My year’s travelling was rudely interrupted in the seventh month by the World Health Organisation declaring a pandemic and I came home.
I left a hot and humid Bangkok at the end of March 2020 and returned to a rather chilly Manchester.
I haven’t left this island since.
However, today (Thursday 17th)… I left sunny, yes, sunny Manchester by train to head down to London where I met my niece at Kings Cross to dash along to St Pancras WITHOUT time to call in at the Champagne Bar and catch a Eurostar over to Paris.
At this point in the Pandemic, there are no requirements for PCR or lateral flow testing to enter France (17th March 2022) but, if you’re from the UK, it’s worth keeping an eye on the FCO travel advice site in case this changes. Eurostar also provide information on entry requirements for the countries that it transports you to. I need to present my vaccine status (fully boosted, thank you NHS) and complete a declaration that I don’t have symptoms and havent been exposed in the last 14 days. Easy.
The last time I left Manchester on a Sunday to head to London for the Eurostar, a single ticket cost me £88. I was pretty outraged, especially when considering this in relation to what I was going to pay anywhere else. Working out costs per mile, very roughly naturally, in comparison with the distances covered and the services offered, to get from London to Brussels, Brussels to Warsaw, Warsaw to Moscow, travelling by the Trans Siberian Railway to Beijing, a variety of train journeys through China, into Hanoi and the length of Vietnam to Saigon/ Ho Chi Minh City… that journey was the most expensive I took.
This time, travelling at peak-time on a Thursday morning and returning on Sunday afternoon, a return ticket has cost me £78. I’m rather pleased that Avanti have got the West Coast rail franchise.
While I haven’t left the country for almost two years, I have enjoyed the fun of observing what happens around me on bus and train journeys. That’s a pleasure that is limited when you don’t share the same language with fellow passengers. Today I settled down to be entertained on the 2.5 hours trip to London.
Looking around, however… I didn’t think there was going to be much entertainment.
Most people were working on laptops… so unless someone forget to use their headphones and the person on the other end of the Zoom call decided to tell them about their prolapse (which is what I overheard last time I was in an office)… the comedy pickings were going to be decidely slim.
And then we reached Litchfield where the conductor rebuked ome people on the platform for not boarding the train quickly enough: “Come ON! We’re GOING!”
One of them wasn’t even catching this train. He looked up and down the platform to see if he was the one being shouted at. Yes, yes he was. From the look on his face, he seemed to be wondering if he SHOULD get on the train even if he didn’t want to go to London today. There was some definite wavering but he stood his ground and in fact stepped away with a pointed glance at the platform information screen.
Others on the platform scuttled on board. Whether they were now on the right train was anybody’s guess.
The train arrived into Euston and I wandered along to Kings Cross to meet my niece and grab a sandwich (gorgonzola and cherry tomatoes on foccacia since you ask) at the farmers’/artisan market set up outside the station.
Once the Away Team were assembled, we headed over to St Pancras, had a slight jitter when we couldn’t spot our train listed o the departure board and headed around to check in… where our train WAS listed. Check in, security, passport control including showing the vaccine pass (though they weren’t AT ALL interested in our declaration paperwork): all done and dusted within ten minutes, leaving us with plenty of time for a gin and tonic.
The people at the next table didn’t seem to realise that we could hear their commentary about our early drinking. This wasn’t a Zoom call and their table’s mute button wasn’t working.I replied indirectly, by saying loudly to my niece, that the sun is always over the yard arm somewhere in the world, and in this case, that was here in London as it was well past 11 o’clock in the morning.
Boarding Eurostar is so much nicer than catching a flight – it just felt so much more leisurely. I have travelled this way a few times but I am always as surprised as on the first time by just how relaxed and easy it is.
We had a group of loud students in front of us on the train. Rita was apparently just not listening to the instructions about not swapping seats until everyone is settled: “Rita? Rita? RITA! Will you just wait until we’re all here and then we can swap.”
Another student was also annoyed with Rita because “Why wouldn’t you tell me I had sat in pigeon poop?”
The Team Leader was dealing with other frustrations as one asked: “How loooooong is this journey?”
We hadn’t set off yet. The doors were still open. The Team Leader told them it was only two or three hours. This was not received well.
My niece and I hoped they would sleep.
The train pulled into Gare du Nord at around four o’clock in the afternoon and we took a twenty minute walk to our hotel.
First plan of action: wander over to Sacre Coeur. On the way, we stumbled into the 19th century. The residents of this particular part of the space time continuum did not seem at all perturbed by the appearance of 21st century time travellers.
There was filming taking place and the square outside the Church of St Bernard had been transformed into, if I was in England I’d have said, a Dickensian Christmas Market. I’m not sure what the French equivalent would be.
From here, it was up the hill to Sacre Coeur and we were heading up behind the basilica which meant no funicular and a much steeper climb. Schoolgirl error. My niece was less than impressed with my navigation.
Sacre Coeur was built on the highest point in the city and it was constructed as a very visible national penance – it can be seen from across the city. It’s apparently the second-most visited monument in Paris: I’m assuming the Eiffel Tower is number 1.
The basilica was designed by Paul Abadie and construction began in 1875, continuing until completion in 1914. The basilica was consecrated after the end of World War I, in 1919.
So why the penance? It is considered as both a political and cultural monument: marking the defeat of France in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and also for the actions of the Paris Commune of 1871. Sacré-Cœur Basilica was built in a neighborhood where the Commune was particularly active.
The Commune was a revolutionary government and seized power in March 1871: they governed Paris for two months, establishing policies that tended toward a progressive, anti-religious system of social democracy, including the separation of church and state, self-policing, the abolition of child labor, and the right of employees to take over an enterprise deserted by its owner.
The national French Army suppressed the Commune at the end of May 1871. The national forces killed in battle or quickly executed between 10,000 and 15,000 Communards, though some unconfirmed estimates go as high as 20,000.
43,522 Communards were taken prisoner, including 1,054 women. More than half were quickly released. 15,000 were tried, of whom 13,500 were found guilty. Ninety-five were sentenced to death, 251 to forced labor, and 1,169 to deportation.
Thousands of other Commune members, including several of the leaders, fled abroad. All the prisoners and exiles received pardons in 1880 and could return home, where some resumed political careers.
After thay climb a coffee was definitely in order as was a crepe… well, we had to keep up our strength for the rest of the evening.
As the sun set, we headed downhill (once you’ve climbed to the highest point in the city, the way back is always going to be easier) aiming for the river.
The streets were lively, restaurants and bars were filling up. It felt more like a Friday than a Thursday. In fact, actual Friday and Saturday would not feel quite so busy.
Eventually, we decided to find somewhere for dinner in St Germain and when in Paris on your first night, what else but a croque monsieur et frites? (Aka post cheese toastie with chips). Oh, and a cocktail.
From here… it was about walking along the river, before heading up the Champs-Elysees to the Arc du Triomphe and taking photos of the glowing buildings.