I travelled to Brussels with Eurostar on its very first day of commercial operation. Back in 1994, it was trying too hard to be an airline, with its language of check-ins and attendants on parade outside every carriage, later to ferry food and drink to your seat. It was a nice way to travel, especially First Class, in which indulged myself as it was still cheaper than the horrible Sabena flights into Brussels’ horrible airport.
But it’s years since I stepped off that EEC gravy train and, now paying my own way, I was in the cheap seats for the first leg of a bit of an adventure. Much has changed in those years and air travel has changed more than most – less expensive, but more of an ordeal, with security, distant airports and no seat space just three of the long list of inconveniences that plague the planes.
Eurostar, to my surprise, still talked of check-ins and such like, but it’s much more like catching a train than a plane. Show your QR code to the barrier and it parts to decant you into a relaxed security zone (shoes on and laptops in bags) and a swift passport control. St Pancras International’s unabashedly 21st century look continues ‘airside’ and the contrast with Heathrow is stark. A short travelator ride to the platform and we’re on with legroom and even space in the overhead storage. Less than two and a half hours later, we were in the centre of Paris – the journey a delight, the clock not yet touching 11.00am. However, things were about to go awry.
We walked down the Rue St Denis, not as seedy as it once was, but still very Paris and not very London – which is the whole point of travel n’est-ce-pas? I had a cheeky beer on the way and soon we had crossed Ile de la Cite and we’re indulging in excellent crepes in the Rue St Andre des Arts, another favourite road. I bought Jesper an eclair and felt a rare pang of regret that the sugar was too much for me, and we moved back to the Seine to follow it to the Musee D’Orsay where the afternoon was to be spent looking at the Davids, Courbets, Manets etc etc etc.
Except it was shut due to unforeseen… Parisness, I suppose. The Orangerie, the Louvre, the Centre George Pompidou were also closed, but they were at least scheduled to be ferme le mardi. We were at a loose end in Paris – how incroyable is that? We went to Starbucks. For the wifi, you understand.
We continued to walk – and Paris is still a great walking city, with views to savour at every turn – and dropped into a bar for omelette and frites. Only having sat down and got things sorted did we realise that there were no frites – Paris was making us sing its tune again.
While Jesper showed more concentration than I expected in reading Julian Barnes History of the world in 10 1/2 chapters at Gare de Lyon, I drank Carrefour beer from those dinky little bottles that you only seem to get in France. After a bit of Baudelaire style people watching, we were on to the train (complet naturellement) and not looking forward to the recent notified 5.39 change in Milan.
But these things happen and some good conversation with a French couple en route to Sienna and some fitful sleep soon passed the hours.