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  • Angela Louie and Allan de la Plante

The Slog to the UK!

It had to happen right? A day when everything went sideways. That’s how the UK leg of our trip started.

I was grateful that Allan insisted we buy our train tickets to the UK the day we arrived in Paris. It was good foresight. We would never have had the energy to buy it the next day. It was the first time we were travelling “sans la voiture” and it tested our skills in wheeling luggage on narrow sidewalks, through traffic and generally uphill. We arrived at the train station with plenty of time to spare, even for a nice breakfast.

Then Allan discovered that he had forgotten to give back the hotel key. There was no way we were going to be able to go back and give it back so we had to hunt for a post office and mail it back!

When we got to the train station for check-in, we were told that our 11:15 train had been cancelled. The day before we saw people sleeping at the train station because of problems with the train. There were migrants trying to run through the chunnel to the UK and hanging on to the trains as they were going through. Trains were delayed, cancelled and one was stuck in the chunnel for hours. It made the front page of the paper.

We were caught at the tail end of this situation. There was a long line-up of customers trying to catch another train and some were not able to get on until 4:30 that afternoon. Luckily Allan was able to get us on for the 12:15. But even as we were passing through, we saw clothing caught on barbed wire fences and abandoned backpacks along the way. When we got off the train, our hearts skipped a few beats because my luggage was gone. Allan had the crew scouring the train and eventually it was found underneath a seat, hidden from view. Whew!

Okay, first accomplishment: we made it to the UK. Next: trying to get to Heathrow Airport to get our car. The train station at St Pancras is huge and wouldn’t you know it, the information centre was exactly at the very edge of the station. The staff were very helpful and even walked us all the way back to where we were to buy our tickets and where the platform was. By this time it was 1430 UK time (1530 France time). What I mean is we were getting hungry. But it couldn’t be that much longer right? Let’s just get the car and we could eat.

Getting to Heathrow took us another hour by the time we made all the connections. By the time we got to the Hertz rental car location, we were more hungry and tired and at the end of our tolerance. Hertz could not find our reservation. We didn’t have the right number. We didn’t have the paperwork printed. They couldn’t help us. We didn’t know what to do. We had pre-paid for it. Was it with another company? With all our luggage in tow, we set out to go door to door in search of our car. But there were gates in our way. The security guard couldn’t open the gate and wasn’t gracious enough to personally show us how to get out. It took the counter person to come out and help us get out of the lot. We went to the EuropCar Rental. Nope. It wasn’t there either. But the man helping us went the extra mile and looked up our booking on the Hertz website and printed it for us. We were so grateful for his help. Back to Hertz where they finally found our booking but not before hearing an earful from Allan about their customer service.

Getting the car was one thing. Driving it was another. If I thought I was anxious before, being on the wrong side of the car with Allan ambidextrously driving the car was another. Thank God our hotel was only 8 km away. But with a new GPS that didn’t take GPS coordinates, it was trying. (I wanted Martha back). Our new hotel was on an estate with acreage. Very pretty. But by then it was about 1800 and we were done. Eating was first priority. We asked about local pubs and were told about one a “5 minute walk” away. Fifteen minutes later, there was nothing. We went to ask at the local convenience store. No one had heard of it. One of the customers suggested another pub The Fox and Hounds. All we had to do was turn right at the hotel, then turn right and go up a hill a little ways…Allan shook his head. “No no. You’ll be fine. Then you turn right again. It will look like a little alley.” Allan shook his head again. “No no. You’ll be fine. You’ll know because if you get to a white gate. You’ve gone too far.”

Nice suggestion…for another day. Right now we were HUNGRY! We went back to the restaurant that everyone warned us against. No matter. We were desperate. The unlimited salad bar sounded good until you saw it. Sub-standard. Okay, eating was done. Tomorrow would be another day. The upside? The hotel had great internet speed!

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