Barcelona to Paris by TrainMarch 21st, 2011
The day started with a walk through the streets of Barcelona to Sants Station, not the most attractive of stations externally – think Birmingham New Street – but inside the station is user friendly and light and airy.
Having stocked up on some bottled water I head to the platform – to access Spanish platforms you have to go through a security screening and then a check in procedure.
There were about 70 people waiting for the train number 211 operated by an Alvia broad gauge electric train which is classed as “Enlace Int” or in English the “International Link”. This train is 2nd class only and has a very clinical feel about it being very clean, white and bright!
The onboard announcements and information screens, which showed speed and outside temperature, were in four languages which did make for lengthy announcements; Catalan, Castilian, French and English. The ride from Barcelona heading north is not the most scenic for the first part of the journey passing through tunnels and industrial areas but once outside of the city it becomes nicer with fields and rivers passing by the window.
There is an intermediate stop at Girona where there is very clear evidence of the work underway to complete the high speed standard gauge line linking Barcelona and Figueres. All along the ride there were glimpses of the new line which thankfully looks like it will not be in many tunnels thus allowing great views. This new line is due to open in 2012. On arrival at Figueres Vilafant Station, which is located some 5 km’s out of town and is linked to the town by a connecting bus service, the Duplex TGV (a double decker) for Paris was sitting on the adjacent platform making for a very easy interchange.
Departure from Figueres was spot on time and the train accelerated immediately to a high speed as we were on the completed part of the new line linking Perpignan and Barcelona. Sitting upstairs at a table for 2 on a Duplex TGV is definitely one of the more civilised ways to travel! The train had recently been refurbished and was in an excellent condition.
The 1st class carriages are traditionally done with comfortable reclining seats and the 2nd class has had a total makeover making a very nice product feeling light, airy and spacious. The bar / buffet has also been refurbished unfortunately the quality of the goods they sell has not. On board catering really is SNCF’s bête noir! SNCF tip always buy provision for an onboard picnic, which I had forgotten to do so had to splash out on some expensive food with basic quality.
On arrival at Perpignan the TGV takes to the classic line between there and Nimes with stops on this service at Narbonne, Beziers, Agde, Sete and Montpellier. I had forgotten how interesting this stretch of line is passing salt flats, the sea, mountains and lots of flamingos! Great views of the walled part of Beziers and views of many small hillside villages completes the picture. Once Nimes is left behind the train runs non stop to Paris some 686 kilometers away and covering the distance in 2 hours and 53 minutes which is where the French do trains well! Splendid views all the way along the line with Provencal villages, views of the River Rhone and glimpses of the city of Lyon are among the highlights. Arrival into Paris was spot on time at 16.41.
As I was travelling with just a small suitcase on wheels I decided to take the RER across to Gare du Nord – the first and only mistake of the trip. The platforms were crowded and it is always difficult to find the platforms. I have now basically decided any train off platform 2 goes to Gare du Nord whereas the adjacent platform 4 has trains going both to Gare du Nord BUT also heading the other way and I did make the mistake a while ago of ending up travelling south late at night instead of north. When the train arrived it was well loaded already and we all piled onto it, I did manage to get a seat, but once at Chatelet the train became impossibly crowded making getting off at Gare du Nord almost impossible. Chaotic scenes at Gare du Nord as people forcing themselves onto the train as I was trying to get off. I really recommend using the Railbookers transfer service in Paris for a civilised way of crossing the city.
After a brief sojourn in the Eurostar Lounge I was whisked off to London, declining the meal in Standard Premier, which looked paltry, as I was having dinner at the recommended St Pancras Grand restaurant. Unfortunately the train was about 15 minutes late so I met my friend at the Champagne Bar where he was partaking in some sparkling and watching the trains – sounds perfect!