The penultimate transition day

We have only one more travel day after the one we took Thursday to get from Paris to London. Thursday’s transition was relatively smooth. We are glad that we didn’t plan to travel on Friday because we learned later that a cable broke that caused one of the trains to be stuck on the route somewhere for nine hours, in the dark. That would not have been fun and I’m sure it wasn’t for the people who were stranded.
As I said, our trip was pretty smooth, though I wish we had remembered some more details about dealing with Gare du Nord and the Eurostar terminal from when we came through in 2011. But, not to quite get ahead of myself.
We took a cab to the station from near Place Leon Blum. We had already scouted out that there was a taxi rank there, walking distance from the flat even with suitcases, and also figured we could pick up some filled baguettes from the Maison Landemaine bakery there. Our plan was foiled when we found that they hadn’t put their lunch baguettes out yet even though it was almost 11:00 am. This meant that we needed to buy food at the station. Always a risky proposition, but we did know that there was at least something in the waiting room and maybe even something on the train, even of we didn’t remember all the details of the layout of Gare du Nord from our last visit.
There is supposedly a mall in the main station with lots of food choices but we didn’t necessarily have enough time to seek that out since we also needed to print out our tickets. And Gare du Nord is seen by many as an absolute dump, so maybe we didn’t want to linger on the “public” side anyway. We hadn’t wanted to print and carry our train tickets all the way from the US, where we had purchased them online, but there’s always that bit of anxiety about being able to do that smoothly at the station. I did have the credit card with which we bought the tickets and the booking code, so that went fine. Once you have your ticket you need to go through the ticket gate. Hiccup there as our freshly printed tickets wouldn’t scan, so we had to take them to a real person. Next step, French departure and English immigration. Two separate lines to stand on, and with US passports, a slightly more rigorous process. Getting “out” of France was straightforward. Getting into England took a bit longer. As with the ferry, passport control is physically still in France, so we technically arrive in England while still on the other side of the channel. There were three lines and of course the one I randomly picked was the one that took longest. First there was the American backpacker who apparently didn’t answer all the questions in a way that was preferred and also had to rummage in his bag for something. Then, and we found this a bit puzzling, there was a changing of the guard so to speak. If there are two trains going out petty close to each other in time in the middle of the day, one wonders why there would be a staffing change as the crowd is growing before the first of those trains? However, the woman who checked us through was quite lovely even as she asked us 20 questions about the reason for our trip to the UK.
Getting through all that meant we could return to our quest for food. The map downstairs told us there was a Paul and a coffee shop in the waiting area, and Angie thought she remembered the Paul from last time. As chain boulangeries go, Paul isn’t awful, but we couldn’t find it. Angie thinks it had been in an area where construction was going on and it was not there any more. We settled on getting a couple of sandwiches from the other bakery, which we would combine with a half-eaten bag of potato chips and some left over rosé for lunch on the train.
As with many of the trains on which we’ve ridden on this trip, boarding didn’t start until about 15 or 20 minutes before departure. We were of course in one of the carriages that has to go through the entrance for cars 1-6, which means the front of the train and a nice little bottleneck to get down to the platform. And then, one last time, wrangling the suitcase onto the train. On the upside, at least it’s not a bike and six panniers, but it was still up three steps. I’ll give Eurostar credit though for making the steps a bit wider than a lot of the train steps we’ve seen on this trip.
We got ourselves settled and had a pretty uneventful ride to St. Pancras, though we did feel compelled to buy another little bottle of rosé since there hadn’t been that much left in the bottle that we brought with us. I had some moments of wistfulness when I was looking at the views of rural France and England out of the window, feeling sad that the days of biking in such lovely settings were now behind us.
Once at St. Pancras and off the train, we moved pretty quickly toward our destination, another Ibis Hotel. We had picked the one near Wembley Stadium because it seemed to be close to the tube station, though not as near as we originally thought based on seeing it from the trains as we’ve been by. And of course that was before we discovered a few days ago that the tube station would be closed for point maintenance for the weekend we are here. And before we got to the station and found that the lift up from the platform was out of service! All we needed now was to get to the hotel and find that the free wifi wasn’t working. (Fortunately it is, but so slowly at times at it may as well not be! I am writing this at the nearby public library!)
It was a lovely afternoon as we arrived and I even needed my sunglasses for 10 minutes. However, by the time we left the hotel to pop over to my sister’s house, the sun was going down, and we may not see it again in England, based on the forecast for the rest of our stay.
The object of going to Susan’s, other than to see her, was to pick up our duffels and our dress clothes, which we will need on Sunday for mum’s stonesetting. We had also picked Wembley Park because it’s only a few stops from the station near her house. But once again we were foiled in our logistical brilliance. We reached Harrow-on-the-Hill station to hear an announcement that we had to get off the train due to a signal failure! Sigh. We called Susan and figured out a way to get to her by bus. The bus came within moments of our arrival at the bus stop, so we were not delayed too long, though of course the bus is slower than the tube. I do have to say at this point that these transportation annoyances are really just that. First world problems as folks say. And most of the time we find a way round them. And given how long we’ve been traveling, it’s inevitable we would have issues on more than one occasion.
Once we got to Susan’s we had a lovely visit with her and her husband Melvyn, enjoying a much appreciated cup of tea and a catch up. Since they were entertaining for the evening, we got out of their hair after a while and returned to the hotel.
One of the things we had not known about was whether there were any decent restaurants near our hotel. Turns out we are close to some old fashioned shopping streets but right next to the Wembley Designer Outlets, which has a large number of offerings for food too. For the sake of convenience, we found a place there to eat. The restaurant was called handmade burger co. and it was really good. Handcut fries for one thing. And a lot of their sourcing is of the Portlandia, I practically know the name of the cow type of thing. I ordered a pepper beef burger that included onion rings, peppercorn sauce, carmelized onions, and mushroom. Angie had noticed that they offered homemade coleslaw as a substitute for a bun, so I ordered that and it was tasty. The entire meal was very flavorful and plenty of food (but not too much). Angie had a sweet potato and bean veggie burger and was satisfied with it too, though we get a bit frustrated that so many restaurants feel that the poultry equivalent of a hamburger (or beef burger as they call it in England) should be a chicken breast rather than ground chicken or turkey. One reason we like Larkburger so much in Colorado is that they do a turkey burger with ground meat. Our only mild disappointment with the meal was that we shared a cider and found the Rekorderlig on offer a bit sweeter than we generally care for. It did grow on me but I’d even pick a Strongbow over that if given the choice. Finally, I do have to say the service was super friendly and helpful.
With that, we repaired to our standard issue Ibis hotel room for the evening to blog and read before bed.

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