A day trip to northern Spain by train and bus

A Day Trip To Paris From San Sebastian, Spain

Kerwin McKenzieRail Travel

San Sebastian To Paris By Train And Return By Bus

As I was in San Sebastian last Saturday, June 1, 2024, I decided to try to get to Paris by train as I wanted to see the French Tennis Open and taking the train was the most economical way when I looked at hotels, food and taking a flight and also the time involved to get it all done.

On paper, well computer, it said I could take a train from San Sebastian to Hendaye in France (a border town) and then take the TGV and 4.5 hours later, I’d be in Paris. Watch the Tennis, then take an overnight bus and be back in San Sebastian by 8a the next day.

Hendaye, France to Paris, France by train SNCF

Some of that worked :-).

I was able to take the train from San Sebastian to Hendaye, France without issues. I just bought the EUR 2.35 ticket at the station and about 30 minutes later, I crossed the river bordering the two countries and I was in France. It is actually a very scenic route through the mountains.

Spain-France Border

On the French side, the station, Gare de Hendaye is within a minutes walk of the last stop on the Spanish line. Across the river is the San Sebastian Airport where I was lucky to see a Vueling Airbus A320 taking off; it was so loud. I guess the river really carriers the sounds.

Gare de Hendaye, France

 

Vueling Airbus A320 taking Off From San Sebastian Airport

Did I mention it was raining? It was. Of course I had brought my umbrella as any good traveler always has one.

But not to be outdone, As I was there super early; didn’t want to miss the Paris-bound train, I went for a short walk in the town to get a feel for it. It’s a beautiful town and my favorite part is the border between the countries. It’s just a roadway, bridge really; well three bridges.

One is just pedestrian another is a street and then a train crossing. I played the fool saying now I’m in France, now I’m in Spain, while it rained and the locals I’m sure were thinking I’m an idiot, as I played in the rain with my umbrella poised above me, but I didn’t care :-). It was such fun.

Boarding The TGV

Eventually, it was time to get on the TGV. It didn’t pull onto the main tracks, just the side tracks, but it makes sense as its so long and it was actually sitting there the whole time. I saw it, but didn’t realize it would be my ride.

TVG Train in Gare de Hendaye, France

I walked to the front of the very long train and waited in the rain for them to open the doors, which they did eventually. The train cars are numbered as it’s assigned seating in First Class; unsure if it was in Economy.

TVG Train in Gare de Hendaye, France

I couldn’t find my seat although I was in the right train car. And it was quite difficult to find someone to help me. Once I found her, she didn’t even realize that I couldn’t get down to the first level from the second level via the route she was sending me :-). But eventually, we laughed about it and she showed me the right way.

I had bought a first-class ticket as the pricing was not too different than Economy and I thought I’d get a better service. Nope, the only difference was that the seat was slightly larger and there were less people in the cabin. No meal service at all, but they did have a Dining Car, which I never visited; I saw the conductor once when they came by to check the tickets.

As a kid growing up in Jamaica and learning French, I learned about the SNCF and the TGV train and so I always wanted to take it, so I had to.

The reason why the Economy class ticket was so close to the first class ticket is that I bought a discount card for EUR 49 that’s good for one year. It gives me some form of discount each time I take the TGV, so I have to take the TGV again soon. I actually thought that I’d buy a return ticket, but the last train was at 6:20p and I arrived in Paris-Montparnasse at 2:20p. Where guess what, it was raining very hard! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The TGV Train Journey

The TGV left ontime at 9:34a. By then I was comfortably seated after using the loo. After which I remembered that you shouldn’t use a train’s loo in the station…

The train is actually quite nice; it has a HUGE tray table, but it’s designed really odd in that it has a tiny tray table built into the larger one. But if you want to switch from the larger table to the smaller one and you have stuff plugged in, it’s very awkward to unplug, hold the stuff in one had, use the other to close the table and then open the smaller one. Weird…

TGV First Class Chair Table

I did my three power ports though; two on the side (I had a window) an done in the back of the seat in front of you. And it’s a 1-2 configuration. Economy is 2-2. I was bummed that all the seats on the (one) 1 side were all taken.

I was the only person in my train car until we made it to Biarritz, the second stop on the train.

Here are the stops:

  • Hendaye
    TGV INOUI 8534
  • 9h 44m – Saint-Jean-De-Luz – Ciboure
  • 9h 56m – Biarritz
  • 10h 11m – Bayonne
  • 10h 44m – Dax
  • 12h 06m – Bordeaux Saint-Jean
  • 14h 20m – Paris – Montparnasse – Hall 1 + 2

By the time we got to Bordeaux, it was full for the nonstop journey to Paris where we clocked 308km/h top speed! We were cooking with gas.

308kmh Hendaye to Paris

Arriving In Paris-Montparnasse

Right on schedule, we pulled into Paris-Montparnasse. It was my first time using this station on a long distance train. It was packed! I don’t think the rain outside helped either.

TGV Train in Paris-Montparnasse

Once in the Paris-Montparnasse station, I walked around a bit then went outside took a photo, came back inside and then went to get a Metro ticket to Roland Garros for the Tennis.

Paris-Montparnasse Station

I decided to stand on the line and get the tickets as I wanted to ensure I got the best deal. I was able to get a day ticket as she mentioned that if I’m taking at least 4 journey, then it makes sense to do the day pass. It does cost EUR 2 though for the card itself, but you can top it up in the future.

Looking For Paris Activities?

If you’re in Paris and looking for activities, consider using my partner Viator.

 

 

Once I had my day pass ticket I was off to Roland Garros.

Roland Garros For the French Tennis Open

Once there, it was raining even harder.

Roland Garos Station, France

I asked some information teens outside about tickets, they mentioned that I must use the App to purchase them :-(. So I downloaded the App and tried. I had already had an account since I’ve been trying to get tickets for months now, to no avail.

While still trying to get tickets; refreshing the App every few minutes, I made my wet and umbrellaed way to the entrance, but was stopped by the first of three waves of security.

The young man, addressed me in French to which I advised, I only speak English. I speak a little French, so I said Bonjour. The French are quite impatient, so once they realize you are not fluent in French, they go to English, but you have to try first.

He asked me to open my bag in French and also motioned to my bag, so I got what he meant. He looked around, but was confused by my Osmo Action camera on a holder with a suction cup. No Selfie stick he muttered. I said, this is not a selfie stick and smiled :-). He repeated, No selfie stick! He then said he needed to ask his supervisor in English. The irony is that I’d actually left all my “selfie sticks” back in San Sebastian as their websites did say no selfie sticks :-).

Osmo Action Camera

The supervisor who was even looked younger, came over and said, no GoPro! I said, it’s not a GoPro smilingly. He said, I had to take it to a left luggage area and pointed in that direction. So I walked away; the first guy stopped me and said I needed to show the receipt that I’d left my camera in order to pass when I return.

I thought the whole interaction was funny as I can take my phone which can take much better videos than my Osmo Action, which looks like a GoPro, but I can’t take it in. They were actually cordial and just following the rules of the venue they were given. I just thought the whole interaction was a funny one.

Dejected, and still searching for a ticket, I walked back from whence I came. I walked through the open nearby park and found a concrete shelter from the rain.

Jardin Botanique, Paris France

A local gentleman joined me as well and then later a family of three who had bought a case of Coke and was putting them in their bags. They couldn’t fit and the Dad offered me one; I don’t drink sodas, so I nicely declined. His young son was funny as he put the empty box over his head and his dad pulled it off. It was raining so that was not a bad idea by the little guy.

I continued looking for tickets, as I figured if I could find a ticket, then I’ll go leave my Osmo Action camera at the left Luggage. The Day Passes were never showing up, just expensive Court tickets. Which by the way, when you try to book them, you can’t and the system says they are no longer available.

Miserable and annoyed, I left my dry perch and walked in the rain umbrella activated towards the Left Luggage area as I wanted to see what it was about.

Lucky for me (grrr), I stepped partially in some horse’s crap that was carefully left in front of the Left Luggage place :-(. I asked the staff about the cost, they said it was free, then asked for a piece of paper to wipe my shoes, which was wet by now.

Horse manure

At that moment, I called it! I was cold, wet and bothered.

Unhappy Kerwin for not getting a ticket to the French tennis Open

Unhappy Kerwin for not getting a ticket to the French tennis Open

I then texted my friend again who was ironically in Paris for the Tennis, and said let’s do coffee/tea. I had texted him earlier to say hello and as it turns out he mentioned that he’s in Paris. The plan all along was to link up at some point. Lack of Tennis tickets made this sooner than later.

I told him I’d see him in an hour based on the Google Maps ETA. I’d take a bus as opposed to the Metro. I stepped on the waiting number 32, scanned my day pass and in five minutes off we went.

It’s always fun to take the bus in other cities as you get to see the people and the city. This bus actually gave great views of the Eiffel Tower and the River Seine. Plus I had a taste of Paris’ congested traffic to boot.

Our meetup point was the Louvre and I actually arrived there just before 6p. We texted again, rendezvoused and then found a packed coffee shop.

Le Louver, Paris France

It was great to see him and a mutual friend of ours and we had coffee in those tiny cups and tea, in a similarly tiny cup.

We chatted for about an hour before it was time for me to get going as I needed to get some more Paris photos and also head to Paris-Bercy Bus Station; a visit I was not looking forward to as this bus station is worst than Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City.

Check out this photo/video? The Louvre folks have placed this glass installation similar to the one in the desert in Saudi Arabia. The illusion is pretty amazing.

The Louvre Glass Installation

Here’s a video:

I then walked around some more, got some of the photos I needed given the amount of time I had, then started the 40 minutes or so journey to Bercy.

Paris, France

Paris, France

Paris, France

Paris-Bercy

Paris-Bercy is located in the southern part of part on the outskirts of Paris. The area has a nice park just outside the station, but inside the station is a dump. It should be closed. On entry, it’s smelly, and inside is dirty with a lot of buses; unsure how we don’t get sick from the stuffy air there.

Paris Bercy Park

Paris Bercy Park

 

Paris-Bercy Bus Station

And then we all get on a bus for hours breathing that same stinky air, uugh… I’m not exaggerating at all. I’ve come through there a few times and it’s never fun. Have you used this station?

Paris-Bercy Station

I tried to stand out of the way, near to where I anticipate the bus’ departure. So I’d be among the first to get on and get a seat.

I had only just bought the ticket that morning once my plans were finalized. Initially I saw that you could pay like EUR 3.00 to get a seat next to you empty, but that must have been on a different route and time as it was no longer available on the 9:30p departure.

European night buses are a great way to save money, but they are not for the feint of heart. I did one from Berlin to London once and its a slog; uncomfortable seats, odd passengers and sometimes unfriendly drivers. You have to be nice as they’re in charge. This bus ride was no exception; but the drivers were nice, but English was not a language with which they were comfortable.

The bus did show up about 9:00p and I later noticed an email saying that it was not a normal FlixBus as it was from another partner. Indeed it was as it looks like a Portuguese partner as the bus was headed for Lisbon as a final stop. Imagine a bus ride from Paris to Lisbon! Thankfully, I was only going to San Sebastian.

As the bus approached, I headed towards it along with many others. People were pushing for no apparent reason. There were two bus personnel who didn’t speak English very, not much French, but fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. One guy’s phone kept timing out and he had to ask the other guy to re-activate it as the phone was his. But then there was a crowd of people between the two of them as one was taking bags at the front of the bus and the other tickets at the back.

The bus is a double decker where its passengers on the upper deck and luggage and the driver’s area on the lower deck.

FlixBus

The conductor/driver commenced scanning barcodes from our phones and checking passports before letting us on the bus. I had no bag so it was easy for me, but others had a lot of bags so they had a more tedious task.

I boarded when he finally scanned my documents, took my seat, cleaned it with Lysol wipes and waited.

My FlixBus seat

The boarding process outside was still chaotic. Nothing to do but wait.

We departed a few minutes late, into the cold Paris night with minimal announcements.

Leaving Paris-Bercy Station

There is no entertainment on the bus, but I think there is a restroom that I dared not use. I did this once; they are very tiny and not well maintained, so I didn’t even bother this time around.

I did have a power port though, so that was a good thing and appreciated.

Soon, I fell asleep, but awoke as the driver made an announcement in Portuguese and I heard the word 15 minutes, so I assumed we were making a stop in 15 minutes. And we did.

Late Night Rest Stop

It was a rest stop at a gas station. We parked at a gas pump but took no gas and we were allowed 15 minutes. It was much needed as I needed the fresh air as well as some leg stretches. There are a lot of smokers on the bus and they were all smoking off in the distance; but we are at a gas station mind you.

FlixBus Reststop

I wandered into the store and bought an ice cream bar. The cashier was not a happy camper at all; who wants to serve all these people at 12:30a at night, I guess?

I also use the restroom as it was very needed.

Soon, it was time to re-board, so I did. You could smell the acrid smoke on the people who smoked as the re-entered teh bus. It took a while to dissipate. Good thing I’m wearing a K94 mask the whole bus ride. Much needed as there was a lot of coughing and sneezing on the bus.

Kerwin KN94 Mask

The lady next to me was pregnant and her husband sat aisle across from her. I don’t know how she survived that ride at all. I tried speaking to her at one time asking if she heard understood what the driver said and she responded in Portuguese; so she understood the driver, but I don’t think she spoke English, or if she did she didn’t want to speak to me, who know?

The boring bus ride got exciting when we got to Bordeaux. By now, I’d slept again as I was bored out of my mind and actually very tired as I’d gotten up rather early Saturday morning and had an exhaustive day the Friday before with little sleep that Friday night.

Early Morning Bordeaux Stop

The bus pulled into Bordeaux on the outskirts of town not far from the main train station. it’s night so you can’t really see much, but Google says its a scenic spot as its right across the river.

The driver did say Bordeaux in 10 minutes in Portuguese and I understood Bordeaux and 10, plus I was following the trip on Strava and Google Maps.

Once everyone for Bordeaux, got off; the rest of the passengers were not allowed to get off and take a break.

Bordeaux Flixbus Stop

Then the drivers came on asking for a passenger who by their manifest should have exited the bus, but didn’t. This mess lasted 40 minutes and still they clould not find the passenger. They even checked tickets and some IDs and still nothing.

So, eventually, they let the new passengers, the bus filled up and off we went.

They had switched drivers by now and the other driver came checking documents asking for tickets and passports/identity cards for everyone. He was meticulous.

Stowaway Found

After two passes he found the guy! The guy was sitting one row in front of me on the other side. The conductor/driver motioned for him to follow him and they disappeared downstairs via the front of the bus. The bus is still in motion.

Sometime later, the guy returned to his seat as if nothing happened.

Then the driver came on the PA and in a very angry and loud voice ranted for waht seemed like 10 minutes in Portuguese. I could only recognized, Policia as he said it many times.

Later one of the driver/conductor came to the back of the bus and I asked what happened and he said “fake ticket, don’t worry.”

We had another pee stop about an hour after leaving Bordeaux. This was not a food stop, but a pee stop, just off the highway.

Roadside Pee stop in southern France

Roadside Pee stop in southern France

Our journey continued without further incident as the sun was now rising and you could see the beauty of the countryside.

French countryside from the bus

 

French countryside

The only stop we made was a Customs stop at the France/Spain border where the officers used a dog to sniff the baggage and then we were on our way. No one got on or off the bus.

French Spanish Customs

We continued our drive for another 45 minutes or so; it gave me some time to enjoy the Spanish countryside.

Spanish countryside

Spanish countryside

Arriving In San Sebastian

Soon, we pulled into the San Sebastian area…

San Sebastian, Spain

Once in San Sebastian, one of the driver/conductor came back and took the guy with him. When I got off the bus, they were just returning to the bus.

Flixbus in San Sebastian

Flixbus in San Sebastian

I have no closure as I don’t know if the guy got arrested or not as I didn’t see any Police officers at the bus.

All in all, it was a good journey, we left only five minutes late and arrived at 8:01a despite the 40 minutes debacle in Bordeaux.

Most of the passengers were continuing onto Lisbon which is another five hours or so away.

Have you taken trains in Europe?

Every taken an overnight bus?

What’s been your experience?