If you’ve ever been on Paris breaks by eurostar then you’ll be familiar with the Gare du Nord mainline railway station because that’s where you first arrive in central Paris and it’s where you have to get back to in plenty of time for the train home. You’ll have waited in line there to be ticked checked and processed for immigration to the UK, through customs, police etc and then taken a seat in the lounge, on the other side, where you are no longer in France effectively. Sometimes that can be a sad place, depending on the circumstances, or it may be exciting.
Do you have a special railway station?
I’ve no idea how many of my readers will understand what I’m talking about if I try to explain a sort of emotional response to specific large terminal railway stations. Perhaps if I begin by saying that I was brought up in Cornwall, so when I leave London from Paddington Station that’s like already being on the ‘last leg’ of a journey which marks a kind of homecoming.
So for me, Paddington station is not a part of London, it’s almost a part of Cornwall through association, anticipation and all those memories of being away from home and then returning. You can almost smell the seaside there, well you can definitely smell the pasties these days!
People from the southeast of England might have a similar association with Charing Cross, Waterloo or Victoria stations. Northerners with Kings Cross and Euston. And so it is with Gare du Nord in Paris, the arrival point from Calais, the Dover ferries and now eurostars from St Pancras, Ashford and Ebbsfleet. Eventually, hard as it is to imagine, Stratford International Station will become a little door to France, implanted in East London.
Gare Du Nord, Paris
I arrived at Gare du Nord from Rotterdam on my first visit to Paris. I had no idea where to go, so I walked out of the station, crossed the road and walked slightly downhill for ten minutes. I needed to find somewhere to stay, and down a sidestreet spotted a 1 star Hotel, booked in, and stayed there for six months. That was in the Rue Faubourg Poisonniere, just off the main Rue LaFayette so I got to know the area around the Gare du Nord pretty well. The big boulevards Magenta and Madelaine, the pretty little churches and small leafy parks. The little north african grocers shops, bakeries, bars and tabacs, and further down the main road the magnificent Galleries LaFayette. I had little reason to visit Gare du Nord during day to day life except on occasion to visit the bureau de change which was the only one I knew about, open on a Sunday at that time. It was on one such visit that the idea of planning a trip home occurred to me after many months away, such can be the effect of being in the presence of one of these special stations.
Gare du Nord is not only an arrival point for Brits taking Paris breaks but also the departure point for Parisians visiting London for the first time, or perhaps on a weekly basis for those who work in the City finance industries and go home most weekends. There are about 300,000 French people living in London now, that’s a lot isn’t it! And I suppose for them, the new St Pancras eurostar station will eventually trigger a familiar sensation of being almost back to France.
Which is your special station?