London to Paris By Eurostar
From 6 to 20 October 2000 I visited the UK. This was primarily a holiday, with some work related items (including presenting a seminar at the Oxford University Computing Laboratory). Like previous trips I have prepared this technical travelogue, combining both travelogue and technology items from the trip. As with previous reports this may later become part of a printed book (see: "Net Traveller: Exploring the Networked Nation") and magazine articles. These start out as unpolished drafts (in this case written and sent on the Eurostar) and so comments and corrections are welcome. If you are reading a printed copy of this, please note that the web version has links to further details.
The trip to Paris was not part of my original travel plans. I sent the announcement of my Oxford talk for inclusion in UNESCO's Observatory on the Information Society. In response I received a note from Richard Cadiou, who organised the Netcetera Virtual Election coverage, which I helped with in the National Tally Room in Canberra in 1996. He is now working with UNESCO in Paris on a range of websites, including the Observatory on the Information Society. Through Richard I arranged to visit Philippe Quéau Director of Information Society Division UNESCO. This was a good excuse to try the Eurostar train through the Channel Tunnel from London to Paris and when I contacted Eurostar PR they provided me with a free return ticket, as I was writing this travel report.
One problem which can occur with trains is odd booking procedures. The Eurostar provides a convenient service similar to electronic air tickets. Bookings can be made by telephone and the ticket (which looks like an airline boarding pass) is collected at the station before departure by quoting a booking number.
To someone from an island continent county, the idea of Waterloo International Railway Station sounds bizarre. But this was an international station even before the Channel Tunnel, with boat trains. The new international station tastefully combines an expansive glass roof in the style of a grand old station and the facilities of a modern airport. Travel through the station is much simpler than an airport, with passengers being able to bring their luggage to the train themselves. Being also a domestic station, interchange is very simple.
There is probably a first class lounge somewhere in the station, but I didn't see it or miss it. There are shops and banking facilities in the concourse. The newsagent was out of copies of the Financial Times and the staff offered to get more, but they were provided free on-board for first class passengers anyway.
Technology On Board
There are not power points on the trains for lap-tops - this is being looked at in a planned refurbishment programme for the fleet. However, the train provides an extremely smooth ride and more room than on an aircraft for lap tops and paper work. I seemed to be the only one in my first class carriage using a lap top.
There are public 'phones on board but these have been taken out of service due to lack of use. Most people have mobiles 'phones and it is much easier to use a mobile in you seat than stand at the public phone. Mobile phones work on-board Eurostar and there was the problem of loud ringing phone at the start of the journey (the person opposite me had TWO mobiles). But people turned them down when they realised how quiet the train was. Mobiles don't work during Channel Tunnel transit (20 minutes) and in shorter tunnels en-route (mostly in the UK). I noticed that phones do work in the London Underground.
As soon as we existed the tunnel in France, I received a message on the phone from SFR welcoming me to their mobile service, which is a nice touch. I uploaded the first draft of this web site, using an GSM infrared interface. This was only just done when the battery went flat in my computer.
Information Society Division UNESCO
Arriving at Gare du Nord in Paris, I then descended into the Metro to go across town to UNESCO's imposing buildings near the Eiffel Tower. The train trip was easy compared to finding Richard Cadiou in UNESCO's building complex. I had to call his office from the foyer and be directed up to the right floor by a helpful staff member.
Once in Richard's room of web workers I felt at home. UNESCO presents an interesting challenge for web designers with multiple languages to be accommodated. After a quick coffee in the sixties decor UNESCO cafeteria I borrowed Richard's desk (with a view of the Eiffel Tower out the window), recharged the battery in my laptop.
There was a meeting of minds with Philippe Quéau Director of Information Society Division UNESCO who is grappling with the issue of how the organisation can address its cultural and scientific charter by use of information technology. Is there a place for national and international bodies in IT standards, or should it be simply left to the market and the industry?
My answer would be that bodies, such as UNESCO, can have a useful role, but need to learn from the newer more nimble non-government organisations, such as the Internet Society. These bodies use the Internet to help govern the Internet and to formulate policies and standards.
Philippe was interested in my article YXML? - Why the Extensible Markup Language?, (Published in Information Age magazine, September 2000) and in web accessibility issues. I suspect one useful role for UNESCO might be in looking at what areas the industry is not addressing well (such as access for the disabled) and suggesting areas of work for IT researchers to look at. This might later lead to work funded by national governments and show areas where private industry could contribute.
- Books: European Trains; London to Paris by Train; Eurostar; Channel Tunnel and High Speed Trains
- Models of the Eurostar Train
- UK: England, Cornwall and Stonehenge, 2000
- London Travel Tips
- London, Brussels, Berlin and Hamburg by the Eurostar, Thalys and ICE high speed trains
- Other Travel
- High Technology Tourist Reports