Before heading home for good, I had a date with London for three days. My return flight was from London-Heathrow, so the train ride here was a one-way affair. The Eurostar ride is mostly unremarkable except for its smoothness and quietness. It’s hard to believe you’re going as fast as the blurry scenery on the other side of the window indicates.
The interior of the train itself was a little underwhelming, definitely a step below the German ICE high-speed trains that sell a less prestigious image, certainly at a lower price. I happened to get a decent deal on this ticket, but if I paid the not-uncommon price of over $300 for this ticket, I’d be seriously pissed off about the fact that the toilet in our car was out of toilet paper.
While I had managed to enjoy my previous two trips on the Eurostar without much anxiety, my lovely travel partner EZ put an end to that by sharing that she had always feared this journey because you spend a long stretch of time in a tunnel that snakes a narrow path some 250 feet below the floor of the English Channel – it doesn’t take much of an imagination to come up with myriad catastrophic situations that would arise from that. So, thanks for that dear.
Thankfully, at the speed you’re going, the tunnel portion is only about twenty minutes. Other than a brief stoppage on the tracks due to a stalled train in front of us – a train that our British conductor was all too happy to point out was a French train – everything was timely and as expected. We pulled in to St. Pancras station in London, knowing that our hotel was attached to it somehow, but not entirely sure where. After an inefficient serpentine path to get there, we found the breathtakingly beautiful lobby and checked in. I could listen to good service with an English accent all day.
Upon wandering out to find a good place for dinner that first night, the flip side of having a luxury hotel attached to a train station became apparent – although it’s wonderfully convenient to have a hotel connected to a train station, that then means you are staying in the part of town next to the train station. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my travels around the world, it’s that the immediate vicinity of any major train station will contain A) a McDonald’s, and B) a whole cornucopia of young, drunk, homeless, or otherwise unsavory individuals. It wasn’t too bad in this particular area, but I don’t think EZ appreciated the openly leering stares of the males we would walk past.
That night we settled in to a small but charming Indian restaurant, and my complete inexperience with ordering Indian food surprised EZ and bemused the waiter, who not-so-kindly informed me that having the fried rice as the starter and the Nan bread with the main course was a terrible idea, and I really should switch that order around. The food was excellent, though.
We celebrated our arrival with a pint at the pub on the corner afterward – I was beyond excited to have two [two!] cold ciders on tap to choose from. About halfway through our beverage, the couple next to us – both of them in their mid-thirties, dressed smartly in business attire – started to make out furiously. A couple of minutes later, a clearly drunk English gentleman stumbled over to them on his way back from the bar with another [unnecessary] pint, walked up to the guy involved in the make-out, slapped him on the shoulder, and said “get a room, mate! Geez, this is ridiculous” In the seconds that followed, I realized he didn’t actually know them, which made the ease of his approach rather impressive. He then continued with “I mean, look at me and my friend over there… think about how bad we feel watching you two get on like that right in front of us. Why you gotta do that to us, mate?” I was fascinated at the paradox of the wobbly, jerky signs of considerable intoxication, paired with the fact that every word that slurred from his mouth was actually correct and even well thought out. After a little more spot-on questioning, the couple quickly gathered their belongings and scurried out, both politely denying the request to high-five our drunk friend who was ‘conversing’ with them. After their departure he turned his attention to EZ and I, although our abuse was limited to him telling us we were a cute couple, which we just thanked him for instead of getting into the nuance of explaining that we technically weren’t a couple.
The next day was pretty nondescript, with some wandering of London streets, and mostly dedicated to my appreciation of the sheets on my hotel bed. The majority of my prolonged stay in bed in the morning, my nap in the afternoon, and my lounging in bed for the evening was so that I could cycle my legs around under the sheets, sort of a horizontal treading water motion, just to feel the sheets as much as possible. If it was physically possible to make love to bed sheets, I may have asked EZ to leave the room. Or stay and watch, if that’s your sort of thing.
We chose this night to eat at the hotel restaurant, styled in the same brick-and-iron theme as the lobby, bathed in purple and magenta up lights in the rafters while jazzy house music set the atmosphere. This was the one meal we agreed to ignore the painful exchange rate of pounds-to-dollars [well, Euros in EZ’s case] and just enjoy the meal. We didn’t order anything extravagant – a starter of soup for me and charcuterie for her, fish and chips as a plat for both of us, and a shared dessert – but being that it was a boutique hotel restaurant, the price was a tad ridiculous with exchange factored in. Still, everything was delicious and the ambiance was great. Although we never discussed it, I think we both kept that expense in mind as we chose rather quick and frugal meal choices for the remainder of the trip.