Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
There are few things less stylish than coach travel so why is it in this blog? Am I asking you to believe that stylish French people travel by coach to Paris? Non, non et non!
But the fact is that Eurostar and the airlines are so expensive at the moment that if you wish to experience the joys of Paris in the springtime the Megabus, which offers fares as low as £1.50 (I paid £30 each way), may be your only viable option (Eurostar does advertise £69 return fares but these are as rare as needles in haystacks).
And it isn’t nearly as dire as you might think. I found myself travelling from Victoria with the international nouveau-pauvre, a suitcase-wielding medley of French, Japanese, Spaniards, Poles and Americans. One woman was reading Tender is the Night, another was listening to the Brandenburg Concertos on her iPhone.
In Folkestone I watched as a long-haired Frenchman in a well-cut suit almost stormed off the bus when he discovered that lunch in a restaurant was not part of the Megabus experience. ‘In France we will be stopping for eating, non? NON?’
Paris on the cheap
What you need to know
The Megabus departs at 10.30am daily from Victoria Coach Station and arrives (via Eurotunnel) seven and a half hours later at Porte Maillot, a vast and unlovely roundabout on the edge of Paris that miraculously is served by the metro and a queue of spectacularly uncooperative taxi drivers. Megabus’s website is clunkily designed and not very user friendly but you can call 0900 1600900 (be warned: calls cost 61p a minute). Tickets are released up to 12 weeks in advance – if you want to find that elusive £1.50 fare to Paris you need to check the website daily as far forward as you possibly can.
Here’s what I liked about Megabus
*It’s cheap. With current prices for flights/Eurostar costing around £200, my £60 return was a bargain. And there’s none of the aggravation and cost of having to get out to an airport
*It’s honest. Unlike the no-frills airlines there are no hidden extras
*It’s relatively peaceful – no nasty on-board snacks, no peddling of duty free goods and no visible advertising inside the bus
*Conditions weren’t bad at all. The loo was clean, the seat decent, the bus only two thirds full
*Apart from Easter delays in Folkestone that put us almost an hour behind schedule it was a smooth ride to Paris
*Lengthy coach travel is oddly soothing. By the time we reached the Pas-de-Calais half of us were sleeping like babies
*Service is warmhearted. Our tattooed and earringed driver kept us informed throughout, enquired after our wellbeing at frequent intervals, dispensed sick bags like confetti and even came upstairs to wave goodbye to us in Boulogne (where there’s a change of driver)
And here’s what I didn’t like
*Being told to arrive an hour early in Victoria. There is no greater hell than Victoria Coach Station on a Monday morning. There are queues everywhere and the risk of being knocked unconscious by an unfeasibly tall Dutch student carrying a rucksack heaped with metal pots and pans, a sleeping bag and possibly a tent, is high
*The daytime service has no bracing, leg-stretching ferry ride complete with seagulls and churning waves – that’s for night-time passengers only
*The 35-minute journey through the Eurotunnel is a total anti-climax just like it is on the Eurostar. The (few) windows are black and spine-bendingly low, and there’s nothing to see anyway
*Yes, you can stretch your legs in the Eurotunnel but it’s a bit like going for a walk in a metal coffin that’s been turned into a municipal car park
*There are few vistas more depressing than the Boulogne seafront on a grey and rainy morning except possibly Victoria Coach Station on a grey and rainy morning
*After a few hours coaches get claustrophobic. Had Boulogne been more attractive I might have jumped ship
*You can’t count on being able to go online or recharge your mobile or laptop on the Megabus. WI-FI doesn’t work on the French side and none of the power sockets worked at any point
*Finding the coach park for the return leg of the journey was un cauchemar – ask for the Palais des Congrès which is close by
*The prospect of doing the whole thing again was bad enough for me to look at the Eurostar site in Paris the night before in the hope of salvation (fares remained sky-high)
Here are my top tips for travelling solo by Megabus
*Grab the seat at the top of the stairs. If you pick the front seat of the top deck somebody else is bound to sit next to you. That person could be a potential lover, dream employer or new best friend but the odds aren’t good
*Take plenty to keep you busy – earphones, a laptop, magazines to skim-read, notepads, a Kindle
*French girls travel with bananas – should we follow suit?
*Buses get cold and the air-con can be very gusty (a definite pro if you get car sick). Take a blanket, fleece or pashmina
*Pack a small travel pillow, ear plugs (foam ones are best) and an eye mask if you intend to sleep
*Sitting on a bus for hours on end is hungry, thirsty work. Take plenty of food and snacks, including fruit and chocolate (the bus doesn’t stop for lunch), as well as at least two litres of water (there’s a loo on board)
*Pack hand wipes (or hand sanitisers) and plenty of tissues (these can double up as loo roll)
*According to my fellow passengers, Airbnb is the best way to see Paris on a budget and you can rent rooms and apartments by area