As immensely powerful and well-respected environmental journalists, Environmental Graffiti is inundated each day with press releases and offers of various freebies in an attempt to get some free publicity for whatever company or group is trying to reach out to the “green market” this week.
The majority of the time, these press releases are essentially poorly written articles that are essentially advertisements and the freebies are offered with the implication that we will write about whatever the company is pushing in exchange for our too-small t-shirt or cheap plastic keychain. As a rule, we pretty much always ignore the press releases and turn down the freebies.
If we believe there is a genuinely important story in anything we’re sent, we’ll do some investigating of our own and write our own story. We think the articles we write ourselves are better than any release we’ve been sent, and we’re not about to sell our journalistic integrity for some cheap piece of crap from some mega corporation trying to give the appearance of being environmentally friendly (if you’re interested, the going rate for our journalistic integrity is currently £25,000). In cases where gifts are sent to us unsolicited, we generally pass them on to friends or people walking nearby.
Recently, however, we were offered a freebie we just couldn’t turn down. Eurostar invited us to take a day trip to Paris from London on their new “carbon neutral” high-speed train. London area readers may be familiar with the train, which was unveiled yesterday after a high-profile marketing campaign. The train moved from its former home at Waterloo station to the newly refurbished St. Pancras station on Wednesday. Chris and I (the founder and editor, respectively, of Environmental Graffiti for those not familiar with us) looked forward to the trip as a well-deserved day out, and we arrived at St. Pancras looking forward to seeing Paris and meeting some friends.
Speaking of meeting friends, our journey started by making a very interesting new one. As the train was international, we were required to show up rather early to check in, go through passport control, clear security, etc. With more than an hour to kill, and the only café in the terminal not yet completed, we sat down to catch up on the day’s news. After discarding a section of the Financial Times, we were approached by a kindly, yet mildly deranged, older gent who tried to steal the whole paper.
I at first mistook him for a street person, given his 80s era clothes, unintelligible speech, and ever so faint urine smell. However, we finally figured out what he was saying, and told him where to find the free newspaper stand. He insisted on having Chris accompany him, enlisting me to watch his “luggage”, two plastic grocery bags filled with what appeared to be other plastic grocery bags.
Having cornered Chris, the gentleman proceeded to engage him in the sort of conversation you’d expect when in a large group of environmental professionals:
Older Gentleman: “Are you Jewish?”
OG: “Are many of your family members and friends Jewish?”
Chris: “Um, no.”
OG: “Are you anti-Semitic?”
After getting all the important conversation out of the way, we learned the gentleman was on his way to Brussels instead of Paris, and finally made a quick escape into the crowd.
We boarded the train around 10:45 or so, which surprised me as it was on time, a rarity in the English train system as anyone who has traveled here will know. The carriage itself did not appear to be specially designed for carbon neutrality in any way. In fact, it was clearly an older, previously used carriage. The carbon neutrality Eurostar was so proud of comes from the engine and small reductions in carbon use. They also announced that they also buy carbon offsets for the carbon emissions they were unable to reduce.
Another aspect of the train which Eurostar made quite a fuss about was its speed. The train has a top speed of 186 miles per hour. I’m not an expert on train acceleration patterns, but it seemed to reach the top speed pretty quickly, around 15 minutes or so outside the station. While you’re in the train, it’s hard to tell you’re traveling close to 200 mph. Thankfully, the presence of the members of one of Britain’s dork brigades, the trainspotters, let you see how fast you were moving at times. You’d make out the figure of a person, generally in a silly looking coat, and the next moment you’d whip by them in a blur.
There was a bit of a party atmosphere on board, helped out a bit by the fact that the train handed out free glasses of champagne in the buffet car. There were quite a few television cameras filming this and that, interviewing the train riders. They appeared to be the only ones really working, the vast majority of the people on the train were, like us, there to have a good time, see a great city, and check out new technology.
The ride itself lasted just over 2 hours. The train has cut some time off the trip since it moved to St. Pancras. We got into Gare du Nord around 13:15 London time. We spent around 5 hours in Paris, taking a bus to the Notre Dame cathedral area. I wandered and Chris hit a café with a friend. There wasn’t too much of interest to report on that aspect of the trip. I did visit the Shakespeare and Company bookshop, where I saw a cranky old man with a shock of messy white hair hilariously berate a young man working there for locking him out of his apartment above the store. At one point I was convinced he was going to beat him with a cane.
We left Paris at 19:15 GMT, and arrived just after 21:40. The ride back was uneventful. Most people, including me, slept, tuckered out by their wandering about in Paris.
I won’t be giving the train, or Eurostar, a review, at least not in the traditional sense. I couldn’t say “5 stars” or anything along those lines. I will give you my impressions on the carbon neutral train. As far as the experience, the train being carbon neutral was the only particularly new or exciting thing about the ride itself. I’ve taken the chunnel train before, and there wasn’t much of a difference between this ride and that one. It wasn’t all that much different from any other long distance train ride I’ve taken. I do, however, applaud the company for its efforts to become carbon neutral. I love to travel, and it can be annoying when something you love to do causes so much harm to the environment. I appreciate that there is now at least one place I can go that won’t give me guilt about the emissions I’m producing. I can only hope that this is the beginning of a trend, and I’ll soon be able to crisscross Europe in carbon neutral rail coaches all over the continent.
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