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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