Dover to Calais

Not food *

Well at least the weather was nice. You may have been wondering exactly how I made it to Paris from London after Eurostar was shut down due to the fire in the tunnel the very day I was supposed to be boarding it ? (or you may not actually care at all). Well after a customary session of moping and cursing the world at my lack of luck, I gathered all my steely determination and guile about me for the long road ahead. I was going to Paris, I would be in Paris… I was destined for Paris. Also I had a non-refundable hostel booking that I didn’t want to pay for.

First I checked for airfares. Finding out after a brief search that the cheapest airfare I could get at short notice would be around 400 (!!). My next option was the ferry, which sounded like it could be a great way to go. 14 pounds for a ticket from Dover to Calais, and a leisurely cruise across the channel full of wonderful sights. Nautical adventures ahoy !

So the adventure began at 9am on Saturday morning, after a rather boisterous Friday night I boarded the tube to London Bridge a little worse for wear, and got an overland train from London Bridge to Dover. 2 hours later I arrive at the Dover train station, then wait for a bus to take me to the Dover ferry terminal.

Another hour and a half wait at the ferry terminal before the ferry left and I was fortunate enough to enjoy the company of what must have been the angriest man in Britain, working behind the counter of Cafe Ritazza. I didn’t want a coffee, nothing on earth could have made order a coffee from him. I was however macabrely intrigued by his ability to dump the portafilter basket into a bin full of coffee grinds every single time he knocked the spent coffee out. In fact making it more and more filthy each time as he never bothered to wipe it.

Quite frankly put, it was the dirtiest most disgusting coffee machine I’ve ever seen. If the look of it wasn’t enough to scare you off, then the guy swearing audibly each time someone ordered a coffee was a pretty clear indication that it wasn’t going to be good.

Being that I was starving, and had yet to each anything since I woke up, I figured I’d try my luck with a sandwich from the pre-prepared supply behind the cafe counter.

“What type of roll is that one ?” I asked, pointing to a rather nondescript item wrapped in foil.

“No idea, but it’s all we got left” was the gruntingly abrupt response.

“Well I guess I’ll have that one then” I surmised.

He then proceeded to manhandle what I had now determined was a “sub” of some description out of it’s foil and throw it onto a sandwich press. All the while swearing and muttering to himself, cursing all and sundry for putting him in the unenviable position of having to serve people food, a job he was clearly not cut out for.

A few minutes go by, and he slides the now partially warmed “sub” into a bag and flings it across the counter to me. Shortly after this point I made a note in my little food travel diary.

“Cafe Ritazza disgusting coffee machine, angry man, filthy sausage roll type thing. Trying luck with vending machine next time”

I doubt truer words have never been spoken about that establishment.

So finally we board the ferry. Well actually we board a bus to take us to the ferry. The ferry ride was pleasant enough. Although they aren’t entirely equipped to deal with people who don’t have cars. As such there is nowhere to leave your luggage. Which meant I was dragging my bags around for a good 2 1/2 hours, or however long it took to get there.

Time began to stand still somewhere in the middle of the channel. Suddenly the realisation came upon me that I would actually be in country where English was not the common language, and I now began to regret fast forwarding through most of the “French Foundations” CD’s my good friend Alex had lent me to study up on, and hoping my year 10 French lessons would all come flooding back to me.

The scene at Calais ferry port was straight out of Lost in Translations. Hundreds of confused, angry, and disoriented tourists trying to make some sense of where they were, and how they were supposed to get to Paris from here.

I was of the school of thought that everything would work itself out in due course. So whilst American tourists screamed staccato broken French into mobile phones to secure train tickets and hotel transfers. I just sat on the bus and followed the signs. It seemed to give them a sense of empowerment to know that they had some control over what was happening, but in reality, we were all on the same boat, all catching the same bus, the same trains, and arriving at the same time in Paris.

So I secured a ticket to Paris on the train, which would go via Lille, running because everyone else was and then realising it didn’t leave for another 20 minutes. The train was pretty nice, and I somehow managed to “accidentally” end up in first class by not reading my ticket properly. It also didn’t help that the train was 30 carriages long, and I really couldn’t be bothered walking to the one I was meant to be in. The ticket inspector however, was happy to point out my mistake and direct me ten carriages forward to where I was supposed to be.

Arriving at Gare du Nord at 9pm on Saturday night was a little shock to the system. It felt like I’d arrived in the ghetto, as a group of young guys walked past yelling at people with giant muzzled alsatians on chains at their sides. No signs of foie gras or caviar in this enclave.

So finally I find a metro map, get a ticket, and haul my bags on board. Disembarking at Jules Joffrin metro stop, the closest to Le Montclair Monmartre, my hostel of choice for the stay. All I can say is that a tiny crappy room with a bed in it had never looked so good after the day I’d had. Still I hadn’t eaten. After leaving at 9am from London and arriving in Paris at 9pm, It had been a long day, but it wasn’t yet over. The Paris air (which does not smell half as bad as anyone tells you) was full of life and energy. 10pm would see every restaurant in Perth closed for the night, but in Paris, things were just starting to happen.

St Pancras International Grand Champagne Bar

St Pancras Grand Champagne Bar

Aka, I was supposed to be in Paris.

So finding out that the very day I had chosen to get the Eurostar to Paris there had been a massive fire in the tunnel, was not the best news I’d heard all week. A freight train was going through one of the tunnels and carrying a truck full of chemicals on the back of it. Somehow the chemicals caught fire, they suspected the fire started in a truck’s braking system that overheated and spread to a tyre. 200 firefighters and a day later they had the fire under control, but all trains for that day (and the foreseeable future) were cancelled.

Rather than sitting on my laurels however, I figured it would be good to get an accurate assessment of the situation from Eurostar themselves. Rather than desperating clicking refresh on their website every 30 seconds hoping to see that the trains were running again.

Turns out that the website was in fact, a whole lot more helpful than the people standing at the Eurostar office. With clipboards in their hands and stern looks on their faces, dealing with hundreds of other irate tourists who didn’t want to be in London either.

So rather than dwelling on the situation, we headed upstairs to the Champagne Bar to wet my sorrows (I would say drown, but one glass of champagne is not that big, and my sorrows are strong swimmers), and reassess the situation.

Canape Plate at St Pancras champagne bar

It was nearing midday, so the canape plate sounded like a good option for something to snack on while trying to make alternate arrangements to smuggle myself out of the country. It wasn’t overly impressive, and vaguely reminiscent of something you’d be served at a stuffy cocktail party hosted by people you don’t like. But then the two little tastes of foie gras with a crisp glass of Pommery Brut Royal NV did make me feel that little bit closer to Paris, if only momentarily.