Old Feb 8, 00, 9:11 pm
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Miami Beach, FL
Programs: AA EXP 3MM, BA Gold
Posts: 865
Trip Report: JFK-LHR-CDG-SFO-JFK (Part 2)

Rather than make the treks to and from the airports in these cities, I decided to give EuroStar a try and experience the Chunnel crossing. I arrived at Waterloo Station at 11:30am Saturday, where EuroStar has a terminal and platforms separate from the rest of the station. There are quite a few different types of fares, much like air travel, with same day, advance purchase, and excursion rates. EuroStar also offers four classes of service, which are Premium 1st Class (tickets cost BP225, or $360, each way), 1st Class (BP190 / $304), 2nd Class Plus (BP155 / $248), and 2nd Class (BP90 / $144). Premium 1st offers such extras as transportation to and from the train station, lounge access at the station, and a 4-course gourmet meal. 1st Class offers a gourmet meal as well. In 2nd Class, meals and drinks can be purchased in 2 café cars on the train. I chose to buy a 1st Class ticket using some of our favorite airline ticketing tricks. A ticket with a same-day return can be purchased in 1st Class for BP105 ($168) or in 2nd Class for BP65 ($104). I booked a ticket for 1st Class on the train to Paris and 2nd Class on the return to London, knowing I would not use the return portion. The price was BP85, or about $136. The truth is, with EU air deregulation there are cheaper prices for air travel, but when you factor in time and money commuting to and from the airports it all works out pretty even.

Once you've purchased your ticket you are permitted to enter the EuroStar terminal. The terminal entrance has readers that you insert your ticket into to permit access. Unlike most other rail travel, at EuroStar you must pass through a security check similar to those at airports. Once inside the terminal, you have access to duty-free shopping, cafes, and newsstands. The terminal is actually below the train platforms, so when your train is called you pass through a gate and go up an escalator to the train. The EuroStar is a sleek yellow and white "bullet" train with 16 passenger cars (1 PremiumFirst coach, 5 1st Class coaches, and 10 2nd Class coaches), 2 café cars, and an engine on each end. Your ticket shows the car number and seat number you've been assigned; each car is well marked so it's easy to find your way, but there are numerous attendants to assist you if you need help. I settled into my seat, which was in a group of four (two pairs facing one another with a table in between). The coach I was seated in was quite spacious and very nice - even more so on my trip because I was the only passenger in the entire car, which had about 40 seats.

Moments after we left the station, the attendant entered, took my drink order (a beer on the airplane should be served this cold!), and gave me the lunch menu. The "gourmet" meal actually offers no selection of entrees, but I suppose the menu is a nice touch anyway. The tray I was served had sundried tomato-stuffed chicken, roasted chateau potatoes, and sautéed savoy cabbage. The entrée was accompanied by a spring leaf and roma tomato salad with egg mimosa and pistachio vinaigrette, as well as an almond biscuit with chocolate and praline granache for dessert. The attendant was quite pleasant and kept my wine and water glasses filled without being overly attentive.

The train glides through the English countryside, where the high-speed tracks have not yet been laid, at a modest speed of 100-130km/hr (60-80mph). After about an hour, the purser announces that the train is approaching the Channel Tunnel and will be underground for about 20 minutes. Almost as soon as you enter the tunnel, you can feel the train begin to pick up speed. When you exit from the tunnel into France, you can definitely see the difference as the scenery whips by. In France, EuroStar travels at an amazing speed of up to 300km/hr (186mph)! During the latter part of the journey, much of the EuroStar tracks parallel French highways and it's interesting to see how fast the train passes cars going 70mph. Before long, we were arriving at Gare du Nord train station in Paris. The total travel time had been less than 3 hours and all in all the trip was quite a pleasant experience. I would definitely take EuroStar again before flying between London and Paris.

Next chapter: CDG-LAX-SFO
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