When I returned to visit my parents this Christmas, with my mountain bike of course, I decided that I would take the train. The plan was to take travel from Hendaye to Paris, Paris to London and then hop onto the sleeper for the final leg to Inverness. Although the journey would take 24hrs my reasoning was that for 8 hours of that I would be asleep, 4 hours in a bar in London and the rest reading my book on the train. If you are thinking about taking the train to visit us, or to get elsewhere in Europe then read on for my honest review, directions and tips.
I packed my bike in a hurry and cut a few corners, I got away with most of them but made a couple of careless mistakes. You can read about our advice for flying with your mountain bike to get some packing ideas.
I waved a tearful goodbye, (adios, au revoir) to Amaia at Hendaye station at 7:55am. Hendaye is 5 minutes from our accommodation for anyone thinking of doing this journey, don’t get off at Biarritz which is slightly further away. The baggage storage on the SNCF train was great and my bike fitted in just behind my head with no problems (see picture above). Once the train started I had a great latte and a croissant, for a very reasonable price, before settling into a combination of view-watching, reading and sleeping and before I knew it it was 1pm and I was in Paris. It caught me quite by surprise actually because we didn’t seem to have been travelling for long, and I had a panic trying to wake up / finish my drink / gather my belongings as the train pulled into the station.
At this point I should mention that my bags weighed around the weight of an attractive Basque girl, or 60kgs in old money! If you packed sensibly, to visit us you should have two bags weighing around 30-40kgs, so all the transfers will be easier for you. Getting across Paris could not have been easier, it took around an hour including the 30 minute Metro journey, but getting lost would have been nearly impossible. There are a few stairs to negotiate but never anything too testing and in general I found people friendly and everyone made way for the sweaty Scotsman with the heavy bags. Bearing in mind you have to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to departure I would leave around 2hrs to transfer in Paris and if it takes less you can have a nice cool beer while you wait.
The Eurostar is great with the journey to London taking around 3 and a half hours. I was lathered in sweat by this point and popped into the toilet to change my top before treating myself to a nice cold beer and sandwich. Baggage storage on the Eurostar was slightly more limited but my bike easily fitted in the storage between the train carriages and I could just see it the whole way. Arriving in St Pancras, London I let everyone leave from the train and then made my way to a bar for a drink with some friends. The walk to Kings Cross was fairly easy and I put my bike in the guards carriage and jumped on the sleeper for Inverness. The sleeper is great, with a cheap bar and decent food and I woke up in Inverness with a mild hangover but otherwise ready to go.
Map of the Paris Underground
A photo tour of the inside of Montparnasse station in Paris
A photo tour of the inside of the Metro stations in Paris
A photo tour of the inside of Gare du Nord station in Paris
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