Traveling by train from Aix-les-Bains, a thermal spa town in the eastern part of France, to Paris takes about four hours. But it took me a bit longer than that because of a misadventure that proved to be the biggest adventure of all in my trip.
View from the hotel room
I was supposed to travel with my friend from Myanmar who will be visiting her sister who lives in the City of Light. But her plans changed when her Europe-based friends picked her up from our hotel. They were taking a road trip to Barcelona from there. So I ended up traveling to Paris alone.
While I was initially anxious about going to Paris on my own, I felt confident enough since I was fairly well-prepared for it. I already booked my train ticket online and researched the route going to a friend's place once I get there. I also know where the train station in Aix-les-Bains was located. It was the first thing I checked soon after I arrived there.
Gare d'Aix-les-Bains-Le Revard
Inside Gare d'Aix-les-Bains-Le Revard
I made sure to be at the train station early on my scheduled departure from Aix-les-Bains. This gave me plenty of time to get the ticket I booked online from the train station’s service center. I also had to have the ticket validated using the validation machine located next to the station-to-platform doors.
It was the first time I would be traveling on a European train alone since I always traveled by train with a group or a friend in the past. I was not sure where the correct platform was so I asked someone who pointed to the opposite side of the tracks from where we both were standing. I hurriedly took the stairs going down to transfer to the other side.
I did not hesitate in boarding the train that stopped in front of me thinking that I was on the right platform. It was only when it left the train station that I realized that I may have made a mistake. I asked a young man seated in front of me where the train was headed and it was then that I found out that I took the wrong train. I went into full-blown panic mode for about a minute. Curiously, this was quickly followed by a numb feeling. It was like my brain took over completely and drowned out the fear. It turned out that the platform for the TGV train going to Paris was on the other side. I was in the right place the first time.
As the train conductor approached to check my boarding pass, I explained that I got on the wrong train. I asked him how I can get to my original destination. He started checking his mobile device for routes. He then wrote down detailed directions on how and where I can catch the train to Paris-Gare de Lyon emphasizing that I only have 10 minutes to catch that train in Bellegarde. And that it was the last one going to Paris that day. He also made a note on that piece of paper for the ticket inspector since I did not have a ticket for the trip to Culoz. He told me that I should get off at Culoz and get on the train headed to Geneva which will stop at Bellegarde.
The young man told me that he was disembarking at Culoz and that I could just go with him. He promised to assist me so I can continue with my journey to Bellegarde. After a few minutes, we finally arrived in Culoz.
I was alarmed when I saw that the ticket booth was deserted when we entered the station. The young man told me not to worry and offered to purchase a ticket to Bellegarde from the ticket machine. There were only a handful of people waiting inside the station among which was a couple who kindly volunteered to help me when the helpful teen left. The wife then told me to buy my ticket to Paris there. She said I will not have much time to do that when I get to Bellegarde. She also made sure that everything was ready and we waited a bit for the train to arrive. Thankfully, there was already someone in the ticket booth so I was able to buy a ticket. It cost me twice the amount I paid for the Aix-les-Bains to Paris ticket I purchased online.
It took 24 minutes to travel by train from Culoz to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine station. The couple assured me that they will let me know when we arrive there.
As the train slowed down to stop at Bellegarde, the woman stood up from where she was sitting and went with me to the door. She then pointed to where the platform for the TGV train was located, which was in a building several meters away. I was so grateful beyond words for the kindness she and her husband showed me. I felt like I could not thank them enough.
With less than 10 minutes to spare, I ran as fast as I could with my luggage in tow. I had to carry the same luggage down a flight of stairs then walk-run again for a few minutes. I climb to the elevated platform and got on the train which was already about to leave. I was still walking in one of the many coaches I had to pass through to get to my seat when the train started moving. Even as I was already settled in my seat, a part of my brain was still thinking if I was on the right train. But despite the niggling doubt, I was able to enjoy the scenery outside my window. I then received a call a few minutes before the train from Aix-les-Bains was due to arrive in Gare de Lyon. My friend told me that her husband along with a common friend was already at the station waiting for me. I told my friend that I will be arriving after 40 minutes and quickly explained what happened.
I felt a surge of intense relief when we finally arrived in Gare de Lyon. I loved the bustling station at first sight. There was something memorable about all those trains emptying a tide of people coming from different places. It made me wonder about their stories. I also liked the atmosphere. It felt like there was a sense of purpose in all that busyness. It was beautiful and organized chaos at its best.
Missing the TGV train from Aix-les-Bains was most stressful and inconvenient. Not to mention missing out on the free Wi-Fi which the TGV train from Bellegarde did not have. But it was hands-down one of my unforgettable travel adventures. It can be a bit scary getting lost when traveling alone. But once I get past the initial worries, I was able to pay more attention to everything that was going on around me. It was like I was more alert and mindful of my surroundings. And I got to meet the kindest strangers - the train conductor who took time to search for an alternative route for me, the young man on the train who helped me when we arrived in Culoz, and the couple who made sure that I catch the TGV train to Paris in time from Bellegarde. I might have missed the train I needed to be on, but my misadventure brought me to beautiful places where I met the kindest people and got to see more of France’s scenic views as I took different trains to finally reach Paris.