I have never joined the crush for the Harrods sale but I know what it feels like, because I have just booked the travel arrangements for our skiing at half term and the experience leaves me needing a holiday.
Long wait outside, surf in on first wave, grab at rapidly shrinking pile of seductively price-tagged items, fight the good fight to pay, retreat bearing booty. Pleased with myself? Well, the price is not bad I suppose, but you can’t change sale goods and now that I look at what I’ve bought, is it what we want?
By the time daughter let it be known that in her opinion snow conditions are better in February so a half term holiday would be appreciated in preference to rubbish Easter, the cost of half term flights to the Alpine gateways had taken off and reached cruising altitude. And anyway, we like the train don’t we?
Eurostar books four months ahead so I diarised October 14th for the opening salvo of my campaign. A week ahead I gave Eurostar a look and was shocked to discover February bookings already open, prices going up. Sneaky. Never mind: there were some reasonable fares for a lunchtime train that would get us to Paris in time for a late evening arrival in the Alps. The fact that we hadn’t yet decided on a destination was a slight inconvenience but even if we had, the onward journey would not have been bookable, because continental trains don’t open for reservation for another month.
I can’t honestly claim that we take the train in order to save the planet. But for all SNCF and Eurostar know, we might do. If they want our custom, surely they could make the process of buying a ticket a little easier. Synchronising the opening of the ticket window on this and that side of the Channel does not seem much to ask.
The second phase, sur le continent, is much more complicated because there are so many more options. Last Friday was the appointed day, and I cleared the diary, checked in early, and among the tempting price tags my magpie eye fixed on a brilliant offer for first class travel to Switzerland. Wow, hadn’t even considered that. What value do I attach to extra leg and elbow room and food (‘appropriate to the timing of the journey’)? A few cross checks and moments of indecision, and first class has gone up by 25 euros a head. Damn!
Silly me, there are preparatory tasks I could have been doing while waiting outside in the cold. Do the English and French versions of the website have the same fares and trains? How does their exchange rate compare with the one my credit card uses? Hurry up, prices are changing as I dither. Is foreign exchange dealing this stressful?
Lausanne to Paris seems rather expensive. How about Geneva? Can we make it from Gare de Lyon to Gare du Nord in 37 minutes? Hang on a minute, there’s a TGV to Charles de Gaulle which connects with the RER to the Gare du Nord so we won’t have to cross Paris – crafty, or what? Basel looks cheap. How would we get there by 1030 in the morning? If only I’d booked a later return Eurostar, we could have had breakfast in resort, caught the midday train and saved ourselves a packet.
The tickets look cheaper if I buy them one by one instead of four at once. That means we all get to sit in different carriages – not necessarily a disadvantage at the end of a week’s family holiday, but with added risk of sitting next to a French West African with a runny nose. Note to i/c packing: goggles and face mask to be readily accessible at all times.
Now the card is refused … twice! I know this ploy: try again with another card … et voilà, the price has gone up. Bastards!