As we passed through the tunnel and arrived in France, I heard:
“That was quick.”
“Well, yeah, that’s why they’re all crossing in dinghies.”
Somebody clearly thought the English Channel is as small and smooth as a lily pond.
They were all very surprised at how similar the landscape was to England, what with all the fields. They’re much larger than English ones though. I understand the surprise though – you want to see something different, but it’s amazing how similar many places are.
We had just over an hour before we would reach Paris. As the train headed further South, there were woodlands and small villages with with stone and brick built houses, often painted with white with red or dark grey-tiled rooves. There was often a church spire visible in the centres. We skirted larged towns and eventually passed Lille – industrial estates and apartment blocks (in varying states of repair and design) being the main clue that we were passing a sizeable city.
The view across the patchwork (different shades of greens, browns and vivid yellow) fields was hazy. From time to time, the train passed clusters of wind turbines, their slender sails lazily turning. In many of the fields there was water-spraying taking place so there couldn’t have been much rainfall recently.
On arrival into Gare du Nord, I headed for the Metro… marginally missing my train which meant I’d be slightly late for lunch. The marvels of modern technology meant I could just email the restaurant… when I first went travelling in the 1990s, that just wouldn’t have been an option.
I arrived at Gare de Lyon which seemed to have had a sudden influx of travellers who weren’t sure where they were going or who they were saying goodbye to resulting in large groups all standing in the archways between the different Departure Halls of Gare de Lyon. The interior is absolutely beautiful in the oldest hall, which was where I was heading to have lunch in ‘Le Train Bleu‘.
The Gare de Lyon’s station buffet was constructed around the time of the Great Exposition in 1900 and unveiled by the French President in 1901. It would go on to be named ‘Le Train Bleu’ in 1963 (a bit grander title than being known as the Station Buffet), as a tribute to the ‘Paris-Vintimille’ line dating from 1868, the legendary train that served towns in the French Riviera along the Mediterranean coast.
“Get a table looking out over the station,” said my mate. Great advice… except the windows are covered for restoration. C’est la vie.
Arriving late, I felt fairly constrained by time so I opted for a coffee and a bowl of minestrone soup. An amuse bouche (which definitely made me laugh) arrived in the form of the world’s smallest club sandwich and then a bowl of soapy dishwater arrived.
The bubbles hid a soup filled with varied, fresh vegetables and delightful Roman ravioli parcels. It seemed a fitting lunch for a trip to Italy.
I paid the bill twenty minutes before my train was sceduled to leave and wandered down to the Departures Hall where I discovered the train for Turin was leaving from the Hall at the furthest end of the station. I had walked quickly through here hoping that I wasn’t going to have to come back this way in a hurry. It had seemed like quite a distance.
By the time I was making my way back, the Halls were far quieter and I had time to look at the paintings that decorate the station. They’re similar to those in ‘Le Train Bleu’ depicting scenes from around Europe and Northern Africa.
I arrived at Platform 15 and there were two trains departing from here – one for Annecy and one for Milan. Of course, my train was at the far end of the platform. It’s a good thing I’m a pessimist. I climbed on board with plenty of time to spare and found my seat.
Within twenty minutes we had left Paris and the teain was travelling through green and yellow fields.
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