Today we wrapped up our stay in London, took the train across the Chunnel, and stepped tentatively into Paris.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Our train to Paris wasn’t until the afternoon, so I popped back to the V&A to check out their special shoe exhibit. Gotta say, it wasn’t worth the price of admission nor the opportunity cost in time. Again with the emphasis on artifacts for people of wealth, status and privilege, and a complete lack of storytelling. At least the display cases were thematically organized.
We had lunch at a pub just outside of the hotel. Hide was set on having a prime fish and chips experience before leaving the UK, but it was not to be. The restaurant heavily emphasized pies over fish and chips, and so we got the house special, a steak and Stilton pie. It was far better than the last pie I had but hardly worth writing home about. Sadly, I have to conclude that indeed, salt is unknown to traditional British fare. (To be fair, the restaurant was obvious heavily patronized by tourists. They had menus in a half dozen different languages, and all the guests I overheard spoke English with an American accent.)
Things I hated about London
- Second hand smoke.
- Not only far more frequently encountered than in the US, but actually stinkier.
- Increased drop distance means increased splash.
Things I loved about London
- Hotel tea selection
- I was able to drink two cups of chamomile every night, three cups of English breakfast or Earl Grey every morning, and in one of the hotels, whole leaf was available when the coffee was instant. Brits got their priorities on straight!
- Aggressive jaywalking
- Locals don’t even push the button – why wait when you can just charge out when [marginally] safe?
- I saw dedicated sidewalk sweepers several times.
- The way the young men dress
- Fitted shirts, tailored pants with barely-there breaks, excellent posture, what a sharp contrast to Redmond!
- The storey numbering convention
- (Actually this might be a European thing since the convention holds in Paris too.) Positive numbers for above ground, 0 for ground, and negative numbers for below ground.
Checking in and boarding the Eurostar was a lot more stressful than taking Amtrak across the US-Canada border. The lines are pretty long because there’s security and passport control (like airport lite). Everybody boards at once, shortly before departure, so you’re not allowed on the platform or the train ahead of time.
But when you do board there are these cool double moving ramps that get everybody to the platform level.
By the time we bought our tickets, the price difference between the “Standard” class and the “Standard Premier” was negligible, so we got the Standard Premier. In theory this class came with roomier seats, meal on-board, and power at every seat.
Without exploring, I couldn’t ascertain the roominess claim, and Hide and I were too dumb to find the power outlets (they were under the table) until the end of the trip, but at least I can tell you about the meal.
It was actually a lot better than I expected. I had expected some ham and cheese sandwich you could get out of vending machines in the basements of engineering lab buildings on a university campus. But actually the meal was a serious attempt at being real food.
High speed rail is always super satisfying. The beautifully straight tracks, the landscape zipping by, the silence of well-maintained track and rolling stock… Ahh.
My transit friends would be very disappointed in my very incomplete observations of this high-speed service. I did a much better job when it came to the Shinkansen. I hope I have the chance to take the service again (and next time I’ll be sure to buy tickets far more in advance).
As we approached Gare du Nord, the train manager began making his announcements first in French then in English. My heart sank as I realized the rest of our time in France was going to be like this, deaf and blind and handicapped.
The train manager’s parting shot to the passengers was “Enjoy the weather.” I can only assume he was being terribly wry, because it was brutally hot out there. Sunlight blasted, hot wind blew, and the temperature must’ve been around 40°C.
And of course, there was no AC anywhere, not even on the Metro trains. The windows don’t open, there aren’t any fans, and it was rush hour. I’m surprised there aren’t fainting epidemics on a daily basis. I could barely breathe. Not that I wanted to, with armpits galore at nose level.
Our hotel room felt like an oasis of AC, and we didn’t want to leave. But our hunger eventually drove us out into the heat again. We got chicken and beef sandwiches from Al Adar, a Lebanese restaurant recommended to us by our friend FGA (whose wedding is the reason we are in France this summer). They were much more sour than I expected.
Sorry, no pics. Pictures in Paris are going to be very sparse. The Parisians are judging us hard enough for not speaking French, I don’t want to give them anymore reasons.
We had been upgraded to a deluxe room upon check-in, and the staff apologized twice for the small size of the room. I supposed they get a lot of Americans who complain. But we found the room lovely, and I’m personally a fan of the bathtub in the bedroom approach. After eating, we showered and took a proper bath, the kind you can’t get in the US because the tubs are too shallow. It was wonderful and did much to restore my spirits.