It really only struck me when I was back in Oxford, Friday afternoon, and realised I had been in Avignon, Provence, the very same morning. Without using a plane. It struck me that these days the TGV (Train Grande Vitesse, or High Speed Train) only takes 4 hours and a bit from the top to the toe of France, i.e. from Lille to Avignon. On the way down it took us 4 hours and 13 minutes. And you never even notice you're moving very fast. And the train arrived precisely on time.
A quick comparison with the UK: the distance corresponds to that from Brighton (on the south coast) to Inverness (on the shores of Loch Ness), and the quickest train connection I can find right now takes 9 hours 49 minutes. which means that most people would take the plane to go up to scotland.
Plus, the new generation TGV trains, some of them double deckers, offer you an amount of space that you would only get in first class carriages in the UK. At one of the stations I spotted a magazine for (UK) railway enthusiasts with the cover page reading: "High speed trains: what we can learn from Europe". Well, ahem, short answer: everything.
The UK has only one high speed line, that is the bit that connects London St. Pancras to the Euro Tunnel, which opened a couple of years ago (before that, the fast Eurostar trains crept very slowly into Waterloo station). Seeing that the Paris to Lyon TGV line opened in 1981, we're about a quarter of a century behind.
Meanwhile, the UK government keeps subsidising the expansion of airports, undermining its own climate targets, as George Monbiot keeps reminding us.
PS couple of pix to throw in, this is the main hall of the TGV station at Avignon:
... and this is what the sunrise over Provence looks like when you move at more than 200 km/h:
PS I've now uploaded a few more photos to a dedicated MySpace album.