Train travel is definitely a lot more popular in Europe than it is in North America, where we tend to drive or fly more.
When I heard about the tunnel that was being built under the English Channel to connect Britain and France, I was fascinated. I marveled at the vision and the incredible feat of engineering it took to bring it to life and wondered what it was like for the people who worked on building it.
More than anything though, the idea of traveling in a capsule 250 feet under the English Channel sent my imagination wild. I was particularly curious to experience that part of the trip. How would it feel?
As soon as I booked my trip to London, I purchased a ticket to Paris on the Eurostar. For me, there was just no other way to go.
When the day arrived, I was excited. I couldn’t wait to get on the train. Once I made my way to King’s Cross, I followed the signs to St. Pancras International Station. Since I had purchased my ticket beforehand, all I needed to do was check-in. There were several Eurostar employees helping and directing us so the lines moved smoothly. Eurostar warned that check-in closes 30 minutes before departure but I got there about an hour before.
After going through immigration and baggage check, I found my car and assigned seat – unfortunately, it was not near the window. I read a little, especially during the 20 minute under the Channel. I didn’t know what to expect but I was disappointed by how normal it was!
Once we were above ground again, I kept my eyes peeled as the beautiful countryside rolled pass my window. Approximately 2 ½ hours later, I was in Paris.
Getting There —
Book your ticket online at eurostar.com up to the day of departure – provided there’s availability but be prepared to pay more. For the best prices, book well in advance, say a month prior, and stay away from peak times: weekends, holidays, mornings and afternoons.
There are three categories of tickets: Standard, Standard Premier and Business. Within Standard and Standard Premier, there are two options: Non-Flexible and Semi-Flexible. As the name implies, Non-Flexible offers no flexibility to change, exchange or refund your ticket once you’ve purchased it. Semi-Flexible tickets can be refunded or exchanged up to 2 months after purchase for a fixed fee of Twenty-two Pounds plus whatever the difference is in the ticket you wish to exchange for.
On board –
There are power plugs for electronics however, there’s no wifi. Free internet access is available at St. Pancras, paid at Gare du Nord in Paris.
Meals are served in Standard Premier or Business. If you’re traveling Standard, you can purchase snacks, sandwiches, drinks in the club car.
If you require a visa, make sure to get one before you leave your home country. France is one of fifteen Schengen countries that are signatories to the Schengen Agreement which allows travel among the Schengen countries on one visa. The visa is issued by the country that you arrive at first, so if you’re going to France, you’ll need to visit the French Embassy for the visa. If you’re landing in Spain first, go to the Spanish Embassy, etc. To avoid delays, check the visa requirements carefully before you go.
For me, traveling by train in Europe brings on a nostalgia for a time when I wasn’t even born, that I see glimpses of in brochures and old movies. The Eurostar brings me a little closer to that time.
One of the unintended benefits of traveling, for me, is discovering something new about myself or rediscovering some personal quality that time and life had made me forget.
On my last trip to London, I stayed with my sister and her family. While it was a holiday for me, it wasn’t for them so I knew I’d be navigating the city on my own.
It wasn’t like that on my first trip. I stayed with my favorite female cousin who worked, but I didn’t venture out much. Fresh from completing school in Barcelona, I can still remember the energetic and confident 20-something I was then but I can’t remember why I stayed in so much. I missed out on a lot and it wasn’t because it rained everyday except the day before I left.
In the 20+ years between these two trips — the third doesn’t count as the 4 days were consumed by preparations for my sister’s wedding — I’ve logged several thousand miles of both solo and group travels.
This time, rather than letting myself feel alone or worry that I’d get lost — my friends say I’m directionally challenged, I call it exploring alternate paths — I felt the free and confident person that I am return. And I got even more confident as each day went by and I found my way even when I returned late at night or wandered far afield.
Like the day I did the London Eye. I wandered the Southbank aimlessly, stopped for something to eat then rejoined the sea of people who seemed to be out for a Sunday stroll and enjoying the unusually warm day. I had no idea where I was but I wasn’t bothered. I knew I’d find the underground and my way back — and I did.
After a week of finding my way around in London, I was excited to tackle Paris, where except for a friend from New York, whom I saw once, I was totally alone. My aloneness emboldened me. Could it have been because I speak some French? Probably. But the first night in the hotel, I put a chair behind the door, just in case.
Everyday, I picked the places that I had to see then spent the rest of the time wandering around, discovering quaint streets, flower stalls, boutiques and ‘real’ pharmacies along the way. By the time I made my way back to the metro, it would be way past midnight.
The trip was a big boost to my confidence, especially at a time when I was feeling more than a little unsure of my footing.
I’m eager to start the next trip to see what else I discover about myself.
What do your travels reveal to you?
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My sister kept saying that she’d wait for me to arrive so we could take our 84 year old aunt on the London Eye. But by the time I got to London, our aunt was beginning to have difficulty getting around.
Maybe it was a good thing as it took more than 45 minutes from the time I picked up my ticket to the time I climbed aboard the ‘pod.’
But it was worth it. This is what I saw:
One of the 32 oval pods that take passengers high above London.
I think our aunt would have loved this.
The ride on the London Eye was smooth, the view breathtaking. Just before each pod returned to home base, it discharged passengers and took on new ones. Each ride took about 30 minutes.
Some facts about the London Eye:
Designed by husband wife team of David Marks and Julia Barfield
It was opened in March, 2000
Hosts 3.5 million visitors annually
At 443 feet (135 meters), it is the 4th tallest structure in London
It is the world’s largest cantilevered observation wheel
If you’re not afraid of heights, next time you’re in London, make sure you check out the London Eye.
Enjoy the view!
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A few weeks ago, I was speaking with my 80 year old aunt who, except for a spell in Canada, has lived in the U.K. since 1954 – way before I was born.
I’m not sure how the conversation veered towards her trip from Kingston, Jamaica to London but for the first time I heard that she and 16 others had traveled on the Reina del Pacifico, the ocean liner aboard which a former British Prime Minister, James MacDonald, had died and King Peter of Yugoslavia had sailed.
But that’s not what caught my attention. According to Aunt Connie, her voyage had lasted three weeks. Three weeks?!
Could I survive being unplugged for that long? I doubt it seriously.
When did I get so connected? Every so often, I leave my phone at home intentionally or turn off the television.
But I’m getting ready to go on vacation and remaining connected is my biggest concern. Always has been.
Living in the U.S., I’ve become so used to being always ‘on’ that I take for granted the limitations of technology elsewhere.
On my last trip, my laptop traveled with me as it always does. However, in two and a half weeks, I got online for only a few minutes. When I did, it was like winning the lottery – miraculous and unexpected. My first few days had been tortuous. Like quitting smoking cold turkey, I felt ‘whole’ again once I got online.
So how will I be able to postaday when I’m on vacation?
I plan to have a few posts queued up and ready to go but I love to share my experiences shortly after they happen – not when I get back. So I’ve spent the last day trolling the Internet to make sure there’ll be free WiFi hotspots near my hotel (T-Mobile tells me I can turn off the data service and connect using WiFi but I’d rather have my phone off completely) that I’ll be able to find a convenient location to buy a SIM card when I arrive (I have an unlocked phone that I use whenever I travel) and that my adapters will work (They didn’t in South Africa). I’ll buy a few minutes on Skype so I can call home in case there’s an emergency or use GoogleChat.
I’m confident these steps will keep me connected so that I can keep my commitment to postaday while I’m away. I’ll know for sure once I arrive.
How do you stay connected when you’re traveling outside the US?
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