Postcards - France, December 2002

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I started a holiday in France with a day in Paris. Here you can see Notre Dame, La Grand Arche de La Defense, The Eiffel Tower at night, and in the last picture a view from the top of the tower - the illuminated street running across the middle is the Champs Elysees.
A long train ride took us from Paris all the way to Perpignan. This peculiarly French train started off as a 100 mph electrically hauled express out of Gare de Lyon, but later diesel haulage took over, and then another electric loco hauled us for a slow trundle along a windy secondary line. Here's our diesel loco at Cleremont-Ferrand, and a shot from the rear of the train as we crossed Eiffel's famous Garabit Viaduct.

Le Train Jaune (The yellow train) is a meter gauge electric line running through the mountains in the Catalan region near the Spanish Border.
The town of Nimes has a very impressive Roman Arena. A modern arena has been built inside it - you can see part of the roof on the left of the second picture - and it is used for concerts and shows. I couldn't make up my mind whether to be appalled by this abuse of an archaeological treasure, or impressed that it is still performing the same function after 2000 years. The city also has a splendid Roman temple, now used for exhibitions.
Cleremont-Ferrand is in the middle of a volcanic area which is why its cathedral is built of black stone. From there this classic DMU took us across country to the impressive station at Limoges.
We visited the sea-side town of Royan where the beach was deserted but the marina was busy. This car ferry then took us across the Gironde to Le Verdon.
Back in Paris for a look at the Arc de Triomphe and the Basilique du Sacré Coeur.
Finally, the, er, raison d'être of the whole trip, a special overnight tour on the Paris Métro. We started at 10pm with a visit to the depot at Porte de la Villette, where new trackwork is built and the locos used to haul maintenance trains are based.
After midnight our train set off for a fascinating ride along various connecting lines not used by normal trains. Our first stop was at the disused line 5 terminus station at Gare du Nord, now used for training purposes. Next, the closed station at Saint Martin on lines 8 and 9, where you can see an example of some special ceramic advertisements. I was struggling with the French at this point but I think they were put there for an exhibition, and are not just left-overs from when the station was open.
Porte Molitor station was built in the 1920s for special trains to a nearby stadium, but plans were changed and the platforms were never connected to the surface. It is now used for stabling trains. Our final stop was at Croix Rouge closed station where I spotted this excellent ceramic poster frame.
The tour returned to Porte de la Villette depot for breakfast at 05.30.

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