Perpignan to London by Coach? – you MUST be Mad!

Summer 2008

 

Looking for alternative transport to the UK? Polly Cannie took the coach from Perpignan to London a couple of years ago. Here she explains WHY (Is she mad?) HOW, WHEN and WHERE

Determined to savour all the options for travelling to the P.O., having been happy in varying degrees with flights into Girona, Perpignan and Carcassonne (and fascinated by the different clientele on each!) and having driven down via the Tunnel and ferry using the eastern and western routes to avoid Paris, it was now the turn of the coach – yes, that’s right, the 20 or so hour road trip from Perpignan to London Victoria! But why???  

To explain the madness (and apart from the fact that the Sunday Perpignan to Stansted flight was racking up at a staggering £149.99 single), we’d driven my car down to Céret to leave it in its snug garage to await the horrors of the re-registering process and we needed to get back! I also wanted to test-run the coach as a possible option for visiting elderly parents who, although they had proved themselves capable, were not over-keen on flying on their own. They are perfectly content to sit it out on a coach however, to the extent of travelling this way to southern Spain and back every winter with Shearings, a UK tour operator, so we hoped we might be on to a winner.

As the journey was starting in France I’d had to book on-line via the (straightforward) www.Eurolines.fr and needed to collect the tickets from their offices in Avenue Gen. De Gaulle close to the Gare SNCF in Perpignan. (Be warned, they have the longest “lunch hour” in the history of the world – 12 – 2.30, and even after that I felt embarrassed to disturb them!)
Tel: 0 892 89 90 91 (0,34 €/min)

Very kind friends had offered to taxi us to the station to the pick up point opposite the Hotel Barcelone and we arrived in very good time for the scheduled Sunday 12.15 departure. We had a very civilised crème, and then another, and another….served by a bemused waiter who, with his Bomber Command moustache, was surely an extra from any number of World War Two RAF films. 12.15 had long passed, but with the coach offices firmly shut we had no option but to sit it out. In my best French I asked a couple with cases sitting at the next table who looked very St Tropez but who were actually from Bradford if they were waiting for the London coach too and they said it was delayed and would be in at around 1 pm, so we ordered another drink and carried on putting the world to rights, as you do. Just after one o’clock I realised that this couple were no longer to be seen and felt sure that, by now, somehow we’d missed the blinkin’ thing and so we were busy saying who’s idea was this and embarking on plans B, C and D to get us home when finally in came a huge coach – not in the Eurolines livery we’d been expecting, but a blue and white Spanish job. (The coach had begun its journey in Barcelona and we never did discover why it had left there an hour late! Bit worrying, but we’ll know what to expect the next time. Neither did we ever see the Bradford Two again!)

So we said farewell to our long-suffering friends who by now had not a lot of their Sunday left, and settled into our very comfortable seats – good reclining ones with a footrest and excellent, controllable air conditioning. A spotless little loo was tucked at the foot of stairs half-way down the coach. At this point there were perhaps ten other passengers on board. We joined the péage close to the airport and just as we were really getting into a nice rhythm we slowed down and pulled off for a thirty minute lunch break at La Palme – complete with swimming pool – but by 2. 30 we were on our way again for pick-ups at the bus stations in Montpellier (3.45 pm) and Nimes (4.30 pm). If you’d wanted to there was enough time at each to stretch legs while new passengers were checked onboard, but after that it was straight through to Lyon, arriving at 7.30 pm where we had to change on to the Eurolines operated coach to Victoria. Our tickets had to be revalidated at the ticket office and we were given boarding cards for the 9 pm departure. Plenty of time then for a freshen up in the spotless loos and a cup of coffee and a snack from the many machines on the concourse.

Our (empty) coach came in at 8.30 and we were checked on board swiftly, leaving on time and about two-thirds full. Again it was really comfortable, and again not long up the motorway we stopped for a 30 minute supper break, after which everyone seemed to start settling down for the night. We’d taken a lightweight fleecy blanket, neck pillows, eye shades, ear plugs and I-pods (not to be used simultaneously!) as a precaution against over-zealous air-con., other passengers’ chatter and overhead reading lights but by 11.30 the coach was in darkness and silent while we rumbled along at a steady soporific speed. We woke up briefly when there was a 15 minute “comfort break” somewhere near Troyes but other than that we slept well until the next pick up at 5.15 am in Lille; then it was on to Calais for 6.45 where we all had to disembark for passport control.

The ferry left at 8 am so we were just in the mood for a “full English” (having checked first that it was going to be a smooth crossing!). Arriving in Dover at 9.30 local time, quite a few passengers left the coach and then it took only an hour to reach London Victoria, 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

So, after a shaky start I’d give it a thumbs up. It was great being comparatively high up and able to see so much of the passing scenery that you can’t really take in when you’re concentrating on driving/navigating and compared to the often stressful experience of flying with check in/security/scrambles at the boarding gate, it was a joy – just long, I grant you!!

Of course, what you can never bargain for are your travelling companions, and although you can tolerate a crowd of football/rugby supporters, stag/hen parties or a howling baby (hmmm, only just) on a 1½ hour flight, on a very long coach journey it could be a real nightmare, but I don’t think these passengers would travel this way. In the main we were couples (from young to elderly) and young, single travellers probably ‘doing’ Europe on student cards.

We paid £65 each for our single tickets (but I’ve just booked £88 each return for myself and my parents in September) and the baggage allowance is generous – 2 cases each no more than 20 kg (but they weren’t weighed) and one “on board” bag to fit on the overhead parcel shelf – so quite handy as a couple if you needed to designate two, or even three of your four bags to bring down various small items. Just slightly worrying in this day and age was that at no point on the journey was any of our luggage security checked (neither were the loaded to the gunnels cars we brought through the tunnel at Christmas and on the ferry in May either) – if this is the norm, surely it can only be a matter of time before there’s a horrific disaster.

And now I’m looking ahead to November and another interesting development – the opening of the newly refurbished St Pancras station in London and the Eurostar service, as now, to Lille and on to Perpignan on the TGV – and after that? Full circle back to good old Ryanair I imagine. Plenty of excitement for one year I think!!

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