Category Archives: London

Train angst and side trips…


The next morning in Bayeux marked the beginning of a whirlwind of activity that would take us to our last days in Europe, and that whirlwind started with a 3 hour train ride into Paris’ Gare Saint-Lazare.

The train system in France is basically like spokes of a big wheel, with the center of that wheel being Paris. All of the main Paris train stations (Austerlitz, Bercy, Est, Lyon, Montparnasse, Nord, and Saint-Lazare)are termini and the spokes of the wheel go out from these stations. For example, all the trains coming from the northwestern parts of France like Brittany and Normandy end at Gare Saint-Lazare, and all the trains coming from the North Eastern parts like Calais and the chunnel to London end at Nord, (also known as Paris Nord, or Gare du Nord).

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So, if you are traveling from one section of France to a different section by train, you have to go through Paris, most of the time there is no other way, and some of these stations in Paris are quite far apart, however all of the stations are connected by the RER system and the Metro.

We were prepared for a three hour layover in Paris which would give us plenty of time to get from Gare Saint-Lazare to Gare du Nord using the RER E commuter train that travels between the two stations.

No problem.

Gare Saint-Lazare is basically a huge shopping mall that has a train station attached to it. Loads of shops, cafés, fast food kiosks, etc. and all of the crowds that go with it, so it was a little overwhelming trying to navigate through the crowds with large pieces of luggage during the lunch rush hour when we arrived, but we were armed with research and all we needed to do was follow the signs and get to the RER platform and we would be fine.

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When we got close to the platform at a junction in a hallway, there were two SCNF officials blocking the way to the RER E and a large crowd of people pointing to the metro map and waving their arms. I waded into the crowd to see what was what, and found out there was a problem with the train so they were giving instructions on a convoluted alternate route involving two Metro trains and a walk down a street that I couldn’t quite follow from the poor woman trying to explain it to me.

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SO, instead of taking the chance of getting lost and missing our train out of Nord to Calais, we decided to go to the taxi stand and cab it. I was a little nervous about taking a taxi because I had read how large Paris is in area (14th largest city in the world) and we didn’t know how far it was or whether we would encounter gridlock in a Parisian rush hour, or even what the rates were.

Ten minutes and seven Euros later, we arrived at Gare du Nord and I exclaimed out of surprise “That’s it!?”

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The lesson learned from this, for me, was that the area within the inner part of Paris isn’t nearly as large as I imagined it, and this trip gave me a scale in my head that I could apply when looking at a map, which would be helpful when we got back here in a few days.

We killed some time in Gare du Nord (wishing that we were killing time in Gare Saint-Lazare instead) where L found a great bakery for some bread and pastry and then it was off to Calais and a lovely beachside suburb called Sangatte. The Kerloan B&B where we were staying was right across from the beach and right beside a great restaurant called Le Relais de Sangatte (formerly called the Country Cottage Pub if you’re looking for it on Trip Advisor), so our first night was filled with great food and some fantastic scenery.

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The next morning, very early, we made a side trip.

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, our original plans for the area wasn’t going to happen. L had noticed that the Eurostar stopped in Calais and it was only a 55 minute train ride into London (actually closer than Paris) and there was a Vikings exhibit on at the British Museum.

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So after some more confusing times with a French train (there are no machines to collect the Eurostar tickets in the Calais-Fréthun train station and you have to wait until the gates open 1/2 hour before the train leaves to collect your tickets and go through security and customs… which turns out is plenty of time, but there wasn’t a single indicator or instruction anywhere about it including the website) it was off to London for about 8 hours to see some wonderful exhibits…

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…and fantastic sculpture.

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After the museum, we had a lovely walk to St Pancras station where there was a Marks and Spencer and we loaded up on snacks and Welsh Cakes.

We took the Eurostar back to Calais, and repeated the previous night with some food at Le Relais de Sangatte and another sunset on the beach.

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The following morning, it was a first class train ride back to the final destination, Paris.

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Europe, Travel and first day… and travel and second day…


The alarm went off at 5:30 am, just like it was supposed to; the electronic klaxon ringing it’s beep beep beep tune across my condo, to wake me up on the start of a new adventure. My heart was in the right place when I had set that alarm. I wanted to get an early start to the day, the first day of a European journey that would take me to parts of the UK and France over the next month.

My travel companions and I had been planning this trip for quite a while, with many hours of research and reading, maps and websites, chats and emails. An itinerary had been drawn up, accommodations booked, and travel tickets purchased. So this little alarm clock was marking a very important moment in time. Day one, hour one, minute one of another lengthy trip abroad.

But the beep beeps were useless. They didn’t wake me up. The urgent electronic call to arise and begin the day, fell on deaf ears and the one job that this little alarm clock was designed to do, was never realised.

It was never realised because I was sitting, watching it count down the seconds, fully dressed with my luggage strapped to my back since 4am, coat and boots on, wide eyed in anticipation as I slapped the off button on the alarm.

I messaged L that I was on my way and she said that Z would be by to pick us up for the airport soon. So I walked out the door, leaving the alarm clock and my condo in the dust.

L is within walking distance to my place, and I was anxious to try out my new travel backpack(s), so I walked out into the cold April morning in Winnipeg, and trudged through the muck and falling snow in my neighbourhood, careful not to slip on the ice that had formed overnight.

Z picked us up, and we were off to Winnipeg’s James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, one of many stations that we will be waiting at during day one and the first part of this trip.

SO, we enter Winnipeg’s James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, check in, check bags, check wallet for passport, check time. Through security, quite quickly and without incident, and into the domestic/international departure section of the airport. Starbucks, water and snacks are purchased, and we look out into the beauty of the area around the airport, and the Manitoba spring.

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Board the plane, on time, take off, peruse onboard entertainment package… oh wait… that’s disappointing

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Oh well. Pull out an Apple mobile accessory, play mindless video game, open snacks that were purchased at movie theatre prices, served coffee, and look out window at the advice on the wing of the aircraft.

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Sip coffee. Sneer at brown water concoction that pretends to be “coffee”, read a little, look out window, land in Montréal.

Into Montréal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, walk a long walk to the gate for our next plane which is on time. Six hour wait. Hmm.

Purchase sandwich and salad combo from airport vendor. Edible. Doesn’t kill us. Good sign. Wander the halls looking into stores and restaurants. Starbucks, water and snacks are purchased, but this time we practice our french.

Wander around some more. Five hours left. Repeat above steps five times.

Discover that jet airplane engines can also be used as hand dryers in public restrooms.

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Board plane, slightly late, no huge deal, settle in. Take off, 20 minutes late, not bad, open snacks and water, and look over extensive entertainment package in the seat.

Watch a Bollywood superhero movie called Krrish 3 (actually the fourth in the series, never saw the first three), hindi with subtitles. I’m surprised at how much hindi I can remember. Movie is hilarious, especially when the superheroes and villains break out into song and dance. Giggle uproariously.

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Meal. Ask for the chicken, get the beef. Stroganoff concoction with a tasteless cabbage and corn slaw, petrified bread product, and sandpaper brownie. Definitely not the worst airplane meal I’ve ever had. Partake in another cup of the brown water coffee like drink and mourn. Order another cup when flight attendant comes around.

Watch a second Bollywood movie, also in hindi with subtitles. This one called Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a biography picture about Milkha Singh. Very good, well acted, entertaining. Love that they break out into song and dance, even in sports biography pictures.

Nap.

Meal…. sort of. A cellophane wrapped piece of banana loaf for breakfast, which isn’t too bad. More coffee flavoured brown water while looking at the sunrise.

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Land at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport and disembark towards immigration. Prepare for onslaught of questions about why I’m visiting and possible cavity searches. Practice french responses: “Non, monsieur, ce n’est pas une arme à feu dans ma poche, je suis heureux de vous voir.”

Hand my passport to the officer. He opens it, looks at me, stamps it, waves me through. Thirty seconds. Fastest I’ve ever been through customs, anywhere.

Wait for half an hour for luggage (they were expecting security to hold us up too I guess), and then a three mile walk through the airport to the Réseau Express Régional B train station “in” the airport. Figure out ticketing system, follow signs to platform, and then think we are lost. Look inside parked train, realise we are not lost but in the correct place and board the train.

Look out window. L exclaims “OH MY GOD! LOOK! VEGETATION! EVERYTHING IS GREEN!”

Arrive at Paris Gare du Nord train station and wander around looking for the Eurostar section of the station. Months earlier we had booked these tickets and there was a promotion for lower cost first class tickets (less than economy) so we booked them.

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Figured out ticket machines, found the gate. 3 hour wait. Starbucks, water and snacks are purchased, consumed. Find a recycling bin. The french think recycling is hardcore by the looks of the iconography. When in France…

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Board ultra-highspeed Eurostar bullet train. Board luxurious train car, with really really comfortable reclining seats and huge windows.

Meal. This time it’s a gourmet spring chicken in tomato reduction with a light mango chutney, saffron basmati, choice of FRESH dinner roll, or two, or three, complimentary wine and/or beer, and a fresh raspberry tart for dessert. Everything was great. I, of course, finish with a coffee. This time it’s a delicious french press style cup which I sip and watch the lush green french country side go by.

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Nap.

Train stops. There is a delay at the Chunnel. A different train is stuck and they are down to one set of tracks so they have to wait their turn to enter. Might be a couple of hours.

Shrug. Continue nap in reclining high class train seat.

Hour and a half later, underway. Now in the UK. Total time in France is six hours. Fond memories.

Reach London’s St Pancras international railway station, trundle our way to the shared Kings Cross St Pancras Underground station and purchase tickets for the Hammersmith & City line’s journey to Paddington Underground H&C station. Ten minutes.

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Make our way to the Paddington Railway station that is connected, and find a FastTicket machine and withdraw ALL of our train tickets for the UK that we will use over the next few weeks (7 each). This wait was to be almost 5 hours but because of the Chunnel delay, it will now only be 2 and a bit.

Look at departure boards. Stare at them in confusion until we find our train. There is no gate number on the board. Find Station Manager Rajesh Patel and ask him where our gate will be. He asks where we are coming from and I relay the journey so far. He calls me “daft” for travelling so much in one day and informs me that gates are assigned 15 minutes prior to departure.

The smell of the Paddington station Burger King is starting to affect me so I go and get a Whopper to eat while we wait. Mistakenly hand a £100 note to Dave at the Burger King, thinking it was a £10. Dave kindly points out my error and doesn’t rob me blind. Nice.

Gate announced, rush the train (general seating), comfortable hour and a half to the Castle Cary railway station through Reading. Nap most of the way. Disembark, picked up in prearranged cab by Ian Corbett of Zero-Nine Taxi and he gives us a lovely tour of Glastonbury, which is lost on me a little because of weariness. Dropped off at the incredible Parsnips B&B in Glastonbury. Pot of tea, shower, bed, pillow, and a deep sleep complete with snores that peel the wallpaper and frighten the cows.

SO, after three airports, two airplanes, six train stations, four trains, nineteen cups of coffee (some good, some bad, one extraordinary), a car, a cab, and a combined thirty three hours of travel time, we’re in Glastonbury… and since I was greeted with a view of the garden at dawn, I couldn’t be happier.

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