Today was a day of travel, and it went remarkably well. We are pleased that we decided to take the old-fashioned route - train to ferry to train - instead of airplanes or The Chunnel (slang for the English Channel train tunnel.)
We're attaching a couple of photos of our Rue Victor Masse flat, as we bid adieu. The stairs must be the 19th-century originals -- imagine four flights of them!
To begin with, we walked to the Gare du Nord, instead of taking the Metro. This was certainly the thing to do with our luggage; our well balanced suitcases rolled smoothly along the streets. Otherwise we would have had to negotiate many stairs down to the Metro and back up to the street. The walk took less than half an hour, and gave us a last look at some Parisian street scenes. Our Paris apartment
We spent some of our last Euros on newspapers, checked at which station in Calais we would disembark, and waited for the train. We were early -- we always are -- so we had time to finish the paper. The track was not posted until about ten minutes before departure, so we had to be on our toes to step to the correct track and board the train.
It was a crowded but comfortable TGV which had just three stops: Lille, where about two-thirds of the passengers disembarked, followed by two stations in Calais. The first Calais station -- Calais Frethun -- was not the one to use if you were going to the ferry. The train attendant made this announcement -- in French. We disembarked at the second station -- Calais Ville -- and a little while later met an Australian who had heard the word Dover in the train attendant's announcement, and thought the instructions were for those going to Dover to get off at Calais Frethun, whereas in fact they had told those going to Dover NOT to get off at Calais Frethun. So she, poor woman, had to pay for a taxi to the right train station to connect with the ferry.
We were surprised to discover a considerable amount of cross-channel traffic by ferry. Quite clearly the Chunnel has not put the ferries out of business, although we could also recognize that the traffic levels were not as high as they had been before the Chunnel. To begin with, there were a lot of trucks in both directions. They had signs from all the countries of Europe. While it may be possible to ship cargo by train through the Chunnel, it is clearly more cost effective to ship it by truck, over highways and ferries. This may be because European railroads are primarily used for passenger traffic. The freight always is delayed to let the passenger trains through. But in the year 2003 manufacturers are striving for just-in-time delivery. They are relying on very prompt and reliable cargo service. Delivery of goods by truck and boat is quicker and more reliable than by train, so the highways, rivers, and canals of Europe are filled with merchandise being delivered. Furthermore, tour buses choose the ferry because it is less expensive; so do students traveling on a limited budget. We figured it was approximately the same cost and time when you added up the transportation to and from airports at each end of the trip. While there was still passport control, it was a civilized and unhurried process.
We counted nine or ten ferries going in the opposite direction during our 75 - minute crossing. The port facilities for ferry traffic at both Dover and Calais were modern, complex and impossible to approach on foot. So in both ports, instead of walking from train station to ferry dock, as we had expected, we were whisked in free buses through tangles of roads and bridges. In Dover there were two free buses -- one from ferry to terminal, and the second from ferry terminal to railroad station.
Well, all of that meant that we didn't see much of either city. We can tell you that Calais has a notable landmark, a huge brick clock tower that is exuberantly architected and dominates the town. We can tell you that Dover has a notable landmark, its white cliffs made famous in song. But we can't tell you much of either town, as we didn't have the pleasure of walking through. It was train to bus to boat to bus to bus to train where we found ourselves buying senior discount tickets to London for 8 pounds fifty each. Four flights to climb
The French have been screaming about England's delay in completing its high-speed rail line from London to Dover. But it is all quite understandable when one considers the economics and politics of the Chunnel project.
If the true costs of building the Chunnel had been known at the outset, the plan might have been scrapped. About halfway through the project -- when the tunnel was already overdue -- the planners asked the shareholders to double their investment, so the Chunnel ended up costing well over twice what was originally planned, and taking about twice as long to build!
We were quoted prices of over 400 dollars for a round trip from London to Paris through the Chunnel; yet the British Midlands plane we took was only 75 dollars round trip, and our one way trip by bus and ferry came to about 100 dollars, including a taxicab in London. Paying twice as much just to say we rode the Eurostar seemed exorbitant to us.
We think that a lot of investors in the Chunnel project are Continental and not English; certainly the English airline and ferry operators would not be anxious to spend a lot of English tax dollars to install competing high-speed tracks from London to Dover. The technocrats who run France's publicly owned SNCF probably see things differently; they have dreams of a gleaming network of high-speed trains all over Europe. Yet these tracks must be frightfully expensive -- we noted that little progress has been made on adding high-speed lines in France since our 2000 journey around western Europe by train.
From our American point of view, the issue of European transportation systems would best be solved by a free market, and not by public transportation planners and politicians. It is ironic to note that another great French-inspired transportation project, the Concorde trans-sonic airliner, has recently been retired from commercial service.
Our train from Dover to London reminded us of the Toonerville Trolley; it had several doors on each side of the cars, to allow rapid embarking and disembarking of passengers. But it seemed to roll along as fast as the newer trains, and eventually got us to Charing Cross, where we purchased our week's underground pass but took a taxi to Cumberland Terrace Mews.
It felt like coming home to return to the same flat in London where we had stayed in April and May. It's roomy, in a nice neighborhood, only one flight of stairs, and everybody in this country speaks English!