Western Europe is becoming increasingly easy to travel within, given its relatively small size and the introduction of the Euro. The one exception to traversing the whole of it by car is an island located to the far west coast, a little place called Britain.
Great Britain is separated by a narrow channel of water and was only accessible by plane and boat up until 1994, when the Channel Tunnel opened. Eurostar runs a highly efficient train service between England, France and Belgium through the ‘Chunnel’, as the Channel Tunnel is colloquially known, and was my transport of choice when travelling from London to Brussels.
The main train terminals are St Pancras International in London, Gare du Nord in Paris and Midi/Zuid in Brussels, although there are plenty more stations throughout all three countries.
St Pancras, my origin station, is very accessible by bus and has an ‘Underground’ train stop right beneath it. The impressive, tall, arched, glass ceilings and shops make St Pancras Station a pleasant place to meander or fit in a few last minute errands before your train departs. Checking in is a breeze. Simply scan your printed ticket or show it to a representative at the gate and proceed to security.
All of your luggage will be taken on board with you and is, therefore, accessible for the entire trip. It’s refreshing not having to wonder if your water bottle or nail file is considered a threat to security, as is now the case at airports. Of course, there are certain things you are disallowed from packing at all. The list of restrictions includes the usual prohibited items, such as firearms, and it makes mention of several items of sporting equipment. Also, keep in mind that there are size parameters for your luggage, although they are quite generous. Check the website for full details before you leave to avoid any complications.
It is recommended to arrive at least 30 minutes before departure, unless you are a ‘Business Premier’ or ‘Carte Blanche’ ticket-holder, to ensure that there will be no chance of missing your train. Once you have been through security, and again it takes only a few minutes, you’ll find yourself in the lounge area.
The lounge at St Pancras Station has been recently refurbished and the chairs are very comfortable. There is an information desk on the right-hand side and escalators in the middle that will lead to the trains during boarding. Several televisions display trains’ departure and arrival information, but it is not difficult to find an employee if you have any questions. For the minimal half hour that you are waiting in the lounge, you can surf the web with free wi-fi and grab a drink in the coffee shop, newsstand or bar.
If you have a Business Premier ticket or are a Carte Blanche holder, you can relax in the private business lounge, which is similar to the regular lounge except with personal leather chairs, power sockets and a complimentary refreshments stand.
When the train is ready to board there is a mad rush for the escalators. Funnily enough, as many of the announcements are in French, everyone rushes for one escalator and forgets that there is an additional one behind them. Unless otherwise stated, both escalators will take you to the same platform.
Most of the employees are native French speakers, as are many of the passengers, but the vast majority of them speak very good English. It may be a little overwhelming while everyone is rushing aboard, but there are several employees stationed throughout the platform who are available to point you in the right direction, so don’t be afraid to ask.
When you first enter the compartment, you’ll find a luggage rack and a sliding glass door leading to the seats. For standard ticket holders, the seats are well proportioned and comfortable. Both Business and Standard Premier ticket-holders have a meal included that is delivered to your seat, while Standard ticket-holders can purchase food at the onboard bar-buffet. The Standard offerings have some tasty looking sandwiches, sodas, hot drinks and alcoholic beverages to choose from.
For a large part of the journey, there is not actually much to see. The Chunnel is a little over 50 kilometres long but, surprisingly, I didn’t consider that when I booked a window seat!
Once you emerge back into the sunlight, you are greeted with rolling French countryside. Although you can feel your ears popping as you descend into the tunnel (and it’s best not to think about how much water is above your head), the speed that you’re travelling at is made much more obvious when power lines and fields are whipping by at an impressive rate.
I arrived at Brussels Midi/Zuid Station, also known as Brussels South in English, less than two hours after I departed and relished in the knowledge that I would not have to wait at a luggage carousel for my bags to, hopefully, reappear. It was exceedingly simple to unload, as there was no Customs to go through and the Midi/Zuid Station’s wide hallways could easily accommodate the flow of passengers.
Compared to flying, the Eurostar is undoubtedly less stressful, especially if you are travelling with luggage that you would normally have to check in. The trick to making the Eurostar affordable, as well as convenient, is to book your ticket early. The closer to the departure date, the more expensive the ticket becomes, sometimes doubling in price.
With Eurostar stations popping up all over the place (they now also have one that goes to Disneyland Paris and they extend as far as the French Alps), there are so many reasons to love the Eurostar. It’s something that everyone should try at least once, but chances are that you’ll be returning again and again after the experience.Write a Review
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