|Typical view of northern France from the Eurostar|
On my last trip abroad I was on several trains. When I landed at Heathrow on May 5th it was late morning, so I decided to speed up the next part of my journey by taking the Heathrow Express to Paddington (I usually take the RailAir bus to Reading) before catching my intercity train to Wales. It turned out to be well worth it. No need to buy a ticket at Heathrow––if you have previously booked on line as I had, the QR code on your receipt can be shown on board; otherwise you just pay the inspector.
London stations are ten times cleaner and brighter these days than they used to be, and Paddington has a quiet restaurant up the escalator from the main concourse with waitress service, where I sat in a padded chair eating a second breakfast and watched the other passengers coming and going. I then found my seat on the fast train to Cardiff (costing £18.50, i.e. less than the above-mentioned 15 minute ride from Heathrow to Paddington. Last time I'd taken a London to Cardiff train, without booking in advance, the price had been something like £100). Very tired after the overnight flight I didn't appreciate the continuous loud monologue from the upper class twit in one of the nearby seats, but I did appreciate my views of the lovely green countryside on that sunny spring day.
|My grandson Alexander on a London train|
Then after breakfast on Monday May 12th I crossed London yet again to catch the Eurostar to Brussels from St. Pancras. That was really enjoyable. I had a 20 minute connection in Brussels-Midi (a huge modern station) for my ICE train to Köln and made it easily, finding the Deutsche Bahn's free take-away magazine on board, containing articles I can use for my German conversation group in Ottawa. On this journey I was bemused by the announcements in English, French, Flemish and German, the order of languages depending on where we were, exactly. Crossing Belgium for instance they told us in Flemish that we would shortly be arriving in Luik which according to my itinerary wasn't on the list. Then they said it in German, "Wir treffen bald in Lüttich ein." What? Where? I had to wait for the French and English translations before I was sure that they meant Liège.
|Houses in Belgium, seen en route from|
the train to Köln
|Köln, the Hauptbahnhof|
While in Germany Chris and I used the trains on several more occasions. I spent a day in Aachen (separate blogpost coming soon) getting there and back very quickly and easily on the double-decker Regionalzug. We had a lift to Bad Pyrmont in Karsten's Mercedes, but when he left us to our own devices we used a local train (bound for Hannover airport)––which looks like Ottawa's one and only O-Train––to visit Hameln, quarter of an hour away, and on the Saturday afternoon returned to Köln by means of a series of trains, via Paderborn, Hamm and Wuppertal through which the famous century old Schwebebahn runs: we saw it from the window.
|The station at Bad Pyrmont|
|The Regionalzug that runs between Paderborn and Hannover|
|Our intercity train to Köln arriving in Hamm|
|Passing a double decker train in Hagen station|
|Inside Köln Hauptbahnhof, early morning|
|Chris on the other platform|
With two hours to wait for my Eurostar connection in Brussels I decided to roll my luggage outside the station and explore, which wasn't very gratifying, the most interesting part of the city (and I assume the less scruffy part) being too far away to walk to. I gave up, and speaking French now rather than German, bought myself a croque Hawaienne on the Avenue Paul-Henri, which I ate at an outdoor table. Once again the journey was sheer pleasure all the way, the party of British schoolkids notwithstanding––high-spirited, but actually well behaved. I just gazed out of the window for most of it and noticed when the soil turned chalky as we approached the French coast and the Channel Tunnel. At Lille I'd made a note: There's a man getting on the train with a life-sized model chicken.
|Approaching the Chunnel, in France|
|On the bridge at Fulwell Station|