UK Detour: Day 10, Chartres to London

On my last day in Rochefort-en-Terre, I receive an e-mail asking for support for my Wu Wei theme. This isn’t uncommon; earlier this year, Wu Wei was chosen to be part of the official WordPress.com repository, and I’ve been flooded with such e-mails since. What stood out about this one, from a Michael Harvey, was the fact that he was in London, read from my blog that I was in France, and offered to show me around if I happened to be stopping by.

I told him it’d be lovely if I could go, but I’ve no place to stay, as I’d only planned on going to France. On a whim of his own, he offers to let me stay with him, and tells me I’d feel at home as they have two cats.

For a while I turn this idea over in my head, as there’s most certainly a risk involved in living with someone you’ve never met, least of all whether or not you’d even get along. Eventually, I decide that I couldn’t give up on the chance to see more of Europe. Fate opened a door, and I only had to step through. I couldn’t say no.

And so, armed with a ticket for the EuroStar and a box of assorted macaroons (one of the specialties in Chartres) for my new host, I set off for London.

Chartres train station

In Chartres, waiting for the train to Paris — Gare Montparnasse.

Paris Metro station

The Paris Métro is excellent and services almost every part of the city. Navigating the Byzantine halls can be very daunting though. Gare du Montparnasse is such a major stop that I didn’t even need to go outside to change from one type of railway system to the next.

To Gare du Nord.

Paris Metro station

I love how there are seats that fold up by the doors. Unfortunately, the seats are also tiny, which I assume is fine for your average French person, but not for someone with a suitcase.

Gare du Nord

Gare du Nord is the busiest station in Europe, and second in the world only to Grand Central in New York. It’s especially confusing because there are so many different train systems there that service various areas of France. People generally assume you speak English if you’re in here; lots of British citizens walk around, with very British faces.

still in Paris

Yep, still in Paris. I was super early for my train, so I stepped out briefly. This is where I was accosted a second time by an alleged scamster, the likes of which always seem to be around major tourist attractions and transit stops.

I book a 1st-class Eurostar ticket because it’s only £6 more than the standard fare, a fraction of the £300 cost. That also means my ticket is semi-flexible on the times, which is especially important, as I’m not sure exactly when I’ll be returning.

At border control before boarding the train, a British security guard with a serious voice asks me with whom I’ll be staying. I tell her “Michael Harvey”. She asks, “Are they a friend or a relative?” For a moment, I consider saying, “Friend. I imagine there aren’t many Harvey’s in my family tree.”, but common sense means I only spit out the first word.

Little did I know how awesome the first-class experience would be, with plenty of space and legroom and electrical outlets at every seat, even a little pedal to step on to flush the toilet and operate the hand dryer in the bathrooms. The only interruption of the quiet hum is sudden jolt of wind that shakes the cart when an occasional train passes by in the opposite direction.

dapper gentleman

A dapper English gentleman sits across from me. I studied him as he read from his book and occasionally nodded off.

To London.

Eurostar compartments

Overhead shelves, not compartments…probably because they don’t need to be as there’s no turbulence on the ground and the ride is very smooth.

The one on top can fit small suitcases, while the small glass shelf beneath is perfect for articles of clothing.

eurostar-lunch

The first class meal: chiffonnade de dinde et croûton tomaté (sliced turkey filet and crouton with tomato sauce), caviar d’aubergines (aubergine caviar), and saumon fumé et blinis de noisettes (smoked salmon and hazelnut blinis). Not exactly as good as if this was a restaurant, but pretty good for traveling fare.

The train managers also come by and put down your tray for you, and wipe it off once you’re finished your meal.

I’ll be wearing an Orange North Face jacket

This is the only description Mike gives me. I pray no one else is wearing the same, but we’re able find each other without a problem in the crush of people. The architecture of England feels a lot more modern than France, and I can’t put my finger on why.

St. Pancras International

St. Pancras International in London.

My first stop in London is a little tapas restaurant, a place where we can sit and nibble and get to know each other a little more. I pick his brain on photography techniques, and he picks mine about the web. It’s quickly apparent that we share a connection, something that’s all too rare for me when it comes to other people.

tapas 1

My first taste of tapas. A basket of fresh bread, scallops with albariño (a white wine grape from Spain), and beetroot puree (used as a dip for the bread with a delicate vinaigrette taste).

Mike lies to me and tells me my credit card won’t work, and pays for the meal. This will be a trend for the rest of my time in the UK, as he doesn’t let me pay for anything.

tapas 2

Lamb chops with cumin and paprika (cooked rare, as you can see by the inch of red meat, which was absolutely perfect), and octopus with potato and paprika.

On the way home, Mike takes me on the scenic route. There’s a chance for him to stop by a few landmarks, and I hurriedly try to take a few snaps as the sun begins to set.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace.

Green Park entrance

The Canada Gates of Green Park, behind is which the Canada Memorial, used to commemorate the Canadian soldiers killed in both Great Wars.

Victoria Memorial

Victoria Memorial.

Before dinner, we head to The Mayflower, a pub built in the 1600s with charming old-world booths. He buys me a half-pint of Old Speckled Hen, my first taste of bitter. It catches me off-guard, as it’s fairly flat and room temperature. For me and my colitis, this is perfect. Soon I feel my head getting droopy, as I imbibe the wonderfully malty taste.

the Mayflower

 

Mike keeps me on my toes as he observes the way I take my photos. When I ask him for some advice, he gives me his opinion, but tells me that it’s my job to take that information and turn it around and tell him he’s full of shit if I discover something different. I have to respect that kind of open-mindedness.

inside the Mayflower Pub

 

Mayflower back view

There’s also a patio (in this case, considered a jetty since it’s right on the water) with a wonderful back view.

Back home, I meet the rest of the family, which includes Shen, Hanako, and their two cats, Petey and Essey. Their house is a cozy strip, with a wood-burning fireplace, and a place for everything.

cooking

Eventually, Mike will teach me that there should be love in the food you cook, and that it’s something you can never fake.

I’m told that the rest of the family had to do a little research on me before agreeing to Mike’s offer to let me stay, and Hanoko warmed up to the idea when she saw a picture of Dolly on my blog. This earns her an extra scratch when I get home.

I’d been traveling since 7am, and by 11pm, Mike and I force ourselves to stop talking and go to sleep, as there’s more to be done in the days ahead.

kitty on bed

Essey waiting for me to go to bed so she can steal my warmth. Petey, on the other hand, likes to stand by the fire.

Europe 2010 travel diaries

5 comments

  1. hello there, first time reading your page and already I’m caught up in photographs of your entries. incredible adventures from Paris to London and kindness from a virtual stranger. the bit about the credit card made me laugh.

  2. I’m showing this to the Mr. this evening to show him the food. If he thinks he finds American cuisine weird, this should be his undoing. Beet dip!!? Hazelnut and salmon blinis???!.

    Isn’t it awesome finding people serendipitously like this? — met @StuartYoung that way in Paris. Restores my faith in the race.

    I ADORE THIS PUB want to go now.

    • That’s funny because American cuisine seems so simple and bland to me. There’s no personality there, or perhaps nothing that really stands out as being distinctly “American” food, cause so much of it seems adopted from other cultures.

      I’ve found the same about Scottish food; the only answer I get when I ask about tradition Scottish meals is haggis. Ask a Chinese person about a distinctly Chinese dish, on the other hand, and you’ll get an encyclopedia.

  3. What a fantastic adventure!

    Who would have guessed working on a wordpress theme would lead to an invitation to spend time in London? :)

    • Having this blog has led to many serendipitous encounters like this. :)

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