And so begins my longest European train adventure yet, two weeks traveling through France, Italy and Switzerland. My journey as always starts at the magnificent London St. Pancras station. Security was a breeze and I was relaxing in my seat on the 14.22 to Paris Gare du Nord barely twenty minutes after walking into the station.
I’d booked a Standard seat at £42 but was offered a £30 upgrade to Standard Premier by email a few days before I travelled. I’m obviously a marketing man’s dream, as I immediately said yes on the promise of wider seats and a free meal. (For the record, I don’t need wider seats and a free meal due to any issues with gluttony, honestly).
The journey turned out to be a blast from the plast, as the train was one of the last unrefurbished 1st generation Eurostar’s. The interior feels a bit dated and retro now and there’s no wi-fi, much to the consternation of the woman opposite who was trying to conduct some business of great importance, at least to her. It’s a Saturday and I’m on holiday so I couldn’t care less. I tucked into my light lunch and two hours and twenty five minutes after leaving London I arrived at Gare du Nord.
It was only a twenty minute walk to my bed for the night, Hotel Audran in Montmartre (£45 for a no-frills double room). After a quick turn around I lived up to the clichéd reputation of every travelling Englishman by heading straight to an Irish pub (in this case O’Sullivans next to the Moulin Rouge). In my defence I wanted to watch the football and it was the only place I could find showing it. At least I attempted a deference to local culture by drinking Kronenbourg.
Next it was on to something far more classy, the Terrass Bar on the 7th floor of the hotel of the same name. Sunset, a glass of something cool and white (I’m no wine connoisseur I’m afraid)….and that view. Magical.
Later on I wandered through the narrow streets of Montmartre to Sacré Coeur. It’s hard to find fault with the café culture of the French, animated conversations spilling out into the street from quaint bars and bistros. Something sadly lacking in English culture, though the weather may have something to do with that.
Sacré Coeur Basilica looked breathtaking under the full moon. People lined the steps beneath listening to an African busker sing Beatles songs (really) gazing over the Paris skyline. Inside the church a service was taking place – no idea what the sermon was about but it was certainly heartfelt.
Afterwards I paid my respects to the god of white whine with a glass of Pouilly Fumé in Place du Tertre in the shadow of the basilica. Sitting outside people-watching and listening to a duo singing pop songs inside. On the other side of the square I sat inside a café listening to a talented pair of guitarists.
I concluded my first night by making some new friends, drinking and dancing in a pub on the steps leading down from Sacré Coeur. A très magnifique start to my trip.