TGV = train à grand vitesse, the French high-speed train. 3-1/2 to 4 hours, Montpellier to Paris, or vice versa.
Why TGV when I’m booked on Air France all the way to Montpellier?
It’s mostly about the cat, Simon. Imported pets no longer are kept in quarantine, so long as they have a “pet passport,” which certifies that the pet is healthy, has recent rabies shots, and has the requisite 15-digit microchip. All of which is checked when I enter the country. Which means collecting luggage, going through inspection at customs, then going through security for the next leg. In my case, there’s a whopping one hour and fifteen minutes between scheduled arrival from SFO and scheduled departure to MPL. Despite what the nice lady at Air France (really Delta) said, that’s not enough time. Not going to happen. Certainly not when AF 083 (SFO > CDG) typically runs an hour late.
So, alternate plan: The next flight to Montpellier is much later in the day, and would put me into MPL near midnight. Therefore, I’ll skip the CDG > MPL leg on Air France — and by the way, buying a round trip ticket and using only one leg is still way cheaper than a one-way ticket, so I’m still ahead despite throwing away part of the ticket — and take the TGV from the airport (the station’s below Terminal 2) at roughly 14:00h and arrive in Montpellier about 18:00h. In comfort and style, with less stress on me and on Simon. That’s the theory anyway.
So, to buy a ticket on the TGV, I go to the SNCF website, English version at https://en.oui.sncf/en/, where I already created an account. Search for the train I want (after already scoping it out several times), click the button to pay 102€ for first class (that comfort and convenience thing again), check the box that says “sure, give me a senior discount card while we’re at it,” and oh, yes, please let me select my seat!!, then proceed to the payment page — already set up my no-foreign-transaction-fees Bank of America Visa card — and click the button that says “make it so.” The site says “we’re gonna check with your bank, so stand by.” And nothing happens. I think it’s a done deal. But there’s no confirmation, and no indication that there’s a reservation in process for my account.
Try that three times and conclude something’s not right.
Oh, and meanwhile, checked the rules for bringing Simon on board the train, which say sure, pet over 6 kilos in a carrier and has to buy a ticket, too, but you can’t do that online, so call us. Yeh, 10 minutes on hold after following a long phone-tree all in rapid French with no “for English press 2” option, I give up. I’ll deal with it at the station.
Oh, and, the buying-a-ticket process says I have to show my senior discount card along with my ticket on the train, so enter your discount card number here, but I don’t have it yet, I thought I was making that happen in the booking process, so something else is not. . . quite. . . right.
If you followed that SNCF in English link above, you might note a tiny little EU flag in the upper right corner. Click the dropdown, it says “Europe (other countries)” with a list of other European countries and “Rest of the world.” Click “Rest of the world” and I wind up here https://www.raileurope.com/. Which is where the rest of us can buy TGV tickets.
So, create another account, locate that same TGV trip, see a fare in US dollars that’s pretty close to the converted-from-Euros price, select that, pay with the DiscoverCard (because I can, and it’s in dollars not euros). And that process seems to work. Confirmation via email, booking shows up in my account. Click “detailed itinerary” and see that RailEurope has assigned me a seat without taking any input from me; fortunately, it’s what I would have asked for, single seat, lower level. Again, nothing about how to pay the fare for Simon, but again, I’ll sort that out at the station.
But there’s more to that story.
Poking around on The Man in Seat 61, I learn that, if I could make the French SNCF site work for me from California, I would be able to pay the cat fare when buying my ticket. . . but only on the French version, not the English version of the very same site. See the fine print at https://www.seat61.com/dogs-by-train.htm#France.
OK. I’ll pay for Simon at the station. I have my ticket, at least.