Day 6: First Transpennine, Virgin EC, Eurostar and TGV from Sheffield to Marseille

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In a blink of an eye, it was time to leave the UK. Though it has technically been 7 days, I spent most of my time travelling around instead, so it feels pretty quick. I guess this is a preview of how this journey will unfold quickly since most of the travelling is similar to project management, and you have to do your best to make your connections or else you’ll be left stranded. I’ll be back one day for a proper visit.

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The first ride is a short 25-minute hop from Sheffield to Doncaster on board First Transpennine Express. This is part of the through ticket from Sheffield to London.

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The train arrives at Doncaster on time, which will then continue all the way to Cleethorpes.

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Next, a 9 minute transfer window to the connecting train, Virgin Trains East Coast to London King’s Cross, served by the legendary InterCity 125, the fastest diesel-powered train in the world. Almost all of them will be replaced by Hitachi Class 800 and 801 by 2018.

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The interior is similar to the Intercity 225. refurbished during their mid-life extension in 2006.

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Scenery along the way to London.

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The train arrived at London King’s Cross on time. From here, it’s just a short walk away from London St. Pancras where the Eurostar departs from.

Price I paid from Sheffield to London: £28.70 with a 16-25 Railcard

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Departing the main hall of King’s Cross.

How to get from King’s Cross to St. Pancras

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King’s Cross and St. Pancras are just a 2-lane road apart from each other at the nearest connection.

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The best part about this is that the Eurostar departure gates are at this nearest connection. It takes less than 30 seconds to cross over from King’s Cross to St. Pancras.

How to get from St. Pancras to King’s Cross

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If you’re heading in the opposite direction, find the Eurostar International Departures area, and walk out of the door at the end.

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King’s Cross is just across the street.

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Having printed my ticket a few days ago, I headed straight to the gates for boarding. For standard class, you need to enter the gates at maximum 30 minutes before departure.

Following this, security checks are after the walls, followed by entry immigration to the European Union.

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No luxuries for me with my standard class ticket, but there are plenty of seats in the waiting area before ascending to the platforms.

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Once the platform is called and opened, proceed up to the platform for boarding. Make sure you get on the correct train as the Eurostar has various destinations from London.

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I got a ride on the new Eurostar e320 (Class 374) on my first try, which was a big bonus.

At the time of my booking, there was no way to identify the type of train departing until you complete your booking and then you are allowed to choose your seat. But even so, Eurostar may swap trains last-minute, with you getting a yellow ticket at the boarding gates with your new seat number.

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Boarding my Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord.

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Views from the HS1 line.

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The train makes a stop at Ebbsfleet International before proceeding direct into Paris.

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A cafe-bar, branded as Café Métropole, serves up light snacks, beverages and microwaved meals of sandwiches and pasta. They also sell Paris Metro tickets for a small mark-up, which could be useful if you want to skip the line at the metro station, especially in my case where I needed to change stations to get on the TGV to Marseille. Also, this would be the place to clear your loose remaining British Pounds before arriving in the EU.

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I got myself a three cheese panini for lunch.

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I also purchased 2 Paris Metro tickets, one for the immediate journey from Paris Gare du Nord to Paris Gare de Lyon, and the other for the next journey when I get back to Paris from Venice. I had just enough coins in Pounds to purchase the sandwich and tickets, so at least all my Pounds are spent and cleared. These cost £1.60, as compared to the station price of €1.80, a mark-up of around €0.30.

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The interior of Standard Class on the Eurostar e320.

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Arriving in Paris, according to schedule.

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Arrived at Paris Gare du Nord, where I quickly made my way to the RER for Paris Gare de Lyon. I had 1 hour and 50 minutes from the arrival of the Eurostar to the departure of the TGV.

Price I paid from London to Paris: £54 (Youth fare)

The journey by RER to Paris Gare de Lyon took around 30 minutes in total, so I had around an hour to spare at this station while waiting for my TGV platform.

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The interior of the TGV Duplex 2nd class upper deck from Paris to Marseille.

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Interior of 2nd class lower deck.

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Interior of 1st class.

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The cafe-bar in car 4.

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The staircase from the door area to the upper deck.

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The scenery along the way to Marseille.

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I was a little disappointed at the timetable, in a good way, as there were no stops from Paris to Avignon TGV, which is all the way from north to south of France. It made for a rather boring journey to me though, as you could not see individual stations or towns along the way. Furthermore, I had no internet on this leg.

Most of the passengers got off at Avignon TGV to change trains to other destinations. This was followed by a short stop at Aix-en-Provence TGV, and finally, Marseille Saint-Charles. Just 2 intermediate stations for the whole north-south journey.

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The train arrived at Marseille Saint-Charles on time, completing this approximately 1500km journey in just 11 hours.

This also marks the end of my high-speed train rides. Originally, I had planned to make every single journey without high-speed, save for the Eurostar, however, I felt that a visit to France would not be complete without riding on the TGV, so here it is.

Price I paid from Paris to Marseille: €116

Yes, pretty expensive. It was a public holiday when I travelled (unfortunately), and the cheaper iDTGV service cost €109 which would have added an extra hour to the journey, so I figured the additional €7 would be worth it for the hour saved. Ouigo was out of the option as it departed from Marne-la-Vallée which would have me paying for an even-more expensive Eurostar, or take an hour-long RER ride from Paris which would have me miss my connection. Furthermore, they charge for bringing bags on board. After adding the additional costs, the few Euros saved for Ouigo did not make sense.

But as mentioned, thankfully, this is the last high-speed ride for the whole journey.

I will spend 3 nights in this area, so keep watching for my activities during the stay here.


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