Home shores

Saturday, August 24th 2002

I'd travelled from China to Paris without a hitch, and I imagined that Paris to London would be the easiest part of the journey. Sadly I was mistaken. I headed to Gare du Nord at about midday and found that there was a train to Calais leaving in a few minutes. So I bought a ticket and headed to the platform. But the train was a Eurostar train, and you have to check in twenty minutes before departure. They had sold me the ticket too late to make the cut, and so I missed my first train back home.

I went back to the ticket desk and explained the situation. Luckily they could change my ticket without charge, but unluckily they said there was not another train to Calais until 5pm. I really didn't want to spend another four hours in Paris and felt annoyed that I wasn't already half way to Calais. As I walked away with my second ticket, I found a timetable which said there was a train at 3pm to Calais, so I queued again and asked. It turned out that all the standard class seats were full on the 3pm train, but as I was a student I could get a first class seat for only one euro more. Fantastic, I thought - I'll travel back in comfort. I gladly exchanged my second ticket and a euro for my third ticket, and felt happy again to be nearly home.

With an hour to kill, I went to a cafe on the station and got some lunch and a coffee. I couldn't wait to get back home now. At quarter to three I picked up my bags, started walking towards the platform, reached into my pocket to get my ticket, and found that it wasn't there.

Shocked, I hurried back to the cafe, thinking I might have left it on the table. But it wasn't there. I looked around and saw no sign of it. I walked back and forth between the cafe and where I realised I'd lost it. It was nowhere to be seen. I couldn't believe it - had it been stolen? Had I just lost it? To this day I've got no idea what happened to it. Now I was furious, and once I'd given it up for lost I rushed to the ticket offices. But the queues were far too long for me to have a hope of reaching the front before the train left. I went to some automatic ticket machines, but for some reason none of them would accept my bank card. 3pm came, and I could only watch in despair as a train with an empty first class seat on it rolled out of the station.

Dejectedly I joined the queue for the ticket offices, and bought my fourth Paris-Calais ticket of the day, for the 5pm train I'd wanted to avoid. If all had gone to plan I'd have been on the train from Dover to London by 5pm. In the end, I reached Calais with only minutes to spare before the last ferry of the day.

As we crossed the channel I looked at the lights of France receding, and the lights of England approaching. The last time I'd seen the sea was at Qinhuangdao almost two months previously, and now I was on the other side of the Eurasian landmass. Night was falling as we pulled out of Calais, and we got to Dover in darkness. I hurried off the ferry to the train station, and got the last train to Charing Cross. I finally got back home at 1am, staggered at what a farce the last step had been, happy to be home, and slightly unable to believe that I'd just travelled a third of the way around the world by train.

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