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

 

Going on a Trip

I am leaving Paris for two weeks.  I’m going to California where I lived for most of my adult life.  It is a beautiful day today.  The sky is blue, the Seine is peaceful, sparkling and the Bateaux Mouches have begun their daily trips up and down the river showing tourists the sights along the banks.

 

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I have been grumbling about the weather most of the Fall.  It seemed that we went from summer to winter without passing Autumn.  In fact, we have had a couple of beautiful Indian Summer days and this seems to be turning into one of them.  I’ve turned the heat off in the apartment and I’m looking forward to a walk.  My iPhone says that the next week will be sunny and much much warmer than it has been.

 

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However, I’m leaving for Charles de Gaulle airport before the sun comes up tomorrow morning.  And like most of my “last days before the trip” Paris seems lovelier.  I seem to see it all much more clearly.  I look around my apartment as if I will never see it again.  I held Bijou, the cat, so close trying to make a physical memory of her furriness, her sweetness, the way she will suddenly look up at me with loving eyes that completely melt my heart.  I don’t feel this way about going anywhere else in Europe.  But California and another life seems worlds away from Paris and this life.

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Last January, when I took my trip to California, terrorists had just bombed the Brussels airport.  We had heard, though it hadn’t been confirmed, that the Brussels airport was second choice to Paris.  I had no idea what to expect.  I felt very matter of fact about it.  I called my lawyer and asked if I wrote out a makeshift will in pencil about all my belongings in Paris, would it be considered legal.  He said yes then added to please not worry, nothing was going to happen to me.  He couldn’t possibly know. The truth is, a place where terrorists have just hit is probably one of the safest places in the world.

I’m not worrying about terrorists.  I look forward to these long flights to California (but not to the jet lag). Once I get to the airport, get my bags checked, get through border control, I’m in No Man’s Land.  Soon my phone won’t ring at all, I won’t be able to receive any texts.  No one can bother me or demand anything of me.  I can watch five movies in a row and not feel guilty or lazy. I can daydream or read a book or write.

But that’s tomorrow.  Today, I’m walking around looking at everything as if it’s the first time and the last time.  I don’t feel anxious.  I don’t have a word for it.  It’s a feeling I’m sure everyone gets at some time or another.  Of wanting to imprint something in my memory that is stronger than just a memory.  I want to be able to touch it, feel it, take it with me.  When I’m sitting in my living room in Oakland, I don’t want Paris to feel so incredibly far away.  The memory I always default to is sitting in my armchair that I have facing the window.  The window that looks out on Quai des Grands Augustins, the Pont Neuf and the river Seine.  It’s an amazing view of one of the most beautiful parts of Paris that I look at every day.

 

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A bientôt,

Sara