Thanks to Lizzie and manoeuvring the way around the website on line tickets are booked to London and back and early Thursday morning Ali and I are up drinking coffee, feeding the hounds, packing the car and heading to Montpellier as the sun rises.
I’m very excited about doing the train thing and not hopping onto yet another plane though it will take the best part of nine hours and A very sweetly walks me and the bag along the blue line from the car park to train station as they are not one and the same due to road works and involve a bit of a schlep. Also we do have to retrieve the tickets from a machine and have the first one’ composted’ so I can wield bag up and down a flight of stairs to the platform and get on the right train, thankfully, but into the wrong carriage! Plonking down in seat 35 a stony eyed madam waves her ticket at me and discovering I should be in carriage seven and not eight is not helpful as the train is starting the big whoosh out of the station.
Anyway 30 minutes later and loitering in an upstairs seat there is a quick stop at Nimes so with a very quick hop on and off and correct seat and I share a table of four with a gorgeous family returning to the US after Christmas in France. Wow what a lucky little lad Thomas is, French mum with whom he converses in French and American dad with whom he chats in English and annual trips to visit his European family .The TGV is very fast, comfortable and with a working loo which is always encouraging. France races by outside the window and it really is so rural for such a large part with fields and vineyards, pretty villages with spired centres and all the more perhaps because buildings are so uniform, pink and earthy and settling well into the surrounding country .
Lille Europe sounds very grand and is the transfer stations for the next leg under the Channel through the Tunnel with EuroStar. Blimey, talk about cold and draughty. There is nowhere out of a ferocious draught that heaves through the station and it’s not just me being thick about getting the wrong spot. Tall, vertical red barred heaters are scattered around and gloved, coated and scarved waiting passengers stand around them so close that a Japanese tourist in a black pvc jacket is in threat of melting. It is a miserable place to wait and after an hour or so the EuroStar check in is open and huddling in a shivering line behold there is a warm waiting room for a nanno second before descending into the bowels of Lille and the appropriate spot for getting on to the right carriage.
This is beginning to sound like a whinge and yes it probably is! Not quite sure what I was expecting from the Eurostar …obviously not the Orient Express but it is surely a bit of an iconic statement.
Maybe a tad tired, weary and certainly cold the carriage is small and a crusty English woman of a certain age has commandeered my seat and while folding and refolding a huge broadsheet goes on about a comfortable seat for her leg condition and there’s another seat over there I could have. True. In the foursome across the aisle a young French woman with Kathleen’s Turner breathy laugh and smoky voice talks at machine gun rate for the entire journey while her mate fiddles with his phone and punctuates her conversation with a desultory ‘Oui’ at appropriate points. Their neighbour a very elderly farmer type rolls his eyes and covers eyes and ears with his hands and dozes deciding half an hour before St Pancras to venture into the loo which is now producing a volcanic bubblings of hygienic blue stuff from the bowels of the toilet. After 20 minutes even ‘Kathleen’ is glancing towards the corridor and eventually he emerges with a curious look on his face.
St Pancras awaits in gorgeous high vaulted ceilings, glass and the Olympic rings hung high.
Outside in the cold London air the taxi rank is lined with the iconic cab and my guy looks like Alfred Hitchcock. In Aussie greeting I ask him ‘How are you going tonight?’ and in very lugubrious tones he replies ‘I’m going wherever you are.’ Well ask a stupid question!!