Hendaye – Bordeaux St Jean – Paris Montparnasse 1 Et 2 – St Malo

I walked across the border to catch my 08:10 train from Hendaye to Bordeaux. It was incredibly full, even 15 minutes before departure, so I was glad that my first class pass gave me access to a seat and a bit of space. As usual I headed to the front of the train to take a photo for the All the Trains page, and as I did so, noticed a number of SNCF staff staring and pointing at a pantograph on top of the train. I looked up and it looked quite normal to me. I took my photo, went to my seat and thought nothing of it.

Broken down train at Hendaye
Broken down train at Hendaye

Sure enough, ten minutes later, we were all being taken off the train and a spare was brought out of a siding. Unhelpfully it was two cars shorter than the one we’d got off, so whilst I still got a seat, it was more crowded.

We were about 10 minutes late out of Hendaye, and more or less the same into Bordeaux. I’d taken the early train specifically because I had a Teams meeting booked at 11am. In the absence of a quiet corner, I stuck my headphones on and did the call from the middle of the waiting area.

What I didn’t do until after the hour-long meeting was to check my next train. The plan was to go to Nantes, and look around Les Machines de l’île, run by some of the people involved with the iconic Sultan’s Elephant.

I’m getting quite used to it now. The journey is in my Interrail plan and activated, but I check the departure boards and its not there. I search online and it’s been cancelled by strikes. The alternative journeys are either cancelled or are not giving Interrail discounts. Time for another new plan.

There weren’t too many good options. The only services leaving the immediate area in the next few hours were going back to where I’d come from, to Toulouse or to Paris. I settled on the latter, and would use the time to decide what happens next.

I needed a reservation, but thankfully in France this can be done on the machines. As far as I could tell, there were no staff in the ticket office, presumably because of the strike, so I’m not sure what I would have done otherwise.

I had time for a proper look around at this lovely old station, and to find some lunch before my service departed.

At the start of the day, my thought had been to stay overnight in Nantes, then travel via Rennes to the port of Roscoff the following day. From there I’d cross to Plymouth by ferry. As well as being a part of France I’ve never seen it also avoided both Eurostar (insanely expensive over Easter weekend) and the ferries around Calais, where delays were being reported. Either of those options also would take me into London and the West Coast main line is closed at Watford and Lichfield all weekend, so despite the deviation Roscoff still felt like the best route.

When I looked into the detail, this became less appealing. I could get a train from Paris to Rennes, and from there to Morlaix. There is theoretically a train from there to Roscoff, but it is presently on a once a day bus replacement and the timing does not quite connect with the ferry, meaning almost a full day waiting in Roscoff. A better option was the direct train to St Malo, and ferry from there to Portsmouth.

I used the time at Montparnasse to catch up on work, do a few bits on this diary, and make a couple of phone calls.

Gare Montparnasse, Paris
Gare Montparnasse, Paris

The old walled town of St Malo is a good 20 minute walk from the station of the same name. I arrived well after dark but it was a mild night and it’s a place that doesn’t go to bed early so having dropped my bags at a lovely little hotel, I had a good look around.

Somewhat unexpectedly, I’d gone from the southern border to the coast of Brittany in a day. I think that I’ve ended up in the wrong town more times than the right one on this trip, but it was still a good day, and St Malo goes onto the “proper visit” list.