On day six we took the Eurostar to London and a National Rail train to Nottingham to visit a our friends Laura (Busywork) and Andy. I was very excited about taking the train but, turns out, it wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped. We did end up going through the Chunnel, but they didn’t announce it or anything. It just got dark, and a few minutes later we were in the UK.
We did get some great advice from Laura on how to book a good train ticket, and I’ve added my own below.
We were hoping for more time in St. Pancras station since it’s filled with nice stores, and we were hoping to go next door to get a picture of Platform 9 3/4, but our train was late and by the time we found where to get our tickets and grabbed some food it was time to find the new train.
At this point in our trip I was in desperate need of some vegetables. I was over the moon to find some prepared broccoli and soba noodles with carrots! At this point these were the most precious and delicious things in my world. I was giddy while eating them, it was terribly silly.
I also spotted Scotch Eggs!
And these cute meat pies:
We were met at the Nottingham station (so nice!) and were soon exploring the neighborhood. First we went to the Nottingham Craft Mafia pop-up store. Apparently it had started as a temporary shop set up for the holidays but was so successful they stayed. It’s full of great things:
We passed a bank and Laura and Andy pointed out this cat who waits at the front door in the moring, comes inside and hangs out in the lobby all day, and leaves at night. Smart cat.
After this we went to Boots! I bought some Travel Calm (motion sickness pills that we can’t get in the states, and don’t have the heavy drowsy side effect of Dramamine) and looked through all the many goods. I didn’t buy nearly enough stuff here.
And then we went to a Marks and Spencer’s food store, it was amazing. Trader Joe’s pales in comparison.
The flavors of crisps here were amazing. I think we bought Honey Roasted Whiltshire Ham, which tasted uncannily like any barbeque flavored chip.
Look! Dessert spoons.
Later Scott got a Malteasers milk shake:
I was very tired so we all went to bed early.
Things I Learned the Hard Way
Eurostar and train tickets The earlier you buy rail tickets the less expensive they are. We got ours about two months in advance and it was still surprisingly pricey. That said, Paris to London in two hours? That was pretty cool.
Laura sent me to sites that had really fantastic advice about booking on the Eurostar – Seat 61. In particular this site has some great advice on choosing a seat and points towards this very handy (PDF) Seatting Plan which can help you choose a seat facing forward and with a good open window in your aisle. Most handy of all? If you buy standard class tickets know that cars 5 and 14 have power sockets in each row. They alternate UK and European outlets, and if you book early enough you can choose (they show which outlets are in which rows when you choose). These are also the cars nearest the bar cars which can be good (food!) and bad (lots of people coming through).
My advice? Headed out of Paris towards London get seats on the left side of the train, we were seated on the right and had a view of a highway the whole trip. I kept peeking across the train car to see more pastoral views of villages and barns in the distance out the other windows.
If you’re interested in shopping in St Pancras try to get a longer layover than one hour. Our Eurostar trains were both running half an our late. We had enough time to get our connecting train, but not enough to look around. (I was hoping to have enough time to slip and out have a photo op moment at nearby Platform 9 3/4.)
We booked our trip (Paris to London to Nottingham) all together through Eurostar.com, the advantage of which is that should one train be late, you’re automatically booked on the next train going your way without extra expense. We weren’t able to request specific seats on the National Rail tickets. On the way back we found ourselves in the midst of commuter time and it was madness with people standing and a few sitting down in seats only to have the ticket holder for that seat arrive shortly afterward, and then negotiate with the squatter, generally kindly, who had longer to travel and on and on. It was really amusing.
You need to arrive half an hour before departure time for the Eurostar trains, so if you can at all help it don’t double check your tickets the night before and accidentally read them as “9:31 am” instead of “9:13 am” because you’ll also find that the journey through the Metro and RER with it’s long underground connection tunnels will take you a good 45 minutes when you have luggage and you’ll be frantic when you realize your error and arrive at Gare du Nord to find you have to walk three football fields of length through crowds to get to the Eurostar platforms and you’ll be sweaty and rushed and panicky. So, yeah, give yourself plenty of time.
On the way out of Paris through Gare du Nord we did have to fill out forms with our names, destination and travel dates to go through passport control, as well as go through some luggage screening. On the way back out of St Pancras we had luggage screening but didn’t have to fill out extra forms. (Actually, the French men in passport control barley glanced at me on the way through.) At St Pancras there is a newsstand with candy and a restaurant with to-go food on the other side of passport control. If you head all the way to the right (towards the restaurant) you can find counter seats with both European and UK plugs, there were a bunch of people camped there with laptops, and I think the St Pancras wi-fi extends that far though we weren’t able to connect to it.
What else? The Eurostar trains have fold-down foot rests, that was a nice touch. And at night the cars are lit on the inside so it’s easy to catch several reflections of the couple in front of you making out, hee hee.
Previously: Day One arrival and beating jet lag; Day Two big impressive monuments, unexpected meetings, needing to pee; Day Three The Metro, a museum, and French onion soup; Day Four dogs in paintings, startlingly large arches and towers; Day Five pastries and scoldings; Day Five the bit about the mangosteens
Next up: Day Seven Ye Olde-est Pub in England and a giant space suit