Thalys trains connect Europe better than ever before, making it possible to have breakfast in Brussels, lunch in Cologne, dinner in Paris, then spend the next day in Rotterdam. Five days, four countries. Sounds wild, right? To an Australian, especially – this sounds crazy. It takes four hours just to fly from one side of my country to the other, let alone be in multiple countries in a day, so when faced with the opportunity to become a Thalys Explorer for a week and take on the four countries in five days challenge, I leapt at the chance.
For those with limited time in Europe or those who would rather day trip than lug a suitcase from destination to destination, a European train journey is just the ticket (excuse the pun) to see and do as much as possible in the most convenient way imaginable. Just picture this: not having to arrive hours early to check in and pass security, being able to alight right in the city centre to make the most of your stay and being able to stretch out in comfort and work or rest as the European countryside passes by.
So, for the next five days, I’m on a journey as an Explorer with Thalys, the fire-engine red, high speed train company connecting Central-Western Europe. If you’ve ever caught a high-speed rail between Paris and Brussels for example, chances are you’ve already had the pleasure of riding the Thalys without realising. I’ve just spent two glorious days exploring Thalys’ home port of Brussels, basking in the golden glow of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Grand Place in summer and sampling some of the finest tastes the city has to offer. Now, full of Belgian waffles, chocolate and beer, I’m journeying from the Belgian capital, Brussels, to Cologne, Germany. (Don’t worry, I’ll be catching you up on all the specific things I got up to in each destination in my next few posts!)
Relaxing in the Thalys lounge by Brussels Midi station, I contemplate the ease with which this train journey begins. I’m set up to get some work done and caffeinate before boarding the train and the platform is just a stone’s throw from the lounge, so there’s no navigating customs or queueing for hours. All I have to do is stroll over ten minutes before the departure time to take my seat. Perfect.
From onboard the Thalys to Cologne, I’m watching through my window a parade of alternating fields of green and small towns fly by with the occasional church spire looming on the horizon and then vanishing as soon as they appear. It’s early in the morning, so most of us commuters are still rubbing sleep from our eyes, grateful for the strong black coffee that the Thalys staff are generously proffering frequently as we enjoy the gentle lull of the train. It’s kind of amazing that we’re travelling at such a high speed, yet this ride is smooth and gentle enough to fall asleep on. In fact, the velvety read seats are so comfortable that I have to shake myself awake several times in order to keep writing this blog post.
The beauty of travelling in the premium coach on the Thalys is (amongst other things) the meal services, and I choose the breakfast of fresh white cheese, bacon, sundried tomatoes because of my love for cheese. It doesn’t disappoint, with a taste that is both light and refreshing. The trip to Cologne from Brussels on the Thalys takes around 2 hours and it makes such a difference to be able to set up my laptop comfortably, plug my devices in (it’s the blogger’s curse to always be paranoid about the amount of charge on devices) and get to work on blog posts like this without feeling completely cramped. By the time I get out at Cologne, I am completely guiltless when I close my laptop because I’ve had an uninterrupted and productive couple of hours onboard the train.
When we reach Cologne, disembarking and exiting the station is as easy as embarking in Brussels. It’s as simple as gathering my belongings and going on my way. I’m here for a short time only, as part of a scavenger hunt around the city, so time is of the essence here. And sure enough, after a short couple of hours, my time in Germany is over and I’m back at Cologne station ready for my Thalys train ride to Paris where I’m spending the night. What a rush to be able to transfer between countries with such ease!
Lunch is served cool and fresh with a choice of pork or tofu and the cold salad-style meal absolutely hits the spot after being out in the (slightly unusual) early heatwave Central-Western Europe seems to be experiencing at the moment. In the premium cabin, the three-hour journey flies by with my head pressed against the silky, soft headrests of the red seats. Relaxing with a Belgian beer in hand, I contemplate what awaits ahead of me tonight in Paris and the following day in Rotterdam. As we pull into Paris’ Gare du Nord station and the Thalys passengers spill out into the evening air, I alight feeling refreshed and ready for a night out in the most romantic city on earth (even for a solo traveller).
The next evening, it’s time for the next Thalys adventure. After basking in the Parisian sun, a three-course lunch and a Caves du Louvre wine tasting session, I am ready to journey to Rotterdam, a city I’ve never set foot in before. Relaxing in the Thalys Lounge makes getting ready for the trip easy, as I enjoy a vanilla latte and start reading up on awesome things to see in The Netherlands.
This is the last train journey of the Thalys Explorer trip with dinner on the train and a late arrival into Rotterdam. Dinner (as expected) is a refreshing and light meal. I should also note that Thalys has one of the most vegetarian friendly menus of any transport option I’ve ever taken. This helps them two-fold: it keeps customers with special dietary requirements happy, but it also helps the environment and links in with Thalys’ mission to be as green as possible in their bid to reduce their carbon footprint. Just another reason to like this company and feel good about using their services.
Again, I’m fortunate enough to be in the premium cabin, which is totally worth splashing out for on those longer journeys for the attentive service and the space to spread out and work or snooze. Or both, in my case. The nearly 3 hours trip flies by and before I know it we’re in country number four and I’m about to see some amazing Rotterdam architecture. But first… sleep.
Thanks to Thalys, there are few places that are not accessible in Central Western Europe by train. Those European train journeys may not be so long anymore thanks to high speed rail, but they’re still oh so enjoyable.
Emma travelled on this journey as a guest of Thalys. As always, all opinions are mine and mine alone.