September 4, 2011

Pyrenees Tour: Getting There, Trains

Picked my bike up in what was now a damaged box, and crossed my fingers. They remain twisted. Before leaving Blagnac (the airport in Toulouse) I went to the Air France information office.  The staff assured me that boxes for traveling bikes are always available for sale, a  big relief for my return home. Then I took the bike, in box, on the shuttle bus into town (5€) for both of us. It isn't far. Inquiring, at their ticket desk, I was told that bikes must be in boxes on the bus. No exceptions. This was predictable, so when I return to Toulouse my bike, Papillon, and I will be at the train station, and the box that I am required to have to get to the airport will be ... at the airport. The solution will wait.

In much of France, especially near larger cities, the train system is excellent, but it can be confusing to the uninitiated travelling with bikes. There are many different kinds of trains on French rail lines, with different price structures and regulations. I'm just starting to get the hang of it. It must be ok once you understand it because I often see cyclists and trains together.

In 2009 we used the TGV from Paris to Avignon. It does not allow bikes in boxes, only in bags. That story is in the Provence section of this site. Today the train ticket agent sold me a nonstop to Bayonne for 40€, leaving in about 2 hours. Then she took a closer look at my box and realized it was too big. She checked, and it turns out that particular Corail train also requires bags. I was not about to buy another expensive, bulky, heavy bag. So she put me on a TEOX train to Bordeaux and sold me a 10€ bike spot. The transfer in Bordeaux to Bayonne was on a TER, and they carry bikes for free. Both trains require that the bike be a bike, not a box, so I put it back together in the train station and threw out the cardboard. My fingers remain crossed until I ride it tomorrow, although I am happy to see no visible damage. It's always the rear derailleur that concerns me. I should probably learn to remove it for travel.

Cardboard boxes are hard to haul around, the handle slots rip quickly, and bikes often get damaged in them. There must be a better way and I suspect it is probably to buy a rigid box with wheels for pulling, always travel in and out of the same city, always spend the first and last night there, and always choose a hotel that will store the box. There are a lot of limitations there, limitations that seem overly constricting to me.

Stairs are hard to manage when traveling alone with a cycle, handlebar bag and panniers. My lesson is always rely on the kindness of strangers and my strategy is related: have faith in humanity. So I make two trips now at all staircases, one with the bike alone, the next with the panniers that are waiting for me on the ground at the bottom of the steps. And often today someone helped me, unasked, usually a young man sometimes also with a bike. This is also a good conversation starter. It was late in the afternoon when we arrived at this station, 31 hours since I'd left home. I got off here. It was  the wrong stop. Luckily for me, another train came along in fifteen minutes. I negotiated these steps twice, up and down both sides. It was a stupid mistake, but I understand how I made it. Comforting, somehow.

Who knew that butterfly bush thrives as a weed, often in the wasteland around train tracks?
I should be at Bayonne by about 7:00 (32 hours after leaving home,) stupidly tired, but not much worse for wear. I'm staying at La Cote Basque, which has mixed reviews on the web, but is close to the train station. That was the most important thing to me, on the chance that the box was still with me. I knew it would be hard to move that box anything more than a minimal distance.

I spend tomorrow exploring Bayonne, eating seafood, and riding over to Biarritz to put my toes in this side of the Atlantic. If it's as hot as today ... maybe I'll swim.



  1. Imagine my surprise when I read this blog and was greeted with a near-identical photo of Bordeaux station as what I took 10 years ago! It's in this blog post, taken a few meters away, I least that's what my imagination tells me. It WAS Bordeaux, right?

    Your travails with the trains brings back (most unpleasant) memories. I'm glad to hear that you made it in one piece, along with Papillon.

  2. Gerry, The platform photos were in Toulouse at Gare Montabiau. The steps were at a tiny station a two stops before Bayonne, where I got off by mistake!! So I had the enormous pleasure of negotiating those steps twice, the second time fast, to make the train. I did transfer in Bordeaux, but no photos. Just saw your comment this morning, I hope you see this.

  3. I'm sure that's the same station. Now that I think back on it (10 years is a long time) it WAS Toulouse, not Bordeaux, since we started the trip in Bordeaux. Anyway, i'm enjoying the blog articles. Hope you get over the Pyrenees!


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