DonQui is off on his travels again. This time he is going to Strasbourg — one of his favourite European cities.
He has rather gone off flying these days. Except for those far too rare occasions when he manages to upgrade to business class, he finds airports and aeroplanes increasingly unpleasant.
Encouraged by the success of his trip to Spain by train last year, DonQui again decides to take the Eurostar from London and the super fast TGV (train à grande vitesse) on to Strasbourg.
Rather than changing trains in Paris he takes a tip from the kindly Man in Seat 61 and goes to Lille where he can change trains at the same station. He booked his tickets through Loco 2 which makes trans continental booking all very simple.
It all goes very smoothly. The 30 minutes between the Eurostar’s arrival in Lille and the TGV’s departure to Strasbourg is more than enough time. Changing in Paris necessitates a change of stations which involves more of hassle, uncertainty and time.
So why Strasbourg and why this time of year?
Well it is cold — bitterly so from DonQui’s perspective even if his Canadian relatives might beg to differ. Claiming the title of ‘Christmas Capital’ Strasbourg hosts the oldest constantly running Christmas market in Europe, dating back to 1570.
Some of the decorations are a little bit ‘over the top’ perhaps so much that they start to become ironic. Despite the cold weather the atmosphere is congenial and there are plenty of places to warm up with waffles, Glühwein and even hot spiced orange juice.
Packed full of excellent restaurants serving hearty Alsatian fare washed down with excellent local wines (Alsatian riesling is the best in DonQui’s opinion) there are plenty of great excuses to get out of the cold and settle in for a couple of hours.
The wonderfully compact medieval centre of Strasbourg is made for strolling although a boat tour around the circumvallating River Ille is well worth it in DonQui’s opinion. With its mix of French and German culture it is the sort of place to wander around, discover hidden secrets down a cobbled ally, and take in the atmosphere. It is just the sort of place DonQui loves returning to.
The Duchess had booked first class which pleased DonQui very much as he quite likes a comfortable seat and would rather avoid being crowded by lots of humans.
The nice Man in Seat 61 had given DonQui lots of helpful advice on train travel in Europe. He had suggested it was possible to take the 9:17 Eurostar from London to Paris, arrive at 12:47, have a fine lunch at the Train Bleu Restaurant at the Gare de Lyon and then hop on the 14:07 TGV to arrive in Barcelona at 20:33.
This did cause DonQui to scratch his head. As much as he was looking forward to a fine French meal, managing such a thing in just over an hour would be tricky at the best of times. Add in the journey from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon and DonQui thought he would be lucky to get a croque-monsieur from a snack bar.
He was right.
With his innate sense of direction, DonQui successfully navigated his way across Paris: follow the signs for Metro/RER and look for the RER ligne D to Metun; buy a Metro ticket from the Green machines (not the SCNF ones) and use it to get through the barriers, retaining it to do the same on exit. DonQui felt rather pleased with himself that he was able to help out some rather lost and bewildered Australian tourists looking for a train to Zurich. “Follow me,” he said jauntily. And follow him they did.
Although Gare de Lyon is only two stops away from Gare du Nord, the RER train runs only once every 15 minutes. DonQui felt his lovely French lunch slipping further away as he got to the platform just as a train was leaving. When he arrived at the Gare de Lyon the TGV to Barcelona began boarding and there wasn’t even time for a bag of oats.
A baguette with cheese and ham, washed down with a bottle of Côtes de Bourg from the bar on board may not have been lunch at the magnificent art nouveau Train Bleu Restaurant but it went a long way to restoring DonQui’s spirits. He sat back and watched the French countryside wizz by at nearly 300 km/hr while he thought important thoughts.
The Man in Seat 61 for tons of helpful advice on train travel all over the world
Loco2.com for train times and reservations in English. Tickets cost the same as buying on the continent.
Travelling first class on the TGV as the cost is often not much more than the regular fare