The fake clocks indicating 1868-2007 "Meet me at St. Pancras" are everywhere in the revamped station in London. The only working clock I saw was on the second level, in the center of a hand-painted mural.
An interior view of St. Pancras Station, London.
Steel arched beams support the glass roof, while Victorian red brick arches form entryways for what eventually should be shops and restaurants.
As Queen Victoria famously said, "We are not amused." I would agree with her when it comes to Eurostar's new service into St. Pancras International in London. What were they thinking??!! The much-touted improvement of 2 hour, 15-minute service from Paris to London failed to materialise. My train this week was 35 minutes late, with no explanation provided when it stopped for several minutes on the track, other than "we're sorry."
After standing in the taxi queue in the rain at St. Pancras, I got in the taxi only to get nowhere fast. For 45 minutes, we inched along North London streets; at one point, the taxi didn't budge through four traffic lights. This area is notorious for traffic jams around Euston Road.The meter read £18 (that's about $40) and we'd barely gone anywhere. At that rate, I figured the ride to my hotel in South Kensington would end up costing as much as a taxi from Heathrow! At Leicester Square, I got out and hopped on the tube. Two tube trains later and nearly two hours after arriving in London, I finally got to my hotel.
The former Eurostar terminal was located at Waterloo International, near the banks of the Thames, the London Eye and the Tate Modern. It was very convenient by taxi or tube to Central London, the destination of probably 95 percent of Eurostar passengers. The new station is in an industrial area riddled with crime, where it's not considered safe to walk.
So the only solution when returning to Eurostar was to take the tube, never mind how heavy my luggage (which had been filled with staples I can't find in Paris. I had to forget about buying gifts, as no way to carry them). I took the Victoria line to King's Cross/St. Pancras, again, going up and down stairs carrying heavy luggage. Upon arriving at King's Cross, it is a long hike to St. Pancras. Once there, I discovered there's not a seat anywhere in the mostly empty space. A French-inspired bistro, a Marks & Spencer food hall and a couple of small take-away food shops are the only places open. All the talk about St. Pancras becoming a major shopping destination is at the moment, just talk. Because there are empty shells where stores should be.
As I'd allowed extra time to get to St. Pancras, considering the heavy bags I was carrying, I was early. So I wandered around the station taking photos, only to be told photos aren't allowed! As we weren't able to enter the Eurostar terminal until 4:30, I sat for an hour on top of a big metal industrial desk fronting a construction site. Three other people joined me. The place was crawling with transit police and several times, they walked past me. I was waiting for them to tell me to move; thankfully, they didn't.
Upon entering the Eurostar terminal, all the shops that formerly fronted the Waterloo terminal are missing. Gone is the stand for tourists to buy Paris metro tickets and museum passes. Gone are the restaurants, souvenir shops and newstands and bookshops. Instead, there's one very small snack bar and a newstand. Apparently, that will be the extent of the amenities, since there appears to be no room inside the terminal for anything else.
It was not a wise move, inconveniencing passengers by sending them to North London. Apparently, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, both being Scottish, had something to do with it. Their constituents wanted a direct rail link to Europe. So while it may be convenient for the Scots, it's a pain in the neck for the rest of us.
Until this trip, I enjoyed taking Eurostar to London. Sadly, it is now an annoying inconvenience, from the moment one arrives in London. As for the return trip to Paris, it was on time and I was the third person off the train - only to find about 300 people already in the taxi queue. They had arrived on the train that left London 25 minutes before ours.
Ever since Paris Mayor Bernard Delanoe re-routed taxis where they can't wait directly outside the terminal at Gare du Nord, finding a ride is a hit-and-miss proposition. For the last two years, more often than not, arriving passengers lament that there are few or no taxis available. This is fine if you live in Paris and can jump on the metro (as long as you aren't carrying heavy luggage; again, you face carrying luggage up and down steep stairs). But for tourists - especially elderly ones - who've never been to Paris, it's a dilemma. Many of them are carrying heavy luggage and have no clue about how to get to their hotel or destination. They need a taxi, not the metro. The confusion of hundreds of people waiting for a handful of taxis is not a welcome image for Paris. Surely Delanoe - and Sarkozy - should remedy this situation.
Other than the annoying travel woes, my trip was fine, although I didn't have time to socialise. I took care of business and other obligations and shot lots of photos around London. Watch for these posts over the next few days. I caught some sort of bug/cold in London, so am not feeling up to par. Hope to catch up with you and your blogs over the next couple of days.
After the irritating experiences upon arrival in London, I got off the train at Gloucester Road. This art installation made me smile.
A giant panda bear head has thin ladders crisscrossing its face.
This little trailer, a pile of mattresses and stack of bricks are part of the art installation by Brian Griffiths.