I try not to spend too much time in train toilets (though I’m less squeamish than in the past, which is fortunate as SNCF still haven’t replied to my letter of July 1996 expressing horror that the ones on their Calais-Avignon Motorail service emptied directly onto the tracks) but, on a recent trip between Belgium and Germany on a Thalys train, my attention was drawn to a map on the back of the toilet door. This less than perfect photo (you try taking one in an ill-lit bathroom at 300km/h) shows a map of the Thalys network, including its seasonal south of France destinations.
Maybe it was partly as I’d been excited to see a departing Thalys to Marseille opposite my own train in Brussels that morning, but I really like how connected this topological map (thanks to some helpful people on Twitter for informing me that this is the term for one that isn’t to scale and misses out a lot) makes western Europe look. It’s a bit like this old advertisement for the legendary Trans-Europe Express. Sure, it elides travel times and possible delays as well as more serious obstacles to a border-free Europe, but I was happy to be reminded we are closer to our neighbours than we might sometimes think. Unfortunately the map doesn’t seem to be on the Thalys website, but this French/Belgian/German/Dutch brand is itself a symbol of (western) European unity in diversity, not least via its impressively quadrilingual announcements and signage. What could be more internationalist than hand-washing advice in four languages?