Chunnel Coolness Factor

The Eurostar train between London and Paris or Lille is a super cool way to get across the English Channel. The train passes through the channel tunnel or “chunnel” much more quickly than going through the airport or taking the ferry. Compared to SNCF (the French railway), it is amazing. 

I was scheduled to catch the 8 a.m. train from St Pancras Train Station in London the morning after Stage 3. I was out late the night before so I did not rise in time to check my email. I missed the email from Eurostar telling me that due to mechanical difficulties and repairs in the tunnel, I needed to reschedule to a later train. A ticket concierge helped me reschedule and I had a couple of hours to get a bite to eat and get through security. 

The St Pancras station’s (across the road from Kings Cross Train Station) Eurostar loading area is fairly small and probably due to the maintenance issues was very crowded. Once we loaded onto the train it was a very comfortable 2.5 hour ride to Lille. I did not even feel the pressure in my ears when we entered the tunnel. The only way I could tell I was under the English Channel was the dark windows. 

Later I received an email offering me a partial discount for the inconvenience. On SNCF I encountered crabby ticket sales people, nonexistent train conductors, closed cafe cars (for the duration of a 4+ hour train trip), and overcrowded passenger cars. I tried first class and second class. The only difference was the color of the seats and plugs for recharging phones.

My chunnel experience from Paris to London was excellent. I already blogged about my misadventure getting to Gare du Nord. Once I got to the station and found the Eurostar entrance I received excellent service. The ticket concierge helped me change my ticket to the next train without a penalty. This time security and waiting was easier. It seemed like we were in London in very little time. 

I will definitely use the chunnel again if the opportunity presents itself and recommend it to fellow travelers.

Mooching Around Paris

This photo looks like Sacre Coeur is on a green screen. I was really there!
This photo looks like Sacre Coeur is on a green screen. I was really there!

Kim and I had a relaxed afternoon and evening mooching around Paris the day after Le Tour ended. Kim the extreme cyclist from Austin was a complete stranger when we were assigned to the same room in St Lary Soulan; by Paris we were happy to share a walking adventure together and split the costs of an extra night in our spiffy hotel near L’Opera House.

We started by giving ourselves a little over an hour to speed shop in Galeries Lafayette. Then we began the slow climb up to the Sacre Coeur basilica.

My friend Jane from the Alps gave us a recommendation for a restaurant near there for dinner. (She had met the papa of the chef on her travels and dined there earlier in the week.) We stopped as our whimsy directed including a wonderful toy store. Eventually our hunger was prioritized over shopping.

We climbed and climbed until we finally found the restaurant, La Cremaillere 1900. The interior of the restaurant was beautiful (admired on the way to the loo) and all of the seating was outside in the courtyard on Henri Boulard. We enjoyed our meal and a glass of rose and then moved on to see the basilica. 

The Sacre Coeur is very popular more for the view of Paris from the grounds than as a place of worship. I waited for Kim in a seat near the back and watched as people ignored the sign of “Silence, respectful dress, and no photos.” There was even a guy with a Heineken beer bottle cruising through with his family (sold outside on the steps by ambitious “entrepreneurs”). We walked past hundreds of people already waiting on the steps for the sunset.

Hotel Edouard VII
Hotel Edouard VII

We sauntered back to the hotel and packed for an early morning departure. I will never be a Francophile and after four visits to Paris I am satiated. After all of the frustrations traveling in France it was fitting that I had one last experience.

The hotel doorman hailed a cab for me and said “Gare du Nord” to the driver. I jumped in and noticed the drivers earbuds and did not think much of it until we started driving down the Boulevard that parallels the River Seine. Hmm. I do not know Paris that well but I did not think we were headed in the right direction. It took a few minutes to dig out my Paris map and establish that we were headed to Gare de Lyon not the train station for the Eurostar chunnel.  I asked him if he was headed the right way to Gare de Nord. The driver removes his earbuds and says “Gare de Lyon”. By this time I had no time to spare to catch my train. Ideally we would be pulling up to the station in this moment. I probably shrieked, “NO! Gare du Nord!” He began to insist that the doorman said Gare de Lyon. We argued back and forth while he turned towards the right train station. He said he would only charge me 15 Euros and hurry as fast as possible to Gare du Nord. We pulled up at 9:05 and my train was leaving at 9:15. It took a few minutes to figure out where to find the security entrance and Pierre informed me that I was too late. Fortunately because I was there before the train departed I could get a new ticket for the next train at 10:15 at no extra charge. Huge sigh of relief. This misunderstanding with the taxi driver could have happened anywhere, yet the driver never apologized; he just kept blaming the doorman. So French.