Peter and I are missing the wineries of Washington state and decided to start visiting European wine regions. For our first crack at seeking out wineries that produce wine we enjoy, we traveled to Bordeaux, France in late October 2019.
We prefer to travel by train whenever possible so we took the Eurostar from London St Pancras station to Bordeaux Saint-Jean station, changing trains (and stations) in Paris.
It had been a few years since we were on a Eurostar train and I am happy to report that the train’s interior – at least on our train – had been updated, however, legroom in standard coach class is still extremely limited (less than a coach airplane seat). The good news for those with long legs is that Eurostar now offers a third class of seats called “Standard Premier” which is equivalent to an airline’s “premium economy” class. Eurostar’s classes are as follows (most-to-least posh).
- Business Premier
- Standard Premier
After our journey to Bordeaux, we decided that we would be booking Standard Premier seats whenever possible. Note that I said on our journey to Bordeaux. We did not have a return train journey because our Bordeaux-Paris train was canceled due to French train strikes. This resulted in us flying back to London. The train strikes during our visit to Bordeaux in October were a separate spat of strikes than the current French train strikes that began on December 5th, 2019.
Peter says that the national sport of France is “striking” and when he says this, a rambling string of expletives goes through my mind. More on the unnecessary stress the strikes have played on our holidays in France later.
“Chunnel” fun facts:
- The channel tunnel’s deepest point is 230 ft / 70 m.
- The length of the tunnel is 165 ft / 50.45 m.
- The Eurostar travels at 140 miles / 226 kilometers per hour.
- Eurostar’s fasted record speed is 208 miles / 334.7 kilometers per hour.
|7:01am||Depart London St Pancras station|
|10:17am||Arrive Paris Gare du Nord station|
|11:48am||Depart Paris Montparnasse station|
|1:56pm||Arrive Bordeaux Saint-Jean station|
When I was searching for train tickets, the recommended itinerary only included 60 minutes to transfer stations in Paris. I had previously read that it takes about 40 minutes to transfer from Gare du Nord to Montparnasse and decided that it would be a safer bet to choose a later Paris departure, giving us 90 minutes to transfer stations since it was our first time doing so.
Now that we have gone through the process, I recommend no less than 90 minutes to transfer between these stations, especially if you have large bags. We had carry-on wheelie bags and backpacks and were able to easily carry our bags up and down the stairs (no lifts or escalators in some sections of the tunnels). If we had large wheelie bags and/or if it was in the dead of summer (hot!), our transfer time would have been 10 minutes longer.
The Gare du Nord to Montparnasse station transfer included a long-ish journey on the metro (one line so easy peasy there) and a very long walk from the Montparnasse metro station to the Montparnasse train station.
London St Pancras
Eurostar recommends that you arrive at St Pancras station 45-60 minutes prior to departure. In our experience, arriving less than 60 minutes early is really pressing your luck. The queues to get through immigration (both UK and France) can be extremely lengthy.
The process of getting from the general area at St Pancras station to the boarding area goes like this:
- Scan Eurostar ticket at electronic gates.
- Go through airport-style security (no rules regarding liquids, gels, creams).
- Go through UK immigration.
- Go through French immigration.
We arrived 60 minutes prior to departure and our train had been boarding for several minutes by the time we cleared French immigration (step 4). We hopped on the train with only minutes to spare.
Immigration queues aside, another reason to get to the station early is so that you can get onto the platform immediately and take pictures of the train and station. Lots of selfies are taken on the Eurostar platforms.
Not many people think of train stations as picturesque places but most of the big train stations I have been to are really pretty! St Pancras is one of those stations with its half-dome glass ceiling and fancy clock. I also think London Paddington is pretty even though there is bird shit all over inside.
Paris Gare du Nord
We arrived on time from London at Paris Gare du Nord. We have never arrived late on Eurostar but that is pure luck. Eurostar trains can run late and can be canceled.
Gare du Nord is a combo metro/train station and it is gigantic. It can be overwhelming for a first-timer. To get to the Gare du Nord metro station from the Eurostar platform, walk to the end of the Eurostar platform, turn left and keep walking until you reach several sets of stairs that lead to a lower level. The stairs and glass railing is the diving line between the Gare du Nord train and metro stations. At the top of the stairs, you will see metro ticket kiosks.
Half of the kiosks were out of order during our visit and waiting in the queue ate up a few extra minutes of our “station transfer period”. It is incidentals like this where a longer transfer time is beneficial and keeps the stress level down.
Tickets in hand, we made our way through the maze of tunnels and onto the metro. Generally speaking, it was an easy journey but it takes a long time (a taxi will take as long or longer so metro is still the best option for transferring).
Below is our Gare du Nord to Montparnasse transfer timeline.
|10:17am||Arrived Paris Gare du Nord station via Eurostar|
|–||Alighted train, walked to metro, bought tickets, walked to the platform|
|10:34am||Boarded metro (line 4) to Mairie de Montrouge|
|–||Scoped out the train and internally shouted “hooray” because the train did not have those tricky metal door levers that have to be “snapped” for the door to open|
|10:57am||Arrived at the Montparnasse-Bienvenue station (14 stops from Gare du Nord)|
|–||Walked from the Montparnasse metro station to Montparnasse train station (tunnels, stairs, single-file walkways, broken moving walkways, escalators)|
|11:04am||Arrived at the platform level at Montparnasse train station|
|–||Got Starbucks (located in Hall 1) and stared at departures board whilst dodging birds coming at me at full speed from the rafters above|
|11:48am||Departed Montparnasse for Bordeaux Saint-Jean|
Looking back at my timeline, it is surprising to me that it only took us seven minutes to walk from the Montparnasse metro station to the Montparnasse train station because it felt like we were walking for 20 minutes. Included in the seven minutes was the time we spent figuring out which level (“Hall”) our train was departing from because the signage in the station was a bit lacking.
Protip: Hall 1 is the top level of Montparnasse train station (also known as floor 1; the metro station is on floor -1).
Bordeaux Saint-Jean is a small train station in comparison to St Pancras, Gare du Nord, and Montparnasse. There are restaurants and public transportation (light rail, buses, taxis) available directly outside of the station. Bordeaux’s light rail system is efficient, clean and cheap!
Next, the city of Bordeaux and how it would be so much better if the city center was a pedestrian-only zone.