It is 9:38pm and Guillaume is waiting. The station lights of Gare du Nord glint in his round spectacles, his black, unruly hair peeking out from under his hat as he peers over the bustling, expectant crowd. This vigil at Platform 3 has become a fortnightly ritual. He waits for his love.
‘Her name is Constance,’ he says, smiling. ‘We met in London last year. She’s French but she works there. I take the train to London one week, she comes to Paris the next, so we see each other every weekend.’
This Eurostar service is their vital link, an international locomotive artery flowing lifeblood into their romance. 2014 marked its 20th anniversary, an occasion celebrated by the announcement of seventeen new hi-tech Siemens trains set for action this year.
Eurostar CEO Nicholas Petrovich reports ‘record demand’ for their services and, after ten consecutive years of growth, says their new fleet will provide an ‘unprecedented level of style and comfort’ for customers. Journey times on the Paris-London line will fall by 15 minutes, bringing Guillaume and Constance ever closer.
But keeping love on track across the Channel at such speed comes at a price. ‘It’s quite expensive,’ Guillaume sighs, readjusting his glasses. ‘Friday evening, Sunday night, Monday morning… These are the most popular times and it’s always booked. We try to plan ahead. I spend around €200 a month going to see her.’
Eurostar regularly offers special deals aimed at couples, such as promotions offering 2-for-1 entry into major London expositions on presentation of a Eurostar ticket. Savvy Eurostar veterans also know how to eke out every last moment of their trip: Constance, for example, gets the first train back on Monday morning and goes straight into work.
Yet the joy of the Eurostar for Guillaume comes in its location. ‘It’s really convenient that it starts here, at Gare du Nord,’ he says. ‘It only takes me 15 minutes to get here by bus. She could have been in another place, not so far away, like Madrid or Switzerland, but it would really be a pain compared to London. So it’s really easy.’
What remains difficult is the simple fact of separation. I ask how he finds the demands of a long-distance relationship. ‘It’s okay,’ Guillaume replies, but immediately laughs at the euphemistic inadequacy of the answer. ‘No, it’s just been a year so it’s fine. But if it gets any longer than that, at some point it’s going to be pretty annoying.’ I sense a certain vulnerability. What’s the worst thing about being long-distance? ‘The hardest part is when I have to leave from London,’ he says. ‘That’s a hard feeling.’
Having a long-term plan for your relationship and being open about your life goals is one of Kate Bauer-Bell’s top tips for making distance work. Coauthor of The Long-Distance Relationship Survival Guide, she recommends seeing each other often enough so the relationship ‘feels real’. Guillaume and Constance seem to have it right on that front.
‘We tried something less frequent previously but it didn’t work. The gap between seeing each other was too long. And if I had any Eurostar issues, such as breakdowns or cancellations due to snow, I could go up to a month without seeing her.’
Bauer-Bell also advises including one another in your daily routine and social networks in the precious time you have together, another box Guillaume and Constance tick. ‘We visit friends, we visit her family,’ he says, eyes shimmering with past memories. ‘Last weekend we went down to Chantilly and we’ve been to Disneyland. She likes to do lots of activities, she’s exhausting.’
9:47pm. The hum of excited expectancy rises as the Eurostar comes into view. Guillaume turns and wishes me goodbye. I watch as he moves through the crowds, moments away from his reunion. Doors hiss and slide open, passengers and suitcases spill onto the platform.
And suddenly she is there. Constance. They embrace. A kiss, a smile, and another embrace. Hand-in-hand, they stroll out into the cool Parisian evening, already deep in laughing, happy conversation. The waiting is over.
Photographs: Wikimedia, Eurostar