Tuesday, August 3, 2010

i wanna be rich

i feel like i keep complaining about my trip. and that is really NOT my intention - i have actually had a fabulous time! and once i write about the wedding, you will see it as such... BUT i do have one more thing to complain about (for now, anyway). and that is the return from paris to london on sunday.

originally, elaine and i were meant to take a 7pm train from paris gare du nord (north train station) to london st. pancras (which i always thought was st. pancrEAS - why would you name a station after the pancreas??). elaine is a frequent eurostarer, heading to paris on fridays after work and then back to london on sundays, so she often books her return trips for later on sunday. since we had been in paris for 9 days anyway, i suggested we just take an earlier train. 1) we had to check out of our apartment around noon, so we'd have to either drag our stuff through paris or figure out what to do with it 2) we could get home and she could unpack and get ready for the week and 3) i kind of wanted to spend a bit more time in london (which is slowly becoming a favourite city of mine [notice the "u"!]). elaine agreed with the idea, but felt pretty certain that eurostar would charge us to change our tickets because we have, of course, bought the cheapest seats that are non-refundable, non-returnable. so we have our french friend call eurostar for us and he makes up a story about how his "friends who don't speak french didn't realize that their flight back to america was when it was, so they have to get back to london earlier." apparently this sort of thing works well in france. instead of calling and politely asking them to change the ticket (which is what i would've done), if you make up a story that the other person can relate to and/or help "conspire" on, then they are more likely to help out. so we changed our ticket to be on the 15h07 train (3:07pm). which would get us in to london around 4:30 and back to elaine's around 5:30pm with plenty of time to relax, eat, etc.

so we arrange to check out of our apartment at 1pm. the landlady's daughter gave us 70 euros back for the one night that we didn't have water (which was nice, we decided to use the money on a nice dinner in london sunday night). we say goodbye to our friend and hop in a taxi to gare du nord.

[side story: the taxi driver was BIZARRE. he was half-hong kongian and half-european. he spoke english (but his native language is french) and also speaks chinese. we only know his dad is from hong kong because he said if we guessed where he was from in asia, we could pay half the taxi fare and if we didn't guess, we would pay twice as much. he said it was a fromer british colony, so we guessed taiwan, but that was obviously wrong. as soon as he said hong kong, we were like "of course!" and i felt very stupid. anyway, he kept telling us how he was a chemist by trade, had his masters and all of these degrees, but since he bought a taxi license, he can earn just as much money by driving taxi as by being a chemist and the hours are better, so now he does that. and then he kept asking what we did and when he found out elaine was irish and lived in london, he got very excited because apparently his son is single. (his daughter is married and has been for 10 years without giving him a grandkid and he is unhappy about that.) then he asked where i was from and i said i was from boston. he asked what i did and i said i worked in finance and so he said "well, you must be rich! i like rich american better than irish." the whole ride to the train station he kept asking if i was rich! i said i wasn't rich or poor. when we got to the train station, we paid our regular fare and ALL of the taxi drivers seemed to know him. it was funny.]

so we got to the train station earlier than we expected. we wanted to be there by 2, but we got there around 1:45. we headed up to the eurostar platform, but the business class stairs were closed. so we head to the "regular" stairs. also closed. there are MASSIVE lines everywhere. people just hanging about, trying to go up the stairs. there are eurostar people standing in front of everyone not allowing anyone to go. elaine leaves me with the bags to go see what has happened. apparently, some idiot left his (or her) suitcase unattended and has not come back to reclaim it, so they had to evacuate the whole eurostar terminal, wait for the bomb squad to come, etc. it happened just 10 minutes before we got there. so we wait. and wait. our train is at 3:07, but there are trains at 2:13 and 2:47. more and more people are starting to come.

around 3pm, they decided to let the people who have tickets for the 2:13 train go up. elaine is crafty and says that we had called to change our tickets but had to pick them up, so she is one of the first people allowed to go up. she says that it is complete chaos up there. she comes back down and they slowly board the 2:13 train.

the problem is that you have to go through the ticket agent, then you have to go through french customs and then english customs. then there is a waiting hall where you stand before you can go get on the train. this whole thing take a long time normally. they suggest you arrive 30-45 minutes before your train. so they're already an hour behind, then they are EXTRA precautious because of the "bomb scare." after that train is loaded and gone, they allow the people for the 2:47 train up. the whole time, we are standing patiently waiting to go up. we wanted to go sit at a restaurant because we haven't eaten anything, BUT we didnt want to miss the slim chance that they allow people up the stairs.

we walked back over to the business stairs, even though we dont have business class tickets. we were looking up at the platform above with the MASSIVE queues of people and we thought "we can't wait in that. absolutely not." so we stand in front of the stairs for business class. we kept asking "can the 3:07 train go up? can we board?" and they kept saying FIVE MINUTES. cinq minutes! they don't haev a good understanding of the fact that once 5 minutes goes by, if you keep saying 5 minutes, its probably better to just say "a half hour" the first time you're asked. we could've gotten something to eat or i could've bought some souvenirs. so we were frustrated.

meanwhile, more and more and more people are starting to show up at the train stations. for their 3:30, 4:00, 4:45, even 5pm trains. and NO ONE FROM EUROSTAR TELLS ANYONE WHATS GOING ON. so people from evening trains are trying to get up and they are turned away. in addition, the announcements are the automatic ones saying "the train for 3:07 will board now" but it isn't actually boarding.

and then... dum dum dum... they finally announce that the 3:07 train can enter. we were worried that they would notice our tickets clearly say "standard" and not "business" so i was super sneaky and put my passport over that part of the ticket. elaine did the same, and they just looked at the time to ensure we were at 3:07. we headed up and missed about a thousand people who had to wait separately. i forgot that since i am not european, i have to fill out a boarding card for england, so there was a slight hiccup in the process there. but elaine moved forward to the security section where you have to put your suitcase through. i met up with her in line (i'm normally AGAINST cutting in line, but we were traveling together). we didn't have any time to get any food in the waiting area and just went directly to our seats. from the time that we sat down in our seats to when we left, it was 45 minutes. thats how long it took to load the whole train. it was kind of crazy. i ended up getting some food in the food car and elaine slept. we ended up getting back to her place around 7:30pm, which is when we would've normally LEFT paris, so all in all, we made up some time; although not as much as we wanted to.

when we got to her flat, there was a menu for an indian restaurant, so we ordered and i went down to the corner store to get some beers. peroni - my first time having, very good! the indian food was DELICIOUS. mmmm... now that i'm thinking about it again, i'm craving it. ha.

we watched coco avant chanel, which was a good flick. we were in bed by 11 (only an hour later than we wanted) and all in all, a good end to our french trip, but still frustrating to think about: WHY don't the french just TELL everyone what's going on?? then people could leave and come back. oh and WHY didn't the little old lady whose train was at 7pm, NOT move from in front of the stairs?? why did she just stand there??? ugh.

[song by rich calloway]


  1. all i got out of this entire story was "half-hong kongian"

  2. Hi,

    My name is John and I use to travel a lot...i want to know what is the best way to travel from London to Paris, is it by train or by flight, i read this website and found it pretty useful http://www.londonparisbytrain.com but still i want to know if someone travelled by train. please do share your experience

    Thanks a lot