To travel again. My long awaited return to Europe.

How I psyched myself against travelling in these times.  Doubted, fretted, convinced that I would be caught up, caught out and banished before boarding.  Less than three weeks ago, I ventured towards the check in counter as if ready to go to court, ready to defend with enough documents and test results tucked under my arm, yet the nerves were more prickly than they usually are on a flying day.

Despite the extra expense of PCR tests, my trip to France went smoothly, flying out late with KLM to Schipol airport and onto Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.  In terms of documentation, South African Border Control asked for my Health Questionnaire and if I had done the PCR. Schipol Border Control wanted to know why I was going to Paris and to check I had a Vaccine app, and Paris said ‘Bonjour!’ – no security, no border control, and no suitcase.

This arrived two days later.

At no point in France was I grilled about being there.  The bateaux were thrilled with sightseers, parks filled with picnic baskets and students, camera clicking tourists all the way.  Hearing all the different accents, the smooth, romance of the french dialect.  Masks, as is the new fashion, gets hoiked up your arm above the elbow and only used to enter shops, places to eat and public galleries and museums. Walking around Versailles gardens for five hours, a reasonable distance from others, I thought it fine not to wear it and all those around seemed to agree. The rule seems to be keep your distance, be comfortable and use your common sense.  In no way did any of these rules detract from the experience of being there – heavenly, at one with the kings and queens, statues and turning leaves in the Tuilleries.

The difficult part lies squarely at the foot of the UK Border Control.  For months, the British government have employed rules and regulations befitting a psychedelic rave.  Draconian rules of which countries are Red, Amber and Green, which can change as quickly as the sucked colours of Smarties.  This leaves business and family travel (I hesitate to say leisure for fear of the ‘stay at home mate, this is a pandemic’ participants crawling onto the platform).  Family travel and business travel then – members of families who have been separated for too long, business travel that makes the world go around. More noteworthy, and I am flummoxed on this score – it seems as if there is more afoot that the sudden raising or lowering of country colours than meets the eye. Pressure maybe, politics sir, or just a little bit of profit involved methinks?

Your vaccine and my vaccine are the same vaccines but no, doesn’t count here.  Isolation required and again, some pretty serious money for all the tests, but this was something I knew and did willingly to return to my children.

Though I resent some of the rules, exempting the wealthy, sports events and such, I am delighted to be travelling again.  Invigorated by change, different destinations and cultures, different tastes – to stand before great art and light candles in a vast cathedral is deeply satisfying. Loved my quirky, yet charming hotel on the left bank, great dinner with friends and family and crossing France, and under the sea on the Eurostar was brilliant.  Wafting through the gardens of Giverny, the vast landscape of Versailles, deeply moving.

The nerves, the longing, the waiting is over.  The last of summer greets me in the morning, the red buses, cheery old friends.  Taking George for a walk in the park, chats face to face rather than zooming  and planning more.  Sadly any return to France would mean another session of isolation if returning to the UK, but I can wait … have been waiting for months now, and a few more will only make the journey more delicious again.

London – a walk beyond King’s Cross.

It is a long way away from the normal, energetic and bustling city I am used to right now.  Nevertheless, there is a beauty in the Sleeping Beauty city of wonder.  Whilst all are in lockdown and keeping close to home, I find myself, for work, and might I add, mental well being, still venturing into the quiet city, still within the boundaries, still to find the majesty and grandeur beneath the veil of silence.

The city is sleeping.  A pocketful of people are out in the financial and tourist areas, and where I would once be striding and headlong walking and giving tours, I now have time to linger, look up, get closer and take in new (and there are always new) sights and signs, adding to the massive photograph selection, notes and reminders, to review, research and formulate different tours.

Today I found myself at King’s Cross and St. Pancras.  These are two of my favourite places, mainly because they are the hubs from which I alight and make my way to the Eurostar. She still travels to Paris, albeit with a select list of passengers and nothing else open, not even a quick coffee to collect for the journey.  I am not one of those fortunate to travel to France at the moment, so must wistfully look at the beauty from afar and wait to return to the queue boarding, in the future.

St. Pancras is an architectural marvel, linked to the grand and stunning St. Pancras Hotel. Now closed, hopefully not for long.

Over the past few years, much has happened to the sort of run down area, behind King’s Cross. Old Coal Yards and Gas Buildings have been transformed into glistening apartments, the University of Arts London, restaurants, piazzas, office buildings and open living spaces.

 

From the rubble to magnificent urbanisation.  Love the way structures of the past, once perhaps unsightly, have been transformed.  In the winter sunshine, the harnessing of urban architecture and green spaces marry history and a vivid past. Granary Square is inviting, complete with urban pieces, water features and an inviting view of the canal. A close walk to Coal Drops Yard, again forged anew from working rail yards and derelict ruins.  Keeping parts of the old structure, two skyward roofs seem to rise from concrete and melt into each other, like the tail of a whale rising up from the sea.

Though quiet today, the hustle of upmarket shops align side by side for business. Glass and brick art. And the building continues. An urban oasis. Loo break provided, and we know in the time of lockdown, loo hunting is part of the game. As a tour guide, this is an essential part of the business, but in lockdown, and doing my research, it is even more vital when a coffee, or two, cannot go amiss, particularly when the weather is bristling and cold.

St Pancras Basin.  How far can one walk along the water’s edge? What is so lovely, as in all of London, is the respect for the past, for architecture which may have been functional, or decorative, restored. Incorporated into the new London, the ever changing London.  We learn so much from every part of her.  King’s Cross remembers the many who laboured and built a great railway, bricked the walls and buildings with pride.  Who brought the coal, the cheese, the people to this mecca.

It is a beautiful walk, not well known to tourists, but important to discover as this is as important and beautiful as the many known tourist sights.

The sun was out, the gloves were on, the eyes pleasured by it all. Now to get down to the notes, the history and how this development will add to the glory of the city and her people.

 

Silver Train Glamour under the sea.

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Guilty of ritual governance in my life.  Never been on the Orient Express or Rovos  (oh please one day!), mais have indulged in my halcyon imaginings on the Eurostar that takes me from London to Paris.   Repeat, London to Paris … 

Not going to muddy the fantasy with past tales of stuck the the tunnel.  Not going there.  It is a gorgeous experience, now upgraded and wi-fi, movie and music options.  Indulging time.

IMG_1681 Sleek.  Why the love dream with the Eurostar?   First, the leaving from St. Pancras.  Architectural stage set, one already feels special when you step into this building.  They should give five minute tours on the history of St. Pancras.  Confession that for years before corrected, I did call it St. Pancreas. Then there is the, for me, the tradition of always meeting up with my travelling companions at Le Pain …..  LPQ if one wants less flowery mispronunciation.  To get into the French way of doing, going to Paris, France you understand.  Seduced by Croissants and bread we should not eat, cups without handles and ze french accent in the air.

Secondly, there are these two magnificent cities – Eurostar is the Fixer, bringing the two together without the humdrum and dishevelling of airport security and stress, stress, stress.  Things move rather rapidly depending on the choice of bank holiday, group tour, time of train option you carefully avoid.

Thirdly, you are sitting in a decent seat.  The ‘not plaiting your knees into your hair’ sort of seat – morph seat.  All you need then, is diary, music, coffee (or wine), the dreamy expression and let the Silver Tube take you under.

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The upgraded Silver Eurofish has a few other plus points.  Let’s talk toilets with simple how to for idiots like me who fears the touching of anything in toilets on public transport – take easier reading of coach numbers (I was the one you saw with her nose against the side of the train unable to read the coach number and the same goes for inside) – take more luggage space for those who make a weekend in Paris a removal of their house excursion (hate, hate those coffin carriers) and a few other simple things I forget but enjoyed at the time.

Not so good yet?  One attendant for the dining (spot the ‘dining’) carriage and a snake of people who just look silly.  We lined up against the wall, then had to sort of decide where to stand next and ended up like a group of toddlers hanging onto an imaginary rope reading for an outing.  Not good.

The Internet is unpredictable but she is a novice in this exercise and I am a patient person, for now anyway.

Hell I love that bursting upon French soil with light affirmity.

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Silver Style.  Silver Star – now to wish an upgrade at Gare du Nord please.  Then all is Silver lining.

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