Don’t mention the war

That’s the last time I decide to write a travel blog on how easy it is to travel from A to B. (‘A’, in this instance, being Stoke-on-Trent. And ‘B’, being Charleville-Mezeries in The French Ardennes).

It’s a task I set myself on this occasion only because I sometimes need to explain to travel journalists why The French Ardennes should be considered a viable option as a short-break destination for UK visitors.

There’s no airport nearby; the car ferry (easy enough for anyone within striking distance of the ferries at Dover) is fairly long-haul for anyone living north of Watford Gap; but letting a train take the strain (or, in this case, three of them) is easy. Especially if you’ve got a good book to read, a pile of Sunday newspapers to enjoy, and a blog to write.

A train journey from Stoke to Euston, the short hop to St Pancras, Eurostar to Paris, and a TGV to Charleville-Mezeries. Pleasant. Interesting. And, as they say in France, “c’est facile”.

Maybe.

Just so long as the Luftwaffe hadn’t dropped a few bombs which, having remained unnoticed close to the Gare de l’Est for 60 years or more, would – by some inconceivable coincidence – be discovered that very morning at about the time the 8.59 Virgin train from Stoke-on-Trent-to-Euston was speeding through Milton Keynes station.

But what were the odds of that happening? No. Let’s carry on regardless, and take another photograph of a railway station to help illustrate this simple journey.

Gare du Nord, where Eurostar deposits its passengers in Paris, is always busy. And the walk to Gar de l’Est for the final leg of the journey is the only part of the trip which involves any real degree of thought, or concentration. But even that can be navigated in less than 10 minutes.

So: here you are. Garre de l’Est, in Paris – with around two hours to spare, to have something to eat and to work out which platform the TGV will be leaving from at 6.28pm.

Except there does seem to be an unusually large number of people in red uniforms being surrounded by an equally unusual large number of flustered-looking French-folk.

For those who don’t know me, I’ve always fancied myself at French:

-Bonjou. Parlais vous Anglais?

-A leetel.

-Ah, bon…what’s up then, mate?

A couple of minutes later I had the full story. The Luftwaffe had dropped some bombs which, having remained unnoticed close to the Gare de l’Est for 60 years or more, had – by some inconceivable coincidence – been discovered that very morning at about the time the 8.59 Virgin train from Stoke-on-Trent-to-Euston was speeding through Milton Keynes station.

No trains had left Gare de l’Est for most of that day. But things were starting to get back to normal and the 18.28 train to Charleville-Mezeries, I was told, would be delayed by just 30 minutes.

And would leave from the Gare du Nord!

Never one to question a man in a red suit, I rattled my way back over the cobbled streets to Gare du Nord, and found another man in another red suit.

-Bonjou. Parlais vous Anglais?

-A leetel.

-Ah, bon…where will the train to Charleville-Mezeries go from, mate?

-Gare de l’Est!

Never one to question a man in a red suit, etc…, I set off – very much like the ‘flapping bird street art I kept passing – over familiar cobbled territory, back to Gare de l’Est, where another conversation with a man in a red suit informed me that I was definitely at the right railway station, and now definitely delayed by one hour. (Time clearly flies when you’re having fun at the Gare du Nord).

As the ticking clock tocked, the delay grew to one hour 15 minutes, then one hour 30 minutes, and eventually to one hour 40 minutes. Until the platform was finally announced, and it was time to go.

Or at least, go as far as one train…before everyone was told to get off it, and board another.

Three hours – or, as I like to think of it, three unexploded World War Two bombs – late, the train set off in search of The French Ardennes.

I had my blog. You’re reading it now.

Not quite the one I set out to write. But who could have anticipated that delay?

And the return leg of the journey showed just how easy it is to get from B to A. Pleasant. Interesting. And, as they say in France “c’est facile”.