From Belgium to London: A vignette of spring break travel, part 1

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April 3, 2015

1:25 AM

This blog is the first of a two part series.

Some preliminary notes: the Drapers, or the Worshipful Company of Drapers, are a London guild that sponsors the Timothy J Sullivan scholarship, of which I am this year’s recipient. Additionally, my scholarship sponsor is Mr. Christopher Fildes.

I set out to the train station with a judicious detour by a waffle stand. My original plan for the day had been to take a train to Brussels, followed by another to Calais via Lille. When I arrived at the station, the clerk informed me that, while reliable, that wasn’t the quickest way to get to Calais, and I decided to take the bet and go on the less reliable, yet faster route. I was soon on the 10 o’clock to Kortrijk and the 11:20 to Lille, though some delays on both tracks meant that I arrived in Lille just past 12. Unfamiliar with French rail services, when I arrived at Lille-Flandres I went to the desk and inquired about tickets to Calais.

Rather than guide me, as they should have, to Lille-Europe station, which was a mere 400m jaunt away, they booked me a train to Calais that left in an hour and a half. With a travel time of one hour and twenty minutes, it would have been vastly more helpful had I been out on a train at the neighbouring station. But, one way or another, I arrived at Calais. Along the train from Lille, it came to my attention that not having access to a data connection was possibly getting in the way of my speedy arrival in London. Text messaging, however, allowed me to get in touch with friends in the UK, who passed along relevant bits of information. I realised that in order to not be on a knife edge with my timing, I had to make the next ferry.

I did not make the next ferry. Rather, I made the following one, which sailed at quarter to four, and arrived in Dover with time to spare to make a train and arrive just in the nick of time to not be out of breath. Spending some time in the terminal at Calais allowed me to take a deep breath and collect my thoughts, as the strain of such tight timing was beginning to take its toll. When I made it onto the ferry, I had come to the conclusion that there was likely going to be no other time in which I could change into the black tie dress code of the dinner, so I had better do it sooner rather than later — additionally, as it had been at the bottom of my pack for a week, putting it on sooner would provide some time for the creases to soften.

I emerged from the changing feeling wholly more human and decided that, as the ferry was still loading, it was quite the right thing to do to have a drink. As Mr Fildes remarked to me later, a single whisky is a euphemism for a dirty glass. Unknowingly taking that perspective to heart, I ordered a double whisky and went to drink it on the deck. It was only when I sat down on the deck, bags in tow, that I realised the sight I must have seemed — looking entirely James Bond, I was on the outside deck with black bow tie loose around my collar, drink in hand, as the wind blew along the coast. What looks I was getting for it! Unable to change anything about the situation — and not particularly wanting to — I finished my drink and returned inside. It was then that I heard the reason for why we hadn’t left: the French were on strike. Dismayed, yet unsurprised, I learnt that this meant a further delay of 20 minutes, which I thought would allow me to just make the necessary train to London.

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