On the first of February 2020 (the first official day of Brexit) we picked up our backpacks and our 2.5 year old and set off for the train station. Starting point: Bristol. Destination: Sardinia. First stop: Paris. Method: train.
This is going to be a story of overland travel with a child, stretched across a few posts. As I’m writing, the UK is in Lockdown so planning a journey probably isn’t on your mind. But maybe a bit of escapism is still a good thing and thinking about the amazing world around us might be fun. Planning adventures is always fun in my book.
A study just came out showing that this pandemic has caused the largest ever fall in carbon dioxide emissions since records began. Flying less, driving less, working from home has caused our emissions to reduce by 17% (full study here). I’m taking a good message from that – that personal behavioural changes are meaningful. We can have an impact on this messy world. The question now is how we can make that drop continue out the other side of this crazy situation? The current predictions are that emissions just going to bounce right back up again (as they have already in china).
A big part of this drop has been via less travel. Now I love to travel so in our attempts to be greener what we try to do is: 1. Travel less. 2. Replace driving and flying with walking, bikes, buses and trains.
Just as an aside, the figures from that study show that ‘in real terms’ this drop only puts us on the same emissions levels as 2006. And in 2006, our emissions were way way to high. Basically, there’s a lot more reduction that needs doing. This provides quite a nice illustration that even with much of the western world shut, something radically needs to change (I’m looking at you governments, big businesses, industries and energy producers…).
Anyway, back to the matter in hand. The three of us walked out of our house. We had one big backpack, two day sacks that fit inside the big bag and a child back carrier with good storage space at the bottom. Last winters adventure in Spain we lugged around a folding pushchair too (for child nap purposes) so this all felt like a very light load. Said child is much heavier this year but has the benefit of being able to transport himself further.
We walked 10 minutes down the road to Stapleton Rd train station and waited for our small local train to take us the 6 minute ride to Bristol Parkway. This bit is always nerve wracking as this train is more prone to delay and cancellation than any other I’ve ever known. If it doesn’t come then that’s all our booked connections missed for days! I don’t believe in luck or fate but a big part of me feels like if this train comes then our journey will be fine. And it did. The journey began.
After a change at Bristol Parkway we headed on to London Paddington (1h 20m). We’d left lots of time in order to able to break up the journey a bit so hopped on the Bakerloo line to Picadilly Circus. China Town for lunch. I grew up in Salford, celebrating all my birthdays in Manchester China town (the Yang Sing rules). I also spent four months in china some years ago. Basically, I really love dumplings. It’s always so hard to choose where to eat but this time we went to Jen Cafe. After some cheap and basic tea and homemade dumplings, we gathered dinner in the form of red bean sesame balls (Jian dui) from my favourite bakery, Kowloon bakery.
After lunch we headed to the shiny Kings Cross St Pancreas. My boys, big and small, played on the swings outside kings cross while I grabbed some extra picnic food. Then we headed to the Eurostar.
London to Paris is 2h 16 min. Which is amazing because it’s a really long way. Having done this journey a fair bit, when I think about France I imagine Paris is right in the north west right by the channel tunnel. It it isn’t, it’s a fair way in.
The train zooms out of London and through Kent right down to Folkestone close to Dover. Here it goes underground for over 31 miles and the train has to slow down to a measly 100 mph. The channel tunnel is the longest underwater tunnel in the world with 23.5 miles of under sea action. How cool is that!I It was originally proposed in the early 1800’s and finally opened in 1994, massively over budget but providing the UK with it’s only physical link to mainland Europe.
Once the train emerges, it speeds up to around 180 mph and whooshes south west through the somewhat bleak flattish landscape of north France. Keep an eye out for buzzards which casually hang out on fence posts along the side of the track.
Then it’s in through the extensive suburbs and an arrival at Paris Gare du Nord.
The Eurostar trains are comfy and start at £58 return (look out for sales too!). You can save on your UK travel too by buying it with your Eurostar ticket via their website. The downside of this is you don’t get to pick your connection times. You can also get a CIV ticket in person from your local station, this allows you to travel at UK peak times for off peak prices to catch a eurostar. Lots of ticket sellers don’t know this exists but keep on at them and they can usually do it. If you have a small person under 4 they don’t need a eurostar ticket, although this means they share your seat which, be aware, can cause tantrums.
London to Paris return by plane has a carbon footprint of 244 kg CO2. By train, the 610 mile return journey is 22 Kg (more info). That’s the same emissions as a 60 miles in an average car, although I haven’t adjusted this for number of people (ref).
Our child is really cute. I’ve agree with my husband not to put their names or pics on this blog but here’s some proof: A totally off-his-face man came to ask us for money in the station. He got distracted by T-s angelic curls and ended up trying to give him 20 euros for being gorgeous. We took it and ran. No, obviously, we didn’t. We just said bye and got on our train.
Paris has great public transport. We had an early train booked the next morning from the Gare de Lyon so we’d booked a hotel just by that station. The RER line D took us there in just two stops (7 minutes). A disappointingly quick journey given these are rather novel, albeit very run down, double-decker trains.
We normally rent tiny apartments when we travel. Usually they are cheaper than a hotel and have more character. It also gives us freedom to shop at markets and cook in, which means much cheaper eating. Also with a child it means you have a space other than a sleeping space to hang out in. Good for playing and also good for evening adult conversation.
Today though, we had a hotel as it was the cheapest, closest option available. The reason it was cheap became apparent when we found the front door nailed shut and boarded over. Luckily there was a side entrance. The hotel was literally being built and the floors were coated in dust sheeting. Deep breath. Although not too deep as it was very solventy.
Things perked up as we got to the room, which was compact, as is normal in Paris, but actually quite nice. We had a picnic on the bed which took up the whole room and Little T had a ‘bath’ in the sink. T has been what can only be described as a horrendous sleeper for most of his life. To help him feel at home as we lived on the move, we’d brought not only his tiny teddy but also his own duvet and pillow to make him a nest. Luckily these compress quite small.
He shocked us that night by sleeping through the Saturday night cheer in the bar under our window. Even more impressively he slept through two of the three fire alarms that pierced the building that night. Each time all the guests poked their heads out of the door as the frantic doorman ran up and down saying no, no, not a fire, new system, can’t make it stop, sorry!
Eventually it did though, and the revellers went home and we got a few hours well earned sleep.
We find Eurostar is best booked via their website.