Traveling in France during a nation wide strike of the SNCF

When we planned our trip to France, I had images of speeding across the French countryside in comfortably seated in a TGV towards my beloved Grenoble. Little did I know that a grève nationale was going to interfere with my grand plans. A nation wide strike of the SNCF was announced a few weeks before our departure, threatening all our well laid plans. Since we had already booked our AirBnb, we decided to go ahead and look for alternate solutions… because after all, this is 2019 and if I could get to Sweden in 2003 despite a delayed train in Germany (yeah, that happens sometimes), and a cancelled train in Denmark, I could definitely find a way from Paris to Grenoble! 

Getting to Grenoble turned out to be reasonably easy, since we had looked for options well in advance. We were able to easily book seats on Ouibus, the buses of the SNCF, which have now partnered with Blabla bus. Much to our delight, the bus station turned out to be in the same area as our AirBnb. A stroke of luck indeed, for our flight to Paris was delayed by over two hours (thanks to the grève), so we basically got to the apartment much later than planned, only to sleep and wake up at the crack of dawn to catch our bus. Fortunately, the Bercy Gare Routière, from where the bus was scheduled to depart, was a mere 10 minutes walking distance from the apartment. 

Once there, I realised that private bus services have taken off since my last visit – apart from Ouibus and Blabla bus, FlixBus also seemed to be operating in full force…of course, the grève probably has them redirecting their entire European fleet to France! The bus companies are probably now accustomed to swinging into action, after last year’s strike

As we waited in queue to board the bus, we realised that this was going to be a first time experience for almost all the passengers. In fact long haul bus journeys of this type are such an anomaly that a news crew was on site interviewing the bus driver and passengers!

We set off at 07h15 on a 7 hour journey through boring highways (as opposed to 3 hours in a TGV 🚄 that cut across rolling hills). But on the bright side, the journey was actually quite comfortable, with a brief stop midway for a snack, and a quick stop in Lyon to drop off passengers.

We rolled into the Grenoble Gare Routière, right on schedule, at 15h00. 

So far, so good…but we still had to get back to Paris! We had booked a train for our return journey, with fingers tightly crossed that it wouldn’t get canceled. We should have also visited a few churches and temples. Our train was cancelled a day before we were scheduled to travel. A quick search in our SNCF app showed us that all trains from Grenoble had been canceled. By this time, my husband had acquired a new sentence in his rather limited repertoire of French sentences:  «pas de service» i.e “No service!” 

To get back to Paris, we had two options:

  • purchase a bus ticket on Blabla bus, FlixBus, or even the Grenoble-Lyon airport shuttle, and hop onto a train from Lyon.
  • trust the SNCF and go along with the alternate solutions they’d put in place for travelers like us.

After a couple of visits to the station and long conversations with the extremely helpful employees, we decided to go with the second option, taking an SNCF organised bus to Valence, from where we could board a TGV coming from Montpellier.

I’m no stranger to bus journeys in France, having done more than a dozen day trips in 2007 and 2009, but this bus journey was a real treat! Winding through the countryside of Isère, dropping off people in various small cities, we were treated to lovely vistas of rolling hills and charming villages and towns.

Thanks to the grève nationale, we ended up on what can only be described as a drive through the French countryside! Quite an unexpected, but fun adventure! 

We finally got Valence, where we had a short stop before we boarded a TGV that was basically accommodating people from three trains. Since the train had started in Montpellier, there weren’t too many free seats available when it got to Valence…so we ended up squatting on the steps for a while, before moving to the bar, where we luckily found two spots to park our tired souls! 

In a final, rather ironic twist, we reached Paris 30 minutes before the scheduled arrival of our reserved train! 😃


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