We had a go at the London-Amsterdam route last week* and, mindful of our carbon footprint, desperately wanted to be impressed. The Eurostar to Brussels went smoothly and the transfer to the Thalys platform was also very easyabout seven minutes walk, well signed, and plenty of escalators and lifts to save you carrying your bags.
The Thalys was 27 minutes late, which we found unfortunate but ignorable, for the sake of our internal eco warrior. RailEurope had put us in First Class, which was pretty snazzycomfy seats, free papers, food and booze, and free wifi (pretty slow but manageable). Our carriage host was a diamond, everyone spoke perfect English, the ride was incredibly smooth and we loved ityou pass through Antwerp and Rotterdam, and get a real feel for travelling through Europe, which you lose on a plane.
Top marks, in short, apart from the delay. And the toilet paper, which appeared to have been manufactured in 1945.
Amsterdam Centraal Station
On the way back, we needed to change our train and because our tickets were non-refundable we had to buy replacement second class tickets, which we did with ease at Amsterdam station. But here’s where the problems started. First, we found ourselves without a seat reservation – the train was overbooked, so we’d have to fend for ourselves when it came to sitting down. As it happens, there was a compartment at the end of the carriage for plebs like usabout 8 seatsand it was fine. Although one of them was broken.
Second they told us that we should book a train with plenty of time to make the Eurostar, because Thalys trains had a tendency to run late. Not because of the weather, but because they’d only tested the new lines with one train; and the system isn’t impressed by trains going both ways. So, we were told, if two trains pass each other near the Dutch-Belgian border, it triggers an emergency stop. Of up to one hour. And this happens to one in four trains.
We paid up for our early train (€64 one way, WiFi costs €6 per hour in second class, there’s no free food and the seats are configured 2-2 as opposed to 2-1 in first class) and prayed it would make a solitary border crossing. Sadly it didn’t. Around Antwerp, we ground to a halt. Luckily it was only 15 minutes, but the lights kept blacking out, and then the emergency lighting failed too. As we were sitting there in the pitch black, trying not to think of Murder on the Orient Express, someone piped up “I hope there’s not a train coming up behind us."
Luckily nothing did (let’s face it, they were probably delayed as well) but we still rolled into Brussels half an hour late and had to make a run for the Eurostar. Yes we were unlucky, but one in four trains is not good odds. The Thalys is a fantastic idea, but if it doesn’t sort itself out, it’ll do itself out of a job.
*Disclosure: RailEurope paid for the tickets as Julia was on assignment for a UK newspaper
· Eurostar Passengers Spent The Weekend Trapped Underneath The English Channel [Jaunted]
· The Jaunted Guide To Surviving Holiday Train Travel [Jaunted]
· Train Travel [Jaunted]
[Photos and video: Jaunted]