We started going on foreign holidays as a family in 2001 with a trip to Paris. Our son Peter was fourteen and had already been abroad to Amsterdam with his Granddad. For his sister Polly (aged 12) it was her first visit to a foreign land. We went by Eurostar, before the new high-speed railway from St Pancras was built, and the departure was from Waterloo station. The tunnel had only been open for a few years. Even by the slow line we soon disappeared under the Channel, and emerged into the French countryside in next to no time. The Chunnel was very quickly passed, but the difference between Kent (the Garden of England) and the open fields of France with a few poplar trees could hardly have been greater.
Now that it is possible for us island dwellers, it is by far better to go abroad by rail. It is not as exciting as getting on a ferry, but less stressful and much less trying than waiting at an airport. There is still the business of passport control, but although this is a pain for us leaving the country, I am glad that we do not have the open borders of the Schengen area. Now that we are leaving the European Union we never will.
We arrived at the Gare du Nord and caught the Metro to our hotel. It was in the Italian quarter, in the Rue Veronese. From our bedroom window we had a view down the street and to a small supermarket. The next morning after a French breakfast of croissants and coffee we set out to walk down to the river Seine. The children were either side of 13 years old, and as we walked along river towards Notre Dame Cathedral they did nothing but fight like tiger cubs. So much for a peaceful stroll along the river for the poor parents. It was a nightmare.
The children had settled down a bit by the time we reached the Eiffel Tower. This we did not ascend right to the top (which would have entailed a journey by lift), but even from our lower vantage point we got a good view of the city. Even to walk to the lowest stage was quite a climb. The Arc de Triomphe was another necessary stop-over on the tourist map. We were only three days in the French capital, and so we saw only a fraction of the things on offer. On the last day Mum and Polly went shopping, but Peter was very keen to see the Pompidou Centre, and he and I walked to that part of Paris.
All too soon our visit was over, and we returned to the Gare du Nord for the return journey on Eurostar. We had a bit of extra luggage, including a large bag of French cheese. All the while the train sped along the tracks back to England we became increasing aware of the strong cheesy smell. The other passengers must have noticed it too, but they said nothing in good Anglo-Saxon fashion. Back in England the train slowed down for a leisurely return to London. Then it was down the ‘Drain’ (the short section of Underground under the Thames) and to Liverpool Street and home.