Europe, France, Travel, UK

London Day 3: Leaving on a “Jet” Train… and Speeding Back Again

I’ve done the whole London and Paris trip before but my other half has not.  Thus, he was excited to visit another famous city and see another famous icon.  Although tired, we were raring to go, making sure to leave super early to get to our train.  This is when an unusual series of events unfolds…

Getting TO the train station

I took the Underground to work with no problems.  Yes, people rush to the tube like it’s the last train out of London.  However, at 6:30am on a Saturday, the sane, yet “speedy” passengers are replaced with what can only be described as drunken “riff raff” – those women who are still dressed like they came from the local street corner (more on that later in this post), trying to walk in their heels and men who look like (at any second) they will go all “southeast DC” and stab someone.  Case in point (and what can only be considered foreshadowing): The drunken Frenchman in line to buy a train ticket.  Not only was he continuously muttering to himself that he was going to “effing kill you” (to which my boyfriend promptly shoved me behind him), he almost went completely ballistic when there was no train to where he needed to go.   When we got our tickets, and went to our platform, we were then told that the Victoria line wasn’t available until the end of the weekend.  Awesome.

Now, much like our metro system, the Underground is mapped out by colors.  And, it appears as though these colors are very similar to those in our system, as one will learn, the yellow and green lines should be avoided (if at all possible).  Why?  Because going back to the previous paragraph, one would largely suspect that these two lines lead to less desirable locations, thus causing my boyfriend and I to stand “on guard” for the entire ride – SEVEN. STOPS. The good news?  We made it and were relieved to have done so.

Speeding towards the next city

The train stations in London look very similar to something out of Harry Potter – large, beautiful and old.  The last time I took the Eurostar, I remember it not having, what can only be described as, an indoor mall.  But then again, I also don’t remember the process my family and I took to get on the train.  If you have never done it, it’s an impressive process.  You are only allowed to enter the “departure lounge” about one hour before the train is set to depart.  (I put “departure lounge” in quotation marks because it looks more like a purgatory waiting room.)

Once boarded (we requested Standard Premier – which I highly suggest), we were greeted by our staff, letting us know our meals would be out in 15 minutes.  On the way there, we were served breakfast (kudos to them for having gluten-free bread and cookies) and drinks and for the next two hours, tried to relax – pretty uneventful and just what we needed.

Speeding through the English countryside
Gluten-free train meal!

We made it to Paris – let the adventure begin!

I should preface this section by saying that I don’t speak French – I can read enough to get around and communicate out a few things but there is no way I could have a conversation. Thus, when my girlfriend came to get us from the train station, we were highly relieved.

Our initial plan was to come to Paris for the day and through several revisions, decided to stay the night.  My girlfriend had suggested a hotel that she and some other girlfriends were staying at, and that we’d have some time with her for the day, as that evening, these girls would be going to bed early for a 1/2 marathon in the morning.  Perfect.

We get to the hotel – Hotel Balmoral.  What awaited us was both creepy and fascinating.

The Shining, Taken – I’ve seen too many scary movies

When you enter into the hotel, you’ve entered into a different world.  It’s like stepping back into the 20’s where they give you room keys that you have to return before you step out.  The walls are dark, rich colors and the lighting is low.  When you receive your room assignment (we were given the 4th floor), you have the option of a small elevator (think old school pushing the sliding door open to step inside) or taking the rickety circular stair case).

When you head onto your floor, there are no lights in the hallway.  Even more creepy – the double doors.  There are two panels that swing open to get to the ornate french doors that lead to your room.  Once inside, it’s everything people think of when they want “French charm”.  The chandelier was tilted a little to one side and although the light switches were updated, it looked as though the lights might go out at a moment’s notice.

On either side of the king-sized platform bed, there were two doors – one that led to a closet (that looked like it had a false panel – cue “Haunted Honeymoon”) and one that led to a very modern (and surprising) bathroom.  To the left of us was a mini bar and small flat screen and to the right of us were french doors that led to a Romeo and Juliet balcony, looking into other people’s rooms (if you have seen “Taken”, you will remember the girl looking across the other window, to see her friend being kidnapped) and straight down to a courtyard.

So close you could shake hands
The courtyard

It was very cool to see but also gave you this feeling that when it gets dark out, you might be sleeping with the lights on.  Sooo…

We were so tired from all the travel that we took a nap – a two-hour nap at that.  When we woke, we found out that we had whole day to ourselves so we got freshened up and headed out on our journey to see the Eiffel Tower.  When we left the room and locked the door – we looked down the hall to where the elevator is and it’s completely dark – no lights in the hallway (cue twins from “The Shining”).  So we decided to take the stairs all the way to the lobby and out the front door.

Ah, Paris.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice…

Now, I didn’t like Paris the first time I went.  To be completely honest, I don’t find it to be romantic – I find it to be dirty.  The first time I went was awful – it was 95 degrees, no air conditioning and the place was completely trashed (France had won the World Cup and had so much fun, they forgot to clean up).  This time, I’m with someone whom I love – and my thought was that this time, it would be different.

The funny thing… you learn a lot about someone when you travel with them.  In some cases, you learn that the two of you are probably not meant to last long-term.  In our case, I’d rather only travel WITH him.  As we’re walking down the streets (rues as they are called), he kept commenting on how dirty it was, how rude people were being and how it just didn’t look like Paris was safe to walk through at night.  Had he been up for the entire night, I would have kept my mouth shut, letting him take in the experience.  However, being that we’re a perfect match, I felt comfortable enough saying the following, “You know, while you were napping, I was thinking that maybe we should head back tonight.”  It was met with eyes as big as Christmas morning.  So, we decided to speed up our trip to the Eiffel Tower and take a taxi.  (Cue circus piano music while “The Fastest Trip to Paris and Back” is set in fast forward.)  We make it to the Eiffel Tower, we take some pictures, we grab a taxi back to the hotel and we re-pack the bag.  We grab another taxi and head back to the train station.  Two words: Anxiety and relief.

The last time I made this trip with my family, I remember feeling overwhelmed and freaked out.  I spent a few months, after returning to the States, being grateful that I lived here.  In our case, I was incredibly grateful to go back to London – a place we were a little nervous to explore and now heading back to, feeling like we were meant to live there.

So we hop on the train, have a light meal and instead of being exhausted – we giggled the entire time back, swearing this would make a great story – $650 on train tickets and a $190 hotel – Just to spend 5 hours (1 was getting to/from the hotel, 3 for napping and 1 for walking around aimlessly until we got a taxi to see the famed Parisian icon), realizing France was a place we were positive we’d never visit again.

Our light train meal.

Redeeming Ourselves

When we made it back to London, I was ready to kiss the dirty platform we were on.  All of a sudden, what seemed scary in London, seemed perfectly normal.

The Olympic rings at the train station

We all of a sudden had no problem getting around and were energized for a night out.  So we changed and headed back out in Victoria.

We started at a pub called The Elusive Camel.  I love the name, but I loved our bartender even more – she was giving us free drinks because we were tipping her (something that rarely happens in Europe).  What was also great – the people watching.  It seems that this pub is a starting point for younger people before they head out to something else.  It was at this point that I felt old, spending much of my time commenting on UK style.  (See beginning paragraph about dressing for a street corner.)  Women go out in one of three things they shouldn’t here: short shorts with tights/or not, skin-tight, up-to-there dresses, and spandex leggings – all of them not properly covering “assests” they should.  I now understood why common UK fashion was taking a beating.

So when the crowd of “kids” left, we headed out to get some food.  Right next door, a favorite of mine – Nando’s Peri-Peri.  Although there is one in DC, my boyfriend has never eaten at one.  I’m pretty sure that if there was one near Tysons, we’d be eating there every night.

When we were done with our meal, we headed back to get enough rest for our next adventure.