Friday, August 28, 2009

Eurostar: You're a Star

The Chunnel is a tunnel under the English Channel.  You can get between Paris and London in 2.5 hours.  Unless you’re me.

The day started out normally enough – we boarded the coach in Amsterdam and were away by 8, with the promise of being in Paris by 4pm and London by 8pm.  Paris was pretty cool.  Even though I was only there for an hour I managed to take a stroll down a couple of streets and have a coffee.  Ordering a coffee in Paris is simple enough, and I managed to exhaust nearly all of my high school French in ordering it (if the waiter had asked me about any cats that may or may not be on my table, then I would have exhausted my High School French).

Sitting in Paris sipping on a coffee convinced me that I needed to come back and see more of the city.  I was not content with thinking I might have seen the top of the Eiffel Tower on the coach on the way in, and so started making plans to return soon, perhaps with a friend.  Sure it would be expensive, but I’d find a way to make it work.

I checked in at the station and went through customs okay.  The UK boarder agent started grilling me on my intentions with the Queen: “What are you doing here, where are you staying, what do you do back at home” etc.  It was then that I remembered my less-than-legal ‘passport stamp’ from Checkpoint Charlie that I got in Berlin.  Luckily the agent did not notice the fine beads of sweat dripping down my forehead nor the subtle change in my heartbeat and he let me through onto the train, where I sat in my allocated seat without drama or hassle.  Until we started.

We left the station bang on time at 6.43pm, and reached a top speed of around 140 km/hr before slowing down, much to everyone’s confusion.  We then slowed to a snail’s pace for the next forty minutes as the Train Manager announced a technical fault with the trains, but that we’d be moving again soon.  We didn’t.

Three hours (and many apologetic yet vague announcements) later we arrived at the Chunnel entrance, where we parked up for four hours. 

Four hours.

In the first hour people sat sullenly in their seats.  In the second hour my tour group had drank the bar dry.  In the third hour passengers were making friends and plans to repopulate the human race.  In the fourth hour alliances were being made and broken as anger and frustration started to kick in.  My favourite part was when one of the Aussies on my tour group came back from the bar completely hammered and started getting noisy and screamy.  Screamy drunk is not a good thing at the best of times.  Screamy drunk on a train full of angry and frustrated passengers is even less so.  One lady actually came up to us and said that if we didn’t shut her up she would go over and smother her.  From the look in her eyes I believed it (and I’m not going to lie – part of me wanted to see it).  

We arrived at King’s Cross at 2am, six hours after the scheduled arrival time, and six hours more with my tour group than I had anticipated.  By then it was too late to get to where I was staying, so I had to book into a hotel for the night.  Eurostar paid.  I was actually thankful for it – having my own room and a double bed is a welcome change from sharing a room with a snoring beast (albeit with a heart of gold) who sleep-kickboxes.  There were many angry and frustrated passengers, but I was too tired to be frustrated, and to be honest it wasn’t the worst experience.  I got to stay the night in a decent hotel (slept like a champ, by the way), and to top it all off Eurostar offered everybody a free return trip to Paris to help make up for it.

So now I get to go back.  For free.

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