Eurostar tickets go on sale eight months before the date of departure. I book our tickets as soon as they go on sale. I get an email confirmation and put the whole thing out of my mind for about eight months.
It is the day before our departure. I do not know which station our train leaves from. The Pompideau Center has free if tenuous wifi outside. Ten minutes are spent sitting, trying, and waiting in multiple locations before I have copied down the confirmation code, departure time and departure station. I will need all of these things.
The metro is fast, clean and efficient. We reach Gare du Nord in less than half an hour. Check-in is like that at an airport. There are four automated check-in machines outside the Eurostar terminal. Give them five minutes and the credit card you bought the ticket with and there, simply, is your ticket. There are four automated check-in machines outside the Eurostar terminal at Gare du Nord and they are all broken. We stand in line to give our reservation code and credit card to a lady behind a counter.
We fill in our customs cards and we are ready to go. A bank of entry gates requires a ticket slid into a tray before the green light goes on, the ticket is returned and the kidney-level doors give way for you. I have such faith in systems that I am through the gate, my ticket in my hand, before I realize that the light has never turned green. The doors have never given way. I have muscled my way through. Mister Chen is on the other side of the gates with a ticket that does not work. The lady in charge takes him over to the manned station. I try to go back through the gates to get my ticket properly validated. I am waved on.
The duty-free shops in the terminal sell cheap cigarettes and extremely expensive sandwiches. Twenty minutes before the train leaves they announce it on track three, and a polite line forms to the doorway and down an escalator as it flattens into a mechanical incline and then to a motorized walkway. Our car is empty. The tray tables are large and sturdy. There are two levels of overhead baggage compartments. The conductor makes all announcements in French and then in English. Twenty minutes in the darkness of the chunnel and then the conductor is making all announcements in English and then in French. At Waterloo a stout friendly lady in a clean navy blue sweater and white collared shirt asks us why we are visiting and for how long. Tourism and two days are the right answers. We are through.
ONE WAY TICKET 1.40EU (ABOUT 2USD)
EUROSTAR TRAIN 9019
ONE WAY TICKET 178USD
DEPARTS PARIS FREQUENTLY
ARRIVES LONDON ABOUT TWO AND A HALF HOURS LATER