High-speed Thalys train eases capital-to-capital trips

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Travel Weekly associate editor Linda Humphrey traveled between Brussels and Paris aboard the high-speed Thalys train. Her report follows.

BRUSSELS -- When a press tour brought me to Brussels last month, I decided to begin and end the trip in Paris. The two cities seemed so close, and I hoped getting back and forth would not be a hassle. It turned out to be easier than expected, thanks to my mode of travel.

Thalys trainTraveling at speeds up to 186 mph, the Thalys train connects Brussels and Paris in an hour and 25 minutes. Three years ago, this journey took three hours.

The fact is that hopping between European countries has become so simple that travelers are taking more day trips. Frequency of service is helping to fuel that trend. The Brussels-Paris line, for example, departs 18 times per day, each way.

Two things surprised me about the Thalys: the price structure and the meal-service schedule.

On the weekend, first and second class tickets cost the same: $53 one way. The first class weekday fare, however, is considerably steeper: $95 one way. (A second class weekday ticket costs $62.) And in first class, meals are served on weekdays only.

I began my trip to Brussels from a Paris hotel in the 17th arrondissement.

A Saturday morning taxi to the Gare du Nord station took 20 minutes and cost about $13 plus an extra $2.50 for my luggage. On my return, a taxi from the Gare du Nord to a hotel in the ninth arrondissement took 10 minutes and cost $4 plus $5 for my luggage.

In Brussels, a taxi from the Grand Place (the city's main square) to the Midi station took 10 minutes and cost $7. I bought first class tickets through Rail Europe in White Plains, N.Y. Advance seat reservations cost $2 to $3 extra.

The red Thalys train was hard to miss, looming just beyond the Gare du Nord station entrance. Track announcements in French are followed by English translations. Tickets list a coach number, which corresponds to a digital sign on each train car.

In February, my first class coach was full. Americans, including a tour group, filled most of the car. First class coaches, with plush red seats that recline, are similar to those of the Eurostar train. Some seats face large tables.

The Thalys has no luggage restrictions. The vestibule and overhead racks provide plenty of space for bags. (Eurostar allows two bags plus one hand-luggage item per person; additional luggage must be checked.)

There is not much difference between first and second class coaches. First class offers roomier seats and, as previously stated, weekday meal service. Most Americans who are beyond their backpacking years opt for first class, a Rail Europe official said.

A typical meal service features a beverage cart (including small bottles of wine) followed by a tray of meat and vegetable pate; brie cheese; bread; custard; candy; coffee, and tea. Travelers can order special meals, such as vegetarian, by calling the local station at least two days in advance.

The cafe car features an extensive menu.

Rail Europe
Phone: (888) 382-7245

Train gets there in no time flat

BRUSSELS -- The high-speed Thalys train service was recently extended from its Paris-Brussels route to Amsterdam, Holland, and Cologne and Dusseldorf, Germany. Following are travel times:

Brussels-Amsterdam: Two hours and 40 minutes.

Brussels-Cologne: Two hours and 40 minutes.

Brussels-Dusseldorf: Three hours and one minute.

Paris-Amsterdam: Four hours and 12 minutes.

Paris-Cologne: Four hours and two minutes.

Paris-Dusseldorf: Four hours and 31 minutes.

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