Advantages Quick, Easy and Oh So Comfortable In First Class!
Disadvantages Trains Are Getting On A Bit, Not As Romantic As The Ferry, Queues At Paris End.
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Ah, the Eurostar, the last word in state of the art travel within Europe. The Boyfriend telephoned his little brother living in a remote part of Spain and explained that we would be travelling to Paris on a high speed train which would, via a tunnel under the sea, deliver us in luxury from London Waterloo to the Gare Du Nord in Paris. After something of a pause his little brother said sweetly “Yeah…. I don’t believe you.” And, even now that we in the UK can reminisce about that night on the news when all the French and English engineers met in that dusty tunnel under the sea, refer to ‘taking the chunnel’ and expect it to be part of holiday packages and business trips, the whole thing is quite remarkable.Last time we went to Paris, we arrived at Calais by ferry. Having learnt from experience that the trip from London to Dover by rail is astronomically overpriced, not to mention the trip from Calais Ville to Paris (Euro 57 for two adults) and faced with The Boyfriend’s refusal to fly – especially short distances (he’s from the afraid camp rather than the green anti-carbon footprint one) we were pushed into taking the train.
The Eurostar is not a cheap option, I searched high and low on the internet and found that the lowest priced tickets demand the organisational skills to book months in advance. Without time on our side and only a couple of days before our holiday, the most economical seats were still £122.00. In the end I booked them in conjunction with the hotel, through the Trainhols.com site, hoping that at least the package would save us a few quid. I also checked out a few forums and discovered that Eurostar prefer to leave seats empty rather than sell the tickets at a lower price on the day – not exactly business minded of them, but reassuring when you have had to pay full whack. While we were away, the news story broke that it is far cheaper for those living outside the UK to buy tickets. You’ve probably seen this, but it’s as simple as selecting an alternative nationality when booking online, pretending to be American for the five minutes it takes you to book will save you around £60 on a standard ticket.******
When it came to confirming our seats, something of a hiccup resulted from the Bank Holiday weekend. The only seats still available were in first class at a supplement of £70. There was no way I was paying this and in fact maintained that I would simply cancel the holiday with this extra cost, this caused the holiday company to agree to meet me halfway. The lesson here is to stick to your guns! I only agreed as this meant we would get a meal on board and after all Paris was The Boyfriend’s birthday treat and he does like to be flash. On the way back we would have standard class, which means I can tell the story from both sides of the curtain.Eurostar departs from London Waterloo which was convenient for us, but also stops at Ashford International in Kent to save those living near the tunnel an unnecessary trip to the capital. We got to Waterloo an hour early as we’d been told to allow time to pick up our tickets and check in 45 minutes before departure. Realistically, collecting the tickets from the polite and helpful desk staff took a matter of seconds and Eurostar regulations required only a 30minute check in period. We had a quick glance around the busy station and inserted our tickets into the automatic machines to allow us and our luggage into the Eurostar teminal.
Much like an air or ferry port, you need to squash luggage through a system of X-Ray conveyor belts and stumble through passport control as you replace the metal you had to remove from your person. In The Boyfriend’s case, he had a metal belt holding his trousers up but despite the scrap-yard metal that adorns my ears I failed to set the buzzers off.The usual glittering array of duty free tat greeted us in the lounge and we spent a not unpleasant half hour choosing newspapers for the train from WHSmith and debating whether or not we needed bottled water and sweets to diminish our holiday money. Too quickly, our train appeared on the departure screen and we took the escalators up to the platform underneath the enormous glass roof. Trains going into London frequently pass the Eurostar leaving this giant greenhouse, from the outside you’d never expect it to be so clean and modern inside. Our carriage wasn’t marked as first class, but we were greeted at the door by a smartly dressed member of staff and settled comfortably in large grey seats.
As the train pulled out of Waterloo, drinks were offered round and we were spoilt for choice. Dad’s friend had told me that all drinks are free in first class, so I wasn’t struck with the usual panic that limited change brings on. The Boyfriend and I answered simultaneously, he with “Orange Juice” and I with “Champagne”. We looked at each other and started to change our requests to agree, but the waiter had presented us both with a glass of each. The champagne came in extraordinarily cute little champagne flutes marked with the Eurostar logo and chilled to perfection.At this point we suffered a slight disappointment when the waiter reached over to fold my table down and it turned out to be broken. The Eurostar trains are not as new as they used to be and a bit of maintenance is long overdue, but this would be my only complaint. Several top ups of the lovely free champagne soon helped me to forget about it and as we left Ashford it was time for lunch.
I’ve been told that it’s only worth booking first class on the Eurostar at lunch and dinner times. If you book at other times of the day, you only get drinks and apparently breakfast is a solitary croissant. The lunch menus weren’t overly extravagant. I’d booked a vegetarian meal in advance (no choice there) and The Boyfriend had a choice between a Pork Casserole and Haddock Pie. As we deliberated, two trays were placed before us (mine on my lap) each containing a bread roll, unappetising garlic salad and a slice of treacle tart. Befuddled by the champagne, The Boyfriend and I ate this tiny salad and asked for another bread roll and then another. “I was warned the portions were small…” I muttered as I tried to soak up the champagne with the bread. “Why did they give us menus?” asked The Boyfriend, “I didn’t choose garlic salad”. As we finished the treacle tart and piled up our trays and plates, we realised we’d made a mistake when the steaming main course arrived.The Boyfriend’s Pork Casserole was apparently very nice, as were the new potatoes but sadly not the fancy pile of roasted carrots. Mine was an extremely tasty ravioli in a creamy sauce, I asked what it was as they cleared the plates away and apparently it was mushroom and tomato. It was certainly much better than any airline meal and surprisingly well presented. We also ordered from the wine list with our meal, a choice of Red, White or Rose. This sent us to sleep in the huge comfy seats until we were woken with a glass of yet more champagne on approach to Gare Du Nord.
*****On the way back, we were feeling relaxed from our break but a little tired from late nights and sightseeing. The journey back looked like a welcome change to rest before having to get across central London in rush hour. The Eurostar isn’t quite as well signposted at Gare Du Nord as it was at Waterloo. We eventually found the check in desk upstairs and made our way through passport control to a very limited seating area. With nowhere to sit down, we visited Relay and paid 2 Euros for a copy of The Sun. Luckily boarding was swift to follow and we were ushered onto the train shortly in a very long and disorganised queue. Having had first class on the way out, we were perhaps a little less appreciative of standard class. The seats are cramped and have a busy pattern which makes them feel even more so. The tables were dirty from the last customers and after a week of not being understood, I had to practically gag The Boyfriend to prevent him complaining loudly in English.
As the train glided silently through fields and past whitewashed farm houses, they announced the buffet car. I was quite content with my mega pack of Kinder chocolate and my copy of The Sun and The Boyfriend was leaning sleepily in my lap awaiting the tunnel.The tunnel itself is just a concrete wall with two dark eyes for trains and a Eurotunnel sign overhead. I’d had a slight twinge of concern on the way out, following the earthquake in Kent was it possible it could crack? We were under the sea? With hindsight, I think this was a reaction to The Boyfriends fear of flying, something along the lines of ‘If he can be ridiculous about these things, then so can I’. The darkness in the tunnel is calming and the standard seats for all their size restrictions were no less comfortable. We slept until Waterloo, when the looming ‘Bienvenue’ sign reminded us we were back on home turf.
*****In conclusion, I think the Eurostar is a deeply convenient way of getting to the continent. Journey time from London to Paris is only 2hrs and 43minutes. I won’t deny that I love the ferry, with it’s noisy amusement arcades, gale force sea breeze and overpriced bar, but this is just so quick and easy. Given a holiday where finance and time were of no consequence (should there ever be such a thing!) I’d probably prefer the ferry for its romantic first glimpse of land and lazy meandering crossing. The flight for me doesn’t even bear considering. The last time I flew to Charles De Gaulle, the check in time took longer than the ferry or rail trip and only meat baguettes were served during 20 minutes of uncomfortable turbulence. The hassle of waiting for luggage to come off the conveyor belt is also off putting. The Eurostar wins hands down for the modern city break, giving a service that you just wouldn’t get anywhere else.
Eurostar goes to 8 different destinations, not just Paris. The official website is where you can book tickets or even weekend breaks.
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