For those not of a religious nature and in fact those without a specific knowledge of 14th century saints, the name St Pancras means nothing, other than it being a somewhat magnificent London Railway Terminus.For those who may want to know more, St Pancras became a saint due to his martyrdom and rebellion against the Romans in defence of the Christian faith. He is not really a top ten rated saint compared to Animal loving St Francis, travel insurance expert St Christopher, snake repelling St Patrick and many others who get regular top billing both in the church and popular literature and films. Anyway if a St Pancras question comes up at quiz night, you will be the hero of your team now. St Pancras station however really is out there making a name for itself. This magnificent building which has a gothic cathedral like appearance from the outside was constructed in the 1860’s and was in good use for the first 100 years of its life but fell into gradual decline from the 1960’s and was nearly derelict by the 1970’s with only a small number of departures to the Midlands of England with most other services having been moved for various reasons to other stations nearby such as next door neighbour modernist Kings Cross,and near neighbours St Marylebone and Euston.Then a stroke of luck…the newly created international services of Eurostar to Paris and Brussels needed a larger terminus; the newly created high speed domestic trains to the Kent coast likewise, and also some other commuter services needed a station that could accomdate increased train lengths introduced due to traffic growth.That’s just the background and the ‘raison d’etre’ for the stations rebirth.And what a transformation….light, sculptures, classy shops, restaurants and champagne bars truly have brought the romance back to train travel.The full story of this transformation is worth a read…well documented on Wikipedia. For those not looking for the detail….just try to visit it if ever you are in London. You really won’t be disappointed.
I am a frequent traveller in Germany and customer of Deutsche Bahn (DB). Lucky me! DB have been having a bit of a wobbly week on the rails meaning I have been changing trains in places I never normally venture. Now this is a sweeping generalisation but it occurred to me that many German train stations are almost identical to each other. Until you see the name, even as a frequent traveller you have no clue where you are if you didn’t look up from your book and spot any familiar city landmarks on approach.
There are of course notable exceptions – Berlin’s hauptbahnhof is a multi floored monument of intersecting railways. You will see swarms of people changing levels and actually resembling more of a giant department store with different travel opportunities on each floor ..you know when you have arrived in Berlin!
So is any country any different? Italy’s Florence station has a subdued underground garage feel about it really doing the ‘under promise, over deliver act’ for when you venture out into the sunshine and the city. Milano central has a cathedral like majesty to it, that is well, it’s very Milan.
Still in Italy, Venice station has the Grand canal on the station forecourt..not a taxi rank to be seen but plenty of gondolas.
In the UK with its history of competing railway companies there is many a monument ..the gothic London St Pancras,
London’s Paddington has Paddington bear sitting on a bench, London Kings Cross has Harry Potter Platform 9 and 3/4.
Even provincial Huddersfield has a station described by poet John Betjeman as a stately home with trains running through it.
But it’s not all British smugness here…Paul Simon wrote the song …(I wish I was) Homeward Bound in Widnes railway station. If you ever get a chance to go there, you will find out why!