- 350 km as the crow flies
- 71 kph
- 48 eurocents/km
- 16588 steps – not good
My leg is recovering from a knee operation. On my Fitbit I am supposed to do no more than 6000 steps a day. Piano, piano, Monsieur Hodson, says my dashing doctor. When I told him that as a birthday trip I was going on a non-walking tour, to pamper and protect my knee, he grinned his wolfish grin.
The first night of our tour, last night, we spent in Strasbourg. In recent years, since the TGV Est opened, the service has become good, though it’s expensive (the average price of the trains I take is about 30 eurocents/km, this trip cost 48). The direct train was all booked, so our hopes for dinner in Strasbourg were dashed; we had to change in Paris.
We caught the Thalys from Brussels Gare du Midi after work in summery heat.
Swinging out of the station, on the left you can see the Wiels brewery. It’s now a gallery. A couple of weeks ago we went there to hear Gordon Sutherland talk about his unreally lit photos of Glasgow. From the gallery’s terrace we saw then how the Thalys track climbs and curves as it leaves the station, showing off the length and sharp thinness of the trains.
Heading for Paris, we saw on either side big Brabant Wallon farmhouses built for defence, like La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont in the battle of Waterloo. Wind turbines did not turn on this calm afternoon.
The train rolled on into northern France, low hills, woods and fields. As we got towards Paris a plane came in, parallel with the tracks on the left, heading for Charles de Gaulle.
Pierrefitte-Stains, a commuter suburb, freestanding houses. Then flats as we got closer to the city. Many buildings around Paris are white or whitish. At Saint Denis there was a dark bare tower on the right, though; but was that Sacré-Coeur over there?
I like the tangles of structures and levels you get as you come into big city railway stations.
The tags get too much, though. Last year we went to a public meeting with the échevins of our commune, Ixelles. There was a complaint about the tags on our streets. I’m afraid its people who come up by car from Paris, said the échevine responsible. They come up, do their tagging, and drive back. Is that a tall story?
They have kept up security checks in Paris when people board Thalys, even though Brussels and other stations in the PBKAL network have them no longer.
It’s only a ten minute walk from Gare du Nord to Gare de l’Est, via the Rue des Deux Gares. The best bit is the curved double staircase you descend at the end of the walk.
On the train east to Strasbourg I rolled the names of stations around my mouth – Rosa Parks, Noisy Le Sec. Down there, crossing a canal, there was a tram – I don’t associate trams with Paris.
Ten minutes out of Paris, Le Raincy Villomble Monfermeil. How’s that for a name? There were nineteenth century villas there – then flats again.
When we got out in the country hills rolled once more. The wavelength of the rolls was less than to the north. I think it is not the countryside, but the direction of the route, that was different. I once cycled southeast from Brussels towards Luxembourg. Don’t do it! The Ardennes road follows none of the valleys. It cuts across each of them in turn. This train probably bounces across the same valleys, a hundred km or so to the south.
We got to Strasbourg a bit after ten. The station was built in the 1870s when the city was part of German Alsace-Lorraine. I think this arch in the access tunnel recalls German railway architecture.
The front of the building, you can’t tell, because of its lovely façade.
It was still hot. People were still sitting out. It is not a city that stays open late, but we found a new bar, La Potence, on the street from the station to the city centre. They happily served us Flammenküche at eleven. Do you want a knife and fork, we were asked, or do you want to eat it with your fingers like a pizza?