Once upon a time, if one had a reservation on the Eurostar to go to Paris or to London, you just had to show up a maximum of thirty (30) minutes before departure and all would be well. Three hours later you would debark in either London or Paris patting yourself on the back for saving all that time by not taking the plane.
Not anymore. Not in this era of Terrorism. The French and British may not have school shootings every week but both have suffered horrendous attacks authored by ISIS or those wanting to be connected to ISIS.
So the other day when I took the Eurostar to London, I knew to get to Gare du Nord an hour early. I immediately stood in a long line of travellers. First, we electronically checked in. Then we passed through French Border control. I handed the officer my passport. He looked at my name and photo. He went back and forth with a very serious look on his face. What was he looking for? I wanted to offer that I had a French residency card. I kept silent. It seemed the prudent thing to do. After what seemed like two or three minutes, he stamped my passport and I joined the snaking line of travellers moving slowly towards the UK Border Control. Everyone seemed calm. Some people chatted up the person in front of or in back of them. I heard some laughter but most people were like me, just wanting to get to the departures gate without bringing any attention to themselves.
Ten minutes later, having passed through Border Control without a problem, “How long are you staying?” and “Where will you go when you leave the UK?”, we had finally made it to Bag Security check. I didn’t have to take my shoes off. My titanium hip did set off the alarm bells. So I got the usual pat down.
I made it to Departures with five minutes to sit if I chose to before the snaking line formed again to descend to Quai 5 and board the train. People politely stepped on board, stored their suitcase and found their seats. Never did I hear the heavy sighs of impatience that one often hears in the US, the pacing up and down of people feeling entitled to be different. You can see the wheels in their minds churning in resentment of being made to move like cattle through all the check points. But, if something horrible should happen, they’d be the first people on the horn, complaining that the government should be doing something about those terrorists.
I’ve grown to be quite grateful for all that these officers do to try and protect their citizens, ex-Pats and many visitors. It’s not convenient that’s true but I’ll take inconvenience any day over the alternative.
So if you are coming to France, the UK, and now Brussels and Amsterdam and plan on taking the Eurostar, be forewarned. Arrive at least an hour ahead of departure and you will not feel stressed!!
A couple of days later: I have arrived at St. Pancras an hour and a half early to return to Paris. Trying to get information is not fun. The Brits working here are not nearly as polite as the French. But, as in Paris, there is a long snaking line of quiet people who, for the most part, are not stressed.
It only took me thirty minutes to get through to the departures room and so had plenty of time to eat my dinner before we left for Paris.