Yes – the Trans-Mongolian wasn’t the only train journey from my most recent trip. In fact I was on trains in every single country I went to! One journey was the Eurostar from London to Paris which I took on May the 28th. I have taken the Eurostar before, to Brussels, however it was the 630am train and I fell asleep shortly after leaving and before I knew it I woke up 15 minutes out from the Belgium capital.
I bought my ticket this time online. It was around 70-80 pounds but then I had to change the date to allow me to go to the Missing Episodes Day (see Travelling for the Doctor) and well, voom! Nearly another 100 quid was added to the price. So, it was NOT cheap. The train was completely full and it was a bank holiday weekend in the UK and I think there was a public holiday in France too which might account for this.
So. The journey is from St Pancras Station in London to Gare du Nord in Paris. Left at 1030am and arrived at 1347 I think it was, so under 2.5 hours. I have to say… I think this was my worst train experience of the whole 6-week trip.
Why? It started at check-in at St Pancras. There’s the check in section with multiple lines, that form one line coming into the section. This line weaved down the atrium passing a piano, hundreds of people and a few cafes. It then turned into a ‘U’. The ticket says to arrive an hour before departure. Let me tell you, that’s the shortest amount of time you’d want to leave.
I think I had around 75 minutes. I joined the queue. It moved slowly, but at least it did move. People don’t really know how to form a line anymore I’ve concluded because frankly people were trying to push in wherever they could. But what did not help the situation was the lack of security or officials. There were no announcements except when it was getting really close to a train leaving. Then people would be allowed to skip to the front of the line if it was their train.
And there were a number of Eurostars leaving that Sunday morning. Finally we split into different queues to scan tickets, and then there was baggage check. For the volume of people there were not enough lanes. Then another line up for passport checking, and the finally into the waiting area with about 15 minutes before the departure time. No more.
The waiting area was packed! You didn’t know where to turn in case you bumped into someone. There were families, a mixture of people from Europe, China, India, the US, it was seriously mad. The 10.11am train was delayed, and in fact we would leave first. The call to board came ten minutes before departure.
More lines to take the escalators to the platform. Then lines at each train door to board. I boarded, put my baggage above the seat and sat down. Two minutes later, we were on our way.
Ironically there probably isn’t much to write about the actual journey, but I do have the video. Conversely I didn’t whip out the camera during the whole fiasco at St Pancras. I sat there frazzled as one can be. I couldn’t help but think that the line outside the security section but inside St Pancras was open to an attack. It was seriously worrying.
The seat itself had very little legroom. I might have been on a Jetstar flight to be honest. I sat next to a very friendly gentleman who bought lunch for me. Probably because he wanted someone in the seat to look after our belongings. The seat comfort was really disappointing.
The train goes fast. I had no idea. It hit 300 km/h at one point. And it’s pretty smooth but there is a bit of rocking from side to side which is hard to counter if you are walking down the aisle. We voomed into the tunnel after a short while, then I guess 20 – 30 minutes (max) underground before we appeared on the European mainland and were in France.
It was so very green. The countryside in that part of France was gorgeous. It was some 35 degrees that day and I’m guessing after Summer it’s a lot dryer and browner. But on this day the farmland was gorgeous and green. Did I mention – it was green?
And so it was that we entered Paris and very soon arrived at Gare du Nord. The platform is a security area, but once off it the station, despite a visible police presence, was again chaos. So many people coming and going. I wondered what the boarding procedure is on the Paris side. Because I could not see where passport control was.
And that was that! The city of Paris awaited me. For all its madness – still far preferable to having to get out to Heathrow, fly to Charles De Gaulle and then get into Paris. Probably! Thanks for reading – May the Journey Never End!