After a mad few months watching ash clouds and British Airways strikes wreck everyone's travel plans, I couldn't help but feel incredibly smug when I took the train to France a few weeks ago. No worries about disruption, nor any of the usual annoyances that come with flying. No having to take half your clothes off or keep liquids separate. No worries about keeping to within miserly baggage allowances that threaten to charge you the earth for exceeding them. Just a simple stroll through an X-ray machine and straight on to the train.
Two hours and 20 minutes later, I arrived in the Gare du Nord in Paris, with plenty of time to catch the RER to the Gare de Lyon and buy a baguette, cheese and some saucisson at a local supermarket. Then a leisurely journey of two hours and 40 minutes to Avignon on the TGV, made more pleasant by my picnic lunch. I remember a train journey I took a few years ago, watching an elderly Frenchwoman spread a little red-checked cloth on her fold-down tray before she carefully spread some pâté and cheese on to a baguette. They take lunch seriously, the French, even on a train.
The journey back was via Lille, so I had a good few hours to get some work done on my laptop, eat more cheese and saucisson, this time washed down with some wine. Then back on the Eurostar and home – which is when things fell apart, as my local train was cancelled and I had to get a cab. Trust Britain to let the side down.
Yes, I know French trains aren't infallible. Just after Christmas 2009, heavy snow created havoc on the Eurostar services in and out of London. Funnily enough, I was set to take the train down to the Pyrénées a few days later, but the gods had been working overtime and got things back to normal by that time. Similarly, when the Channel Tunnel caught fire in September 2008, I happened to be on the Eurostar that had left 90 minutes earlier. And even on this most recent train journey, the French railway workers were going on strike the day after I left France. And, the day before I left Britain, thieves had stolen copper cable on the line between Paris and Calais and caused massive delays. Either I have the most amazing luck or there's some impish force at work whose sole purpose is to disrupt other travellers. I prefer to think it's the former.
Check out train fares and timetables at www.raileurope.co.uk