Bright sunshine and a biting wind across the Exe estuary is an optimistic way to start. Rumbling through the town centre was enlivened by two dachshunds tied to a plastic barrier suddenly taking off and trailing it horizontally behind them. I stepped to the side but others not so lucky. My luck ran out on the platform courtesy of a passing seagull. What idiot said it is good luck! Then again, as I sat down on the train I noticed a £1 coin had ended up on the seat! Very bright and shiny.
Monday morning is cold and wet, dreary – makes leaving England more appetising. Walking past elegant squares towards St Pancras you notice the incessant building works and the uneven pavements. And being near the University there are swarms of bicycles at every junction.
Check-in takes less than 10 minutes and has none of the tension of an airport. This could become a recurring theme.
I have installed myself opposite platforms 7&8 but no destination showing for 10.24 nor for earlier 10.14 to Disneyland. It is this train that eventually shows for 7. The streaming throng that passes could not be further away from Eurostar’s marketing profile of slick businessmen. Mother’s wearing pink mickey mouse headbands, distracted fathers trying to control tired recalcitrant children. And so many buggies, large and small.
10.00 and Paris train comes up at 6. We leave on the dot. My seat companion turns out to be a French harpist living in Lincoln for the past four years. She used to have a concert harp but has swapped it for smaller Welsh and Irish versions. I had never realised some have metal strings and others organic.
Every seat is taken. Will that continue to be the case next year? She, Charlotte (the harpist) is going on to Reims to visit family but she gets an earlier train from gare de l’Est. I head off to an old-fashioned bistro called la Ville de Provins that looked promising on trip adviser. Proves to be right, for once. Saucisson lyonnaise, pomme puree and gravy, real bread and decent coffee. Only bum note was 6.80 euros for a 1/4l of vin rouge. I was seated in the window so had plenty of citizenry to watch scuttle by in the rain. Very few down and outs, one dustbin rummage but most people were tidy and getting on. Particularly bearing in mind most big stations attract more than their fair share of the left behind.
Almost nowhere to sit and wait but standing around on a day of long journeys was less of a problem.
Pulled in 20 minutes before departure and I climbed on board what was labelled coach 17 and found my seat. It was top level which I had wanted but couldn’t book on the useless interrail site. As we pulled out a girl came up and said she had seat 96 – as did I. But she was coach 16. Turns out that the same door gives access to two coaches. So I went up stairs pointing to the wrong 61-130! Profuse apologies and I went back to find the correct-and vacant 96.
The table seats are very cramped and uncomfortable and the bloke opposite had large feet. I could see that the girl next to me was getting off at Karlsruhe, first after Strasbourg, so I just hung on. Not made any easier by the only power socket under the table being fitted in such a way that I couldn’t plug in the adapter and charger. So rationed its use and had 15% by the time we reached Munich. Curiously, the train was delayed early on by an electrical fault and was at one time almost 20 minutes late. Yet by the time we finally arrived it was only a minute behind schedule. Goodness knows how fast he had been going.
With wondrous efficiency I collected from a machine the couchette booking I had made over the phone in England three weeks earlier. Took about two minutes to process. I’d expected to find a bar in the station for a leisurely bite and a beer, but it was all stand up street food. So a(large) plate of bratwurst and chips with generous dollop of ketchup and mustard. Standing up was fine but it didn’t fill in the time nor give access to a power socket. At least there were a few benches and the station was pretty deserted. Though again not really any flotsam and jetsam and no sign of rough sleepers.
It’s a small curiosity that this train splits at Salzburg and the other part goes down to Venice!
The 6-berth had two others in it eventually, a German business studies student and an Indian/American traveller spending a, week crashing around mitteleuropa.
So they installed themselves in the top two bunks, despite getting off at Vienna. After a lengthy examination of the general state of autocratic right-wing movements currently prevailing in each of our countries, the day came to an inconclusive but kilometre rich end.