The Eurostar train is a travel experience. It whisks you in supreme comfort and near silence from the heart of Paris to the heart of London in a shade over two and a half hours. In November 2007, it will be even faster. Read on to discover the pleasures of 21st century European rail travel.
Following lunch at a little bistro in Paris and a leisurely stroll along the Seine, we arrived at Gare Du Nord for the late afternoon train to London. It is advisable to arrive an hour before departure, even though check in time is usually only 10 minutes. The check in and departure lounge are on the first floor, and once through customs, you take your boarding pass and all luggage, to the train. If your carriage is at the front of the 400 metre train, you may need to take a trolley.
Exactly on time, and without announcement or clamour, Eurostar glides slowly out of its Gare Du Nord platform and gently gathers speed for its 495 km journey north to London. The train soon reaches its maximum 300km/hour as the flat French countryside and Charles de Gaulle airport flash by. Strangely, there is no real perception of speed. More a feeling of serenity, quietness and isolation from the outside world. Vehicles on the high speed motorway alongside the line appear to be almost motionless.
We asked the conductor whether Eurostar is more popular than the airlines. “The key reason why people choose Eurostar over the airlines is that it is quicker city centre to city centre even though flight time is around 50 minutes. The big problem with airlines is check in time, traveling time between the airport and the city and waiting at the carousel for your luggage,” he said.
He was too courteous to mention weather delays for airlines and that Eurostar carries more passengers between Paris and London than all airlines combined. Overall airline traveling time from city centre to city centre is close to 4 hours.
Approaching Lille, it was time for an early dinner. “Would madame and monsieur care for an aperitif?” We certainly would thank you. Outside, the sun is still illuminating a mid spring afternoon as the flat countryside of northern France flashes by. The menus arrive. For our main course we chose chicken breast in herb salad. It was fresh and delicious, complemented particularly well with a “fresh, crisp, dry” chardonnay.
The young woman at the next table has no time for the views. She’s working on a business report to present to a meeting when she returns to London. She took time off from her laptop to enjoy the meal and coffee. We engaged her in polite conversation and discovered that she makes the London to Paris round trip twice a month. “It is convenient and easy,” she said. “I have 2 solid hours each way to go through business plans and within 10 minutes of arrival at Gare Du Nord, I am in my client’s office. I also don’t have to worry about meals.”
We are impressed with the quality and speed of the service as we approach Calais and the 50 km Channel Tunnel. Farmhouses are silhouetted in the late afternoon sun as our wine is replenished and apricot tartlet arrives. Instant blackness heralds our 20 minute ride under the English Channel.
The high speed run continues well into England and then the train slows. Time to appreciate the hedgerows, tiny villages and pretty rolling countryside of south east England. The head chef points out the infrastructure for the new high speed line north of the Thames as he pours our second cup of coffee. “In November 2007, we will have a new London terminal at St Pancras”, he said. “It will be 300 km/hour all the way and our journey time will be reduced to 2 hours 15 minutes.”
I asked him how the catering staff will handle the reduced times. “That will be our biggest challenge, we will just have to speed up things,” he replied, with a look of resignation.
Our business friend overheard this conversation and as we approached London in the gathering dusk, summed up the dilemma of the catering staff. “They’ll be busier than a one legged tap dancer”. she laughed.
I wish them luck!
Leaving the train at Waterloo, we reflected on the journey. My wife was impressed with how easy, seamless and quick it was. I appreciated the courtesy and efficiency of the catering staff and how the train appeared to waft along in near silence without any real impression of speed. The spacious reclining seats provided a high degree of comfort. Above all, we loved the hassle free convenience. Within minutes of arriving at Waterloo, we were on a tube train heading for our accommodation in Bayswater.
It was no surprise to discover that Eurostar has won the title of “World’s leading rail service” for the last 8 years at the annual World Travel Awards.
Booking is essential on Eurostar and to save money, purchase your ticket before you leave for Europe. A number of ticket options are available for first and second class passengers. Visit the links below for the fare structure most suitable to your needs. Premium first class tickets include a complimentary meal served at your table. A buffet service is provided for other passengers.