I actually travelled York – Lyon by train, but it sounded better with the alliteration. And although both Yorkshire and London firmly believe themselves to be at The Centre of The Universe, even I must concede that London is probably (marginally) more globally important. So London will be where the journey starts.
After a 1st class train journey (!) down to London, a 2nd class hostel stay at YHA St. Pancras, and a 1st class meeting with my friend Maisy, it was a bright and fresh day when I started my Eurostar journey. Just a quick saunter (saunter time: 4 minutes) took me from my over-crowded room to the station, where I picked up my tickets and waited for the train.
St. Pancras is one of the most rah stations in the U.K., where it is legally binding to wear coats and scarves of at least 50% wool and / or cashmere. It’s therefore one of the more challenging spots to play the game ‘Are They French, or Just Posh English?’. Everyone has swishy hair, trench and peacoats, and does a lot of relaxed striding, and well-off Parisians (i’ve noticed) have a tendency to copy ‘le look anglais’: bouclé hair or tweed jackets. It’s la mode à la Prince Charles. French people often repeat the lie that they all benefit from an in-built radar for detecting fellow français; this isn’t true.* All you have to do is wear a large scarf and a cool attitude, and they’ll believe you’re 5ème arrondissement through and through.
After thinking about all of this for a bit, I made it through the very relaxing security, and onto the train. I’ve only been on the Eurostar twice before, and I’d forgotten just how huge it is: 1/4 mile. Apparently engineers have to bike up and down to work on the carriages.
My seatmate and I exchanged looks as we both whipped out our copies of The Guardian, and it was in this pleasant spirit of the Echo Chamber that we sped along the roads of the Southern Coast. I bought a sandwich equivalent to a term’s worth of university tuition fees, and stared (without any profound thoughts) into the blackness of the Channel Tunnel. Googling how the tunnel stays up was not reassuring, as it brought up an article about a collapse between London-Belgium a few years ago.
Suddenly the train burst into daylight, and we were in France. More specifically, I was asleep in France, and nearly missed my stop at Lille. Usually this wouldn’t matter: you use common sense, and catch the next mode of transport back to your intended destination. On the Eurostar, however, missing your stop can land you in another country entirely – 1 point to carpe diem, nil to your sense of capability.
In Lille I launched myself and my three-tonne bags on to the next train heading south, and three extremely crowded hours, had reached beautiful Lyon.
Although I chose to go by train for environmental reasons, it was immensely more pleasurable than travelling by plane. Whipping through the English and French countryside, all the way from grey Northern England to golden Southern France, was exhilarating, and I simply watched the changing skies for hours.
It’s also a great privilege for a Brit from Brexit island to pass through countries so freely, to fly through the colours of the landscapes, all while feeling the great vastness of this mass of land, so full of play and possibility: so unlike the disjointed displacement of the plane, where there is little sense of geographical progression, of the swallowing up of miles and miles of land in your journey. Travelling through the continent is an experience I’m hugely excited for in the next six or seven months here.
*It’s also usually a bit racist