Wednesday, August 29

Eurostar: A trip for all Senses

I admit it: I have wild fantasies over Giugiaro, the designer from Pininfarina (of Porsche fame), the man behind Italy’s “high speed” EuroStar trains: I am a frequent traveler on them, usually 4 or 5 times per week. As I ride them, he fills my every thought. But not out of sheer lust.

In fact, not a trip goes by that I don’t dream of the day that I could take that architect, strap him to a seat, and have him ride his high-design trains day in, day out. And get an idea of how it truly feels to be inside a beautiful Eurostar train. Oh, he can even ride in first class. For ‘certi versi’ it’s even worse than 2nd. The experience would, once and for all, serve to convince at least one designer in the world that Form over Function is not a good thing. But in a country where ‘la bella figura’ trumps all hands, well, not less can be expected.

If nothing else, I’d like to suggest my own expedient: how about simply renaming the ubiquitous ES to AG? AG after Abu Ghraib – that way, at least, riders will know what to expect.

The Eurostar, with its wide seats and sleek design is excellent; superior in fact, to the ones where they were invented: the cramped and dirty and uncomfortable French trains. But, the comfort stops there.

You sit in your seat, but, if you’re a woman, or if you decide on any other position in the chair other than the straight-seated one, well, the chairs begin to make the electrical chair preferable by comparison. So, you close your eyes to forget your pains? You have a line of fluorescent lights shining in them; so strong they even penetrate your blinders (a must on any train trip). There is no peace. Again, you think, ‘if only I could reveal all my state secrets’ -- for sure that might turn off these lights. I now hope to find seats where they are mercifully burned out.

Uncomfortable and blinded, you can’t get any shut–eye anyway: the announcements for eating, drinking, lateness (a daily occurrence) and whatnot, broadcasted in a volume to wake the dead, are incessant. And, in the pauses in between? Don’t worry, your head will be numbed by the shutters that shake, rattle and roll; jarring your every thought and of course, putting out any conversation you might be willing to have -- even with yourself. I have taken to riding in 2nd class, just to avoid going deaf by the shaking shutters.

So, with your sense of touch, sight and hearing underway, the final coup de grace is the smell. The cleaning squads love to post their first-world notes declaring boldly, ‘this bathroom has just been cleaned’, but, on numerous occasions I have entered the bathrooms soon thereafter only to find them covered in excrement of the highest order.
The cleaners simply pour gallons and gallons of putrifying cleaning liquids with a smell so powerful that I grab a barf-bag when the corridor doors open and in wafts another barrage. I spend most of the trip looking like a Taliban's wet dream: wrapped up in a kind of Burkha, except my head and eyes are completely covered; a winter coat wrapped tightly around my legs due to the sub-zero temps, a scarf around my face as if I am an avian flu carrier...The germ-paranoid Japanese take one look at me and immediately change cars. Don't they do this to prisoners on Guantanamo?

What's left? Ahhh..taste. While the food on the ES (I mean AG) trains is outstanding, the prices have risen to Four Seasons levels. I used to eat 4 or 5 meals a week years ago… Post-euro, I haven’t eaten a meal on board in over 4 years. But, if you happen to take an early train anywhere, ‘caveat emptor’: the hot tea and coffee has a bit of a metallic taste to it. Why? The litres of chlorine they pour into the water at the beginning of each trip. Great. I thought Chlorine was used to disinfect swimming pools or, at these levels, even killed people.

Glad to see the new spiffy design of the fantabulous EuroStar. Maybe someday someone will finally take into consideration the passengers and not the politicians.

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