Travels with Andrew-Eurostar/London, Paris, Brussels
By Jim Herron
It has been 18 months since Andrew and I have ventured to London, his second trip. Our first visit consisted of rides on the Underground, the double-decker buses and a visit to the London Transport Museum in Convent Garden Piazza.
As with our first trip, our adventures started in Houston flying non-stop on a Boeing 777 to London Gatwick Airport. Upon arrival, we took the Airport Express Train to London’s Victoria Station in central London. Our hotel, the Marriott County Hall was directly on the Thames River in Westminster next to the “London Eye”. We spent 2 ½ days in London doing the London Eye Ferris Wheel ride, some more exploring of Covent Garden and the London Transit Museum, where we purchased an enamel sign from “The Tubes” showing “Way Out”. It now hangs in our train room. We explored more buses and transit cars, took updated pictures at the Transit Museum in Covert Garden and watched a few fire-eaters and jugglers who were quite funny. Andrew jumped on a huge trampoline tied with a bungee line.
On Monday morning, Andrew, my wife Carla (yes, she did accompany us on this trip) and I set out for Waterloo Station to board the Chunnel Train, known as the Bullet Train/Eurostar. The destination was Paris, a mere 3 hours and one minute away with one stop in Lille, France. We boarded the 1st class compartment at 8:45am for a 9:00am departure. The train left exactly on time. We had a club seating arrangement and the airline type seats were extremely comfortable. The three of us were served a wonderful hot breakfast and when we finished, we were just about to enter our 21 minute ride under the English Channel to France. What impressed our family so far was the smoothness of the ride clipping along at about 120 miles per hour. It was somewhat smoother than an airplane ride.
As we left the tunnel, our speed increased to over 180 mph and the ride got even smoother. Andrew was fascinated at how fast we were going as the trucks, towns, and fields went flying by the windows and we all felt like we were standing still. After a half hour, we reached Lille, spent 10 minutes disembarking passengers and proceeded on to Paris. We arrived right on time in Paris at the Gare de Nord station. European train travel is such a pleasure and absolutely one of the most convenient ways of getting around Europe. During our stay in Paris we traveled on the Paris Metro (Andrew loved the ticket system) an intertwined system of subways linking the city of Paris, north, south, east and west. You can get just about everywhere in Paris on The Metro if you have a map and know how to interconnect with all of the lines and are ready for many a walk. That afternoon we decided to visit Montmartre, the artist colony behind Sacre-Coeur Cathedral, the second highest point in Paris after the Eiffel Tower. It is situated on a northwest hill overlooking Paris. We took The Metro there and proceeded up the hill to a functioning funicular, or cable railway that takes you up to the top of the Sacre-coeur. It consists of two cars, one always going up, and the other going down. The ride takes about five minutes and the view is spectacular. All it costs is one Metro ticket. If you ask for a Carnet, a book of ten tickets will save you about 33% and they can be used indefinitely.
The next leg of our journey was from Paris to Brussels aboard a Belgium TGV Bullet train, a journey of 1 hour and 45 minutes with one stop. Again, it was a fast (180 mph), smooth, pleasurable and comfortable ride, arriving “on time” at the Midi Station in central Brussels.
During our stay in Brussels, we ventured northwest to Bruges, a medieval town one hour by train from central Brussels. We spent the day and arrived back at Central Station in downtown Brussels at about 7:30PM. The roundtrip cost for the three of us was about 30 Euros, or $25. The train was fun and Andrew enjoyed the ride through the Flemish countryside, passing a windmill or two.
Our return trip to London on Saturday was on the Eurostar from Midi Station again direct to London, 2 hours and 45 minutes with two stops. We arrived “on time” in London, had a hot meal of rabbit (which I did not care for-How can you eat Bugs Bunny?), wine, dessert and Belgian chocolate (which of course, Andrew loved). There is also no smoking on the Eurostar with 1st class and 2nd class accommodations. The coaches on the Eurostar Train are more plush, the service better with a good meal, newspapers and all sorts of amenities in the 1st class compartment. Compared to European airlines, which travel airport to airport versus downtown to downtown on the train, taking the Eurostar is a real bargain and time saver for tourists and business people.
One flaw in the Eurostar is the track work from London to the English Channel, it is not fully complete and speed has to be kept under 120 mph. Supposedly this will be rectified in two more years when the cement ties are laid, and work is finally finished, cutting off about 30 minutes of travel, making the trip to or from Paris or London about 2½ hours.
All in all, we highly recommend train travel in Europe. TGV and Eurostar travel downtown to downtown anywhere on the Continent. We have used it quite a bit and have yet to have a bad trip.
Too bad Americans and the railroads can’t get together and start a system of high-speed trains right here soon.