Burnt Out and Daydreaming on Europe’s TGV

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St Pancras stood cool and strong, a serene rock. I cursed my own bad planning and dashed red-faced from platform to platform, as though if I moved stealthily enough I might be able to slope across the grand old station and avoid its disapproving stare.

It had hardly been the smartest preparation for another big slog. I’d only groaned through the front door eight hours ealier, ragged and feeble after a day of travelling, and already the four o’clock alarm was screeching in my ear.

It was pointless setting one, looking back. I had hardly sunk into anything more than a thin stream of unconsciousness during those three or so hours, certainly nothing deep enough to find any peace under.

And the previous night hadn’t really happened either. When I did finally close my bloodshot eyes back in Barcelona it was almost time to get up.

And then all the wine, rich food and coffee from the evening still swilling round my system had left me with a restless spinning feeling and my ears ringing with the terrific pressure in my head. An overdose of potent ingredients and fatigue from a week burning both ends at a conference had finally taken its toll.

This time I was heading to London on the 06.02 train to then rush hurriedly across St Pancras to catch the Eurostar to Paris to make another dash on the RER to Gare de Lyon and find my seat on the TGV to Cannes.

Picture courtesy of Rail Europe

In the end I reached my final train on the other side of Paris without too major a crisis and huffed down into my seat on the train headed for the South coast.

The TGV is the king of trains, a model of comfort and efficiency. Within seconds it was gliding over the ground with breezy speed and we were getting through the coarser side of Paris, the grim industrial concrete on the outskirts.

Despite the rotten build up it was a feeling of instant peace. In no time we were out in the countryside and the cinema screen of a window beside me was glowing and flickering and I had sunk into a wistful daze.

It’s one of the finest rail journeys you can take anywhere in the world. The train cuts a hot straight line right through France, turning east as it hits the bright blue Mediterranean sea.

In the summer months you can actually see the earth dry and turn yellow as the train courses from Northern to Southern Europe and into a different climate.

Picture courtesy of Rail Europe

The TGV whooshes through hundreds of mesmerising miles as you sit there in comfort. Hills and mountains occasionally emerge either side of you, solitary chateaus holding their summits and church spires standing among clusters of ancient houses and streets far too old and wise to be troubled by the bolt of electricity and metal hurrying past.

It’s all so far away and each scene only stays in your eyes for so short a time as to seem imagined, and then it’s gone.

When you do reach the Southern coast the train takes a blissful turn, the tracks bending left and along the frontier, the sea rolling out all the way to your right into hazy nothingness. It’s a surreal way to arrive anywhere; a trip in every sense.

It’s only five hours from Paris to Cannes. Longer than I’d slept in the last two nights. Another big week of late nights and frantic days was about to begin but I felt ok, strangely refreshed.

I might not have managed any dreaming the two nights before, but those five hours gliding through France were so sublime I’m not sure I wasn’t.

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