Getting around France by train, dealing with a broken elbow, train strikes and more, Pt. 1

The day before I was to jet off to Paris, I tripped and fell while hurrying to catch the train home and unfortunately spent the evening in the emergency room. I had been distracted because I had just found out that one of my train rides had been canceled due to the strikes in France, and I wondered how I would get to my destination. Now, I wondered if I would be able to go on the trip at all. 

After various X-rays and CT scans, doctors put my right elbow, which was fractured, in a sling. They put my right wrist in a metal splint because they weren’t sure if I had a hairline fracture or not; and the gash in my cheek was glued back together. 

The very good news was I could still walk, even though my right knee was bruised and battered, but my glasses had been broken. 

The doctor gave me some pain medication and some follow-up instructions.

When I told the doctor I was supposed to go to France the next day, he said he loved France. That was not what I was expecting him to say. 

Then, he said he wasn’t going to tell me not to go, but to come back in a week or so for another set of X-rays, just to check on my wrist. A friend picked me up from the hospital and drove me home.  In reply to her question, I told her I didn’t know if I was going to go on my trip the next day, but I was going to talk to my sister, an expert on travel in Europe and France, who might be able to lend a hand in sorting out my train tickets. 

Train strikes and cancellations

Shortly before tripping, I had received an email from France’s SNCF, reading, “Votre train est supprimé en raison d’un mouvement social local. Nous nous excusons pour la gêne occasionnée.“ (“Your train has been cancelled due to a local rail strike. We apologize for the inconvenience.”) This is what I had been worried about. 

Now, my worry was two-fold:  How could I get to my destination if one of my train segments had been canceled, and could I go after being so injured and in so much pain? 

Since I had purchased my train tickets on France’s SNCF website, my sister said I should just go to their office when I arrived in Paris. She could tell by looking that not all trains, for travel on my day of arrival, had been canceled, just some of them, which gave me more confidence. 

As to whether I should stay at home and be miserable or get on the plane, I still had to decide. Did I tell you I was right-handed?  Would it be better, though a bit crazy, to go after all the hard work in preparing for the trip? 

At least I would have some wonderful French food to eat ….

Meeting up

I was to meet my friend Sara in Nancy, in Alsace-Lorraine – in northeastern France, about an hour from Strasbourg – for a week and then go on from there. I texted Sara from the hospital and said I had tripped and fallen, one of my train segments had been canceled, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make the trip. I knew she was leaving early the next morning from Italy, so I wanted to let her know what happened before she left in case I didn’t make it. 

As it turns out, she didn’t see my message until she was on her way.  She texted back that she hoped I was okay, but she was going ahead with our plan. She really needed a break, even though she would have to work part of the time, and hoped I would be able to join her at some point if I could.

Negotiating strikes, protests and the SNCF

In 2023, protests and transportation strikes had been happening all over France because of pension reform, and sympathy strikes had been occurring around Europe. I had known people who had been affected in France, Greece and Germany. Travelers and tour companies were using workarounds, such as delaying or moving up trips, putting people on buses instead of barges, or taking cabs, as needed.  

Some consolation in French treats …. (Photo by Mary Porcella)

Therefore, after arriving at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport, I went directly to the SNCF office at the train station. I had three hours after my flight landed and my original, canceled train was to have journeyed off.  It took a couple of hours at the SNCF to deal with the logistics — there were long lines – and I was careful to be polite and express my sympathy about the strike.

The extra time also meant I could get a coffee and a brioche and meet some people who were in the exact same situation as me. As it turns out, SNCF told us they could put us on an earlier train, which had not been canceled. We had to stay together as a group, and they would walk us over as there were security check points we couldn’t get through without proper tickets. An SNCF employee told the train conductor who we were and escorted us onto the train. 

A short ride standing up just inside the doors of the train — we didn’t have seats – was worth it to get to our next destination, though I had to be careful no one bumped into my injured arm. Two more train segments later, I arrived at my destination. 

Sara couldn’t believe I had made it.  Neither could I. 

(One of her train segments had also been canceled due to the strikes, too, but she was able to get on the next one an hour later.) For the record, we did not encounter any protests while staying in France, but we did avoid most major cities where they were happening. 

Refundable bookings

I had booked our hotel reservations as refundable, which just meant they would cost more, but if we couldn’t get to our destination because of a strike or a protest, we wouldn’t lose all of our money. It was worth it for peace of mind. I also bought my train and bus tickets in advance, just so I didn’t have to hassle with the transportation part of the trip while I was there. The tickets were partially refundable, but since they didn’t cost that much compared to the hotels, I figured that was okay. 

I’d deal with that if needed. 


Although traveling while strikes and protests are going on can be very stressful, I was sympathetic to their causes. Being patient and flexible and having refundable bookings was very helpful. I figured worst case scenario I would have a good story to tell. As it turns out, it was virtually a perfect week, relaxing in Nancy, strolling around the various sights, and enjoying the amazing French food and drink.

Bon voyage, mes voyageurs!


Read more about France here in Dispatches’ archives.

See more from Mary here.

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Mary Porcella is a Europhile who has lived in Germany, Norway, Italy, and the U.S.  She is a writer, editor, and photographer. She loves seeing new places, returning to old haunts, and meeting up with family and friends.  As of today, her travels have taken her to 20 European countries, and she hopes to visit the rest.

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