Last week I took the Eurostar to the Gare du Nord in Paris. We had lunch next to the station at the Terminus Nord brasserie, unchanged since 1925. The art deco clock on the wall has literally stopped, and everything else is frozen in the world of Fred Astaire, from the mosaic floor to the mirrored walls, to murals of dancers in tails and flapper dresses. But my God the Gare du Nord is a dump. It has a fine 1863 iron-and-glass train shed, with a classical facade lined with statues of handsome women, representing destinations from Calais to the heart-stirring battlefields of Arras and Dunkirk. The station is now a wreck, haunted by lost souls, homeless, drunk and begging. In the station loos, a graffito reads, ‘Il y’a meilleurs toilettes en prison qu’ici.’ I bet French prisons also have better check-in systems than Eurostar’s at Gare du Nord. Hundreds of travellers are crammed into a small glass box with expansive views of empty swaths of the station concourse, thinly scattered with badly lit sandwich bars and shops. Memo to the builders of the new Euston station — make it beautiful and use the space cleverly.
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