Midnight passed on our final night at the lovely St. Pancras in London and it was time for sleep. I decided to open the in-room safe to double-check the Eurostar ticket times. I thought I knew the departure time was 2 in the afternoon, so our plan was to organize, pack and prepare in the morning and then check out at noon, grab some lunch and find the train. Imagine my surprise when the tickets said departure was 9 am!
Plans changed abruptly and we were busy for the next hour or two rolling clothes, getting packed, organized and situated. The whole train experience was new for me. Mark was not there to lead the way as he usually does, so I was nervous about the upcoming unknown. Our train tickets were non-refundable, so if we missed our train we were--I didn't even want to think about it!
Rick Steves' excellent travel site, www.ricksteves.com/ recommends rail travelers pack light. No large pieces of luggage, both for ease of travel and to avoid theft. In the end, we chose to follow his wise advice, and we had packed for our eleven-day trip in one carry-on suitcase each. I knew there would be no laundry facilities, so we read, studied recommendations, and I rolled all clothing to fit more in. There was almost no extra room for souvenirs, except for what I could carry in my over-shoulder canvas bag.
The London St. Pancras Station is new and clean. Best of all, the signs are in English. The Gare du Nord (Paris) Station contrasted in every way.
|The Promenade--We didn't see this part, but it expresses our feel of the place|
|Gare du Nord- Thieves abound|
|We never saw any Gendarmes at the station, but did see some with guns out at the Musee D'Orsay|
|The exterior of Gare du Nord, Paris (all photos today, public domain)|
According to Frommer’s Paris 2010, which I wish I’d referred to before the trip rather than after, the Gare du Nord is a “high-risk area for pick-pocketing and theft.” We needed to spend some time at the station in order to find a machine and obtain some Euros. In just a few minutes, as we looked for a machine and waited in line, we were approached by several people. It seemed some were trying to trick us to set our bags down in order to hold a clipboard and sign our names to a petition. The Frommer book also warns, “ Often one thief distracts a tourist by asking a question while an accomplice takes a momentarily unguarded bag or piece of luggage.” Before long, their intention became pretty obvious. All the while we could hear intermittent loudspeaker announcements in the backround: Pickpockets and thieves work this area. Guard your belongings. We were relieved to exit the station and arrive at our hotel with all of our bags.
Though I didn't like the train station, the train experience itself was extremely positive. The Eurostar was clean and roomier than an airplane. The seats were comfortable, the service friendly, and the food delicious.