Thursday, June 25, 2009

Journey to Paris

Thursday we awakened early, ate a substantial breakfast--our final meal on the QMII--and then disembarked early in Southampton, England. As always, Cunard did a brilliant job of organization. We left our luggage in the corridor last night; this morning everything was sorted and waiting for us in the dockside terminal. Even our departure from the ocean liner was orderly. After years of ghastly flights, our Atlantic crossing has been something of a revelation.

We made our way via train to London, arriving mid-day at Waterloo Station. A taxi took us to St. Pancras where we had a brief layover before boarding the high-speed train for Paris. This is our first trip on the Eurostar, an impressive mode of travel. The new modern wing in St. Pancras is clean and airy; check-in and boarding are effortless. On board, one finds comfortable seats, nice tables, and outlets for laptop computers (no WiFi, alas). We traveled "leisure select," essentially business class, which meant that we were fussed over from the moment we settled into our seats. I knew that Eurostar provided some sort of lunch, but I expected no more than a little sandwich. To my shock, we were given champagne and a full lunch (pollock, salad, vegetables) that was very good indeed. This being service to France, we also had a choice of wine with lunch as well as an excellent panna cotta for dessert, all included in the price of a ticket. We have taken the Acela between Washington, D.C. and NYC--a longer journey than this--and one pays for a bottle of water, never mind a dry, unappetizing sandwich. It's more expensive than the Eurostar and far less efficient. There's much to be said for a European sensibility that expects creature comforts, even in economy class.

The actual journey under the "chunnel" is quick, perhaps all of fifteen minutes. Once in France, you can gaze out the window upon lovely farms and small towns. I smiled at the French cows grazing contently in lush pasture (no industrialized farming here), some so fat that they stretched out on their sides, semi-comatose from the abundance of grass.

What is wrong with our politicians that we refuse to invest in transportation? Why shouldn't high-speed trains traverse the U.S. or ocean vessels travel the coasts? And why can't these forms of transportation include some basic amenities? Idiot Republicans scream about socialism whenever any program that benefits the public good is discussed: have any of them actually experienced firsthand the civilizing effects of European travel? Yes, it is subsidized by taxpayers, but frankly I would much rather dedicate my tax dollars to excellent public transportation, education, and health care than the various ill-advised invasions and wars since the 1970s. Just think of how that money could have improved infrastructure.

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