On March 1st I went from Barcelona to London by train. It was amusing and relaxing; If you can spare a day and some money, I recommend it.

You get on a Spanish “Renfe” train at 9AM-ish from Barcelona Sants, arrive at Paris Gare de Lyon at 4-ish, get on the Eurostar from Gare du Nord at 5:20-ish, and arrive at London St. Pancras at 6:15.

Buying the ticket from Renfe and Eurostar using a computer in Canada turned out to be hard; Web search totally tailed to turn up a useful vendor, but I complained on Twitter and got a pointer to Loco2, who apparently exist to do exactly that.

I was warned that the seats were pretty crowded, so I lashed out and went first class, which cost at least twice as much as reasonable airfare.

I thought maybe I’d take pictures but I unfortunately had a backward-facing seat and the windows weren’t that clean, so I just used the phone-cam. Here’s some random Spanish countryside, not that far from Barcelona.

Spanish countryside, from the train

Observant visitors will notice train-window artifacts which I could photoshop out, only this is what it looked like.

The train stopped at a handful of places in France along the way, lots of people getting on and off. One kid got put on by his Dad way down south somewhere, couldn’t have any older than 10, maybe younger; went all the way to Paris on his own, videogames and comics the whole way.

Here’s a Pyrenee. They’re bigger than I’d thought, real mountains.

A Pyrenee

The data on my cheap Spanish SIM ran out an hour into France, so no more Net. That was OK because I had good books, and two issues of The Economist, queued up on my tablet; also photos to edit. But I found it a long time to be offline.

I remember an all-day train along the Rhine sometime last century; there was a dining car, good food while you watched the castles drift by. Lone travelers had to share tables but that turned out fine, I ended up splitting bottles of wine with a nice Dutchman and the next day there was a poem in my diary; and hey, it’s still there on my 21st-century terabyte SSD:


Koblenz to Mainz, they say, is pretty; ’s true.
Here are hills with castles on ’em,
silly-angled vineyards up the slopes.
The river's crawled by long blunt graceful boats.
Sun-dazzles one train-side, sunflowers th'other;
no Flemish painter saw so yellow a colour.
Train’s food, with pleasant strangers, eaten slow,
and train-ride Rhine-wine light a Rhine-side glow.
Hand-painted white on rock says: LORELEY.
Betimes it's more than fine to be alive.

Speaking of human contact, I’d probably have done better in economy; the biz-class setup does not encourage interaction. The 2014 train had only a snackbar; I had a croque-monsieur and can of beer and they were both OK. Oh well.

The route through France starts out along the south coast; this picture is at Sète, where as the map makes perfectly clear, the train is on narrow land between two waters; here we are looking inland on a windy day.

Looking inland at Sète

Hours later we rolled into Paris. The sane way to get across town between 4 and 5PM is the Metro of course; but I haven’t been for a long time and wanted a look so I took a cab. After 20 minutes of stop-and-go-crawling, the driver asked when my next train was. I told him to relax and explained why I was riding. He laughed and got into being a sarcastic tour guide, pointing out particularly sketchy cellphone shops and bad restaurants. It was fun.

And there wasn’t much time to spare. A steady walk through the Gare du Nord and the UK immigration formalities finally got me to the Eurostar lounge just as they invited everyone to leave it and board.

I love European train stations, and I think we can agree that the little Nexus 5 camera did a good job with this one. Do me a favor and enlarge it.

Paris’ Garde du Nord from the Eurostar walkway

The Eurostar Paris-to-London ride is pretty well a yawner. Northern France is remarkably reminiscent of Southwestern Ontario: flattish, with islands of industry dotting the farmland. The tunnel is just a tunnel.

Since I was in First Class they laid on the full English-Tea treatment; the croque-monsieur was a distant memory so I enjoyed it. By the time we came out of the tunnel it was dark and I wouldn’t have seen anything anyhow because my UK SIM woke up and I was online.

St. Pancras wasn’t crowded, I stuffed a few quid into my Oyster Card and in ten minutes I was a half-block from my hotel.

London evening, not far from Paddington

The Fujifilm at work, not the N5.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Martin (Apr 07 2014, at 01:46)

If you want to get from A to B by train in Europe and the UK, I recommend 'The Man in Seat 61':



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