Le Shuttle: Embrace your inner child as the miles roll by
Something to declare
Sunday 31 August 2014
By any stretch of the imagination, Le Shuttle is not a romantic method of transport. After waiting in something quite like a service station car park, you drive along a platform, manoeuvre your vehicle inside the carriage, and then sit there, or stand by your car awkwardly, as you plunge through darkness. There's not even the pleasant feeling of knowing Paris is getting closer as you speed up to cross Picardy, as on Eurostar. Eurotunnel gets you to France, fast, and that's it, isn't it?
Not if you're a child. To a wide-eyed youngster on their first Shuttle trip, there is romance and adventure at every thrust of this journey. Already in a vehicle, you are driven on to another vehicle. If you have a bike on the back of your car then a vehicle on a vehicle is loaded on to a vehicle. All this is then propelled under the sea to another country. You can go to the loo in what is unapologetically a car transporter and ponder where it goes when you flush it. If that's not a recipe for excitement, then what is?
In fact, by embracing our inner child, or the world-view of those travelling with you should you have a brood in tow, even the driest holiday experiences carry a magic that grown-ups have long lost the good sense to appreciate. What delights can this approach offer? Start with the border guard. Instead of waiting in mutual, sullen silence see if you can elicit an otherwise superfluous passport stamp. Pour les enfants, monsieur, honest. The Eurostar stamps have a steam train on them. Don't pretend you don't want one now.
Things are no less amazing at the airport. All those conveyor belts carrying off bags to unseen locations. What happens then? X-ray machines, cargo planes without windows, walking on to a runway to ascend removable stairs before your giant plane takes off! At which point, someone offers you hot food that you choose from a magazine.
All this, before you even get there to marvel at how different continental Europe is. Here, Tintin and Asterix speak foreign languages, ice lollies carry exotic names such as "Brrr" rather than dull old Magnum and wearing a swimming hat and briefs is the (sometimes compulsory) norm.
Admit it, the Dutch commitment to comprehensiveness in camping equipment is something to behold. You needn't be a child to marvel at how late people stay up, but if you adopt the mindset of one it is surely the height of subversive excitement. You might even start refusing to go to bed yourself.
On a spring half-term trip to Belgium, we visited the town of Baarle-Hertog – or Baarle-Nassau if you're Dutch; it sits right on the border. Not only is the town bisected by the frontier, there are several dozen chunks of land around that form enclaves, exclaves and counter-enclaves. At times the border is marked on the pavement and road, and houses declare their allegiance with national flags, subtly displayed. I didn't have to think like a kid to delight in it, but it certainly helped.
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