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My Experience booking French and Belgian train tickets -

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Back in 2002, I went online at sncf and booked TGV tickets (Paris-Arras) easily. Not so this time. Notwithstanding that we live in an era of computers and the EU, booking train tickets in Europe is becoming stupidly complicated for North Americans.
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to the man in seat 61 (he runs seat61.com) from whom I learned about capitainetraine dot com and much more.

Okay, now for our itinerary.

Origin: CDG airport (Paris, France)
Leg 1: CDG to Bruges, Belgium (TGV, InterCity including border crossing)
Leg 2. Bruges to Antwerp, Belgium (InterCity, no border crossing)
Leg 3. Antwerp to (Schiphol/Amsterdam), the Netherlands (THALYS, border crossing)

Leg 1. You can route Paris-Bruges via either Brussels or Lille. We chose Lille for various reasons (see below.) Paris-Lille will always be a TGV train (high speed train operated solely by French rail, sncf) and Paris-Brussels will be a TGV train if it originates in CDG, and a THALYS train if it originates in downtown Paris, i.e. Paris Gare du Nord (literally, north station.) Note you can connect Gare du Nord and CDG with the local "RER" train.

How we booked it: We booked and printed CDG-Lille using capitainetrain. We did not get a flag from our CC company when we did this (possibly because the amount was not large) but I ended up having to call our CC company anyway because of the fiasco with my attempt to buy the tickets on sncf (Got as far as punching in my CC details, hit the purchase button - and the site bombed. So I had to find out if the purchase somehow got debited from my CC account, even though of course I had no tickets. I also at the same time confirmed that the capitainetrain purchase was legit. Later on, when I used b-europe.com, I got an automated call from my CC bank, and had to follow up and explain that that too was a legit purchase.)

Important: if you are using capitainetrain to book a THALYS train, read the following:

https://help.capitainetrain.com/c4/q241/en/why-do-i-need-to-have-a-thalys-thecard-for-some-purchases.html

It explains that capitainetrain can only book 'collect at station' tickets for THALYS trains - UNLESS you sign up for a Thalys 'TheCard' (free) in which case you can get paperless tickets (Thalys brands it as Ticketless). This means your tickets are stored on your Thalys TheCard and you are sent an ticket confirmation email which you can use as a substitute ticket. (I think what happens is, you sign up for TheCard, get a number, make a first booking quoting that number, and then they send you TheCard. By snail mail. (

Oh, good grief. All the benefits of the modern age - providing you wait for 'TheCard' to arrive in North America by nineteenth-century snail mail first. I didn't go that route. It's a conspiracy, I tell you. But hardly capitainetrain's fault. Anyway, if you do go that route, be sure to read the above blog post if you want to use capitainetrain for Thalys tickets.
(to be continued)

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