Our love affair with Eurostar continues…..
On Monday June 1st we left St Pancras at 07:19 on a fresh, grey London morning.
Just under 6 1/2 hours later, we pulled into the Gare Saint Charles in exotic Marseille, cloudless skies above and Mediterranean heat wrapping itself around us, like a comforting blanket draped over an exhausted marathon runner.
Eurostar have run a summer service to Avignon for several years but from 1st May 2015, this has been extended to Marseille. From here you can explore the south of France in all its Gallic glory, make other TGV connections to France or continental Europe, or jump on a ferry to Corsica or North Africa.
On the train trip down, entertain yourself in any number of ways to make the time fly as quickly as Sepp Blatter’s final Presidential term at FIFA.
I overdosed on old-fashioned printed newspapers, buying the I for its Independent journalism and quick crossword, before realising I could get a free Daily Telegraph with a bottle of water at Smiths. And then finding free copies of the Guardian on the train. Still, you can never be over-news’d, can you?
A tradition for Gill and me on Eurostar journeys is to play crib. And for Gill to beat me at this old favourite card game, all pegging, 15-2, 15-4, 15-6, 3 for the run and 1 for his knob.
We had long conversations with our friendly fellow passengers, a retired couple disembarking at Avignon for another train connection to pick up their French river cruise. With a company they use and like. A lot. He was the sales and marketing manager for Agfa, the photographic company owned by the German conglomerate Bayer, and who single-handedly grabbed significant market share for them from Kodak before taking an impossible-to-refuse early retirement package.
We found out a little too much about them, to be honest, but we were a captive audience and I couldn’t face another newspaper.
We also immersed ourselves in books. I’m enjoying Ian McEwan’s The Children Act, savouring every page of his sumptuous writing in this short book, that I’ll need to talk about at my first meeting at a Book Club shortly after we get home.
Gill is reminiscing about our epic trip to Tasmania earlier in the year, through reading Chasing Rainbows, a fascinating autobiography by the daughter of a family who first lived in Palestine before leaving England for Australia with the wave of 1960s emigrants.
We like to indulge in a little Eurostar treat, whenever possible. For the Marseille trip an upgrade to Standard Premier class rewarded us with a comfortable seat, free newspapers and magazines, a history of the development of the photographic industry in Europe before the digital revolution, and meals served at your seat.
Shortly after easing out of St Pancras we were tucking into croissants as flaky as Jonathan Lees’ punctuality, jam, chilled orange juice and strong coffee or a choice of teas.
And somewhere between Lille and Avignon, we could choose between a surprisingly tasty vegetarian pie, with a provencale sauce to ease us into Marseillais mode, or a cold chicken salad. Washed down with a Sauvignon Blanc or a Minervois red. With pudding and tea or coffee, naturellement.
And all served by a very jolly and entertaining Eurostar cabin crew, mangling their English vowels un peu, but all providing a polished, fun service.
We found out as we approached Avignon that someone had jumped onto the line somewhere in France. Ours was the last Eurostar train through before services were suspended. Lucky, especially as I had been stuck at St Pancras on a Eurostar train for 5 hours in March, as a result of an English Jumper at Ashford.
But what a service this is. 777 miles to Marseille. Brief stops only at Lyon and Avignon. Great service. The ability to walk the length of the train, at any time. Access to all your luggage. The ever-changing landscapes through the window…….of Kent and the length of France, from the bland plains of the Pas de Calais to the rolling hills of Provence. And all at very reasonable prices, from as little as £99 return.
Eurostar, je t’aime.