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December 6, 2014


From Paris by Thalys

by soundlandscapes

EARLIER THIS WEEK I had to travel from Paris to Amsterdam.

After years of criss-crossing Europe courtesy of Air France, I’ve come to realise that being seduced into thinking that a one-hour flight might be the quickest and most convenient way to travel between these two cities is a myth perpetuated only by the prospect of accumulating more, usually unclaimed, air miles.

Now, I’m more than happy to avoid the endless angst associated with airports and opt for a much more civilised mode of travel – the train.

Gare du Nord

My Thalys train from Paris to Amsterdam

After walking to the bus stop at the end of my little street I caught the 43 bus, which took me to the Gare du Nord in time for me to catch my 10.25 Thalys train to Amsterdam Centraal Station.

Gare du Nord

Thalys is an international high-speed train operator originally operating on the LGV Nord high-speed line between Paris and Brussels, a line shared with Eurostar trains going from Paris or Brussels to London via Lille and the Channel Tunnel. The line is also shared with French domestic TGV trains.

Beyond Brussels, the main cities Thalys trains reach are Antwerp, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Liège, Bruges, Ghent, Charleroi, Aachen and Cologne.


The main Thalys routes

En route to Amsterdam the Thalys crosses France, Belgium and The Netherlands stopping at Brussels (Bruxelles in French), Antwerp (Anvers in French), Rotterdam and Schiphol, before arriving at Amsterdam Centraal Station three hours and seventeen minutes after leaving Paris.

Thanks to a very sensible piece of joined-up thinking, Schiphol railway station is directly under Schiphol airport so for anyone flying from Schiphol, a short escalator ride from the train platform will deposit you directly inside the airline departures area.

Just as with the airlines, train ticketing remains a complete mystery to most of us but since I had the luxury of being able to book my tickets several weeks in advance, I was able to travel in Comfort Class 1 for less than the price of an Economy Class ticket bought close to the day of departure.


Inside Comfort Class 1 at Amsterdam Centraal Station after all the passengers had left

Since I never travel anywhere without microphones and a sound recorder I couldn’t resist recording my departure from Paris.

From Paris by Thalys:

I began recording as I was walking along Platform 9 at the Gare du Nord towards my carriage, N°13. A very smart young man in a Thalys uniform clipped my ticket and I boarded the train.

I am fascinated by what I call ‘transitional sounds’, the changing sounds we experience as we move from one environment to another. In this case, the sounds of the busy station platform merging into the relative silence of the train carriage.

It doesn’t take long though before this relative silence is penetrated by a different range of sounds – people stowing their luggage and settling into their seats, the rustle of papers, snatches of conversation, a lady progressing along the carriage offering to book taxis for those alighting at Brussels (a perk of travelling business class) and the loudspeaker announcements. On Thalys trains, the announcements are made in four languages, French, Dutch, German and English and since my journey started in Paris protocol dictates that the announcements begin in French. On the return journey from Amsterdam they begin with the Dutch version.

The lady announcer, who speaks all four languages, tells us that departure is imminent, the doors close and almost imperceptibly the train moves off. It’s not until we’re well clear of the station that the sound of the wheels rattling over rails is heard.

I continued recording until we passed Saint-Denis in the northeast of Paris and began picking up speed by which time I’d learned from the announcer that I was on the right train, the Thalys bar was open in the adjacent carriage and that I should keep my ticket with me at all times.

Presently, Charles de Gaulle airport hove into view in the distance and I couldn’t resist raising a glass to all the passengers there mired in the endless check-in queues, complex security procedures and all the other irritations associated with air travel. As one who used to make 150+ flights every year I’m quite content now to leave all that behind and let the train take the strain.


8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dec 6 2014

    Great post. As somebody now based on an island with airports as the only link to the continent the little jingle followed by the announcer’s voice were an absolute joy to listen to! Love trains.

    • Dec 6 2014

      Thank you, S!

      Yes, there is something special about long train journeys. It’s not that I don’t enjoy flying, I do, but it’s all the aggravation at the airports that I’ve lost patience with. Travelling by train seems much less stressful.

  2. Dec 6 2014

    Well, I agree with you on all of it except for the fact that the Wi-Fi does not work. It just does not work at all. Did it work for you, I am curious that you did not mention it…

    • Dec 6 2014

      Thanks for your comment Matt.

      On the day I travelled the Wi-Fi was working. It was a bit slow and there were a few blind spots especially around Brussels but I was able to deal with my emails ok.

  3. As a former Parisienne, your soundscapes bring back a few moments of familiar Parisian ambiance – thank you. I particularly love this post: the station announcements, the wisps of multi-lingual dialogue and especially the clickety-clack of wheels. I’ve looked all over the web & can find no sound loops of clickety-clacking train wheels. Any suggestions?

  4. Dec 9 2014

    Reblogged this on JVZ Audio.

  5. Jan 3 2015

    Ah, the sounds of comfort class! Very nice indeed. Listening to your recording I can see (Hear) why your preference has changed to this terrestrial type of travel, much less harried. I wonder, did your act of recording inside this confined public space raise a few eyebrows?


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  1. Paris in 6 Links at 300 Stations, Friday, January 16, 2015 | 300 Stations

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