A couple of saved up notes: there is air conditioning in London! It can be found on Central line tube trains, which are permanent five-car sets, with wide connectors that make them, essentially, a single large car. And it does rain in the summer in London; Sunday night I got drenched in 50 yards by a summer shower. When you have a choice, take the central line. And always bring a coat.
Look, I know I'm no Albert King, who sang, "if it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all." In fact, it is quite the opposite for me. If it wasn't for good luck, I would almost have no luck at all. Except Monday July 7.
Things started off well enough; caught the bus, switched to the tube, changed lines and was at St. Pancras International in plenty of time for the 7:55 am Eurostar train to Paris. The plan was to arrive at 11:15 Paris time, have lunch at Tallivent restaurant, sightsee, and then take the 9:15 train back, arriving in London at 10:35, in plenty of time for a good night's sleep. It didn't work out like that.
We left on time, and zipped through the English countryside at just under 200 miles per hour (wish we could do that in America!). The track was flat, level and extremely well maintained, which, I guess, is a must for high speed travel. Curves were very gentle. We were moving along at a good clip until the average speed dropped to zero miles an hour.
At about 8:15, we stopped at a station that was not on the schedule. A series of ever-more dire but confusing and incomplete announcements came through. There's a spot of trouble in the channel tunnel. We're waiting, We're still waiting. One cannot accuse Eurostar of not letting you know what's going on. Eventually the words "passengers are on the shuttle train" made it clear something had gone wrong on a train in the tunnel. No one was hurt, and although I imagined a power failure would leave everyone in the dark, news photos made clear there was ample emergency lighting. After one optimistic announcement, I postponed my lunch n the theory that we would only be two hours late. I forgot to allow for the time being one hour later in Paris. End result; we arrived at 2:15. Tallivent stops serving lunch at 2. Oh well.
While still on the train (which has no wifi by the way), I pieced together a Google search from the cellphone service we had as we zipped through each French country town. I searched for Michelin star restaurants that serve lunch. Nearly all of them stopped serving at 2, except the Jules Verne at the Eiffel Tower, 37 stories up, which stopped at 1:30 (and, in any case, has to be booked months in advance). Several top 10 lists suggested he Brasserie at the Gare St. Lazare train station, run by a world-class chef from Normandy who decided he could bring real French food to the train station that serves Normandy from the capital. And it serves food all day.
Now, after 6 days in London, where I had become lord and master of the Underground, I figured I'd just pop into the Paris Metro and grab a train from Gare Du Nord, where I was, to Gare St. Lazare, where I wanted to be. But no! What I found was confusing maps, unclear pricing, total replacement of people with machines (except one poor harried agent, wandering from confused tourist to confused tourist) and virtually no English. It was like being a foreigner in the BART system. Except BART is much simpler. How I missed my Francophone wife and daughters. Unable to buy a ticket or figure out a route, I gave up. Further unclear signage made it difficult to find either the men's room or the taxis. Who knew the English were lords and masters of clear signage? Until now, I didn't know.
Along the way, since I had a 50 Euro note, I tried to break it. The bank said, "try the Bureau de Change." The bureau said... well, you can guess what the Bureau said, and what I said (to myself).
Finally, by accident, I found the cab stand. Mirabile dictu! The driver spoke excellent English (worked as a pastry chef in Kensington, London, until he developed, I kid you not, a flour allergy). We began the five-minute ride to the other train station. Boom. We hit a demonstration! Striking French lawyers had shut down the courts and were marching to the Prime Minister's office to insist on funding for public defenders. It took them 20 minutes to march by. At St. Lazare, the "you are here" maps were nearly incomprehensible, but I managed to accidentally run across the restaurant. No menu in English, of course, and cellphone reception just poor enough to prevent my using translate.google.com. Using body language, the waiter indicated the parts of the menu that were valid at 3 in the afternoon. I recognized the days of the week, but could not for the life of me figure out what they served on Monday, except that it involved volaille. As it was being prepared, I figured out it was poultry. but the sauce remained a mystery to me. Perhaps, like Steve Martin, I had asked for a boot covered in cheese, and requested the waiter to shove it down my throat. On the cheese plate, the only one I recognized was Chevre (with thyme), which, while not my favorite, I knew was palatable. One of the reviews had mentioned the Paris-Deauville dessert, so I ordered that as well.
The main dish turned out to be a lovely chicken mousse, with a complicated and interesting cheese-based sauce and spinach, not a boot with cheese on it. The Chevre was OK (the French bread was "meh") and the dessert a delight.
I figured out I had time to either see the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower, both of which I had visited decades ago. "Which would produce better selfies," I asked myself. Despite warnings from Marlow that the line would be two hours at the tower (she was exactly right), I went and enjoyed myself as much as someone traveling alone, with a slight vertigo problem, could enjoy going up 280 meters (84 stories) on a completely open structure. The views were amazing, as was the structure itself. Paris is quite flat, and its towering skyscrapers were some ways from the tower.
At about 7:45, I grabbed a taxi to Gare du Nord for the return trip on Eurostar. I got there at 8. The lines were, literally, hundreds of yards long. The announcement, on an endless loop, was that there had been a problem with the overhead catenary (the wire over the train that carries power), that Eurostar service was extremely disrupted, that we should go home and come back another day. I must have heard it several dozen times in the three hours I spent at the train station. Dinner was an egg salad sandwich, which cost $6. It was a train station, after all. Suddenly, the 8:15 train left at 10:45. Fifteen minutes later, they called the 9:15 train. The tube was long-closed when we arrived at St. Pancras at 2:15 a.m., so Eurostar paid for taxis to take us home (which is nice; it would have been $60 for a taxi on my own). The Eurostar taxi monitors grouped us by destination. I was the last of the four people to get out of my taxi.
So let's see; instead of 5 hours on the train for 10 hours in Paris and a Michelin one-star lunch, I had 8 hours on the train for five hours in Paris, plus an extra 3 hours in the Gare du Nord, with nothing to do and little to eat. The wonders of the modern age don't always work out. But as a former TV director of mine used to say, "No one's dead yet."
I am going to pack today for my return, which means packing up my keyboard. I dislike writing long entries on my Dell portable keyboard, so the summing up will have to wait a day or two.
Me on the Eurostar, before the first delay, wearing the tie that proved pointless, as I ate lunch at a place that did not require them.
Unlike some other Paris chefs, Eric Frechon (apparently) does not yet prohibit customers from taking pictures of their food. My chicken mousse main course (served, might I add, piping hot)
A Paris-Deauvile. Translation: delicious!
On my way
The beautiful Seine River over my shoulder at the top of the tower. No more tie; no more going to places that require one.