Made it … With Luck and Help.
Well, I made it. Comfortably, as it turned out, but with plenty of stress and some remarkable support.
I left my little Parisian hotel at 5:15 yesterday morning, nipped around the corner to Gare du Nord, and found myself about 12th in line at the Eurostar ticket office, which was due to open at 6:00 a.m. Early birds getting what few worms might be available, etc., etc.
That was a concern, of course, because in addition to the passengers already booked on yesterday’s trains, there were still many hundreds of us refugees from the day before.
The office doors came open at 6:09 and within minutes I was standing before a woman who had been dealing with panicky and/or irate passengers for most of the previous day (their offices had finally closed at 9:00 p.m.) and was at it again early the next day. A few taps on the keyboard later, she said I could get a seat on the train leaving at 10:10 but, she said, it would very likely be “one of these” … and she held up a large photo of a small jump seat adjacent to the boarding doors. I accepted the prospect happily and bolted out the door, heading back to my little, grungy hotel room (“Only 190 euros for you, monsieur”), got my stuff together and headed back to the station.
Short version: I made my train; the car attendant found me a real seat in the adjacent car, the 10:10 Eurostar made it to St. Pancras station without incident, and I made my British Air flight to Boston also without incident and on time.
I cannot fail to note that I had, as usual, booked all my rail through Railbookers, essentially a travel booking agency specializing in rail travel. They have offices in London, Los Angeles and Sydney. When I returned to Paris from my first aborted Eurostar train, I opened my email (thinking to alert and reassure my wife about my situation). But there was a message from a Railbookers rep saying they had been monitoring my trip, were aware of the problems at the Chunnel and knew I had been affected. I was urged to call if I needed help.
Over the next 18 hours, I exchanged over a dozen emails with three different Railbookers representatives, most with my regular contact, Matthew Foy of their London Office. He tried, without success, to find a flight to Heathrow for me. He also urged me to go back to Gare du Nord and stand in line and, failing that, to be first in line the next morning. There were also several emails simply urging me to hang in there and offering more advice and encouragement. The last email I received from Matthew on Tuesday was sent at 9:32 p.m.
Frankly, I think that was extraordinary service and my thanks and aloha to Matthew, to Alexandra Paia and to Brendan Martin (taking over from the Sydney office, when Matthew was sleeping) for looking after me so professionally and with such genuine concern.
Railbookers? You da bes’!!
Today I’m back on Amtrak, headed for Chicago, where I will resume my travels en route to Seattle. It’s good to be home!