Yesterday I spent what wasn’t Thanksgiving Day in London in France, in the industrial city of Lille, near the Belgian border. It’s smack dab in the middle of World War I country, was occupied by the Nazis during World War II, and is now one of France’s major metropolitan areas.
A day trip to even the closest bits of France necessitates an early start, and I was at East Croydon rail station by 6:30ish in the morning. The sky was only just beginning to brighten in the east, but the station was already quite busy with commuters. Which is bizarre, because it’s a quick 20-minute commute to central London, even less to the City: who starts work this early?
St. Pancras International is a delightful place: spacious, efficient, and charming. There’s old-fashioned airport-style security — passport controls, metal detactors, X-rays for baggage — but none of that nonsense about taking off your shoes or dumping liquids. I was traveling on my Irish passport — that is, moving as an EU citizen from one EU nation to another — so I don’t know if I’d have been treated any differently if I’d showed my U.S. passport. But there weren’t separate checkpoints as there are at London airports (and presumably at ports in other EU nations) for EU citizens and foreign visitors. Maybe I’d have been asked some questions about my stay, but that’s just a guess.
The Eurostar train my friend Shirley and I were on was not one of the newer, superfast ones. I was expecting (or hoping for) high-end luxury, but apart from luggage racks at either end of the cars for really big suitcases (and cafe cars that I never saw), it wasn’t much different from a regular commuter train. Which was fine… except for this:
Our seats didn’t have a window! I didn’t even know trains like this existed. The train would be taking us through parts of the English and French countryside I’ve never seen before, and I had been looking forward to gawping out the window. I got glimpses, but it was disappointing not to have been able to enjoy the scenery more.
(Our seats on the ride home were better in that they had a window, but worse in that they were in the last car of an 18-car train, which necessitated loooooong walks along platforms both to board and later to disembark.)
Note to self: Next time, do not take the first seats the online reservation system offers. Those are the sucker seats.
The Chunnel is half an hour of darkness. It is stunningly undramatic.
What’s almost the first thing I see once we’re out of the gare?
New Yorker: the department store for French people who’d rather be in the Big Apple.
A sad-looking sidewalk Santa.
Around the Lille town center:
Santa loves him some waffles.