From Mark Smith’s The Man in Seat 61. . .How to travel by train from London to Sofia and Bulgaria
Day 1, travel from London to Paris by Eurostar, leaving London St Pancras at 15:31, arriving Paris Gare du Nord at 18:47. On Fridays, there’s also a 16:01 Eurostar arriving 19:17. In Paris, it’s a 10 minute walk from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de l’Est. By all means take an earlier Eurostar if you’d like to spend some time in Paris, or if it has cheaper seats available. Also on Day 1, travel from Paris to Munich overnight by the City Night Line sleeper train Cassiopeia, leaving Paris Gare de l’Est daily at 20:05 (20:25 at weekends) and arriving in Munich at 07:10 next morning. It has sleeping-cars (1, 2 & 3 bed compartments, economy with washbasin or deluxe with shower), 4 & 6-berth couchettes & ordinary seats, see the photos & information below or click for more pictures & information about this City Night Line train. Always check exact times for your date of travel at http://www.bahn.de as they sometimes vary due to work on the line, sometimes with an earlier departure from Paris requiring an earlier Eurostar connection from London.
We followed the suggestion of taking an earlier Eurostar and left from the St. Pancras international rail terminal at 7:01 AM this morning. The Eurostar is everything you wish the Acela could be. The ride is very fast and incredibly smooth, there is little rocking and swaying. The ceilings are high and the racks large enough to actually fit your luggage. Freshly baked pastries are sold from a basket, not unwrapped from celophane and served on cardboard.
The trip starts underground and after ten minutes we burst into the English countryside. Heading south, sunrise shines through the large windows lining the left side of the carraige. Within thirty-five minutes we are travelling under the Channel towards France. The train is surprisingly quiet this morning, full of English tourists heading out early for a long weekend and napping while they have the chance. For me, there’s too much history flying by the train windows to risk closing my eyes for a second. Fortunately, the coffee being served this morning is strong.
The train seems to go even faster when we reach France. Just as I catch a glimpse of the ruins of a Chateau, they are gone. As we near Paris, we pass a windmill farm that frames the background of the stone church steeple in the nearby village.
Our first stop in Paris is Gare de L’Est, the station we will depart from later this evening. We store our luggage in a locker and take the 4 Metro to the Left Bank. Paris Metro cars are modern, with large glass walls rising from knee level to the ceiling. They are very bright, illuminated by white lighted subway maps along the edge of the ceilings. The tunnel walls are covered with graffiti that is spotlighted as the well-lit glass covered subway cars pass by.
During our short stay in Paris we visit the Mussee d’Orsay and then cross the Seine and walk through the Tuileries Garden and to the Louvre before catching the 7 Metro back to the train station.
From Paris we head to Munich on the City Night Line 40451, which has turned out to be the most unique part of our trip so far. We start the journey with two trains joined together. At 3:00 AM, we will split with half heading to Berlin and the rest of us heading to Munich. Within each section there are four types of cars. First is a car full of compartments with three seats facing three and a large bike storage area. There are jump seats in the aisle so people can sit outside and read without disturbing their compartment mates. This carriage is filled with the very young trying to get across Europe by, no doubt, spending as little as possible. The next level up is the Couchette, the only difference being that instead of three seats facing each other, there are two rows of triple bunk beds lined up across the small aisle. The window curtains are down so many passengers in these cars also congregate in the narrow hallway, but they stand because there are no jump seats. Next is a economy sleeper cabin, each with its own sink and two to three bunk beds depending on the size of the traveling party. Finally, there is the “deluxe” sleeper, each with a shower and toilet in a separate room across from the bunk beds.
We start our ride with the shade open and watch the countryside coast past our feet. The upper bunk is not quite long enough, but the ladder railing does a nice job holding my beer. It will get a lot of use tonight. . .