I left London this morning very proud of my unwitting foresight to take the train south to the coast in Dover, and would ferry across the channel to Calais and catch a train down to Paris, instead of flying, before I’d ever learned of a volcano erupting. Well. I must have forgotten for a moment that pretty much everything I do has something ridiculous attached to it. Meaning that of course a volcano no one has ever heard of (nor can say or spell) would erupt about 1200 miles away and somehow impact the 180,000 or so people flying out of Heathrow sending them flocking to any alternate transportation. (Read: MY quaint ferry ride).
So, while I had no time to work on the book today, I did burn 506,845 calories, since there was no hope of bus or taxi at any one of the 3 stations I landed, so me, my trusty four-wheel Samsonite and some impractical shoes (Don’t judge. I had planned on cabbing everywhere) hoofed it over many miles of cobblestone streets, 6 stories of stairs and 8 flights of ferry ramps. I was also pretty darn kind today considering the circumstances (and having a LOT to do with the language barrier once I reached France. It doesn’t count as being mean when no one can understand your sarcasm).
The thing is…and this is going on my experience today alone; neither the UK or France seem to excel in crisis management, or even know what it means. No additional buses were running, taxis were anywhere but where people were and every queue was staffed with 2 folks. You know you’re not in America when no one is capitalizing on a natural disaster. Hoards of Italian, German, Danish and French businessmen were desperate to get back to their offices and were trying to throw money at anyone, but no one cared. Seriously hundreds to a thousand dollars were offered for a lift.
Some Danish men on the way to the ferry office:
Are you British?
Me: Are you serious? Check my teeth and waistline. What do you reckon?
Nope. I’m from the States.
Ahhh…your plane down, too?
No. I’ve been planning this journey for weeks, actually.
(Jibber joiken to each other and then) You have a car in France? We will pay if you drive. Lots of monies.
Dang. Nope. No car.
Those conversations were happening all over the ticket terminal. Many things needed to happen to get onto the boat, which I really am not ready to relive (such as the ticketing agent charging me an additional 30 pounds because I did not have a bicycle. I thought she was being funny, or had dyslexia and mixed up her words), but once I was on board, I had a great view of the cliffs and in came a British rugby team (validating, once again, that there is a God and he loves me), who spent the hour and half crossing gulping pints by the dozen at 1 in the afternoon.
At the station in Calais, there was this really nice, mile-long line for a bus to the train station, which was not coming for another 30 minutes, which would have me missing my pre-booked train to Paris, making this the first time pre-planning would bite my tush; but there was a smaller crowd trying to get taxis. It was survival of the fittest, depending on who could intercept taxis in the parking lot, and who could whip out their phrase book the quickest. I knew how to say “I want”, “please”, and “thank you”, so guess who was stranded? The German and Italian businessmen in well-cut suits and just enough hair product had once given me their seat on the shuttle, held doors for me, and let me cut in line for a drink on the ferry, and now one would distracting me with stilted conversation and while another would scoop up the next cab that came into the lot (which was only every 10 minutes). I mustered some moxy and stalked a cab that pulled in, grabbing its antennae as it came by. A tall, stringy looking man beat me to the driver’s side and I heard him say in perfect American-English, “Can you take us to the train station?” YES! Finally, someone I could intimidate and manipulate with my vernacular!
We’re splitting this cab. I say. I was trying not to look maniacal in my desperation, to keep panic from my voice, and instead sound like this was an obvious must.
Well…umm…there are 3 of us. He says.
Great. You can have shotgun. (I hop into the back seat while he stares at me. His wife glared at me the entire ride to the station. It may or may not have had to do with the fact that her case wouldn’t fit in the trunk [mine was consuming half of it], so she was holding it on her lap.)
Alright- I really cannot continue, because this is too much like experiencing the trip all over again, but I will conclude with sharing that we all ended up heading to Paris together and I complimented the missus on her smart haircut and all was forgiven. I also employed my sweet, bilingual sister in-law to help steer them in the right direction from Paris to Marseilles. See? Kind.