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Keith Austin: When the world is your lobster Stories from a former Travel Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.

A Euro star!

FRANCE | Thursday, 9 July 2009 | Views [1047]

THERE was an advertising slogan in Britain many years ago which urged people to ‘Let the train take the strain’. That was in the supposedly good old days of British Rail, Intercity, and a nationalised train network, of course.

That slogan, though, could easily be resurrected by tourist boards across Europe to compete with the cheap fare airlines.

Main train stations are conspicuous by the fact that they are all within cooee of the centre of the city, if not right in it. Paris, for instance, has the Gare de Lyons, the Gare de L’Est, the Gare du Nord and the Gare St Lazare – three of which are in walking distance of us here in the Marais.

Ditto London.

Which is what makes the Eurostar train such as delight to use. Myself and Popsi Bubblehead went back to the UK recently on separate trips to see family. From leaving the studio here to arriving at my mother’s house in Bethnal Green, East London, took 4 hours – most of which were spent sitting down and reading on trains of one sort or another (Metro, Eurostar, Tube). And all this without, somehow, the stress and constant movement and hassle that are the hallmark of modern airports.

As a result, the prospect of short-haul flights now fill me with dread: the schlepp out to the airport with all your gear, the interminable queues, the squished seating, the wait for your luggage to arrive on the carousel, the schlepp from the airport into the destination city ... dear god, it’s depressing.

(Trains are also the perfect method of transport for all those numbnuts who jump up and grab their hand luggage as soon as the aeroplane stops bumping along the runway – on a train it actually does make some kind of sense because you already have your luggage with you and you can be first to the door and first off the train and first out of the station. On a plane you still have to wait for it all to come down that conveyor belt – so sit back DOWN why don’t ya?!?)

Anyway, since our arrival in Europe we have travelled on the Artesia night train from Venice to Paris (see previous post ‘Train, train do not go away’), regularly used the Eurostar back and forth to see UK family, and taken a train to Glasgow and back as part of a journey to the Isle of Islay.

The latter trip was interesting because I was already in the UK and took the train from London to Glasgow while Popsi booked a flight on one of the cheapo airlines from Paris.

The plan was for me to hire a car in Glasgow, pick her up at the airport and off we would go ... but the best laid plans and all that.

My train was on time at both ends and the car was ready to go. I drove to the airport to meet Popsi, who unfortunately wasn’t able to fly from Charles de Gaulle but from a small airport outside Paris at a place called Beauvais. This entailed a Metro trip to Port Maillot Metro and then a 40-minute coach trip to the airport.

I parked in the airport car park and rang her. “Where are you?”

“I’m off the plane and waiting near a bar called Yates”

Unable to find said bar I asked a barman. “Yates?” he said. “Yates? There’s no Yates here, ya Sassenach moron, but there’s a Yates at Prestwick airport. That’s about 40 minutes from here.”

I might have been making that ‘Sassenach moron’ bit up but I swear that’s what he was thinking. I certainly was. Seems I was at the main Glasgow airport while Popsi was standing in the Scottish equivalent to Beauvais, 40 minutes’ drive in the opposite direction to the one in which we should have been going.

In about two weeks we are taking the overnight train (huzzah!) down to Girona in Spain to worship at the culinary shrine of Ferran Adria’s El Bulli restaurant. On the way back we are flying from Girona to Paris but I haven’t had the nerve to ask Popsi where it is we’re landing.

I just hope it isn’t Prestwick.

* A word of advice if you are planning to use the Eurostar; book early. I booked a return journey to London about 4 weeks in advance and managed to get it for £80 (about $160). You can do it cheaper (I once got it for about £57 return) but you have to be early and flexible about journey times.

Popsi, on the other hand, decided on a Friday to go back on a Saturday. And, £178 later, she did.

On the other hand, my six-hour train trip from London to Glasgow cost me £48. When Popsi and I returned to London on the same train it cost £35 for BOTH of us. So shop around if you can.

Tags: beauvais, eurostar, france, girona, glasgow, paris, popsi bubblehead, prestwick, scotland, trains

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