service. The train was busy, even in First Class, my seat was an aisle seat so the ability to window-gaze was limited.
At La Rochelle, I knew that an express bus met the TGV to take passengers to île de Ré and sure enough there was a crowd milling around by some bus stops in the station car park. Shortly after, two smart buses arrived and passengers placed their luggage in the side lockers before boarding. The journey was quite short and so within 40 minutes or so (after some confusion with my brother about exactly where I had got off the bus), I was enjoying a cold beer with him, his partner and my nephew in their holiday apartment.