Have renamed Eurostar for the day. Don't tell them I'm inflicting indignities on their corporate brand, willya?
Get to St Pancras for Eurostar at crack of dawn. Scanners, French passport control (very nicely packaged monsieur at the controle). Ten minutes to wait. Hop around from one foot to the other. Platform is called and nearly everyone heads for the travelator thing (flat moving conveyor belt that goes uphill to the platform).
Here's the platform for those of you who really are keen on knowing what it's like. Identify carriage and seat and check: 1. train no. 2 carriage no. (again) 3. seat no. (ditto) 4. train departure time 5. train destination 6. that train is stopping at Lille Europe where I need to get off. It would be difficult to get on the wrong train but I'm leaving nothing to chance. I relax, get out Laptop and have a go at the station wifi. It is identifiable but I can't get it to work, which is a pity cos I was going to send you all a blog. Ah well, you're getting it all at once, not in bits.
Sitting in the train, waiting to leave, I can hear distant trains leaving from platforms beneath me. It is rather like being in the labyrinth approaching the dragon's lair. Faint bellowings and rumbling drift across my mind. Or is it just my stomach?
We're off. The journey through Kent isn't very exciting and in fact the countryside is about as dull as anything you'll get in the UK. Taking photos is hard from the train because there are reflections and the train is going so fast anything close is blurred. So, half an hour and a swoop downwards and we're plunged into darkness.
Thirty-five minutes of channel tunnel.
Emerge and everything is French. This here is a booze warehouse near Calais. There are lots of these, because some people in the UK nip over to Calais/Boulogne/Dieppe/Dunkirk with their white vans and buy large quantities, much cheaper than in the UK. Legally, it has to be for personal use, but for example if you're having a three-day house party over Christmas, it is. So you get these places that are basically warehouses, invariably painted white, with the name on the side big enough to be readable from the train. This one is called 'Franglais' something or other.
All this talk of booze is making me thirsty. Head off to the buffet for coffee, pain au chocolat and bottle of fresh lemonade. Lemonde is 95 cals, pain au chocolat about 400 I would guess. I don't know about you, but I have a sort of standard calorie count for some things and a large cake or pastry I don't know the calories of gets counts as 400.
Arrive in Lille Europe station on time. Squint through window to make sure it IS Lille Europe. An interesting point about French railway stations is that they have this tasteful French blue signage with white lettering that is not IMO anything like big enough. I have before now got off at a station because I couldn't see the sign, walked along the platform a bit, found I was in the wrong place and got back on the same train. It was fortunately a small local train, I wouldn't fancy my chances at doing this at a TGV station. These trains are scheduled to stop for about three minutes, for the most part.
Get off, remembering I have three bags (handbag, backpack for Laptop and wheely). Normallly I only have two, or even one, but I put everything in my large backpack and decided I was risking a week of back trouble because of the extra weight of Laptop. also I wouldn't be able to get him out without unpacking everything and writing this blog is keeping me occupied on the second leg of the journey, nearly 6 hours long.
Take escalator up to waiting area. I have just under an hour to wait which is time to buy a drink and go for a pee. I have to buy the drink to have change to pay for the pee. Utter first word of French this trip: 'merci' in the shop. It's always 'merci' or 'pardon' (excuse me would you mind getting out of the way I'm in a hurry and carrying loads of heavy luggage).
Hang around waiting for platform to be announced. The bottom of the departures board says that platforms are announced 15 minutes before the departure of the train but everyone waiting knows better. The platform is announced barely 10 minutes before the train is due to leave, and there's a scramble. This is usual. There are no down escalators (thank you Mr Architect!) so everyone has to lug their luggage down the steps. There must be a lift somewhere but I've no idea where and it'll be full of people with children in buggies etc. Reach platform. The train is starting here at Lille so it's empty. Repeat earlier procedure for Eurostar to ensure am getting on the right train. If I get on the wrong one, there's more room for error.
All goes well till we get to the stop for Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and there we stay for an hour. I assume we are waiting for a connection which turns out to be the literal truth. When I finally get off the train, it has become two trains joined together. I'm guessing the wait was while the other train was joined up, either in Paris or later in Valence, where we also waited more than half an hour. Have an unspeakably horrible chicken sandwich for lunch. This is a tradition with trains all over the world: food is horrible.
However here's a pic of the Rhone, one of Europe's great rivers. On this train journey you cross it again and again and I never get tired of it. I love rivers.
Arrive finally at Hyeres, end destination totally worn out and take a taxi to the hotel. Seven euros well spent.
Treat myself to the kind of dinner I shouldn't really have: bruschetta with sundried tomato, ham and mozzarella, followed by daurade (gilt-head bream) with decorative vegetable things and a chocolate fondant and coffee. I didn't take photos of the food (being shy and retiring) but here's the resto.
More tomorrow, I'm whacked.