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Train within France and to Belgium & General Timing Help

Train within France and to Belgium & General Timing Help

Dec 4th, 2015, 05:04 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2015
Posts: 86
Train within France and to Belgium & General Timing Help

Planning our honeymoon for August, 16 days including travel time to/from Toronto. Have had help in other topics as well, but am still stuck. Will likely have many more questions.

So far, itinerary is looking like

Aug 5-10 Paris (day trips to Reims and Versailles)
Aug 10-12 Loire Valley (likely based in Amboise)
Aug 12-15 Dijon (or Beaune? - we are trying to make this decision and finding it difficult)
Aug 15-17 Strasbourg (loved the idea of Colmar but seems difficult without a car)
Aug 17-20 Bruges (day trips to Ghent and Brussels?) (trying to get flight home from Brussels)

On a map, it looks like a nice journey from Loire to Belgium, but I'm having a hard time logistically. We would REALLY like to see all 5 places, but are worried there's not enough time, I thought about cutting out the Loire Valley but we want to see the castles, although we really only want to see 2-3, which is why I figure we don't need a ton of time there. If we were determined to visit all 5, would this be an appropriate amount of days to allot to each? We did recently do 7 cities in the same amount of time in Italy, so we do have a taste for moving around.

My main concern is trains. Whenever I search, I keep getting connections through Paris which seems counterproductive. We are willing to rent a car within the Loire to see castles, but would prefer not to the rest of the trip if possible.

And - can we get from Strasbourg to Belgium easily? It looks like the answer is no, but I am finding the website confusing.

Thanks in advance for all of the help you keep providing!
alexandrak is offline  
Dec 4th, 2015, 05:22 PM
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Well you say you have 16 days including travel to and from Toronto - but you list 16 days AT places - which would mean a total of 19 days including to and from Toronto.

Also you are counting several days 3 times each. For instance day 10 is counted as being in Paris and getting to the Loire and also BEING in the Loire. It can't be all 3. If you travel early in the am or in the evening it can be two - but no way all 3. If you travel in the middle of the day you won;t have time for much except getting to your new hotel.

As I read it you have

Paris - 4.5 days with the first half being jet-lagged (and you want to take 2 day trips
Loire - 1.5 days
Dijon - 2.5 days
Strasbourg - 2 days
Belgium - 1.5 days (assuming you fly home on the 20th)

You really need to clarify this to see what time you have where.

Lay out each day, show where you will wake, what travel you will do (with train time plus 1.5 hours to and from hotels) and where you will sleep. Go to bahn.de to get train schedules (exact times won't be the same as next year but the elapsed time will)

Frankly I think you need to cut something to give yourself enough time to see anything in several of these places.

Once you do that - or if you need help deciding between 2 places - come back and people can chime in.
nytraveler is offline  
Dec 4th, 2015, 05:34 PM
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Well, no. We leave Toronto on the 4th and will arrive on the 5th in Paris early morning. And would leave Belgium on the 20th, yes.

And as I would have it on a calendar, if I am waking up in Paris on the 10th, and arriving in Loire Valley on the 10th, then yes, I am in both cities on the 10th. That's just how I write things out. I didn't say I was spending all those days in full, just giving an example of my thoughts, so that this post was not 4 pages long.

I do understand that we would arrive in the Loire Valley in the late afternoon, have an evening, one full day and then leave the following morning.

Really I'm asking about trains here and general opinions.
alexandrak is offline  
Dec 4th, 2015, 05:51 PM
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I presume you travel mostly by car at home? Car drivers tend to equate distance as a proxy for time. This does not apply to trains. If the travel time is your interest, look at the travel time, not the routing or distances. These are car travel concepts.
greg is offline  
Dec 4th, 2015, 05:54 PM
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Your itinerary looks a little ambitious as you'll probably lose 1/2 day travelling between the destinations, which won't leave much time in each place. Hubby and I don't mind moving around either but would find the above a bit of a stretch.

Perhaps have a think about what you want to see in each place and which ones are a "must" and ones you could possibly see on your next trip. It doesn't look like the trip from Strasbourg to Belgium is going to be easy either.

I haven't been to the Liore or Strasbourg (though both were on our initial list) we ended up in Burgundy (based in Autun) and visited lots of beautiful chateaus, so this may be a compromise for not seeing the castles in Liore. You mentioned you'd prefer trains but hiring a car will make driving the countryside a little easier. We found driving in the France countryside relatively easy (and very beautiful). Their country roads are better than some of our city roads here in Australia. We didn't make it to Dijon but Beaune was gorgeous.

Also if you're only in Belgium for a few nights and want to fly out of Brussels then perhaps Brussels is a better base. We were also there last year and while IMO not as beautiful as Brugge its a good base for day trips.

My other suggestion would be to consider going straight to the Liore or Strasbourg (if you decide to do these) when you land. Travel around and then go to Paris and on to Belgium.

Good luck, it's never easy trying to decide where to go and what you can fit it.
rellie2 is offline  
Dec 4th, 2015, 08:29 PM
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There are trains from Strasbourg to Brussels - I have travelled on it.
There are day trips by bus out of Strasbourg so maybe one to Colmar.
You might be better to stay in Brussels and do your day trips to Bruges and Ghent from there.
northie is offline  
Dec 4th, 2015, 09:41 PM
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There are trains between Strasbourg and Colmar. They take half an hour.

Where are you looking at trains??? You need start with bahn.de - it has schedules for all European trains. You will find seat61.com useful, too.

Your best bet for Strasbourg to Brussels is to leave Strasbourg at 7:50, change in Luxembourg, and arrive in Brussels at 13:22.
thursdaysd is offline  
Dec 5th, 2015, 12:13 AM
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Be aware of the national holiday on August 15; some sites may be closed.

If your flight home from Brussels is late in the day, it's not a problem at all to stay in Brugge. Or Gent.
Tulips is offline  
Dec 5th, 2015, 12:24 AM
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I took Strasbourg-Bruxelles last week (or the week before).
You're right that most trains (fast trains, that is) go via Paris.

I did Strabsourg-Marne la Vallée and Marne - Bruxelles.
You may even wan to stop at Marne and visit the park... (my connectoin time was 30 min, so I just had time to buy something for my daughter - she loved it )

It took me something like 4,5 hours - same as if I'd been via Paris actually : Strasbourg - Paris gare de l'Est : about 2 hours 15 min, Paris Gare du Nord -> Bxl (Thalys) : 1h 15, 10 min on foot from gare de l'Est to gare du Nord.

There are 2 good reasons for this :
- historical : Paris is the center of France, thus of the world, so everything starts and ends in Paris.
- economically : if Paris is still the decision center of most french groups, of the politics it is also a city with more than 10 millions people, who travel frequently.

Routes to and from Paris are the most frequented, thus the more bankable.

Also don't forget that travel time is from center to center, so once you arrive in Bxl, for example, you are in gare du Midi, jump in any train that goes to Bruxelles Central, and sleep there (you're 5 min on foot from 'la grand place' de Bruxelles, which is totally amazing.
You're 10 min from 'le Sablon', a beautiful square and churches, etc.

TGV trains go on sale 3-4 months before travel time (check) and are sold on SNCF.COM, lots of US people prefer capitainetrain.com (never used), and Thalys go on sales 3 months before travel time on thalys.com.
pariswat is offline  
Dec 5th, 2015, 12:34 AM
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I'm also concerned by your timing.
Especially the Loire leg : if you leave Paris on 10 (morning) you'll probably be in Amboise min at noon.
You want to leave for Dijon on 12, so you have 1,5 days.
Time for 2 castles.

Then it leaves you 'only' 4 days in Paris, minus one for Versailles (I'd recommend Vaux le Vicomte, equallly beautfiull, less crowded) and minus one for Reims = 2 days in Paris, too short Imho.

Perso I would drop Dijon - but that's me. Then you can allocate these days to Loire without damaging Paris.

But it is you call. If you go to Loire, I'd llok into booking a car - we did the Loire with a car (well, we did all of Franvce with a car) and it is very convenient - going via trains will defintely cost in time.

Enjoy your trip.
pariswat is offline  
Dec 5th, 2015, 06:49 AM
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It is normal in countries that certain cities act as hubs for the rail system, they can't have rail lines all over the place, so they tend to go out in spokes from one central city. In France, Paris fills that purpose and is the hub for many routes in the northern part of the country.

I don't really know what route you would want that would not go through Paris and that is you only choice, though. If you expect to get between Loire and Dijon or Strasbourg without going through Paris, not gonna happen. At least not efficiently, it could be done but would take longer.
Christina is offline  
Dec 5th, 2015, 07:52 AM
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Thank you all for the advice. I feel like I am spending every waking minute researching, changing my mind, and feeling confused. I want to see it all!

Maybe it would make more sense to rent a car when leaving Paris and then do a loop back to Paris before taking the train to Belgium. I think I just figured that the high speed train would be faster, but this was without factoring in connection times etc. I had assumed that I could take the train from one big city to another without going North through Paris, that may be something for me to look into.

I wish we had more time... we have SO many places we want to travel and have narrowed France down into "sections" for different trips, and Loire, Bergundy and Alsace are all within this one. It's more important to me to see natural beauty and eat delicious food, and I know that the Loire isn't as "beautiful", but my fiance really wants to see a couple of castles and in researching I haven't come across any as spectacular in the Loire Valley.

Bergundy just seems so quintessential France, and we love wine. And this is likely our only opportunity to see the Alsace region, which looks absolutely gorgeous and I love that the food and culture will seem so much different than the first week.

I guess, posting, I knew I'd have to cut it down a bit (or find a way to extend our trip), but was hoping someone could come up with a magical solution.

Just out of curiousity, (and I know many of you think you should spend a week in each place, but we are generally fine with a few days) how many days would we need to add on to make this feasible?
alexandrak is offline  
Dec 5th, 2015, 08:04 AM
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Between the Loire Valley, Dijon/Beaune, and Strasbourg/Colmar, for first time France visitors and possible our only opportunity to see the three, which would you suggest if we could only pick two, given that our interests are general exploring and wandering (one or two museums per trip is enough for me), inspiring grandiose architecture, natural beauty in the landscape, and food food food?
alexandrak is offline  
Dec 5th, 2015, 08:10 AM
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Pariswat - you said skip Bergundy. Why that, of the three?
alexandrak is offline  
Dec 5th, 2015, 08:19 AM
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All three areas, Loire, Alsace and Burgundy have great wines, the Loire is actually 1000km long so you are looking basically at a shortish section, which is fine, with extra-chateau.

A possible solution:

If I had a limited time I'd grab Google maps and have a look at the the wine growing areas of Chablis/Auxerre/Sancerre for a bit of a stop, then you can do a day trip down to Beaune. Very pretty bunch of monestries/churches and castles there. You'd need a car and then drive over to Alsace for your other stop.
bilboburgler is online now  
Dec 5th, 2015, 08:36 AM
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Or (just thinking out loud) are there impressive castles near Paris that would be worthy of substituting for the Loire Valley? Pierrefonds, perhaps? Any others?
alexandrak is offline  
Dec 5th, 2015, 09:08 AM
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The Louvre is a castle. In Paris there is the Château de Vincennes. There are also Pierrefonds and Fontainebleau and a castle in Auvers-sur-Oise.

At present, your plan as I understand it is too all over the place. For starters, 5 days in Paris with two full-day trips outside the city doesn't leave you much time at all for the myriad things Paris has to offer.

Colmar isn't difficult at all to get to from Strasbourg - it's a half-hour train ride.

Frankly, I'd leave Belgium for another trip.
StCirq is offline  
Dec 5th, 2015, 09:23 AM
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You can fly from Strasbourg to Brussels on Brussels Airlines. The flight takes an hour.

I have read that a direct TGV between Brussels and Strasbourg is planned, don't know from when.

There are currently special trains between Brussels and Strasbourg, but alas these are only for the bureaucrats who work for the EU, paid for by the taxpayer.
Tulips is offline  
Dec 5th, 2015, 09:54 AM
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>>> I think I just figured that the high speed train would be faster, but this was without factoring in connection times etc. I had assumed that I could take the train from one big city to another without going North through Paris, that may be something for me to look into. <<<

I think you are still in a car-centric thinking.

The high speed trains through Pairs are usually faster even including the connection times. The train router default is to show the fastest connection. The route looks bizarre to those who only travel by cars, but it makes perfect sense if the interest is the shortest travel time.

The high speed train routes are built radially from large cities like spider webs. The segments connected these main trunks are less frequent slow going local trains. If you try to transverse the country over long distance, but not in radial direction to/from large cities like Paris, you will find that the route becomes devilishly complicated and slow at the same time. Because the passenger traffic for this type of travel is not mainstream, they don't attempt to make optimal schedules for travels squirting large cities.
greg is offline  
Dec 5th, 2015, 10:51 AM
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If you land on the 5th you will have 2.5 days for Paris, with the first day jet-lagged. Then you have 3 days trips from Paris. Versailles makes sense since it is only 30 minutes on the train. Reims really doesn't - versus a 3rd day in Paris.

Not sure where you want to go in the Loire - but to get from there to Dijon by train will take you back through Paris (look at the train system in france as hub and spokes with Paris in the center). You can take local trains within the same area but where you are going from the west and a little south of Paris to the east of Paris you will be going back through it.

We did similar by car - but we had much more time. Spent 6 nights in the Loire (a private chateaux near Chinon) and drove from there to Avalon (not far from Dijon) to spend a couple of days and then on to Strasbourg for 4 nights, dropping the car after we saw Colmar and the wine road from Strasbourg - and then took the train on to Rome.

If you don;t want to go back and forth through Paris by train (not sure why it matters - it's really the elapsed time that matters) you might want to rent a car instead if you would be comfortable driving under French rules. BUT it worked for us since we had much more time. With your schedule it might well be too much driving. for info on driving routes and times you have to look at viamichelin.com. Has info for all of europe. As bahn.de has for trains all over europe.

One note is that the Loire is much easier to see by car since many of the chateaux are in the deep countryside and not easily reached by public transit - so really need a car or to join a van tour to see much in limited time. Part of this depends on which chateaux you want to see and where you decide to stay. Since we stayed in a private chateau a car was a necessity - as well as the fact that we wanted to see a number of them as well as at least one son et lumiere performance in the evening.

If you leave Paris early on the 10th by train you can get to wherever you are staying in the Loire - but what you can see the rest of that day depends on where you stay. If in Amboise (a cute town) you can get there early enough to see the Amboise chateau and probably also the Da Vinci manor house in town. The next day if you want to see another chateau or a winery you will probably need to sign up for a tour.

So I think you need to do some more research and make some decisions before you can decide how much you want to push - or give up - to get to every place on your list.
nytraveler is offline  

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