London Bound

“Ladies and gentlemen we are now ready to depart, if you could make sure you have all your belongings with you as the doors are about to close.”

I am indebted to the wonderful, crazy ( some may say suicidal ), Parisian taxi driver who made it possible for me to hear those words. As I leapt, and yes I really did leap, onto the Eurostar train at Paris dragging a panting small person in my wake.

It had all begun so well. I was ready and packed the night before, with just a handful of electrical goods and their associated chargers to be neatly stowed in their designated nooks. Small person had agonized and finally decided that rather than carry a larger bag to would be wiser to leave Behind the bedding and pillows allocated for Messers George and little George who would be accompanying us on our trip to the UK for half term.

A smooth run up to the city and a gift of a parking space, not to be sniffed at on a Saturday morning, and over the road to an awaiting tram ready to whisk us onward to the train station. with a little under an hour to wait for our train to Paris we enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the sunny plaza, boarded early and we were off. Rather smugly I thought ‘ this is going well’.

As we all know however smug comes before a fall, or something like that.

We glided seamlessly through the French countryside watching the picture postcard villages emerge and then fade through the glorious autumn sunlight.
We made good progress as we approached what is my favorite part of this particular journey, around 15 minutes from the destination. Once you learn to look left at exactly the right moment through the small gap in the woods across the elongated lake, towers the majestic palace of Versailles, home of the Sun-King himself. On a day like today with the sun transforming the flat still surface of the water into the perfect mirror the glory of the building is doubled as you feel yourself transported momentarily to a time of kings.

The home of the Sun King. I think he was out.
The home of the Sun King. I think he was out.

As luck would have it the train had slowed, for some unknown reason, to allow me to gaze for a few moments more than the usual fleeting glimpse. as we passed the perimeter we slowed even more and came to a halt adjacent to the palace gardens, where stood a truly magnificent sculpture of a horse and rider in full battle charge. I have never seen this statue before, it is stunning. The dynamism and movement that was captured in this unyielding stone, looking for all the world like at any given moment the rider and horse would burst free from their stone tomb as if touched by the breath of Aslan himself ( I am assuming here that you have read/seen/or are at least aware of the chronicles of Narnia ). But, as if bound by their earthly shackles, still they continued to stand.

As did the train.

Now while I was rather attracted to the decorative masonry, I was becoming a little perturbed as to how long I had been allowed to study it. But after 15 minutes we were slowly on the move again. Just one more scheduled stop we would be enjoying the luxury of a spectacular taxi ride through central Paris, and perhaps a coffee at Gare du Nord before passport control, then we would be London bound.

Just one short stop.

Short stop I said, why are we still at the platform? Tick tock tick tock. Why are there so many confused looking commuters standing on the platform and why are no trains moving whatsoever in one of the busiest satellite stations for central Paris? These questions remained hanging in the air unanswered as I began the futile game of looking from the numbers on my clock to the meaningless train information boards and the worst case scenario calculations began running through my brain.

So we might cut it a little fine on the 30 minute check in, but all would be well.

Soooo, if we leave this station in less than 10 more minutes there is no cause for alarm, nothing to worry about. it’s only about 3 minutes to Montparnasse from here then we can jump straight in a cab which will take around 15 minutes to cross the city and we will still make check in.

Never had the imaginary clock in my head ticked louder.

At last after 15 minutes and zero explanations we were on the move, and I heaved a sigh of relief, that at the very least we were on the move once more, and all being well for the rest of the journey, although we may have to sacrifice a coffee, we would soon be London bound.
The train hauled it’s mighty bulk through the final stage of the journey not quite as fast as I would have liked, but just about quick enough to allow the rising wave of panic to recede.

( As with a tsunami, when the wave recedes it is the time you should know you are really in trouble.)

By the time we reached the cavernous halls of Montparnasse we had the sum total of 55 minutes till our train left from the other side of Paris. Tight but do-able. We hot-footed it to the usual taxi rank only to find it had been replaced by building works of a monumental scale. Undeterred by this development we turned tail and headed back through the station to the slightly less well known subterranean stand.

50 minutes.
The queue was not overly large and I determined we were 6th in line. As long as the taxis appeared with their normal regularity we could still do this.

45 minutes.
Waiting, ears pricking up at the slightest rumble that would signal the entrance of a vehicle to the underground halls watching for the slightest glimmer of headlamp to arrive. Nothing.

40 minutes.
Then came the welcome, welcome roar of engines as 3 cabs in convoy pulled gloriously into sight. 3rd in the queue.
In the next 3 minutes only 1 taxi appeared and my head was filling with the exact translations needed to try and blag my way on to the following Eurostar service.

37 minutes.
One more taxi crawled up the ramp towards us and, having clearly sensed my palpable agitation and worry, the beautiful kind wonderfully generous angel ahead of us allowed us to cut in. Madame, you are one of the worlds finest.

35 minutes.
On a good day you cut through the heart of the city in a quarter of an hour. It turns out that just before 5 pm on a sunny Saturday afternoon is not a good day.
We crawled through the mess traffic with every one of the numerous traffic lights hindering our progress. Usually the chance to stop and wonder at the architecture and sculptures is a welcome one, but today I was cursing the tiny crowded streets and the careless parking/abandonment of vehicles in the forbidden taxi lanes.

20 minutes.
It had taken a quarter of an hour to reach the landmark towers of Notre Dame and with a heavy heart, and I’ll admit the formation of a tiny tear, that i resigned myself to the fact that there was no possible way we would make it now so I told small one that we would have to try and get onto a later train.
The driver turned and witnessed the scene, shrugged in a way that only the Frenchman can, pulled off and proceeded to jump the red light and began to weave and honk his way furiously north. I knew that Paris cabbies were good, what I didn’t realize was they could actually manipulate the laws of physics. There is no other possible explanation of how we pulled up in front of Gare du Nord just 8 minutes later. With a healthy tip already in the bank we were offered some unnecessary but kindly meant advice, ‘Now – you must run’

12 minutes
So run we did, like the wind. Thankfully I know the route to the Eurostar terminal. Inside the main doors, turn left and keep going, up the escalator, straight ahead and you reach the first ticket barrier. Of course I had the tickets ready in my slightly sweaty hands.

9 minutes
The look of surprise on the guards face when she saw which train we were aiming for was clear. She handed them back and as we ran once more to passport control the words that rang in my ears were ‘ we cannot guarantee you will be allowed to embark….’ but by then we had handed over our passports for scrutiny

7 minutes
‘ in a rush are you love? ‘
That would be a yes. Thankfully there was no hold up other than a rather obvious Q&A session, and it was round the corner to security

5 minutes
As we were rounding the corner I saw a sight that sank my heart to the very sole of my boots, a queue next to the scanners. Those eager and keen travellers who had turned up not just on time, but early for the departure in 2 hours time. Swots.
Now many jibes have been aimed at the security staff and the rigorousness of training and their observational skills, but clearly this chap was able to spot a person in a state of mild panic and distress and correctly ascertain the reason for this state. As we skidded to a halt at the back of the line they were almost magically manouvered out of out way and we were placed at the head of the queue. I threw our bags and coats onto the belt and having removed all potentially suspect items from my pockets whilst in the taxi, stepped through the scanner.

2 minutes
With an all clear and a thumbs up from my (now) favourite security guard our belongings were gathered in haphazard fashion and were were off once more at a gallop. The platform came into view

So close.....
below us and only the platform guards remained with flags and whistles at the ready, all we had to do now was make it down the escalator.

1 minute
Pick a door, ANY door. As luck (which was clearly hitching a ride with us that day) would have it we landed in a somewhat sweaty heap in the corridor between our designated carriage on the buffet car and recieved a round of applause from the train manager.

“Ladies and gentlemen we are now ready to depart, if you could make sure you have all your belongings with you as the doors are about to close.”

Around 30 seconds later we were indeed London bound.

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Author: hillywillyworld

Living as an 'ex-pat' in Thailand with my daughter Moo and sometimes my Hubby too (when he is not bringing home the bacon from Macau). Sometimes it's funny. Sometimes it's tough. Sometimes it's confusing. Most of the time it's just...random. Join me as I struggle and giggle my way through this thing called life.

3 thoughts on “London Bound”

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