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By Barbara Kingstone
It’s raining, it’s damp and cold and it’s 6AM. What am I doing getting all “dolled up” and jolting with enthusiasm out the door of my London digs? I’m going to Paris for the day via the Eurostar high-speed train.
Nothing could have dashed my plans for this voyage since I first contacted Rail Europe before leaving home. As a travel journalist with thousands of miles under my belt each year and weeks when I don’t sleep in my own bed, heading to the City of Light for a mere 10 hours, seems like a very natural thing to do. After all, where could I spend hours filled with history, frivolity and good grub? And judging from the literature, this means of transportation has become a very popular expedition. Last year’s documentation saw over 6 million passengers opting for this means of transportation. My plans are set in stone. And I have my agenda. First, I’ll head to the Louvre, stay about 2 hours. Then have coffee at some swell sidewalk café, window shop and perhaps even drop a few francs. The hard decision will be where to have that one fabulous, memorable meal. Well, I’ll come to that when the hunger stomach starts to grumble.
Six thirty in the AM and I’m on the tube heading to Waterloo Station, Eurostar ticket in hand, for one of the travel experiences to add to my already long list of great things to do. My travel mate isn’t completely claustrophobic but there are times when she, well, feels a little closed in. So, there is a bit of anxiety about the section when we’ll be travelling in the 32-mile tunnel under water for 19 minutes.
The Chunnel, as it is endearingly called, had its official opening in l994. Since then, the pessimists have had to bite their tongue since it’s proved so successful. The rail market has more than doubled each year. I don’t have to do too much research other than see the crowds, notice not one empty seat, in the one of four passenger cars, even at this time of the morning. With the 18 roundtrips daily (16 on Fridays), the Anglo-French private sector Eurotunnel, was a stroke of brilliant business genius.
The high-speed rail corridor, in this case, between London to Paris (there are others) has a dedicated track, one single track eastbound and one single track westbound and one central service tunnel. I know there are freight trains and Le Shuttle, which takes on buses, truck cars and passengers. I also know that it cost a bundle- US$16 billion. But these facts fade as I sit back in my first class car, a table between another couple and us. We greet each other and each of us says a few words about the wonders of it all. After all it takes only 3 hours from London to Paris. We chat about the alternative and what a nuisance it is to take a plane – the ride to the airport, the potential plane delays, the taxi or bus trip, through the traffic filled city. These high-speed trains are direct competition for short air flights and have taken substantial bluster away from air traffic. We four feel completely clever about our choice of this rapid passport to the continent as we’re being whisked to our destination. However, what I didn’t know about was about a ticket pass, Paris Visite that gives unlimited access to the city’s metro and buses. Since this won’t be my last trip, I’ll store that fact away for next time. Anyway, I enjoy walking in Paris.
We four are only a fraction of the 210 travelers in first class and 560 in second class seats. We zoom along, at kamikaze speed, l86 miles per hour ( faster within the next few months) until we reach the tunnel where we slow down to a mere 100-mph. Along the way, we know that there will be just a few quick stops to pick up more passengers. Just before we start reading our morning papers, we’re served fresh juice or something bubbly. Soon, our complimentary breakfast arrives with a choice of eggs, ham, and crepe. The croissant is limp, the coffee a disaster. Next trip, I’ll come prepared with my own roll and couture coffee. Sooner than we expect, we’re in the tunnel and for the 19 minutes, my friend is completely unaware at the start, that here we are at the point which she feared. It’s so ‘un’-claustrophic that she becomes exhilarated by the experience of knowing we’re traveling under water. We zip through without any issue.
Nous sommes arrivees. We’re at the Gare du Nord and in a blink, we’re on our way to rue de Rivoli .We do indeed, spend time in the Louvre. And since we’re in the fashion capital of the world, we decide on a trendy fashion emporium cum eatery. Colette is our choice for ‘dejeuner’ where, instead of a sane and civilized time, we find ourselves among hundreds of people mauling the ‘on sale’ merchandise-a sale we weren’t aware of. We give the racks a pass and go directly downstairs to beautifully decorated room. It’s our lucky day and we get the last available table. Up to this point we’re having a great time. But that ends when we try to get a taxi. Finally, after trying for 20 minutes, we give up and take the Metro, something we should have done from the very beginning, to Le Marais. It’s Saturday and it’s jumping. Rain or not, it seems everyone is on the street. There are the chic and also the outrageous colorful fashion victims. The rues in Paris are where fashion makes a statement. Before we know it, time has flown and we hesitantly think about heading back to the Gare du Nord. We arrive to find hoards of people in the waiting areas, some sitting on the since the scant number of chairs are occupied. There is no fast lane check in for First or Standard class but First Premium ticket holders have the use of executive lounges and quick check-ins. No matter, we’re happy to sit quietly and eavesdrop on travelers beside us. It’s obvious that not all have come for the day. Many have luggage, which has to be ‘schlepped’ to the train. Not long after we depart, the evening meal is served and is barely acceptable. Again, I make a mental note when I travel by Eurostar next, to pre-board with bread, cheese and other goodies. We hate to admit it, but we’re so tired, that we don’t take care let along take notice as the trays disappear. The train is a tranquilizer. We arrive back at Waterloo Station about 11 PM . Awaiting us is the only hitch of the day – the passport control. The line for non-EU travellers snakes around with at least 400 people waiting to get through the one and only passport check agent. (Since then, I’m told, there are several more counters which have been opened and the wait is minimal).Would I do it again? Eurostar? Bein sur, certainment, and in the blink of an eye. What a way to go.
For Rail Europe reservations in Canada 1 800 361 7245
Youth Vouchers available for 26 year old and younger costs – approximately $120 one way between London and Paris.
Regular passenger’s -Leisure Roundtrip fare is about $378 in First class, $242 in Standard class
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