Trip Start Dec 21, 2009
20Trip End Mar 29, 2010
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Having had an inch or so of snow the previous weekend, the Eurostar train system, which takes the channel tunnel to the continent summarily shut itself down. It seems that a light dusting of frozen water droplets sends England into complete panic. No-one here has even heard of salt that might melt some of the slushy ice, let alone a snow shovel. Pity I didn't come with a truckload of them, my free day could have been spent selling snow shovels at extremely exorbitant prices to drunken english, tutorial included. Another opportunity to get rich squandered.
Carola had booked us for the ill-fated train on the 23rd, close as it is to the christmas holiday anyway, visions of a chamapagne breakfast at high speed through the Belgian countryside dancing in our heads. Ah, the greatest plans laid to waste. . .
The news of course carried as the first story the apologies of the eurostar people, their promise to make good on all of the tickets and carry everyone who might hold one to their destinations, late or otherwise. Extra trains had been put on the schedule for this very purpose. By the 24th, they claimed that the backlog had been taken care of and the wait for any stragglers would be minimal.
The mile long cues that had filled St Pancreas station (misspelling intentional) were over with, one could, if one arrived early, step into a normal procession and board one's train without any inordinate delay. Empowered by this news--it was on the BBC, it had to be true--we set out at 5 or so in the morning to catch the first tube to St. Pancreas. . .
Stepping into the station it looked as if the line was long, but maybe not too bad, cattle pens by the departure gate and about a hundred meters to the end. Finding the end, however, proved to be something else entirely.
After about half a mile, down past 2 more cattle pen switchbacks, we reached the other entrance. Thinking the end of the line was there, we tried to join the cue, only to be sent from there down one escalator, up another, around the corner and outdoors, back inside, down another escalator, around the corner in the back where the maintenance closets are, through 3 50 meter cattle pens, and finally up the stairs to that place we had thought could only be the end of the impossibly long line.
Confused bobbies with walkie-talkies tried to direct the scene, but no-one had thought of a contingency plan, so it seemed all impromptu and unplanned, a kind of catch-as-catch-can hurry to get pole position in a very very slow race.
The one fortunate aspect was that the line did move fairly well, it taking only the better part of two hours to get finally to the gates and passport control. From there we had only to wait another two and a half hours until our train to Brussels was ready to load. Myself, having only zero hours of sleep the night before thanks to a nuclear-powered espresso, settled on to one of the leather sofas for an uncomfortable doze for most of the time, awakening bleary-eyed to see another cue. .
This line went all around the departure area in circles with no apparent rhyme or reason, and actually was irrelevant in any case. The tickets were called according to color code and number, not on a first come first served basis. I figure all these people were just used to waiting in a line and like pavlov's dogs conditioned to respond to any sign of boarding with quick crowding in, not wanting to miss anything. I only wished I had a bell to make them salivate.
Well, at long last we boarded, and the train got underway. Instantly I slipped into sleep, exhausted and needing every ounce of energy to meet Carola's family, with whom I would be celebrating christmas eve that night, singing songs to which I did not understand the words, exchanging cordialities in a language I had only a month or so before started to learn. . .
Ahh the pressure. . .