London Saint Pancras – The train is due to leave at ‘five past eight’. It’s nearly 7:30 PM and still no sign of Theo. The fellow made a desperate dash from his home in Colchester at six and if anything he should be arriving in a couple of minutes. Surely enough, I soon receive a phone call and down the main hallway of the newly renovated train station, I can make out the man’s familiar silhouette. Spot on time.
While I was waiting for him, I strolled around the station stopping at a bookshop (Folger’s I believe?) for I had forgotten a book I had bought for my niece in Ipswich and wanted to make it up to her by getting another. I found the perfect nugget in a nursery rhyme book illustrated by the very same illustrator as the Gruffalo series. At the same time, I also picked Bram Stoker’s notorious ‘Dracula’. During the following two weeks, I would share Harper’s and Seward’s trek throughout England and Europe against the fiendish Transylvanian Count.
It’s finally 8 PM gone and rung at London’s main belfries, the last Paris-bound Eurostar is slipping away past the capital’s cityscape. Soon we reach the Eurotunnel (which would be more interesting had it been equipped with windows and been built on the seabed rather than under. I’m sure engineers will disagree on that point so would perhaps aquaphobic passengers) and after having downed a glass of red Merlot along with some spice-stuffed olives, Theo and I eventually set foot in Gare du Nord. We talk of upcoming meetings & work while he nervously puffs away on a cigarette. I stare at Mercure’s Hotel Terminal wondering whether this is where they filmed Hotel Chevalier, a short starring Natalie Portman. No time to check. Duty calls. Theo throws his stub in a nearby bin and we make our way to the underground. Line 4. Purple line if memory serves well. I truly don’t know why we took the regular underground. We had to stop by what seemed like every single station in central Paris before actually making our way to Denfert Rochereau. Those more familiar with the ins and outs of Paris metro life will know that in fact, Gare du Nord is merely a handful of stops away from Denfert provided one takes the RER fast train which runs on a special track and only stops at certain major stations.
Nonetheless, once our touristic wandering ends in Paris, we make our way hastily to the hotel. It’s nearly midnight and although September is barely starting, the air is fresh with a pungent autumnal scent – a mixture of fallen leaves with night dew.
The hotel is a five-story XIXth-century building typical of central Paris. Its elevator is so minute we’ve difficulty fitting the four of us together (Theo, myself, and our suitcases) but at least the porter found our reservations, gave us our keys, and even provided us with free Wi-Fi access codes. To IT professionals, a free WIFI access code is like free candy to an eight-year-old boy. It’s not often and always well appreciated.
Unfortunately, as we were to find out soon enough, the said wifi wasn’t all that good. Free, yes. Functional? Not quite. That – now – is a bit like finding a sour candy in your stack of sweets. It takes another three lollypops to wear off the taste.
That didn’t matter for my room, though minuscule, had a view of the flat across the street: a top-floor apartment tucked under the rooftops and with bookshelves spanning the whole width. Whoever lived there must have been a literary person. One might have thought in a lurid fantasy that I would have started telling the tale of the neighbor, some tall blond French lady, slipping seamlessly out of her clothes, to shyly exhibit herself to any onlooker such as myself. But unfortunately, this sort of mishap (for the subject) only happens once a week – on TV only. And it’s pay TV too. Not that I’m an expert of course. It’s just hearsay.