My Eurostar leans into a curve as the twinkling lights of Calais disappear into the distance, accelerating into northern France. With the dark of an autumn evening outside the window only the dull reverberations of the air on the carriage walls convey the impression of speed. Yet only forty-five minutes previously I was boarding the train under the cast iron arches of St Pancras International, a station of grandeur and style that must be unparalleled in Europe. Berlin Hauptbahnhof and Antwerpen Centraal are great works of modern engineering; St Pancras has class.
The whole experience is so very unlike much of 21st Century London, fast and slow in vastly different ways. In the London Underground or on UK suburban railways all the passengers are in a rush, squeezing into the last available square metre of space in pungent carriages on slow and inadequate infrastructure.
Contrarily, the space and air of St Pancras creates a calm, a melancholy, almost an awe in the traveller, stopping to admire the surroundings and taking time to take a seat on board the Eurostar trains that stand serenely beneath the bright lights above. A trilingual announcement precedes departure into the new tunnels beneath East London, and onwards towards Ebbsfleet and Ashford.
This eveningâ€™s journey has had additional grandeur; I booked too late, and hence a first class ticket was cheaper than standard class. So my marveling at the infrastructure has been accompanied by a couple of glasses of excellent Bordeaux, some blue Brie and even a glass of champagne. All served in real glass glasses and with metal cutlery, by charming multi-lingual staff.
Can travel possibly get any better than this?