Down and Out in St. Pancras International, London Eurostar Station

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“Taxi!”

My mother and I pull our suitcases in after us, relieved.

“That was lucky.” I say, shaking off the London rain. “Some time more and we might have missed our train!”

She smiles. “We’ll be early.”

But when we arrive at the train station, registration is closed. It turns out that while we were merrily sipping our tea and spreading clotted cream on crumpets, the Eurostar was carrying its load of passengers, minus two, back to Paris. Next train: 5:25 a.m—in eight hours! To be fair, departure and arrival times are easy to confuse…

The tired hotel-finder-man at the counter shrugs: no rooms left near the station. Uh-oh. Quick, think of something.  Back to Imperial College, where we had just stayed? Or to some shop with Wi-Fi to book a hotel ourselves?

“Or,” I venture. “We could just sleep here.”

Mom looks at me with horror: “Sleeping in train stations is for young people. I’ve already done my time.”

St. Pancras shops are closing up. We roll our bags across the street to a McDonald’s. Two screens are on, neither linked to the blaring music. A family of Spanish tourists, teenagers out for a late night snack and geeky-looking guys enjoying the free Wi-Fi still crowd the fast food joint.

We only have enough battery to warn the family that we won’t be coming home that night. As Mom battles technology, I look around to figure out if a McDonald’s restaurant would make a satisfying place to set up camp. Pros: Comfortable chairs, open until 4 a.m. Cons: Noise, noise, noise, light, people eating fast food next to you, midnight weirdos. I veto.

Now free of any time constraints, we mosey on back to the station. Our mission: find the perfect bench. Upstairs near the trains, an oyster bar and a champagne bar are still open. The oyster place is poorly guarded and long purple couches invite us to rest out in front of it. We commandeer one and I take the first watch.

Mom kicks off her shoes, puts on her headphones and goes to sleep. A security guard edges closer, eyeing us with suspicion. I read my magazine, pretending there is no slightly snoring woman sleeping under a pile of sweaters next to me. He doesn’t buy it and kicks us out. Not the drunks at the champagne bar, not the guy eating out of a can on the next couch over. Just us.

We try Starbucks but they are “closing this area”, circling the chairs as if against attack. And so, like Moses, we wander aimlessly in the desert of St. Pancras, the only difference being that we have to kill time just until five.

The night stretches on, growing colder, emptier; morale drops lower and lower until we finally see the light. Literally. For us, relief comes in the form of a Costa coffee shop. A youth with a ponytail is mopping the floor. He steps aside to let us in.

“We’re open all night,” he responds to my quizzical look. Toward the back of the shop, four overstuffed armchairs hide in an alcove along the brick wall. We hunker down, feet on suitcases, hoods pulled over eyes and earplugs in for optimum sitting-in-a-coffee-shop sleep, taking turns on guard. No noise, no bother. Other refugees join us in our brick haven. A woman edits a pile of pages. A man dumps his head into his crossed arms and falls asleep. Two adventurers set up hammocks just outside the shop, under the stairs. A pregnant women carrying a cat cage totters drunkenly across the clean floor in stiletto heels.

From time to time, we buy hot drinks and glance at our watches. Nick Hornby and Stieg Larsson save us from ourselves. Senseless to time, we emerge and head toward the ticket counter. It’s past 4:30 a.m., and we’re not even first in line. The ticket man scolds us but offers free rides back: “But only for this time…”

After that, the wait is trivial and we race home. Back in Paris, as we lug our bags down the broken escalator and into a graffiti-covered RER B with blackened window, my guilty mother looks hopefully at me: “Aren’t you glad we didn’t spend the night in Gare du Nord?”

 

Eve Zuckerman is the editor-in-chief of L’Inébranlable and a contributor to http://newshigh.com/, the American national high school news website.

Classic Walks of Paris offer you some fantastic walking tours all over the city. The Classic Walk offers a complete overview of the city while the Da Vinci Code Walk follows Dan Brown’s novel throughout Paris. The French Revolution Walk follows the gripping tales from the overthrow of the monarchy to the guillotine. The World War II Walk covers the darkest hours in Paris history. The Montmartre Walk and Latin Quarter Walk explore their specific areas of Paris.

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