Lisa Munniksma

freelance writing, editing, farming, travel

Like cattle on trains

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I only got a porthole-sized view of western France thanks to my overbooked train.

I’m feeling a little like an NAIS-bar-coded cow hitching a ride on this train. I bought my ticket in Tours this morning to go to Rosporden via Le Mans. The three-hour train from Le Mans is overbooked, but unlike when a flight is overbooked, they don’t ask for volunteers to take another flight. They just stuff you in the train car, whether or not you have a seat.

I had 12 minutes to catch my connection in Le Mans, which is a connection time I’m comfortable with. I thought that with that amount of time, I could even find a seat—certainly there will be people boarding more last-minute than me. I didn’t plan on my first train to leave Tours 10 minutes late. I went into normal, impatient Lisa mode. Sometimes I forget that I’m not living my former on-schedule life. I had to take a moment: What’s the worst that happens if I miss a train today? Maybe I don’t make it to my little port village tonight, so I lose out on my first night’s hostel reservation. The hostel is inexpensive enough that I booked four nights actually figuring on not using one of them, so it’s not the end of the world if I don’t get there tonight. Maybe I end up staying in Le Mans for a few hours or overnight, so I could have some wine and see the city. Maybe this delay is going to send me to a different place that’s even cooler than the one I was expecting to see.

It turns out, I didn’t have to deal with these scenarios, because the train from Tours pulled in to Le Mans with three minutes to spare. I had my first experience running to catch a train saddled with both my rucksack and my backpack. It was not fun. I know I’m out of shape for the 10k hashes I’ve been doing, but now I’m really thankful I don’t have to do them with 35 pounds strapped on me. I had to find car No. 20, but I just dove into the first car I came to on the platform, which happened to be car No. 8. That left me to battle through 12 jam-packed cars of people—and when you are dressed like a battering ram (backpack on the front, rucksack on the back), making your way through a crowd really is battling.

Somewhere on my way to car No. 20, after the train already took off, I was intercepted by the ticket checker. He was upset because I didn’t get my ticket stamped by the machine. I have no idea what machine he’s talking about, and he actually appeared mad and wanted to see my passport. This was interesting: I’ve not been asked for my passport since I entered continental Europe on May 7. Moving between European countries is like moving between U.S. states–no one cares where you go. I’m really not sure why I got checked like livestock.

Without an assigned seat on an overbooked train, I got to sit in that little, noisy, un-air-conditioned cubby space between cars that is normally reserved for bicycles and luggage. I was looking forward to seeing western France through expansive train windows. Instead, I get a porthole-sized view. I do like what little I can see—right now, hills on one side, a valley on the other—and I’ll be looking at the sea soon.

Postscript: I wrote this while on the train but didn’t have WiFi so am posting it after. After writing this, a French Marine joined me in the cubby-hole section of the train; then six others joined us, which left everyone standing; then I finally got a real seat in the train car with about 11 minutes left in my journey.


One Comment

  1. The French have marines?? Very interesting.

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