“Why don’t we book a train instead of a plane to have a relaxing journey through France?”, the famous last words by Geoff, a photographer I work with closely on projects encompassing just about everything (from food photography to nude art).
Our journey goal was to get from Grimsby, North East Lincolnshire, to Biarritz, South West France just in time for our photography workshop.
But, before we set our foot into one of the trains, we already saw our first hiccup – Geoff accidentally booked our train for the wrong date! Grumpy and unhappy, he paid the £150 fee to change our date.
It could have been worse, right? We could have got to London, waiting for our Eurostar train, only to realise we have the wrong tickets and cannot get through!
Anyway, happens to everyone at some point. So, still fairly excited we embarked on our trip, by driving to East Midlands Parkway train station, where we’d park up, grab our bags and wait for our first train to London. Because Eurostar departed London at 5:40AM the next morning, we had no other option but to catch the latest train into London and sit about for almost 5 hours waiting for our early morning departure.
“Our comfy arm-chairs will let you lose yourself in a book and relax…” read the 24/7 Starbucks cafe description at St. Pancras train station in London. Because it was one of the only places open through the night, it sounded perfect. I could read my book, have a cup of coffee, and let the time fly…
… until we arrived and found out there is not a single arm-chair, let alone a chair with a cushioned back, it was all hard wood stools and benches. Not everyone minded it though, some travellers found themselves sound asleep across the tables, but the only spaces available did not even have a back rest so we opted for another coffee place that was closing, but allowed its customers to remain in the seating area until 1AM.
Now let me tell you – 5 hours is a bloody long time to spend in an empty, closed train station. We tried reading newspapers and books, we tried keeping ourselves up with a few cups of coffee, walking around the station and then to a nearby shop for a few snacks and drinks only to pass the time, and I just wish I had brought a movie (or two, actually) for us to watch!
Surprisingly,we went through security and passport control with no trouble. Previously, we have had all sorts of odd questions, some of them being what is my relationship to Geoff, who am I travelling with, and so forth.
Is that inappropriate or is it just me? Can’t a young European female travel on her own anymore, and why having an older male accompanying her be considered suspicious?
Mind you, if people looked in our suitcases they’d find all sorts of suspicious things that we use as props for shooting and some eyebrows might be raised.
Now, the real journey began! Over two hours on Eurostar got us into Paris Montparnasse Train Station, and because the train was slightly delayed we had less than an hour to get across Paris with our luggage to catch our next train!
So, taxi was an obvious choice.
A cheeky looking French man met us at the taxi rank, asking us if we need one and where we’re going. “Gare Du Nord?”, we’d ask. Our request was met with a worried look, “you don’t have a lot of time. Metro will take too long. I can take you but I will have to be very fast.” (and he was, indeed!)
“Do you want to get there on time?..”
And so we got in the taxi, but with a request “please put seatbelt on”, he’d warn us.
Have you ever wanted to feel like in a movie, by jumping in a taxi and yelling “follow that car!” with all the excitement that follows?
Well, that’s exactly how it felt for us in his taxi. We’d cut corners, we’d cut queues, we’d dash across the road with some daring people still trying to run across the road in front of us, risking their lives. But the funny thing is, nobody seemed to mind.
Is this how Parisians drive? Was this just a regular taxi drive in Paris? As someone who is learning to drive herself, I almost had to cover my eyes as we drove just millimetres from touching another car!
Also, are all French men great at multitasking?
Our taxi driver managed to go on his phone, find out which train is ours and which platform it will depart from all the while still manoeuvring around the busy streets of Paris, and he did not even care about the traffic when he turned around in his driver seat facing us, showing us on his phone exactly where we have to go at the station, while others began honking at us.
We found our carriage with 4 minutes to spare. As we left the taxi, he’d hush us “Quick, run!” as he crumpled up the 90 euros we gave him.
So, that was my first impression of Paris – I saw the tower, I saw the bridge, I rolled from one side on the taxi seat to the other, I saw lots of little streets, cafes, and beautiful architecture.
On our way back we had more time between the two train times and as such we took metro.
Also, have you seen how tiny their metro tickets are?!
It cost us 3 euros.
Only 3 bloody euros.
But it was nowhere near as exciting.