Chunnel Rocky Horror Hungry Trip

photo: cafe de la comedie

Umbrellas and gloom on Sunday show weather in Paris.

Foodless Undersea Journey In 1996

by Tony Brock

Paris:-Tuesday, 20. February 1996:- London and Paris take a mild climate and easy transport facilities for granted. We don't bother with snow tires, chains or anti-freeze, and we don't need to concern ourselves with 'rough' Channel conditions anymore.

To move between capitals, we simply hop on a Eurostar train for a ride through the Channel Tunnel and in three hours we're there - the hassle-free way to travel between London and Paris.

That is, until there's snow on both sides of the Channel, you're in an English country homephoto: new metro entry, comedie francaise and you've got to get back to Paris for business appointments while the wind-chill factor has reached 'Retreat from Moscow' proportions. Then disillusion sets in.

Mornings, between nine and ten, the Eurostar enquiries number simply doesn't answer. Okay, that's a cheaper way of telling you they don't know.

Paris' most unusual métro station entry, and its most contested.

After that, they put on recorded messages about what the services would be like if they were normal and you long for the sound of a live human voice. But you're an experienced world traveller, you know when to cut your losses. Boot, Saddle, to Hired Car and Away - to Ashford International Station, which is the station on the English side of the Tunnel.

As a cosmopolitan, you've never bothered before with mere staging posts like Calais Fréthun in France or Ashford International in Britain.

Ashford turns out to be near nowhere in particular except the mouth of the Tunnel and has all the cozy charm of a dentist's office in a warehouse. But it is only two timetabled hours from Paris and you can get aboard just before 14:00, in time for lunch.

Your train leaves after 16:00, and passengers from London have already eaten all the lunch. But you've had two Danish and you have a dinner date in Paris - an experienced traveller doesn't worry! Then you enter the Tunnel.

When you emerge at Calais Fréthun, it's 21:00, photo: new metra entry, chicago, foto t blazek you've missed your dinner date by an hour and been unable to phone during your five hours under the wintry sea.

Not that you'd have been able to say much, for you're as short on info as on food.

Chicago's most unusual 'Metra' station entry. Photo by Café Metropole Club member Terrie Blazek ©2002

The 'Train Manager' hasn't identified herself while broadcasting frequent apologies, nor has she explained anything or informed anybody. She's just apologized.

It is several hours before you've worked out that the locomotive had broken down and that only a new one hooked on to our train would get us out. Out of the Tunnel.

So when she says we will have to detrain and switch to a new 'high speed Eurostar train to Paris,' that seems logical and no more than our due - after all, we've paid for it.

Logical, perhaps. True, no. They move several hundred people to a rail line that can't carry Eurostar trains and send our train - our high speed Eurostar train - back to London.

We leave for Paris at 01:30, now Wednesday, and our elderly and slow SNCF train reaches Gare du Nord at 03:10, when taxis and food - remember that stuff? - are hard to find.

If Eurostar didn't send out St. Bernhard dogs with brandy around their necks, at least they had girls waiting for us at Gare du Nord with nicely printed forms telling us how to apply for compensation.

These should make interesting reading. Around me, passengers hadphoto: rain, merry go round moved on from accepting that Eurostar 'needed to be economical with the truth,' to rejecting 'their damn' lies.'

I haven't sent my claim yet but I can share with you some of the things I'm going to say to Eurostar:

Going round and round in Montparnasse might be better than going nowhere under the Channel.

1. You've got a good number - up to now, I was your most passionate unpaid publicist - but things can go wrong.

2. When they do, say so. Giving first the bad news, then the bad news and then the bad news doesn't help you, or us, or stockholders.

3. Put more food - lots more food! - aboard and even sell it if necessary. Eating passes the time.

4. Young hostesses are certainly decorative, but if they aren't authoritative enough to keep the gangways clear, they're not being very useful. If they're not informed - and ours weren't - they can't inform the paying and surly customers.

5. Speaking for myself, if I have to choose between the decorative and the eatable, I prefer the eatable. And I'm not sure that cannibalism is a good selling line for transportation services nowadays.

Ed's note:- Wednesday's edition of Le Parisien, reported with the headline, 'Trou Noir Dans le Tunnel' and added that trains entering the Tunnel were covered with ice that melted, 'deranging' the electrical systems. Trains carrying passenger cars and trucks - known as 'Le Shuttle' - were stopped Tuesday afternoon.

New Ed's Note:- Since Tony's report in the first issue of Metropole seven years ago, zillionsphoto: shop, artisan boucher of Eurostar train passengers have experienced successful trips between London and Paris without foodless overnight stays under the Channel.

Last week umbrellas were just as necessary in Paris as in London.

I took the trip myself in 2000, and had the feeling that the Eurostar service is merely an extension of the Paris métro. Get on at Denfert, get off three hours later someplace in London. I wish I could remember where in London but I don't worry about it because I don't go there often even if it is handy.

Tony only wrote this one report for Metropole because his Chunnel experience was too nerve-wracking. We had gotten to know each other while working together for years on features for a UNESCO news service.

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