Saturday, February 02, 2008

En Route to London

The morning sun peeking over the French countryside.

After a week of lazily languishing in bed, the alarm and the phone started ringing at 6am for my wake-up call. Nothing hurts more than getting up at six when you went to bed at two. It's killer and I just want to laze around the bed, but I can't. I've got an 8:07am Eurostar train to London to catch today.

After a quick shower, I'm off to the taxi stand. Here in Paris, you just don't flag a taxi down like you do in New York. There are civilized ways of hailing a cab and Parisians aren't like the barbaric Americans (or so they think). It's still dark outside as we pick our way through the Paris streets to the Gare du Nord, or North Rail Station. Since it's a Satuday morning, it's a quick ten minute ride that costs nine euros. I give the guy ten euros and start to get out of the cab. The driver makes a motion to give me my change but I tell him to keep it.

Then it hits me: maybe I don't need to leave a tip because the tip is included?

The Little Black Book of Paris that I've been using states that you can give your taxi driver a ten percent tip. It also says it's okay to leave a little tip at the restaurant. Are these people pulling my leg? So far, I haven't had to leave an additional tip at any restaurant (I was even told by the owner of Chez Pierrot that it was unnecessary) and now this cabbie wants to give me back my change? This ain't New York.

First course on the Eurostar: yogurt, orange juice, croissant, mini baguette, butter and jelly.

Taking the Eurostar is like checking in at the airport. You have to go to the counter, go through security screening and passport control (I thought the UK was part of the EU?) and then you're released into the terminal waiting area compete with shops, coffee bar, magazine store and duty-free shopping. I grab a sausage and cheese combo for Stephen and a book titled: Talk To The Snail by Stephen Clarke for the ride - especially since I left my iPhone earbud headphones on the desk at the flat.

But one thing I didn't leave was my passport - and I was thinking about leaving it behind since I'm just heading to London and aren't they also part of the E.U.? I guess not.

Once the train is ready, everyone makes a mad dash for the coaches. Each is numbered and you're assigned both a coach and a seat number. There are three classes of service: Economy, Leisure Select and Business Premier. I chose Leisure Select since the Business Premier seat was $450 each way. To board, you walk along the train until you've come upon your coach number and a conductor checks your ticket to make sure you are where you belong (God knows we don't want those tourist riff-raff in Economy invading our foot massages).

The Main Course: cheese omelette, mushrooms, bacon and tomato.

The seats are wide and spacious - three across the width of the coach. Half of the seats face in one direction, half in the other, which means some of you are riding backwards (and I hate riding backwards) Half of all the seats are also in a face-to-face configuration so you can make gaga eyes at the cute curl sitting across from you, as well as play footsie under the table.

I get seated and, of course, I'm facing backwards. Our coach is pretty empty so I quickly switch to the four person face-to-face going in the right direction and I've got it all to myself.

The train gets underway and it's just like any other train. We start gliding out of the city and once we clear the city limits, the train escalates in speed to 186 miles per hour. Not as fast as the Shinkansen in Japan, but certainly faster than the Acela on Amtrak. The train is smooth and quiet at that speed and the French countryside speeds by while I get comfortable and wait for the meal service.

Today's meal is a cheese omelette, bacon and mushrooms with tomato. The food is standard airplane food. Nothing to get excited about. Actually, the most exciting part of the meal is the yogurt.

Like I said, I didn't sleep much and I'm pretty exhausted. I want to sleep, but I can't get comfortable. I squirm and I move, but the velour fabric on the seat keeps catching onto my jeans, twisting and contorting them into an uncomfortable twist.

I'm hating life at 186 mph.

Riding on the train is odd. As we blow through an underpass or careen through a short tunnel, the speed of the train causes such turbulence in the air that it creates pressure zones that fill the ear cavities. Every once in a while, I have to equalize my eardrums.

Then there's the Chunnel Tunnel. Thirty-five miles of water flow above us in one of man's greatest engineering achievements. If it somehow collapses, we're dead. If the train decides to derail at this speed, we're dead too. Good thing it's dark in the tunnel. We never have to know it's coming.

But the tunnel only lasts twenty minutes and then we're in the United Kingdom. Those blokes are driving on the wrong side of the road, but they couldn't care less. I vision for a moment forgetting this nifty fact and getting creamed by a lorry as I try to cross the road at Piccadilly Circus. Hopefully, that won't be the case.

After two and a half hours, we arrive in London at St. Pancras International Rail Station and onward to a London adventure.


M said...

UK is an EU member. It's just not one of the 15 Schengen countries. Travel within the Schengen zone is pretty much treated as 'domestic' travel. Having said that, it is recommended even for non-EU citizens legally residing in a Schengen country to travel with a passport (in addition to an EU resident card) ;) I think if you're flying within the zone, you still need a passport (for ID purposes) but not by car or rail unless you're passing through a non-Schengen country :)

M said...

oops, I meant 28 not 15.