Category Archives: France

Stop and start

It isn’t as bad as missing a train, of course, but waiting for a train can be a little trying, especially when the station is extremely busy – as St Pancras is today. Still, I can sit and admire the architecture for a while. There are lovely Victorian tiles on the upper floor and of course the lovely roof which I will try and photograph later.
Just heard the first train announcement in French, which makes me realise I am well on the way.

Something I hadn’t noticed before is that it’s hard to see where the Eurostar info is – but I think the last time I used it there were three of us travelling together, which was a good plan – one to mind the luggage, one to forage for food and one to wander about until they found the departures board.

A bit later + still no WiFi….
Well, they seem to be letting me leave the country anyway – probably too intimidated by my passport photo to stop me!
A bit later… Help! I’m in Belgium.

Bruxelles station, waiting for Thalys train to Cologne. After rushing like mad to get to the right platform, I had to wait for the train. Still no working WiFi. Stopped at Liege and Aachen. Very warm and sunny. Playing Beethoven on Kindle and have beaten the computer 3 times at a word game. My hobnob flashback has melted in the heat… would that make a good password for spies? Or have I been travelling for too long?

image

Here at last.

By-passing the Flamingos

Visiting Disneyland was just the start of it. Our next trip after that was a much more ambitious one, involving a few nights in Paris followed by a lengthy train journey across France and all the way to Barcelona and back. By that time we were seasoned Eurostar travellers. While in Paris we sampled various other forms of transport, including the batobus, the Metro and, best of all, a trip boat on the Canal Saint Martin.

Canal Saint Martin
Going into a lock on the Canal Saint Martin

Coincidentally it was just outside the Musée d’Orsay, housed in a former railway station, that we had a family row started by me and probably caused by trying to visit too many museums in one day.  The museum still looks just like a station.

Musée d'Orsay
Musée d’Orsay interior

Luckily by the time we boarded our TGV at the Gare de Lyon for the next part of our journey, that was all forgotten. You can book right through from Paris to Barcelona. I’m not sure if it’s always necessary to change trains at Montpellier, where there were some rather pretty trams and a useful bag shop inside the station for people whose travel bags had fallen apart on the way.  We enjoyed the section on the TGV better than the rest, but later I became fascinated by the lagoons and flamingos we caught sight of during the trip along the southern French coast, and I began to wonder if we should have got off the train there to investigate instead of carrying on with a journey that became particularly tortuous at the Spanish border at Portbou, where I think the wheels were changed over to a different gauge and armed soldiers came through the carriages.

Barcelona sunrise
Barcelona sunrise

But of course it is always worthwhile going to Barcelona! I even managed to visit some more museums, and I thoroughly recommend the Picasso Museum and the Barcelona Museum, where there are real Roman ruins in the lower levels and you can walk round them.

estacio franca
Estacio Franca – waiting for the night train

We had decided to travel back on the night train or Trenhotel from Barcelona to Paris. One tip for Barcelona (though this may well have changed by now) is that there weren’t any left luggage facilities at the Estacio Franca, and we had to go over to the other station, Barcelona-Sants, to deposit our bags for the day so that we could spend some more time sight-seeing, and then go back to collect them later.

As we spent all night and then all day travelling constantly, it turned out to be one of those times when we really enjoyed going first class from London to Edinburgh. I think all we were fit for by then was drinking coffee and eating whatever the train staff brought us.

Look out Europe, here we come!

I’m jumping forward in time in this post, although I will probably return to the distant past in due course. The sunshine this week in our grim northern outpost (Edinburgh) has made me think fondly of warm southern holidays and travelling across Europe to distant and different places.

I thoroughly recommend The Man in Seat Sixty-One for planning this kind of journey, particularly if it’s at all complicated. I’ve always found his advice on routes to be excellent, even although the details may change slightly over time. For instance Rail Europe, which we used to use for European train bookings, has now been replaced by the SNCF website.

It’s also best to be flexible about through bookings. So for instance it’s theoretically possible to book from Edinburgh to Paris or Brussels or some other European destination via the Eurostar website, but I usually find there’s some reason to make the bookings separately. For instance you might want to travel first class from Edinburgh to London – I quite often do, to avoid the fall-out from random occurrences such as the passengers from two trains being shoehorned into one train, and to take advantage of the ‘free’ food that appears regularly in first class.  There’s nothing like an apparently endless supply of free coffee to help you forget you’ve been travelling for over 24 hours. Sometimes first class isn’t all that much more expensive than standard class on the East Coast main line either.

Our first foray into Europe by train as a family took place only a few years ago, when I wanted to visit Disneyland Paris to mark a special birthday. This is an ideal destination to reach by train as you can go straight out of the station into the park. You can also travel into Paris by train for the day from the same station. My tip for this trip is to make sure you learn the  French phrase for ‘my ticket won’t work in the exit gates’ in case you get stuck inside Les Halles station as we did!

Once we had successfully completed that first trip, Europe was our oyster (not a reference to the London transport card). More on all that later.

Disneyland train
Disneyland train
Thunder Mountain train
Thunder Mountain train