Quelle difference

The TGV Lyria train makes the trip to Switzerland is just about three hours. If you buy your tickets in advance, first-class seats aren’t that much more expensive than regular fares (sometimes the difference is little as €5) and as a friend said to me, “Since I don’t use drugs, I spend the extra money on first-class train tickets.”

tgv food

Lest you think first-class is elitist, I often go second-class. The good thing about first is that the seats have electric outlets, which is great for getting work done. As in, all the 119 pictures you saw on the Swiss posts I processed on the train ride home. Plus there isn’t the usual “seating scrum” that happens in second class trains in France where it’s not surprising to board the train and find someone in your reserved seat. Then the process is you go sit in another seat. And when that person comes, they go find another seat. I always want to say, “Why doesn’t everyone sit where they are supposed to sit?” But Romain tells me, “C’est comme ça. You don’t understand.” And you know what? He’s right.

Aside from having a seat with an electric outlet, and even better—no one in it—when I looked at my ticket it said “Meal Included.”

Expecting to be tossed a roll in a plastic bag and a paper cup of acrid coffee that was probably sitting on the burner all night, I was pleasantly surprised on our way to Switzerland when the attendants came rolling down the aisle with a meal cart, pre-arranged in Switzerland, and set a beautiful breakfast tray in front of every passenger.

I was about to eat my words, thinking, “Wow, this isn’t bad. Maybe I was wrong about the food on French trains. I should go back and update that post.”

On the way back from my trip, the train pulled into the station and the passengers unloaded. Because it was late (which I’m not sure was the fault of the Swiss, whose trains are so accurate they apologize if they’re thirty seconds late), we scrambled to get on. There was trash everywhere and the train was a mess. My traveling companion, who makes frequents trips around the world, from India to Romania – and even to the wilds of New York City – described it as “squalid.”

But at least we got a meal.


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  • Of all the flights and trains I’ve been on I love the meals provided in first class on VIA rail trains, and Air France has the BEST meals and snacks. Baguettes and brie and Mere Poulard cookies? Yes please!

  • April 15, 2011 3:31pm

    The only train I have riden on did not include the meal with the ticket. You had to make your way to the, what I will call “fast food car”, and order your greasy, prepackaged sandwich or pizza, and then return to your seat to eat and wait for the indigestion to arrive.


  • April 15, 2011 3:33pm

    What’s wrong with getting better service if you pay more? Not elitist. Just a different way of spending money.

    The best plane meal I ever got was on Swissair. It was years and years ago, so I don’t remember what they served, but I remember it was fabulous – and it was for a short flight, too. (Maybe that’s why they went bankrupt?)

    The thing I remember most and still wonder why other airlines have not adopted is that when the tray table was upright and locked, there was a little drink holder that folded out of the visible part of the tray. It made so much sense: you didn’t have to have your tray down to have a place to put your drink. I have not seen this device on any other airline, which makes me question whether aircraft designers actually fly. They probably do and they probably put all kinds of cool things on the planes, but then the finance people take them out.

  • April 15, 2011 3:34pm

    Funny website with pictures of all airplane meals all over the world.

  • April 15, 2011 3:38pm

    Oh! And about the person in your reserved seat? What is it about latin culture and respect for place? I had been living in Chile for about a year when I finally lost patience with people always cutting in line. (My Chilean friend was quite calm about it, saying that “Maybe they were in a hurry.” Right. As if I was not?)

    I was trying to buy a subway ticket in Santiago and people kept cutting. I finally steeled myself and told the man who was cutting in front of me, “Excuse me but I am the next in the ass to buy the ticket.” Because I was mixing up the slang for ass, “cola,” for “fila,” which is the formal word for line but “cola” is also slang for “line” in some countries, as in the countries where I had learned Spanish. Not in Chile, though. Nope. In Chile, “pico” is slang for “penis” whereas everywhere else, as in the places I had learned Spanish, it’s just a regular word.

    Back to the ticket line. I continued to the startled man cutting line: “I do not wish to make a fight with you but I am the next in the ass to buy the ticket.”

    He stepped aside. I bought my ticket. I was very very proud.

  • April 15, 2011 3:43pm

    European trains really are so hit and miss, I find – I’ve had great experiences (clean, plenty of seats) and horrendous (junkies shooting up between carriages, very late). Being Japanese (awesome trains!), I find it all rather offputting.

  • April 15, 2011 3:55pm

    Wow – if it’s not yours, don’t try to remain in a reserved seat on an ICE train in Germany – you will be told where to go!

  • April 15, 2011 4:24pm

    You really should see the state of the on-board train meals when taking VIA1 (first class) in Canada. Then again, it’s somewhat amazing when you think about how many passengers are being fed hot meals, the fact they are given options, everything from this tiny little galley at the end of the train car.

    I’m not trying to pimp my blog, but we wrote about the food here, with photos: http://www.foodieprints.com/item/3260#via1

  • April 15, 2011 4:25pm

    We bought first class TGV tickets from Paris to Beziers a couple of years ago because they were only a few euros more, but honestly, besides being able to plug in our laptop, I didn’t find it very special. We weren’t served any food (luckily I had the forethought to make sandwiches with pain Poilane and brought wine and plastic cups) and the car was so dated and ugly in it’s orange and brown decor. Not sure if I would bother again. But your first class experience sounded lovely!

  • suedoise
    April 15, 2011 4:38pm

    are you really connected to the internet when in first class on the TGV train?
    Or is this a privilege when travelling first class Swiss TGV?
    In second class there are electric outlets but no internet.

  • April 15, 2011 4:40pm

    I too use very often the TGV to Switzerland and haven’t puzzled out the question of ‘when do you get a meal’ and when not…. Often I too add some €5 to my 2nd class ticket and have the pleasure of 1st class; well invested money.
    On the funny side of people occupying your seat, I have met one of the most charming, interesting and fascinating man due to a double booking on the same seat, on the same train – only HIS reservation was for the same day a month later and he didn’t realise it! Since we also were the first two people on the TGV in that 1st class coach, we had a lot to laugh about and discuss. Later on, and even before the train left Paris, people came and gradually took over all the ‘double seatings’ we were occupying and leaving because we wanted to talk a bit more… so in the end, we both stood in the bar-wagon and then searched for two empty seats in another 1st class coach. We are still in contact and look forward to visit each other in the future. This guy even lives partially in the same neighbourhood I lived at one time – how big are chances to meet up in Paris in a TGV!!! So before complaining have a closer look at your ticket and maybe settle for a natter… :)

  • John J
    April 15, 2011 4:41pm

    Oh… Now I understand why I got such a negative reaction when I evicted someone from my second-class seat a few years ago!

  • April 15, 2011 4:53pm

    Vive la France! Air France and TGV are the best – hands down! I’m jealous that I’m not on a train now. We just had a horrendous experience on the train from Naples to Rome. Disgusting! David, do you ever fly EasyJet or Ryanair when you travel?

  • April 15, 2011 4:58pm

    Don’t see what would make being in first class elitist. Taking the TGV instead of driving could seem to be equally so to some sour puss types. Ah, the power of a meal. I recall hauling 120 squabbling adolescents up a mountain on a walking trip who became remarkably at peace once they were told they could dig into their brown bags at lunch after we’d reached the top. I’d take your trip any day!

  • Susan
    April 15, 2011 5:34pm

    Suedoise: I’ve only had internet on the Thalys between France and Belgium — I once boarded a Lyria expecting to be able to connect and was disappointed; also no access between France and Germany or just within France. On the Thalys the connection is included in first class and available for purchase in second.

  • April 15, 2011 5:42pm

    It’s really so basic… we want good food. So much else could be forgiven if the food is good. Hello airlines are you listening?

  • Linda H
    April 15, 2011 5:47pm

    I’ve actually had a reasonably pleasant experience with Amtrak in the US on the California Zephyr, which I had not expected. The train was clean, the food basic but decent, and the wait person in the dining car helpful about avoiding the less prudent choices from the menu. When I ordered scrambled eggs for breakfast, she said, “I wouldn’t do that, honey.”
    I haven’t traveled on the TGV, but seeing one from a paralleling road leave a station at night and accelerate away into the night as only a streak of lighted windows was a pretty sight.

  • April 15, 2011 5:50pm

    Brings back memories of some rough traveling days, packed like pickles into cars the size of soupcans with assorted chickens and goats and crossing lunar terrains with elbows wedged into ears and feet buried under the weight of sacrificial goats. But taking my first train into France was the most memorable; hadn’t had a thing to eat for twelve hours, not so much as the crumb of a croissant being hawked, when I spied a raw ear of corn left behind on the luggage rack. To this day, everytime I see a lone ear of corn I feel joy.

  • April 15, 2011 5:54pm

    The Renfe trains in Spain are good. I have not heard any bad reports about them at all. In First Class on major routes, not only can you be served food but the seats recline and have video screens. Doubt they have internet access, the spanish are not heavily into that really just yet!

  • April 15, 2011 6:15pm

    I have to respectfully disagree with the first comment. The best airline food ever is on Indian Airlines and Air India. That’s probably because flying is still a big deal in India, and passengers get treated pretty respectfully, and this includes good food, I guess! The best chicken tikka I tasted was on one such flight.

    Don’t even get me started on the train food in England… though at least economy class have electrical outlets there. And I have no trouble turfing out people sitting in my seat, I have travelled way too long in India to be polite in England :-)

  • April 15, 2011 6:20pm

    Oh, but I also meant to add – Air France does have the BEST alcohol on board :-) Thanks to the steward taking a shine to me (eyelash batting has its advantages) I left the flight with a stash of champagnes, wines and cognac :-)

  • April 15, 2011 6:20pm
    David Lebovitz

    Kristin: No one takes the trains in France for the food (believe me!) and I was surprised when I saw that croissant, until someone from the train line confirmed the catering was Swiss. But I do find the trains to be usually in pretty good shape and first class often has amenities like wider seats and outlets.

    sandra: I took a train in Italy and they actually served hot food, delivered to your seat. It’s sad that the French train system is more interested in serving sandwiches wrapped in plastic than highlighting some of the great culinary talent in this country. It’s really not that hard to make a ham and cheese sandwich on a fresh baguette (which is what I usually bring), but how interesting it would be to have some of the young chefs create inexpensive box lunches they could sell on the trains to passengers. I would certainly buy one.

    Crissy: I would rather have oral surgery without anesthesia than take RyanAir. They still owe me for an airport van trip out to the airport that I paid for, but never received so I had to pay twice. I don’t mind their “No customer service” – but at least offer people a refund if they pay for something and never get it.

    kellypea + class factorum: I added that because of the number of people who comb through the posts, word-by-word, looking for something to jump on to. (I don’t know why that is, but a number of people have asked me the same question.) So I try to hedge my bets around here ; )

    I remember when they had first-class métro cars in Paris, too. I usually go for second-class, but when the price is similar, or close, I spring for the extra.

  • Max
    April 15, 2011 6:31pm

    Your incoming TGV must have picked up the delay in France, considering their 80% punctuality (punctual means less than 15 minutes late for trip lengths greater than 3 hours).

    If I remember correctly, the “included meal in first class” depends on the time of the day, and is specific to the Lyria services between Paris and Lausanne/Bern/Zürich (with Genève, I am not sure).

    About seats taken: As a reservation is mandatory on a TGV, there should be no more passengers than seats. Therefore, you will have a seat; maybe not the one printed on your reservation, but still…

  • April 15, 2011 6:35pm
    David Lebovitz

    Hi Max: I think all the Lyria trains have meals, since it said “Meal included” on each ticket, in both directions. The trains in France used to be so efficient and punctual that it’s unfortunate that they’re slipping.

    It’s such a great way to get around and they were always on time, but the past few trips they’ve been really late and on a recent one with a French friend (who now lives in New York City), he went ballistic when our train was 20 mins late arriving. He was really surprised. Yes, they seem to be having some problems lately, and not just with the food service..

  • April 15, 2011 7:04pm

    My French friends always marvel at the orderly lines here in the states when they visit. They are awed into following suit.

    And to echo another comment above, best meal I’ve ever had traveling was business class on Air France, LA to Paris. Diner comprised of 4 surprisingly good courses, choice of desserts, half dozen bottle wine list, and then there was the espresso bar open most of the flight, champagne with breakfast… Of course the price tag for the ticket reflected the perks.

  • Leslie
    April 15, 2011 7:20pm

    London to Edinburgh — first class, there is a hot breakfast offered — or everyone’s favorite, a bacon sandwich. Then a menu for the lovely lunch service with actually nice food, including a great smoked salmon plate and nice wine.

  • Max
    April 15, 2011 7:23pm

    It may sound paradox, but of the major European railway operators, the SNCF was among the first to abandon dining cars in domestic services (probably after BR), and offer reduced service. Internationally, it remained a little bit longer.

    As “fancy” or “sexy” TGV sounds, it was the TGV which killed eating culture on French trains. Internationally, it happened when the TEE trains got replaced by Eurocities, and then TGVs. But that happened Europe-wide.

    Legendary is the TEE Gottardo from Milano to Zürich, where you booked for the second serving in the dining car, went there early for a cocktail at the bar, and then got stuck until about Zug (about 20 minutes before Zürich) when the crew kicked you out so that they could clean up.

    And nowadays, there are only very few places where you have classic dining in regular operation in Europe, where they actually cook your meals.

  • April 15, 2011 8:41pm

    haha my favorite part of this post is your friend’s comment about using his drug money for first class train tickets. that is a good way of looking at things, i think i will adopt it.

  • Norine
    April 15, 2011 9:10pm

    So, is the quality of care dependent on the destination? I am soooo confused.

  • April 15, 2011 9:22pm

    I love cultures to love food. I try to always fly Hawaiian air because they know polynesians love their food and they always serve us a full on meal.

  • kips
    April 15, 2011 11:01pm

    I HAVE AN URGENT QUESTION FOR YOU, DAVID. Please excuse the caps, I was just trying to get your attention. First, THANK YOU for your awesome blog; I read every post, no matter how it hurts me. Second, my question: did you happen to notice what kind of coffee was served on your train? I’ve recently decided to stop drinking just OK coffee and find my ideal, and I can’t escape the fact that my point of reference, my platonic cup of coffee, was one I had on a Swiss sleeper from Paris to Venice in 199? I realize they may not still be serving the same kind, or that you may have traveled a different train line, or that it’s now 2011, but who knows?
    And yes, I have tried googling it…

  • Susan H
    April 16, 2011 1:02am

    We went first class by train from Madrid to Seville and lunch was delicious. There were only five people in the car, but the service was excellent and friendly too. Almost like planes used to be back when…I was young, and you weren’t born.

    We had a good meal on the sleeper from Paris to Venice too, 1998 ?? All I recall is my children sipping champagne at the ripe ages of 16 and 14. They really liked dinner too…

  • April 16, 2011 3:38am

    The price difference on the TGV to go first-class is often minimal, and it really is so much nicer! The “quiet zones” on the TGV from Nice to Paris are awesome for getting work done and squeezing in a nap. And the food on the Eurostar in first-class was much, much better than the coach car! Totally worth it, I’d say.

  • April 16, 2011 4:28am

    I spent the day making chocolate truffles with friends and then took a quick trip to Switzerland via your flickr 119 photos. What Fun! Thank you

  • April 16, 2011 8:20am

    Cool! I thought I was the ONLY one who used that “no drugs” excuse for indulging…
    I have to get my booty on the TGV… 3 hours is too short not to visit my favorite city. We’re hopping the boat today to go to the other side of the lake to Yvoire. Since being here in CH I’ve gone through “I hate it here” to “it’s not so bad” and now? Totally in love with living here. I find the Swiss do so much with good taste and elegance.Even their self-serve car-washes are so well done, you could do them in an evening gown and not get dirty. It’s becoming much easier to trade in American “bigger, faster, 24-7” values for “quieter, elegant and jaw-dropping awe.”

  • April 16, 2011 9:27am

    Train travel is not huge here in Oz – mostly because it is a big country and the distances between major centres (or any centres, in some parts) is, well, big!
    I travelled by train all through Italy and loved it. We went First Class as a treat and enjoyed the comfy seats and peace and quiet. Although the food was pretty ordinary.

  • Colleen
    April 16, 2011 4:36pm

    In India the food on the train is quite good. It is free in first class, and I am thinking about 30 rupees ($0.75 US) in second class with chai after dinner.

    One of the consequences of the economic boom in India is that there are not nearly enough trains. When I was there last summer, we were only able to get waiting list tickets and were told (by someone fluent in English) to arrive at 6:00 AM (on a Sunday, two hours before the ticket office opened) to get “tatkal” tickets. The line for the men was long when we arrived, but I was the seventh woman there. When the doors opened, what had been an orderly line of more than 100 men turned into a mad dash for the ticket windows.

    Fortunately, as my husband did not know that he should run to the window, I was able to retain my spot in the line for women in the ticket window. Strangely though, once inside, the “women only” line merged with a line that was not gender specific and there was much pushing and shoving at the window. Despite waving money and my reservation at the person at the window and saying “tatkal” repeatedly, I was not able to get a ticket.

    We were able to check out wait list status on line (although we were not able to tell which of the three train stations in the city we were supposed to be leaving from) and found that one of us had a seat, and one of us was still on the waiting list. We were told by friends that we were visiting there that by the time that the train left, there would likely be seats for both of us which we were really hoping was true as it was an overnight train. Fortunately, they were correct. We were told by someone on the train that it was perfectly acceptable to bribe the conductor to get another seat on the train if there had not been another seat near us on the train.

  • Carolyn Z
    April 17, 2011 4:36am

    Train travel reminds me of the Shinkansen in Japan. It’s called the bullet train. We had gotten JR rail passes and had to reserve our seats on the Hikari train. The woman placed us in row 1. We thought that was kind of odd. Turns out row 1 was at the back of the car. Nothing like being in Japan to feel like a “gaijin”, the term for foreigners.

    On other JR trains, we sat wherever there were seats together. The Japanese trains are always on time. The sound of trains in anime reminds me of how nice the trains are. And there is nothing like the clackity-clack noise.

    Now of course we wish the best for the Japanese people.

  • April 18, 2011 1:31am

    So funny that you mention the first-class on the métro. I too remember those days. On one of my first weekend adventures to Paris, shortly after moving to Belgium, my then husband and I, and some friends from Canada, decided to learn the métro system. We hopped on the train when it arrived at the station, wondering why the car was rather empty, and so luxurious (compared to subways on this side of the Atlantic). It wasn’t long before a conductor arrived and asked to see our tickets, which we promptly handed over. He then very promptly gave us all a FINE, and escorted us to the exit where we had to pay the penalty for riding in first class, with a second class ticket!!

  • April 18, 2011 9:21am
    David Lebovitz

    Elaine: It was funny that the métro in Paris had first-class cars. I don’t know if this is true but I thought that women were allowed to ride on them with a second-class ticket, because sometimes the men were a little “forward” with unaccompanied women on the métro back in those days.

    They are pretty tough with those fines in Paris. When I was recently in Switzerland, we’d had the wrong kind of tickets (for the wrong zone), and the conductor let us go. And when I was in Portugal, the information the tourist office gave us wasn’t correct about our tram tickets, and they let us go as well.

  • jspecht
    April 27, 2011 1:13am

    I love your book and I love your website. Someday, I want to take one of your chocolate tours!