01.05.2006 17 °C
With our high speed train tickets from Paris to London in hand, all we needed to do was get from Gare de Lyon to Gare du Nord - a matter of two Metro stations - to step aboard the train and emerge in London. What was not so easy to determine was which of the many metro lines to take to get there. Escalators up and down and every which way, lines A to E.... I was confident I had the right one, and a French woman who wanted to get to the same locality agreed with me; so we all jumped on a train expecting a few minutes only to the desired destination. In fact, I could see after one station that we were heading in the opposite direction, heading south, and we were on an express that would not stop for about twenty minutes, until we were deep in the southern suburbs of Paris, with unknown names like Villeneuve-Prairie and Villeneuve-Triage. When the train finally stopped, we dashed around to the correct platform to get back to Paris and the right station. Still with a few minutes to go till the scheduled departure of the Eurostar high speed train, we dragged our heavy cases up stairs, downstairs, across crowds and through crowds, with little by way of signposting to direct passengers to the right place. We got separated momentarily, and suddenly the station was filled with many people wearing the same colour jacket as I was, or so it seemed to Miriam for the couple of minutes I was unfindable.
On reaching the check in counter for Eurostar, our tickets just provoked beeping from the machine. It was too late to get on the train. Fortunately, the French rail system's policy is to reissue tickets for the next available service, if you have missed any train by less than one hour. So, after we had calmed down, we were able to board the 10.20am train and still be in London by 12.00 (1pm Paris time).
The EuroStar is certainly a civilised way to travel between the two capitals, a comfortable ride, a brief overview of north western France, twenty minutes of darkness as you travel under the Channel, and before you know it you are at Waterloo Station.
Here, once we had established our bearings, we were only a short walk from familiar surroundings. With somewhere to stay for the remainder of our time the immediate requirement, an Internet cafe was quickly found, opposite the gallery where earlier in our travels we had seen the Dali exhibition. With a little diligent searching, found what looked like a comfortable hotel in Kensington (the Shaftesbury) at 59 pounds a night, and booked it online.
We were feeling a lot more relaxed being back in an English speaking country where we could find our way around easily. We even knew that we should get an all day ticket on the Loop, right away, so that we could get around central London easily. This being our second stint near Earls Court, we felt right at home, knowing where to buy food and drinks and so on. Saved on dinner by buying pre-prepared Chinese at 2.2 pounds per serve and heating it in our room, because unlike every hotel room on the continent of Europe, this one actually had both a microwave and a fridge for guest use. Very convenient.
The room itself was incredibly overheated - a common situation in England. I had to seek help to get the heat down enough to sleep. It appeared that you could not turn off the heat, but you could turn on the air conditioner and open the window a small way; not exactly a greenhouse friendly approach to energy usage. However in decor and cleanliness the rather small room was superior to most others we had stayed in. And, as I had not brought with me a cat to swing, the compact size was not too much of a problem.
There is much to be said for the restorative powers of a hot bath in a clean bathroom, followed by a cup of tea.
Best of all there was internet access, a feature that I had thought would be more widely available than it is. But Internet cafes are everywhere, even in the tiniest towns.