The Tube, The Metro, The Eurostar – Getting Around In London and Paris

November 11th, 2009

The train stations in London and Paris are some of the most architecturally pleasing structures I have ever had the pleasure of frantically walking through, desperately worried that I was going to lose one of my sons, wishing my crazed husband would just slow the hell down, and wondering if I was ever going to get to buy a cup of coffee or a buttery pastry at one of the little shops that line the long corridors of the stations.  We spent most of our time in Europe either in the stations or on the trains (subway, metro, tube, underground, railway etc).  Just getting from one place to another in London and Paris was a big part of the adventure for our family, as in our small town the only public transit system –  is the school bus.  

 

We purchased six tickets called the ‘London Pass with Travel’ several weeks before we left on our trip.  The London Pass is a plastic card that got us into just about every attraction in London and included all of our daily travel on the buses, tube and trains for one price.  If you can manage to see two sites a day, you will break even with this card, but if you can get to three or four or five or SIX sites a day, you begin to see the attractions for free.  Which would explain the frantic pace that the CD kept us all on while we were there.  Once we broke the three attractions barrier, we were suddenly on a free vacation!  It did not matter if we were starving, exhausted, lost, dehydrated, dejected, mute, blind, deaf, unable to walk, shaking violently, screaming, sobbing, broken to bits, wailing and waving our hands like lunatics, hallucinating, comatose, or dead – we were still going to see one more attraction.. one more.. ONE MORE… C’MON KIDS!  It’s FREE!  

 

 

 

And so we got back on the subway and rode from one end of London to the other – attempting to see everything that we possibly could.  Not because we wanted to, not because it was interesting to us, and certainly not because we had ever even heard of it, but because it was on the London Pass and it was now FREE.

By the way, ‘Mind the gap’ is a phrase that you will hear every nineteen seconds while you are in the London subway stations.    It is a lovely way of saying, ‘Hey you!… Yeah you… You big dummy!… Watch what you’re doing!  And don’t fall in the hole between the train and the platform when you step onto the train!’

 

 

Because of the London Pass with Travel – we spent an enormous amount of time on the tube.  In fact, I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that we spent most of our time in London on the tube.  London is a huge city and the attractions are far flung.  We would descend into the bowels of the subway, board the underground trains, disembark, crawl back to the surface amid huge throngs of people, walk for a few blocks to our destination, tour the site, and then it was right back to the subway to see the next site.  As you can see in the above pic – it was plaid shorts day on the London Underground.  

 

A few interesting London Subway moments…

At one point I stopped briefly in a narrow corridor to look for my youngest son and a twenty something male behind me said ‘Stop right there why don’t you?” in that extreme, glib, understated English way.  I was causing a traffic jam, but my baby!  Anyway – his very nice British accent and his aloof, emotionless manner was so pleasing, that I didn’t even mind his annoyance with me.  

Another time I watched a young ‘punk’ couple step onto an escalator.  The guy hurled himself down the steps as it was not a busy time of day.  The girl screamed at him from the top of the escalator ‘Wait the f… up!” The guy came to an absolute stand still and turned to wait for her as she tromped down the stairs with her spiky hair and her biker boots making an absolute statement of punk girl rage.  It was a very edgy London moment for me.  I savored it.   

 

 

 

 

We also rode the railway, every day on our commute from Pete and Ilona’s house in the suburbs, to the city.  This is a London train station called King’s Cross which is the same station that Harry Potter used to board the Hogwart’s Express.  It was under construction while we were there.

 

 

 

 

But the construction did not prevent us from finding Platform Nine and Three Quarters and disappearing into Harry’s world for a few seconds… even if it wasn’t on the London Pass.
 

 

 

I think if I ever visit London again, I will purchase a ticket on a tour bus that drops people at the various destinations and picks them up every hour to take them somewhere else.  That way, we could actually see the city as we were travelling from place to place.  Riding on the underground was fun, but it would have been nice to see the ‘upperground’ too.

 

 

 

Getting in and out of the stations and on and off the trains was also an adventure in insanity for a bunch of small town Kansans.  Jack (my seven year old) rode for free, but in order to get him past the turnstiles, he had to walk in front of me and we both had to hurry through the gate at the same time  I would slide the ticket into a slot and wait for it to pop up at another location. I then had to grab my ticket, hustle through the turnstile in 1.9 seconds, all the while pushing Jack ahead of me before the gates locked up again.  By the end of our time in London, Jack and I were a well oiled machine in taking on those turnstiles and making it through with time to spare.

 

 

 

On another occasion, it was rush hour and the subways were packed.  We were trying to get to St Pancras to catch the Eurostar to Paris.  We had all of our luggage with us, making us a very unwieldy group.  A train came, and I boarded first, turning around to see my entire family still standing on the platform.  There was no time for me to get back off or for them to get on.  All I could do was watch as the door shut and my husband shouted, “We will catch up with you later!”  I was in a complete panic. I was on a subway in a strange city.  We did not have cell phones as the international call plan is extremely expensive.  I am hurtling through a tunnel miles away from my entire family.  When the train stopped, I made the decision to get off, hoping that when the next train arrived, I would see my family and be able to jump on with them. Amazingly, that is exactly what happened!  The next train arrived, there were my kids, my husband, our luggage, all visible through the windows of the train.  I hopped on and we continued our journey to St Pancras together.  Phew!  

 

 

This is St Pancras Station where we eventually boarded the Eurostar to Paris.  This station literally throngs with people.  It is crazy and confusing, but also a very beautiful and dynamic space. 

 

 

 

 

 

We left London and the London Pass behind and boarded the Eurostar, the high speed train that goes underneath the English channel.  

We thought that the Eurostar would be fancy, as the tickets cost approximately one arm and one leg, but it was not fancy, at least not our seats.  It was however, very fast. The entire trip from the center of London at St. Pancras to the Gare Du Nord station in central Paris – took less than three hours.  My children were very disappointed to discover that the trip did not include any sightings of whales.   

 

 

And then you arrive in Paris…

 


 

And everything changes…

 

 

 

As you can see, the architecture is very different.  There is also a damn site more sunshine and color (retro green, gold and black). You feel like you are in a 1940′s movie set.  Also – there is the panicky realizations that English is not the language of choice.  But do not fear!  The Paris Eurostar station comes with helpful people that stand at central kiosks and are there just to assist helpless travelers.  It still took us over an hour to figure out how to get from this station to our hotel, but we would still be there if we had not been assisted by several genuinely helpful and friendly Parisians.  

 

 

 

 

This is a Paris subway.  

Shown here with fierce plaid shorts and the unbelievably brave decision to mix it up with pink and navy stripes.

 

 

 

 

The platforms are very beautiful and absolutely covered in thick subway tiles…

 

 

 

And glamorous posters….

 

 

 

 

 

Gorgeous trim details…

 

 

 

 

 

Even the ceilings are covered in tile.

 

 

 

 

 

Entertainers of all ages hop on and off the Paris subways and sing for their supper. This child was singing ‘La Bamba’. He had a microphone, music player and an amplifier on a small cart with wheels. After his song, he passed a cup around. These Metro musicians were always a little nervous, looking for a police officer out of the corner of their eyes and ready to disembark at the first sign of trouble. I saw panhandlers of all types on the run from the law in various parts of Paris with their mountains of Eiffel Tower key chains rattling as they fled, or their music carts beating in time behind them.
 

 

After a few days in Paris it was back on board the Eurostar for the last leg of our trip in the English countryside.

And yes, it was striped shirt day on the Eurostar.  And no, I did not make them wear them.  And yes, I enjoyed the matching shirts thoroughly.

 

Can we leave the Eurostar without a visit to the dining car?

Not in this family you can’t.  

 

 

 

 

 

And then we rented a car… and took a crash course in round-abouts and driving on the wrong side of the road.
But that is a story for another day.

Comments

  • Keary Naughton:

    The first time I went to London I was 17 ( I am 52 now) my sisters were 10 and 11. We rented a car at the airport and the drive from the airport to the hotel was so scary that my dad parked the car and didn’t move it for 4 days. When we left there were about 30 parking tickets on the windshield.

  • Barb:

    That is soo fun. Paris is on my list.

  • M.R.:

    I am loving the European tour! Waiting for the story for another day!

  • jamoody:

    I can’t wait for the story on roundabouts. They have seemingly become the latest MoDOT fad in our area…

  • I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, first time posting. I just love, love your pictures. They are gorgeous. The only thing better would be if I was in them, Ha.

  • Ack! You drove?!? I would have been terrified.

    We had a similar experience with a travel pass almost 20 years ago. How were we to know that trains came so frequently and on time and went absolutely everywhere? It was all very strange and confusing. We finally just decided to forget the money we would be losing not getting the full potential out of the passes, forget London (after one afternoon), and just go straight on to Scotland where we could walk most everywhere we wanted to go and take things slowly. There were still plenty of freak out moments when we had to figure out what train to get on or when to get off, and these people spoke our language–sorta. If Danny and I had gotten separated, I think I would have come completely unglued.

  • DirtyKSmama - Nikki:

    Please keep posting about your trip, until you’ve shared every photo. I really enjoy them, and maybe I won’t feel the need to go myself someday anymore.
    And if your boys want to see whales, well, let me know when you’re ready for a 2-Kansas-family trip to Seattle and Western Washington. We can show them some whales! (and mountains, clam chowder, waterfalls, seals, etc.) Plus, they speak English, I know how to drive there and ferries are awesome.

  • Erin:

    One of my favorite things about London was the “Mind the Gap” — I think the first day we had to ask someone on the subway what the voice kept saying because we couldn’t figure it out!

    Can’t wait for your roundabout stories — they scare me here at home, I can’t imagine trying to do them on the wrong side of the road! (my husband loves roundabouts, crazy man that he is)

    “Look kids – Big Ben, Parliament!”

  • Martha in Kansas:

    The looks on your boys’ faces! And those shorts! And the stripey shirts! I’m so laughing. The architecture is beautiful. Were you lagging way behind to catch photos? I imagine it would be hard to keep this group together with the captain leading the charge, the boys being boys and lugging bags, and the photographer trying to catch every detail. Thanks for this post. Good one!

  • Great post, Rechelle. Having never been out of the country (but hoping to travel to Europe sometime before I die), I loved getting a glimpse of those faraway lands. Show us more!

  • It is very stressful trying to get kids on and off the metro. Fortunately we had one in a stroller and only one more, so at least the kid:adult ration was 1:1. We had good friends, though, that took 4 boys to Paris, and lost their youngest (5 at the time). They had to cross a super busy street through an underground tunnel, and when they got to the other side, they could see their son across the way. The dad sprinted back, but he was gone when he got there. They finally found him one block down, standing on a street corner with a chinese woman, who spoke no english or french, but was watching out for him. Whew!

  • Love it! Can’t wait to hear the driving stories!

  • Kellye:

    I love this story. You are a terrific writer. All my boys wearing the same kind of shirt (voluntarily) would make me happy too. Only moms of boys can understand a thing like that.

  • I want to hear about the day you spent in the English countryside wandering leisurely through cobblestone streets, stopping to leisurely look through local book shops, stopped for leisurely tea, and leisurely ate pastries & scones!!! Oh wait….nevermind :)

  • I want to go to Europe!

  • Linda:

    Love London, adore Paris and thoroughly enjoyed seeing each city through your eyes. My husband is just the opposite of yours. He hated going from place to place underground–it caused him to lose his sense of direction. Since I have none to begin with, it didn’t bother me a bit!

  • Stephanie:

    Thanks for sharing more beautiful pictures and stories from your trip….

  • You take such wonderful photos and write so brilliantly. I particularly liked the photo of the Platform 9 3/4. I would swear the young man sitting behind the young performer in the Paris subway works at my hometown Walmart. Oh, and I broke out in a cold sweat reading about when you got on subway and your family didn’t. That would be an extremely stressful situation for me as I’m sure it was for you.

    Can’t wait to read your next installment!

  • Patricia:

    Lovely photos ! Wonderful writing ! thank you and can’t wait for more !

  • Carol:

    Cool stories and pics. Love seeing the boys vacation wardrobe…and the small bags they managed everything in. A handsome bunch. So that’s where subway tiles get their name? Enjoyed the colors and contrasts of the pictures. Were you on this vacation also, or did I miss your picture, lol?

  • Anita:

    Loved reading your adventures. I went to London, Paris, Rome and Venice this past July. Luckily we stayed in Westminster in London where everything was in walking distance so never had to go underground. Paris was beautiful, stayed within a block of the Eiffel Tower, but could not walk to anything else. Rome, oh my, you take your life in your hands just trying to cross the street. Got lost there walking for about five hours but saw some amazing sights along the way. (We tried gettting three taxis but none of the drivers knew where our hotel was, finally told them to take us to the Vatican figuring they all knew where that was, we were staying just a few miles from there). Transportation was the easiest in Venice, no automobiles, only gondolas and water taxis. If you ever want to feel like a mouse in a maze, go there. Not even the desk clerk at our hotel could help us out on directions and she looked it up on the Internet. I would not trade a minute of my time in Europe for anything, loved it all. Keep the stories coming, can’t wait to hear more.

  • Nancy in AK:

    Your pictures are beautiful!

  • Kristin:

    I’m sorry, I know you were completely miserable, but I love these stories even though they make me kick myself since I’ve got about 4 train pictures (all ON the train) & nothing of the tube. I don’t even have a Platform 9 3/4 picture because MY kids wouldn’t pose. Turkeys. You’ll probably never go back with CD, but fyi, you can get an el cheapo add-minutes-as-you-need-them phone at Car Phone Warehouse. Just make sure you REALLY know which numbers you need to include so you aren’t stuck in the boonies of Scotland, trying to find your B&B & having to stop at the local forestry office (only live body within miles apparently…thank God he was there) to find out where the heck you’re supposed to be going.

  • Loved your post! This is a lot more interesting than lice! Thanks for sharing!
    Sandy

  • I think we might have been in Europe about the same time (July 23-August 3 for us) We did not visit Paris but went to the Normandy beaches. We took a train from London to Portsmouth and then boarded a ferry that took us to France. We drove from Cherbourg to Bayeux and those round abouts were quite a learning experience. Oh and we did the bus tour of London one day. It was nice and relaxing, though a little wet and chilly for my kids who insisted on sitting on the open second story of the bus.
    I’m just not back to blogging about our trip too. Veterans Day has spurred my memories of those beaches.

  • Susan:

    Loved your story. Here I am sitting at work at my desk and you temporarily transported me to another place. It was great and please do that again

  • becky up the hill:

    Mind the Gap, so British..that was great. Loved the story.

  • I remember Mind the Gap, they did say it a lot. Fortunately, we didn’t have a London Pass, and we only took the metro to get from station to station, and looked at what we wanted to see. Both times we were there. I don’t know about crossing to France, but we took the high speed ferry to Dublin, and to Belfast. We got to see the landscape/seascape as we went.

    The driving on the wrong side of the road, and the speeds they drove, on those narrow roads! Not for me! My husband drove, and the kids each tried it. I just sorta kept my eyes shut!

  • becky up the hill:

    I love the way you appreciate little details, like the tile etc.

  • Dee from Tennessee:

    Oh the architecture — your pics are fantastic! Subway tile –who knew? Mind the Gap – Oh , I’m likin’ that!! But you know, as much as I would love to go, I think I would be so intimidated. That’s sad, but it’s the sad truth. So, I thank you so much for sharing …esp when I know it “wasn’t the best of times.” Just a great post, thanks! (Yep, Mind the Gap!)

  • I do love all your railway station photos! I also love the fact that punk and understatement are still alive in Britain! We’re so cool – and modest.. and downright .. well,… eccentric! ;-)

  • I have traveled very little in my life, but I firmly believe that one should travel on a time-table of months not days. On the other hand I wouldn’t turn down a whirlwind trip. You take what you can get!

  • Lily Hill:

    Thanks for letting me relive my trip to England in 2000. My sister took 10 rolls of places, and I took as many of the people. The best parts were being in London when Goblet of Fire was released (that was the children’s librarian in me), and seeing people of all ages reading it. The very best part was I got to meet my penpal of over 40 years–something I never thought I would do. I loved the subway, the trains, the friendly helpful people–thanks for the memories!

  • I can’t stand how cute your family is! And yes Paris is vastly different from London, but they are both equally amazing.
    And the best photo is most certainly of Platform 9 3/4s!