Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thursday, September 6 On to London and the Jail Bird!

We are up early as we want to be at Gare du Nord to catch our 11:15am train to London by 10AM. Our taxi arrives at 9:30AM and we are off on a 25 minute ride to the station. €15 later we are in the terminal beginning the check-in process. First they check your scanable ticket and match it with your passport. Then you go to French passport control; then to British passport control and then to security.

Security just like the airport. Put the bags on the x-ray machine, strip your pockets walk through, get a second wand check because you missed a coin in your pocket and then THE SHIT HITS THE FAN!

Remember the souvenirs we purchased at Lachnager Crater over in the Somme. You know, the brass clock timers from expended British 17 pound artillery shells fired in 1916. Yes, right, the brass paper weights. The ones that are for sale in shops all over the Somme. The ones just like the one we brought back through French airport security in 2006.

Ok, the nose is conical and they are solid brass and they show up "BLACK" on the scanner display. For future reference, "BLACK" is bad. Security stops the scanner line, clears the area and, we find out later, clears the terminal below where we are standing in all our ignorance. Pointing to the display, they question us as to what they are and, like fool, Dick tells them. PANIC! Security! Police! Bomb Squad!

No, they won’t let us open the bag and show them what it is. It might go off and we must look like suicide bombers! We are escorted to the waiting area and told to sit and not move. As they start to board our train, two security men come to us and tell we will not be leaving on this train (or the next several as it turns out) and to come with them.

Earlier, we had given them the combinations to the suitcase locks in hopes that they would not tear it up. We get back to the security scanner area and the suitcase is open, undamaged, and they have the brass paperweights (the old shell fuse timers) out and begin explaining that they are dangerous (if you drop one on your bare toes) and illegal as they were of military use. Oh, they will be turned over to the military for destruction (the only way that will happen is if they melt them down for the metal content). Dick begins to debate the issue but rapidly figures out that this opinion is not negotiable (after Carolyn pokes him!) and says fine, keep them. At this point everyone is being relatively nice but emphatic and we think everything is resolved. You keep the scrap brass and we get on the next train. NOT!

Carolyn and our luggage are taken to a waiting area and told to park it. Dick is taken on a tour of Gare du Nord that ends up high in the attic of the old building behind three key pad entry doors and placed in a room with two holding cells and all sorts of drug testing swabs and chemicals. This is not looking good!

The nicer English speaking security man and the nice but less fluent bomb squad guy (the one dressed in black SWAT gear including a flack jacket and .40 cal. Sig Sauer in a thigh holster) keep telling Dick this is all just a formality and they are satisfied that there was no intent to break the law and we just have to do the paperwork, which, by the way, requires the approval of a judge (magistrate) who is in a meeting and cannot be disturbed. So Dick sits, in a room with cells, and waits.

After an hour or so, he insists on being taken to Carolyn to give her some money for lunch and to be sure she knows what is going on. This is an escorted retrace of the trip up and down stairs and through key pad locked doors, back through British passport control and security, etc. Since he is escorted by a security officer, we just wave and pass on through. After a brief visit with Carolyn, it is back to the room with the cells. And, we wait and wait and wait. A conversation is finally struck up with one of the officers and we discuss the fact that this happens all the time; at least once a week; that all firearms in France are illegal unless you have a permit from the National Police and they don’t give them out lightly; that BB guns, air-soft guns and pellet rifles are restricted just like .50 cal. machine guns, etc. Dick bites his tongue when he wants to ask what they are going to do the next time the Germans decide to take them over since he does not think they will appreciate the joke.

Finally, about 2PM a bevy of police storm into the room with paperwork that the judge has approved and want Dick to sign four (4) sets. He protests that he does not read French and they assure him all is well and he will be free to go as soon as he signs. Having enjoyed all he can stand, Dick asks where the guillotine is set up this time of year. They see some of the humor but assure him that they have done away with its use. So, he signs and is escorted back down to Carolyn.

During all this time, another security man who also speaks reasonablely good English checks on Carolyn and about 11:45AM tells her everything is OK, they just need to get a judge’s signature on the paperwork. A few minutes later Dick shows up and we talk for a minute then he goes off with the officers.

OK, Carolyn looks at the time and knows that the judge has probably gone to lunch and nothing will happen until after 1PM. Well by the time the 1:30PM train leaves
and no one has come with any information, Carolyn is getting concerned.

After debating on what to do. She walks back to the security area, but no one is there that was there earlier. OK, when in a bind when one is abroad, call the embassy. Carolyn walks over to the Eurostar information desk, tells them who she is and that she wants to see her husband. Of course, the lady has to get someone else to speak English with her and it causes a stir when the English speaking agent translates for the little group of workers who have now gathered and a debate gets going. Carolyn gets annoyed and repeats that she wants to see her husband and if that is a problem she wants a phone to contact the US Embassy. Well that really does it. And people take off in several directions. About five minutes later, thankfully, she sees Dick entering the departure area and tells the agent that she see him. The agent gets on the radio and tells everyone things are OK.

Now all we need are new tickets for the 3:15PM train. We get to buy two new tickets to London since our cheap ones are no longer good because they were non-exchangeable and non-refundable. Dick leaves Carolyn again and goes with the Eurostar representative back to the ticket desk. One of the security guys stays with Carolyn until Dick is on the way back with the tickets.

Meanwhile, while standing in line to buy the tickets, escorted by a Eurostar representative, the representative taps Dick on the shoulder and suggests that perhaps he should not buy the tickets just yet as the police want to talk to him. Dick tells the representative and the cop that has walked up that he has a release from the judge and waves it around. The cop gets on his radio and talks high speed for several minutes and finally tells the representative that it is OK. We find out later that Eurostar is looking for a €10,000 fine for all the bother caused by our brass paperweights! The judge had said no and this seems to be the end of it.

Tickets in hand Dick heads back through British passport control and security one final time. He is, by now, on a first name basis with the cute blonde in the passport booth. We board the train and it pulls out on time at 3:15PM. The ride is uneventful until we approach Ashford, the stop in England before London, where we pull to a halt and sit for 20 minutes or so. We finally arrive at St. Pancras station in London some 30 minutes late.
Wrestling our luggage off the train, we head through the station and get in the cab line. We are soon in a cab heading for the Marriott County Hall hotel with a reservation for a room with a view of the Thames. This is prepaid and we have voucher in hand. What could possible go wrong?

Fifteen later we arrive at the hotel
and are escorted into the lobby and greeted like royalty................until they can’t find our reservation! We cool our heels for nearly an hour while they try to find our reservation. Of course, they have a piece of paper with all sorts of confirmation numbers on it but the excuse they give, when they finally allow us to check-in, is that there was one letter difference in our name and that was why they could not find it. We call Bull-shit!!!

Ok, to the room and a shower. The room is very nice but hot as hell since it faces west and the drapes are open and the A/C is turned way up; or so we think. Turn down the A/C, get showers.and go down and walk over to the river to get a good view of the wonderful sunset over the river.
Then we walk to a restaurant around the corner for some Italian. Expensive and not particularly good Italian but filling and we have not eaten since a banana in the room in Paris at 8:30AM.

Back to the room with a killer view
and a good night’s sleep. NOT! The A/C is not working or, at least, it can’t get it down below 76 degrees and we sweat at that temperature! The front desk sends up a maintenance man who determines the problem and says he can fix it tomorrow but not tonight. The front desk says they are full and cannot move us. They assure us that they will do what they can tonight to make us comfortable, get the A/C fixed ASAP in the morning or move us to a nicer room and compensate us for tonight, OK, fair enough.

So, it is now after 11PM and we are sent cold drinks and a fan, but we still need an extension cord to plug the fan into the only plug in the room. The lady from housekeeping goes to get a cord. Thirty minutes later she is back with one of the THREE extension cords in the hotel; according to her as she rolls her eyes. We open the windows overlooking the Thames, set the fan in the window and it begins to blow cool night air into the room. This may not be so bad we think as Big Ben begins to chime midnight just across the river from us. That thing is loud!! In go ear buds for iPods and we crash.

No comments:

Post a Comment