If the Channel Tunnel does not impress you, I’m not sure we can really communicate and thus it may be hard for us to be friends. When we were putting this trip together, my two travel companions had their own idea as to what would make a great one-day side trip. One said he wanted to go to London. I told him in 24 hours you won’t get to see or do much, but he said he wanted to see it and to travel via the Chunnel. That sold me that it would be worth the expense and hassle. I’ve been to London a few times but never by train so I was in.
We got up and packed and I ordered a van to take us from our flat to the Gare du Nord (I believe this is French for “north station”, not very imaginative but apt). We had quite a bit of luggage and the walk from the Metro to the flat on the first day was a bit much so we sprung for a driver. This went better than I had planned and we got there rather quickly. I am usually against cars in cities I’ve not been to before if I can help it. I hate being stuck in traffic AND paying for it while a train is moving swiftly below me.
Since we were going from a Schengen Area country to one that was not, I knew we would have to go through customs, I was just surprised that UK customs had set up at the train station in Paris. I’m not sure why this surprised me, maybe I’m just not used to things making sense. You must forgive me; I do live in America after all. It wasn’t the first train of the day but there was a bit of a line to have our passports inspected.
I got up before one of the two customs and border agents, who was a guy my age or a bit older. He immediately asked how long I was going to stay in the UK. “A day”, I said.
Border guy: “What are your plans for that day?”
Me: “Old Spitalfields Market for a record fair, lunch and then maybe the British Museum”
Border guy: “What is your interest in old record albums?”
Me: “I’m an old guy and I like to listen to old records”
Border guy: “What kinds of records are you looking for?”
Me: “60s and 70s soul, mostly American soul. From the late 70s and early 80s UK punk and new wave.”
At this point I was getting a bit nervous, the interview was getting a bit long compared to what I’m used to. In Beijing, hardly a word (of course they had tons of info ahead of time via my visa application), in Japan they took my fingerprints but didn’t ask too much, but this was turning into a real interview and the line was still behind me.
Border guy: “What’s your favorite album?”
I’ve had a lifetime to think about this but hadn’t really been able to come up with an answer. I have a couple thousand in my collection, and I’m not sure I could really name a favorite. I’m not sure why, but to me it seemed like an odd question to ask someone at the border. Sure, if I’d said something like Up by Right Said Fred, that is probably a well known terrorist favorite that will get you an “enhanced” screening, but you never know if however you answer a question at the border will seem legitimate. I thought of an album that if I had only it on a deserted island, I could listen to it longer than any other before I threw my stereo in the ocean (or tried to make a boat out of it)
Me: “That’s a tough question, but I’ll answer London Calling by the Clash”
Border guy: “Well done…the Clash are my favorite too.”
Then as he stamped my passport he looked over at his partner and said one of the coolest things someone has ever said about me: “This guy’s got a lot of stamps”. My first passport had exactly one stamp during its ten years. I’ve tried to make up for that injustice with my current one. Looks like I’m doing an OK job with it.
Nothing to worry about, I wasn’t about to be denied entry, I was just picked for an enhanced interview by a fellow music fan who just happened to be stationed at the border crossing that I was at that day. It was kind of a highlight of the trip.
We went through security (it was nearly airport level) and boarded our train for the quick trip to London. The train, as with all trains I’ve been on outside of the US, left on time and we were on our way to London.