You know when you pay for train tickets and then nobody comes around to ensure that you actually have them? I hate that. Nobody checks our tickets on the train back to Paris. Ali loses her cool the only time in a week and a half when she can’t liberate her suitcase from the previously mentioned locker in Gare de l’Est. I don’t see it; I’m guarding the rest of our luggage. I think she may have broken the thing by wrenching it open with a pen or something, but whatevs; now we are free to continue on to Gare du Nord.
We’ve been told that it’s a “short walk” between the two stations. After turning right out the door, we are faced with a gentle slope. OR, about 40 stone steps. My backpack contains a DSLR, lenses, laptop, and oranges. I’m carrying a purse that is very near capacity with books and bottled water. My suitcase, though on wheels, is stuffed with clothes and more books. And also, I obviously have my surfboard. Ali is similarly saddled. I stop at the bottom and stare up. Three men offer to help with my effects. I allow the third, because he is old and doesn’t look like he might steal them. Thanks, guy.
At the top of the steps, we follow signs that lead us on some retarded, zig-zagged path past many a sex shop and seedy-looking person.
I forgot that I hated this neighborhood—despite my deep and lasting love of sex shops.
The Chunnel customs officer, a little blonde woman, has eyed my board and decided she will hate me. She lets Ali pass by with little difficulty, but me… no.
“What’s in that bag?” she demands.
“A surfboard,” I reply with a smile that is supposed to say, Ridiculous, isn’t it? Don’t you find my idiocy charming? She does not.
“How long will you be visiting London?”
“Where are you staying?”
I have already provided the address of our hotel.
“Where is your return ticket?”
“I don’t have one; I’m going to Australia on the 28th.”
“Where is your ticket to Australia?”
“How long will you be there?”
Ohhhhh shit, this should be good. “I don’t really know. I have a visa and can stay for a year.”
“Where is your visa?”
“It’s electronic as well.”
“Well, I can’t let you through without proof that you’re leaving the country!”
I start to panic. “If there is a printer nearby, I can print all of this, or I can show you on my computer.”
“There’s NO WIRELESS!”
“How much money is in your bank account?”
“I don’t know… $_,___?”
“Where did your last paycheck come from and how much was it for?”
“Uhh Eastern Surf Magazine… $40?”
“Listen,” she says sternly, “you are a journalist. You should know about facts.”
She is clearly enjoying this. I, meanwhile, am on the verge of humiliating tears. Finally, she deigns to let me into her royal freaking country. (Before I’ve even left France.)
Eight minutes later, the ticket taker looks cheerfully at my board and says, “Ohhh, that is too big for ze train!” I shoot him a look: You had better be fucking with me. He quickly says, “Just keeding!” Funny.
The board actually does have to go in the luggage hold, which is on a different car than we are. The train manager saves the day by sneaking us into first class. He tells us to write Eurostar and gush about the service. Then he clarifies: “If you write in, don’t mention the upgrade. I’ll get sacked.”
First impressions of London:
- Fuller’s London Pride is delicious.
- Two pence coins are absurd but I love them.
- Riding “The Tube” feels like riding in one of those suction-powered delivery/retrieval things at bank drive-throughs.
London at a second glance:
- Most people are in too much of a rush to gain any satisfaction from life.
- Many things are more difficult than they should be.
For instance, try asking for directions or advice on anything:
“Excuse me, could you please tell me if there’s anything cute in this area, between here and here?” I gesture to a 3-kilometer expanse of London.
The friendly bartendress says, “Ehhm… cute?”
“Yeah, you know, anything interesting? Anything worth seeing?”
“Well, there’s nothin’ mega interesting.”
“K, great. Thanks so much.”
Try mailing a package that weighs less than 2 kilos (umm, 4.4 lbs?) across the Atlantic. Just try it. It will inevitably be over 2 kilos, despite your best re-packing, scale-eyeing efforts. As a result, it will cost you a bajillion pounds (or 50) and it may take six weeks for this very expensive package to reach its destination. Huh?
Okay, I concede that London has large, surfboard-friendly cabs. The Tower of London is spectacularly historical and the London Eye is unnerving but amazing. The beer happens to come in very large glasses. The streets, however, are dizzying. Ali and I are both New York-trained city navigators with decent senses of directions and we have managed to become lost countless times in only a few days. Also, I know this is a massive cliché, but the food is pretty awful. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Pizza should never be on the same menu as sushi.
I’ll just say this: When it’s time to head to Heathrow and catch my flight to Sydney, I don’t mind taking a shuttle that will get me there hours ahead of schedule. The closer I get to Australia, and the Pacific, and warm air, the better.