Last week I had my first chance to take the Eurostar train that runs under the English Channel. My reaction --- do it when you get the chance!
I was writing in my journal throughout the trip. Here are some excerpts:
Blazing past the rolling green meadows of northwestern France, while Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Buffet offer a soundtrack of Mack the Knife on my Ipod. Speeds approach 200 mph; the train glides silky smooth o'er the tracks --- no annoying roars from jet engines. To my left, giant white windmills spin with a light breeze. Here's a a furrow cut through miles of early bloom farm land. There's nothing like this in the U.S. We speed along at a rate that's nearly twice as fast as New England's Acela.
The musical pace picks up with the robust hard piano chops of Ektar, playing a song called Place St. Henri. It's the real deal, courtesy of a hot young jazz group --- the instruments are piano, drums and bass, but it sounds like there is much more. We're still in France, but soon will dip below the English Channel.
Paris itself has a new novel form of transport --- bikes for rent. According to a French colleague, the first hour is free, then you pay about one Euro per hour. I saw several people using them during my 2 day stay. They can be dropped off at any of a series of bike racks set up throughout the city. One thing about Paris --- there is something new on every visit. Of course, you have to compete for road space with cars, buses and pedestrians, but the new approach is still very popular.
On curves, the train tilts on banked rails --- very cool. I just saw a sign for Calais --- the edge of the sea should be near. It must be colder here in the French countryside. The white of snow is blended on top of the green. In the background, David Gilmour sings "Wish You Were Here". Indeed!
Now, we're finally in the chunnel, 1 hour and 45 minutes into the trip. We did have a couple of stops along the way or we would have been here sooner. I took the moment to reset my watch to Greenwich Mean Time. The tunnel is dark except for occasional lights on the sides. Twenty minutes later, we emerge into the English countryside. It's very different here. The landscape is much hillier and has more coarse vegetation. We just passed a road sign that indicates London is 40 miles away. We've got to be going at least 160 mph, which is evidently new for the English portion of this trip. I'd heard that the new tracks and newly refurbished station on this side just opened last November. We had one more stop in Ebbsfleet, a rustic community and then went through a landscape that included sheep and livestock in the foreground, with tall gray windmills and factories in the distance. Our final stop was the St. Pancras station. The last time I was in the UK, it still ran into Waterloo station, but that was the old route.
The St. Pancras station is impressive. It is big and glassy, with lots of new shops and elements of ongoing construction in the background. My first thought --- this is a harbinger of 21st century transportation. Consider this: Each car held about 80 people and the train had 16 cars, offering a capacity of 1280 people. No small wonder that this train is starting to make money. Plus, we are right in the heart of London and were only a 20 minute cab ride from our business meeting. This was a very good experience. I'd be happy to do it again and don't miss dealing with the Heathrow or Charles de Gaulle airports a bit.