No Island of Dreams 08/03/2010Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures.
Tags: england, eurostar, london, st. pancreas, travel
Then it was time to leave. Paul and Sam had left for work before I awoke which spared me the tears and pleading and threats of suicide. Checked for foxes playing in the frostbitten grass out back but they were nowhere to be seen. Just the rumbling District Line passing and a row of planes descending on Heathrow.
My Turkish friend at Caffe Nero tried to sign me up for some sort of complicated punch-card, tenth one’s free cult. I explained I was returning to Paris and he expressed displeasure. The English accent is difficult for him to understand and he much prefers the senseless blathering of Americans. We talked about where to visit when I’m in Turkey and he gave me my last double espresso on the house. I have yet to be given anything for free from any counter jockey in France, and I’d only been in town a week.
Computer, books, sandwiches and a note for my hosts. Caught the District Line, watching the clock. It moved quite fast while the Tube ran so slow, rocking along the tracks as though on the verge of shaking itself apart. Transfered at Earls Court and continued to watch the clock. This was not working out as well as I had planned; spoiled by the Paris métro I had placed faith in the wrong mass transit system.
St. Pancreas is sprawling. Running as fast as I could with twenty kilos of paperbacks pounding against my back, up escalators, down corridors, constantly looking for signs indicating I was headed in the right direction. I swiped my ticket at the Eurostar gate and the scanner was unimpressed. I waved it at an attendant who told me to swipe the ticket. I tried again, the machine remained unimpressed, the attendant considered me an idiot. He attempted to swipe the ticket for me, then looked and saw the departure time. No luck.
The train had not left but I was being denied entry. This did not make sense to my American brain where being loud and obnoxious and entitled meant you could get whatever you wanted. The attendant introduced me to another attendant who stamped my ticket with a big FAIL and they sent me off to the ticket agent across the terminal. The line attendant could not understand my English and tried to send me to a French clerk. I was still panting, sweating and really had to use a bathroom.
What happened? Well, London’s really big and the Tube is really slow and now I’m here wondering if this is going to present a problem that requires any additional money from my withering bank account. Not at all, they issued me a ticket for the next train which was scheduled to leave in fifty minutes.
You go through customs in the train station. There’s a little section of St. Pancreas that is officially France, where you can withdraw sums of money in both Pounds and Euros and pay exorbitant sums for a double espresso, which I did. There wasn’t much of a crowd, and when I finally boarded my car there didn’t seem to be anyone else riding with me. Okay, one tiny Japanese girl who didn’t have a prayer getting her bag in the luggage rack (yes, I helped mom), an annoying cellphone addict and a mother/daughter combo who eventually sat behind me.
Eurostar is fairly inexpensive, at least when considered within the context of British transportation. My only real complaint about England is that it’s expensive to get around. It cost me twenty quid to take a commuter train from Manchester airport to Chorley, which was a double rip off because the machine is designed to trick idiots like me into buying a first class seat. The trains from Chorley to both Manchester and Liverpool were a bite in the wallet and I was charged more than I should have on the latter trip because they didn’t bother to sell me a ticket en route. Trains from Manchester to London cost an arm and a leg, the bus is a bit steep for all the spastics, and the Tube steals your money and than laughs as you crawl along the sewers with rats and roaches passing on either side.
But the train from London to Paris is a breeze, unless it breaks down. I tried to expel my last five quid by carefully calibrating the costs of various sundries and ended up with a double espresso that tasted like shit. I tried it again, suffered the same miserable fate and still had a pound which the cashier wouldn’t swap for a euro despite the favorable exchange rate. As I had booked an afternoon train and missed it there was no sun once we climbed from the Chunnel into France, which meant I missed all of the scenery my sister had been really excited I see. Next time, Ame, I swear.
Then I was home, shivering at Gare du Nord and shaking my pockets for enough change to spare me lugging my hulking backpack through the scummy 10th. It was snowing, it was cold, I barely had enough to catch the métro and I had nothing to eat except some peanut butter leftovers. Bonne Année, Paris. It’s great to see you.