Ah, the joys of speedy train travel
NST, February 21, 2013
WHEN Eurostar started its service in 1994, some English people were aghast at the thought of the French descending on us in droves. I trust the French shared the sentiment.
Today, as French patisseries and restaurants spread across London and we take our baguettes for granted, I am grateful for the farsightedness of the people who brought this wonderful train to us.
Eurostar also helped to modernise the United Kingdom's railways. For its first decade, Eurostar had to contend with the dilapidated British tracks, which could not cope with the high speeds the French TGV (train à grande vitesse) could command.
As a result, your train chugs along from Waterloo International (as the Eurostar station was then) at 201kph and picks up speed as it enters Calais. You could almost feel the engine sighing, "theese Briteesh, why are zey so slow?" The 492km journey to Paris would take up to three hours.
Finally, following improvements to the British end of the railway line in 2007, St Pancras International was opened and Eurostar is able to travel at the full speed of 334.7kph from London to Paris, cutting the journey time by more than half.
What is it about train travel that brings out the child in you? I get a buzz at the prospect of travel that I don't get from flying as soon as I get to the station. Maybe it is the prospect of looking out of the window and seeing the world whiz by.
But today, I suspect it is the stress of getting to the airport that makes train travel even more attractive; the rigorous and at times, humiliating airport security checks and my inability to travel light and the fear of having my hand luggage weighed.
The speed of the train is an experience in itself. Having travelled on the Shinkansen (bullet train) in Japan, I am drawn to the beauty of the engines of these high speed trains. Eurostar with its white and yellow livery looks like a bird and it doesn't half fly like one.
Just like road travel, train travel gives you a chance to see the places you pass through. On the Eurostar, you get to see the changing landscape and architecture, from the English to the French.
The greenery of the rolling English landscape as soon as you get out of London is a sight to behold. Add to it a foggy winter's day and it gives the landscape an air of mystery, even romance.
Then there's the excitement of travelling in the Eurotunnel. For 20 minutes, you travel beneath the English Channel. What an amazing engineering feat.
From Calais, you are introduced to the French countryside; the farms which don't quite look like English farms that you've just passed, and you just can't figure out why. Perhaps it is because this part of the terrain is largely flat so you don't get the rolling hills dotted with sheep.
You see the typical Frenchman in his beret and your heart squeals with delight at being in this country where the language is so beautiful everything they say sounds like sweet nothings.
And then, voila, you are awakened from your dream and you're in Gare du Nord Paris before you can say "croissant!"
When it comes to travelling from London to Paris, the Eurostar high-speed train wins hands down. And not just for sentimental reasons. It takes a mere two hours 15 minutes for the 495km journey.