Eurostar

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.

A bientôt,

Sara

 

Happy New Year from Paris

France is the only country that I know of that does not send Christmas cards as a rule but instead sends New Year’s cards.  We have the whole month of January to get the cards out.  Ergo, I feel just fine wishing you all a Happy New Year fourteen days into 2018!

I took quite a bit of time off from this blog–I spent two wonderful weeks in London.  I’d heard for many years about the lights and store windows of Harrods, Fortum and Mason, Selfridges and was looking forward to a festive time. I exchanged homes with a wonderful family from Finchley, North London.  They stayed in my home in Oakland, Calif and I stayed in their home 25 minutes by underground from the centre of London.  For the Christmas season, it felt like the best of two worlds.  London centre was alive with tourists, shoppers, lights, thousands of people swarming the sidewalks while Finchley was quiet and peaceful.

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Arriving at St Pancras station

The first week was very cold.  My friend, Meg, from Antibes joined me.  A Brit by birth, I had the luxury of just hanging on to her coattails and following her as she led me all over the place and we never got lost!  On Saturday, Dec. 23rd, we had tickets to hear the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Westminster Abbey.  It seems that a tourist must pay 22 pounds to visit Westminster.  However, with this ticket, I entered for free and heard the beautiful Westminster Boys Choir.

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Westminster Abbey

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The next evening, Christmas Eve, Meg took me to dinner at a long time friend’s home.  The family couldn’t have been more welcoming.  They gave me presents and thanked me so much for joining them for dinner.  Hello, shouldn’t I be thanking you??  The Brits are quite a people.

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Christmas Eve dinner with our paper crowns from the crackers

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Meg told me that for Christmas Day, every good Brit stays in their pjs and watches TV all day long.  It must be true because most of the channels had movies – of which we watched quite a few.

Meg took off on Wednesday to stay with her brother in southwest London and I prepared for my Paris friend, Barbara, to join me for the second week.  One of Meg’s friends introduced me to Todaytix.com which sells tickets to West End shows for a discount.  We got excellent seats for An American in Paris for 20 pounds each.  Barbara struck up a conversation with the couple next to her and found out about two more sites Lovetheatre.com and Amazontickets.com, that sell discounted tickets.  Through Lovetheatre.com, we bought terrific seats for a new West End production Girl from the North Country, a show based around Bob Dylan songs and Kinky Boots which I’d heard wonderful things about and Barbara was willing to go along with.

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Sara
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Barbara at Kinky Boots

 

Twenty years ago, coming to London to go to the Theatre was probably the best deal in the world.  Prices were extremely low and even more so if you were willing to stand in line at the HalfpriceTix stand in Leicester Square.  No longer true.  I saw the prices in black and white but had a hard time adjusting to the extraordinary fees for tickets.  The Book of Mormon ran 200 pounds a person and were only slightly discounted on the good sites.  So I was so happy with Rush prices and discounted prices.

New Year’s Eve, we had planned to go to a movie and watch the Fireworks on the Thames on the TV from the comfort of our couch.  As it turned out, we picked a movie that was playing at Piccadilly Circle.: Call Me By Your Name.  We both wanted to see it as it was receiving nominations already and there were (still aren’t) no signs of it coming to Paris in the near future.  As far as I’m concerned, it deserves all the rave reviews it is receiving.  Reviewing it will be another blog!  We left the theatre at 11:15pm and were told that all the underground stations nearby were closed for the Fireworks show.  So we walked to Oxford Circle.  Regent Street was closed off to car traffic and we, and thousands of others, were walking in the middle of the street.  There is something so freeing and lighthearted about walking on a main street in a busy large city and there is no traffic.

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Regent Street close to midnight New Year’s Eve
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Sara with wings!

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I found myself on January 4, not wanting to leave London.  That is what a good vacation is supposed to be.  One leaves wanting more instead of dying to get home  What was especially wonderful and surprising for me was that I hadn’t really wanted to go.  I thought it was far too soon to travel when I’d just returned from California a month before.  So to have the two weeks be so relaxing, so entertaining, so Holidayish if you will, was really a wonderful Xmas present.

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Fifth floor tea shop at Fortum and Mason
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The famous Fortnum and Mason baskets

I will close by telling those of you who don’t already know about the Charity Shops in the UK.  I love them.  I’ve been going to Newmarket every October for five years and discovered a Charity Shop every 100 yards or so.  Whenever I am in London now, I look for the Charity shops first.  I always walk away with something that I fall in love with.  This time, I found a wonderful sweater, a pair of gloves (mine weren’t warm enough) and a little wallet for my Oyster card and UK money.  These aren’t consignment shops that are almost too expensive for someone like me.  I like a good bargain but also something I can use.  I bought some Christmas tree balls just for a lark and got home to Paris to find that Bijou, the cat, had managed to bring down my little Christmas tree and I had less than half of the decorations I started with.  The joys of cat ownership!!!!

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near London Post Office–Regent Street

I hope your New Year is starting off well.  And may 2018 see some change toward the better for the world.  With so many body blows on a daily basis, it is often hard to stay open to the hard work and action required to make this world a better place but if not us who?

A bientôt,

Sara