Saturday, August 3, 2013

London to Paris: a debacle.


St. Pancras Station is actually connected to King's Cross Station (the one where the train to Hogwarts leaves).  It all seemed so...grand.  Especially after coming into Victoria Station, a notably gross-looking train station currently being rehabbed to befit it's former glory. 

At this point, I was still enjoying the scenery.  But then?  Then everything that could have gone wrong went wrong.  Get ready, this one's a doozy.

Sara attempted to get our tickets at the kiosk, but her debit card's address didn't match the one on the ticket.  There was a whole debacle about a month prior with getting it sent to an American address that wasn't her home address, but it expired, she needed a new was a mess. 

So she went to the line where we waited...impatiently...for a 20 second meeting with a desk agent to crosscheck her passport and the name on the tickets.  Easy and straightforward, but it took over 20 minutes in line, and we didn't have much time to spare.

She finally gets our tickets, and we practically run to make our way to the Eurostar part of the station, get in line, and put our luggage through security.  Mine goes through with no problems, but Sara's?  Sara's giant suitcase gets stopped.  The lady opens it up, and goes at a glacial pace, indelicately ruining her impeccable packing job, and practically giving me an ulcer in the process.  Being late, well, it kind of makes me feel physically ill.  Being late and missing trains is not my thing.

Sara finally said, "Bridget, just go on ahead, I'll meet you there, okay?"

I dawdle for a minute, and she just says go on, so finally, I do. 

I try to find the platform, only to notice that it has been closed up.  I look around frantically, trying to find someone to help me, because yikes, I am in the middle of one huge problem.

I find a woman with a uniform and ask, "The Eurostar, am I still able to get on?"

She looks at me, most assuredly not pleased, and gets on her radio, "Hey, we have one more for you up there, I'm sending her up" 

She scoots me into the elevator and as the door closes I hear someone on the radio respond, "But that's it, we're closing the doors in two minutes."

I freak out.

The elevator door opens up on the platform, and conductors start to rush at me.  I'm sure I looked the epitome of a harried and unprepared traveler. 

"Miss, you need to get on the train."

"But I'm waiting for a friend!"

"You can either get on the train now and she can get the only seat on the next train, or you can both wait until tomorrow.  That is your option."

More conductors start to arrive, and I'm guessing they thought more people would help convince me to just get on the train. 

So there I am, standing on the middle of the platform, people shouting at me in both English and French (you know, just in case?)

"Miss, you need to get on the train.  It is not an option.  Your friend will be on the next one."

"You have to leave.  There is only one spot on the next train."

"Get on, the first car you can.  Find a seat."

I stare down the completely empty platform, say a silent sorry to my poor stranded companion, and run to the closest door.  I walk up the steps, the conductor shuts the door behind me, and less than 20 seconds later, the train begins to pull out of the station.

I find a seat and try and calm down.  I don't have a phone, I don't know Sara's number, I don't know her parent's number, I don't know her address, I don't know their address, I don't know ANYTHING.  I have no French currency, just a few leftover pounds.  I speak enough French to order a croissant, but probably not enough to find my way through a train station in a city I have never been to before.  So...I was a bit panicked, to say the least.  I felt the eyes of my grandfather looking down at me disapprovingly but reassuringly..."You made a mistake.  You know you should have had some information with you in case of emergency!  But just remember to not make this mistake twice.  A mistake once means you're human, a mistake twice means you're a moron."

So.  There is a lesson in all of this.  I should have written down her parent's address somewhere, so worst case scenario I could have caught a taxi to their place.  Fellow travelers, even if you think you'll always be with the other person, you never know.  Write something down.  

I finally collect myself and decide, okay.  I'm going to find the train manager and try to get a message to Sara.  Since we had scanned our tickets already and I still hadn't seen a staff member wandering the aisles, I went to the dining car to try and track him down.  I got more and more nervous as the eight people in front of me all spoke perfect French to order their ham and cheese sandwiches or risotto, but when I got to the front of the line and said "Je suis désolé, je ne parle pas français." (I'm sorry, I don't speak French) - the teller warmly smiled and said, "No problem, what can I do for you?"

I told her my whole sad and pathetic tale, and she said, "Well, I can get ahold of the train manager, he'll be coming back through the train in about 20 minutes.  He has to stay at the other end of the train for security reasons as we go underneath the channel and into France."

I thank her and go back to my seat, and wait for the mysterious train manager to appear.  I see him pass, official-briefcase in hand, and say, not too loudly, "Monsier!  S'il vous plaît."  He stops, and I start to explain my problem in English.  He shakes his head, not understand, and tells me, "Come." 

We walk back to the dining car, and he motions to the teller and starts speaking rapidfire French.  I'm sure it went something like, "This crazy girl thinks I can speak English, what is her problem?  Do you know what's up?" 

The teller starts to explain, but he still isn't getting it.  "He wants to know what you want him to do."

"Well, could you confirm that she's on the train behind us?  The conductors in London said she would be, but I have no way to get in touch with her to confirm."

I wrote down her name on a piece of paper, and he leaves to deal with my sorry self. 

(I find out later that in lieu of checking if she changed her ticket, they just announced, "Sara ---, come to the dining car to confirm your presence on this train."  Sara told this story, laughing, saying she waited five minutes after the announcement to get up so no one thought she was the troublesome girl announced on the loudspeaker.)
 The man behind me looks at me and asks, "Well, in the meantime, do you have her phone number?  Just use my cell phone."

Of course I didn't, but I did have her email address, and after fumbling through trying to write "I'm ok" on a French cell phone keyboard, I handed it back to him sheepishly and he finished the email to Sara.  We talked for awhile about my trip, and he offered to buy me a glass of wine.  "You look like you need it."

I politely declined, and my new friend Lionel and I spend the rest of the train ride chatting, about his time road-tripping across the US as an exchange student, and about his kids.  I don't hear back from Sara, but I just hope for the best.  Lionel helps me get off the train in Paris, and we walk toward the front of the train, with me hoping like crazy to see Sara's parents standing there. 

Prayers granted.  Thank goodness.

I say goodbye to Lionel, thanking him for his gallant rescue and welcome company.

Sara's parents and I chat for awhile, Sara's mom saying, "Of course Sara texted us as soon as she knew what was happening, and you're not going to believe us, but this has happened before, when Sara was much younger...she ended up on the train and I definitely wasn't."

The next Eurostar finally arrived, and sure enough, Sara was on it, and both of us were very ready to just...not be stressed out in train stations.

Look at me go, mustering a smile for the camera!

And of course, as it turns out, the culprit for the whole shebang was the plaque she received when she was awarded her master's degree. And the bank that was a pain in the neck.  Mm, that's good.  Let's blame the bank for the whole shebang.

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