It is no surprise that, when Eurostar started operations, it immediately became the preferred option for business and leisure travelers heading from London to Paris. Almost 20 years later, the airlines cling to a small residual share of the market between the two capitals — flights are nowadays favored mainly by travelers who are making onward connections with intercontinental flights.
Many travelers opt for Eurostar for its sheer convenience. With a headline travel time of just 2hrs 16mins from the heart of London to the middle of Paris, Eurostar will invariably be the fastest option. Others favor the international rail service for its reasonable fares. Book when tickets first go on sale (four months before travel on the London to Paris route), and you’ll surely catch a bargain.
From edgy and unloved landscapes…
But there is quite another reason why canny travelers bound for Paris are so inclined to hop on Eurostar. This journey has a remarkable cinematic quality. Climb aboard, settle down in a comfortable window seat and just watch.
The departure from St Pancras is a gentle piece of theatre. Then tunnels and light interact, with screenshots of edgy and unloved landscapes in Essex and north Kent. Cut from a scene of the old automobile plant at Dagenham to a late Saxon stone church stranded on the Essex marshes.
… to the garden of England
The train zips under the Thames then over the Medway, suddenly entering a green and pleasant land, a more rural England than we have seen in the first part of our journey. The railway plays cat and mouse with the Downs, here and there diving through tunnels under chalk hills.
Along the way, there are gorgeous scenes of Kentish orchards and pasture land. This is pure therapy.
On, under the English Channel, and you’ll be in France within an hour of leaving London. Here the landscape has a more expansive demeanor.
Cassel, a magnificently-situated hill town in the distance, is a reminder that Flanders is not totally two-dimensional. Dashing south from Lille, the line cuts through territory defined by its rivers. We bridge the Scarpe and the Somme. This is a journey that evokes memories of too many wars. But it captures too the blessings of peace.
Arriving in Paris
Two hours out of London and we are into the final act. Paris suburbs are pushing north into fields where not so long ago sugar beet was grown.
We surf the city, making tracks for the Gare du Nord. But watch carefully, for just before arriving at the terminal, the River Seine has a minor walk-on role. You’ll catch a glimpse of it on the right as the train cruises south through St Denis.
Just over two hours of pure cinema. And like all good movies, it’s one worth watching time and time again.