It would be grossly unfair of me to share my first impressions of France with you in this venue. Saying that France is a pit is as unfair as basing my views of Colorado on Commerce City, or my views of Florida on Opalocka, or the whole of the United States on Gary, Indiana. I will, however say that based on what I saw this evening getting to Oostende, France is a pit. (Oh, how unfair!) I will grant, that all that I saw of France was through the window of a moving car (at night) doing 150 (or so) Kph on the expressway, but there it is. Sue me!
The trip was wonderful! My friend Terry picked me up from the office in Thames Ditton at about 15:00 and we headed off. With a quick stop to grab my cameras and my luggage, then another to get Angie from her office, we then headed east.
The Eurotunnel is pretty cool. After checking into the embarcation area, you can go to the little mall/restaurant area and get a snack before getting on the train. When your departure is announced, you return to your car and drive through Passport Control. In England, they just barely even glanced at the passports and waved us through.
You then queue up for the train and head down to the waiting vehicles. If you have a high profile vehicle (A recreational Vehicle, Bus, or Extremely High SUV) you are waved into a part of the train that has only one deck to it. Otherwise, you are shunted into one of the two-deck trains. There, you drive into a long hall-way that is the train where a Eurotunnel staff member tells you where to stop.
When the car ahead of you is filled, the conductor(?) closes the doors at the head of your rail car, and then moved back telling the people in your rail car where to stop until the one you are in is full. They then close the door behind you and you wait for the remainder of the train to be loaded.
After the security announcements (don't walk between cars during transit, no flash photography, no smoking) you are underway. Although, there is no reason to do so, it seems everyone wants to just sit in their cars. Angie, Terry and I chose to stand and stretch our legs in the tunnel. Dinner was consumed en route. (You can see Angie and Terry with the Cornish Pasties that Angie got in Kingston upon Thames this afternoon before leaving. Mine was still wrapped because I didn't want to get the grease on my camera. After the pasties, we played the Mental_Floss quiz for the rest of the trip.
It goes by pretty quickly considering how long the trip is. In thirty minutes you can actually feel the train start to decelerate.
The trip is nearly over, you are in France.
Strange things about traveling to Europe via the Eurotunnel:
1) They tell you to open your sun roof and your windows during transit. It took me a while to suss. The problem is that the change in the pressure between the ends, and the middle are apparently enough to cause you to have problems with your windows.
2) They tell you to close your windows and sun roofs before leaving the train. What if you want them open?
3) Even though they have told you that there will be a delay between the arrival of the train and the time debarcation actually begins, everyone seems to want to get into gear as quickly as possible so there is always at least one idiot who starts his car the moment the train starts. Or so I am assured. I can believe it because the driver behind us and the one two cars ahead of us did just this, the moment the train stopped, they started their engines.
Once the train stops, they make a quick announcement welcoming you to France, wishing you a pleasant journey, reminding you to set your watches ahead one hour, and DRIVE ON THE RIGHT!
Drive on the right! Drive on the right! Drive on the right. You can hear the chant from all the Brits on the train. It is refreshing to know that they have to do the same thing we do when we visit England!
The drive to Oostende was uneventful. Other than the bits of France that I could see outside the window being oppressively bleak, industrial and just flat ugly, the trip passed without anything to comment on.
When we got here, we checked into the hotel. It was unremarkable. Like all the European hotels I have been in, the rooms are small, the closet space extremely limited, and the bathroom filled with more exposed pipes than are apparently necessary. It is in a nice place, though. After checking in, we went out for beers at Tim's Bar and then I went for a walk in the fresh air. It is nice here but there are far too many smokers.
Well, it's late (or rather early) and I am completely knackered so I guess I will save this to my PDA. As I noted on the blog earlier today, I will upload and publish these entries when I return to the office on Tuesday.
I hope your day has presented you with the opportunity to do something new today!
Don Bergquist - 20-January-2006 - Oostende, Belgium