ENGLAND – London
first day in europe
As I wait in St Pancras Station for my train back to Paris, I think about my first time in London…
It’s 2004. I’m 16. It’s my first time out of the country. And I’m on a high school trip with my sister and friends.
We arrive at Leiscter Square, pushing our way through crowds of people as we pass the Odeon Theatre. It’s showing Harry Potter. The third one. I saw it at the AZ Mills at midnight with Mylynn back home before we left. I wish we could’ve seen it here.
We haven’t eaten since on board Virgin Atlantic, so a group of us turn the corner and find an Indian food restaurant, Maharaja of India. As we’re looking at the menu next to the door, a man emerges and hurries us in, “Come, come.”
So we go in. We’re the only ones in the narrow room. Our table for 8 takes up one half of the place. There’s a tiny bar at the end and behind that, a dumbwaiter – like the little elevator. The host passes out menus and starts to take our drink order. Someone asks a question about the menu, but instead of answering, he takes all of our menus away and says, “It’s ok.”
The chai I order ends up being plain black tea, but it’s what we don’t order that’s the problem. Apparently the host decides to order for us. All of a sudden, the dumbwaiter is filled with curries and naan and rice dishes, which he brings over to the table. It’s like a magic cabinet that keeps refilling. We ask what all this food is, but he tells us just to eat. We’re so confused I honestly don’t know how the food actually tastes.
Then the bill comes. It’s way more than we had planned on spending. And when we try to pay with a card, he says no, cash only. So we end up using literally all the pounds we have with us.
Well, we learn quickly that we shouldn’t go into restaurants with people outside ushering you in.
chunnel to paris
I’m stoked to go on a train that goes underwater. I grab a seat by the window. As we near the edge of town, I get more excited. I can see where the tracks dip down right before the entrance to the tunnel. And then disappointment. Pitch black disappointment.
I don’t know why I assumed the tunnel was made of glass and you could see into the depths of the English Channel. But I did. I thought it’d be like a tunnel at Sea World. Fishes would swim all around you. Maybe we’d spot a sunken ship covered in silt. I guess I was a naive 16 year old. You know the kind of naive 16 year old that would get swindled at an Indian food restaurant.
About half an hour later, the train reemerges on land. Unlike the Fort Pitt tunnel, which drops you right into the center of downtown Pittsburgh, we’re still in rural France at this point, about an hour out of Paris. We think every transmission tower in the distance is the Eiffel Tower. “There it is! Nevermind, just holding up power lines.”
The best part of the journey is arriving at Gard Nord in Paris. Perry and I are mesmerized by the old-style departure board with spinning tiles that flip around to reveal the destinations and times. I’ve never seen a sign like it except in old movies. I’ve also never had to pay to use a public bathroom before. Welcome to France.