August 22, 2017 Paris France to London England: Too stupid to be scared of terrorists?

Today we began the last leg of our journey. Again we were traveling by train. We began by hurrying up so that we could wait. Sarah Jane our Monogram rep woke us up to get our luggage down early so it could be loaded onto the car for our drive to the train station. At the station we stood and waited with our luggage for the cart to take it to the train. Meanwhile an extraordinarily loud group of workers banged their tools against anything that would make a loud noise. As they did so, a cart came by with the word “STILL” emblazoned on it in hopeless irony. There was nothing still here except our thoughts that could not be heard. It all seemed pointless, unless the point was to annoy us and disturb us from our tranquil journey.

That was soon followed by something even more disturbing. As we went to line up for our train on the 2nd floor of train station the gate was closed. In fact, the entire floor was closed and we had to leave. We had not idea why or where we should go. Thankfully, Sarah Jane was still with us. Monogram believed in accompanying its babies right to the end and we were grateful for that. She led us to another place on the main floor. Sarah talked to an official who explained that there was a bomb scare and the entire 2nd floor had been evacuated. There was no one there other than the bomb squad. There had been a terrorist threat. Someone had left an unattended bag in the station. “It could be a bomb”, we were told.

The weird thing though was that we did not leave the train station. We were immediately underneath the 2nd floor. If there was a serious explosion would the building not collapse on us? I nervously looked at the entrance/exit to the station. There I noticed the Police Car I had not noticed before. How long would it take me to dash to the outside? How long would it take Chris? Neither of us were up for an impressive 100 yard dash. Adrenalin would like improve our chances but I doubted not enough to make a significant difference. Yet no one moved. We all stood there underneath the danger. Were we too stupid to be afraid of terrorists? This was Europe. There had been recent occasions where fear was justified.             No one moved outside. None wanted to leave their place in line. We heard no announcements. Was this folly on steroids? All I know is we survived.   After about an hour of standing there waiting for doom or progress, we were allowed to move on. The brave bomb squad had neutralized the threat. I hoped they were brave, and not as stupid as us.

Our trip to London on the train was interesting. To begin with I learned an important lesson in economics and politics. That is that things are better for the rich. This time we road 2nd class. This was not as comfortable as the 1st class trip from Amsterdam to Paris. It definitely pays to be 1st class.  We did not know why we had been relegated to 2nd class. Were we again being punished as we had been last night? What bad things had we done?

As a result of our diminution we sat in a seat facing another couple our knees knocking against each other. Well, at least my knees knocked against the woman from Ohio facing me. I had no leg room at all. Chris was more fortunate. Sometimes it pays to be short. This was one of those times.  The train ride was not entirely unpleasant. It was still much more luxurious than air travel. I tried my best not to grumble.

We crossed the English Channel as the English call it through the darkness of the Chunnel. That was interesting. When we hit English soil we saw the light.            This was the land of civilization. So I thought. On this trip 2 books had guided me. One was Sir Kenneth Clark’s magisterial Civilisation. The other was Eric Hobsbawm’s magnificent The Age of Capital. These books had added immeasurably to my journey, as good books always do.

We arrived in London where once again a Monogram babysitter met us to lead us to a car that took us to our hotel the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel right beside that famous hotel. Although its location was its best feature, the hotel was extremely luxurious. How much did we pay for this? We did not know. After being second-class citizens it was nice to be elevated to 1st class. We can always dream can’t we? It was a very luxurious suite. This was no typically small European hotel room. It had a separate room with a couch and huge television set. The bedroom had a smaller set. All of the décor was modern extreme. Usually I don’t like that, but today I did. We felt like luxury to boost our flattened egos.

The lighting system was much too complicated for us to figure out how to use, so we largely acquiesced with what we got when we switched it on. We figured out how to do that only after a tedious trial and error process. There was a convenient chair with side table for reading that I appreciated. We lounged and relaxed for an hour or two before we did anything that might tax our brains or bodies.

Eventually we went out to eat. To do that, we walked cross the famous Westminster Bridge right across the street from our hotel. That bridge had very recently been the site of a terrorist attack exactly 5 months earlier on March 22, 2017. The attacker was a 22-year-old Briton Khalid Masood who moved down the pedestrians who were idly walking on the bridge injuring more than 50 people and killing 4 of those. After he left the car that had crashed into near by New Palace Yard where he fatally attacked an unarmed police officer and shot an armed police officer and died at the scene.

This was treated as a case of Islamic terrorism. Trump would be proud of this refusal to be what he considered  politically correct. It seemed that Masood had sent a final text message that he was waging jihad in revenge for western actions in the Middle East. Some claimed he had been a member of ISIS, but the British police have found no link to any terrorist organization. It really appeared that he was a home-grown British terrorist. Every country now has these in this globalized world. Every country has too many of these. There were signs of anti-terrorism everywhere. The bridge now had massive iron and steel barriers to prevent any more automobile terrorism. More construction was on-going. We felt completely safe on the bridge. When we got off no so much.

The bridge was crawling with tourists. This would have been easy pickings for a terrorist. We were surprised “only” 50 had been injured. It was even more crowded than Paris.

We really did very little sight seeing today. Our made goal was dinner. Our Monogram guide, Augustine, had recommended a nearby restaurant that we enjoyed. She said it had been Churchill’s favorite restaurant. That was good enough for us, even though it looked modest. It was called the Red Lion. Later we learned many politicians frequently the place because it was very close to Parliament. Thankfully none were in attendance today. We had the place more or less to ourselves.

When we got back I got sick. I thought it was the result of a chocolate bar I had half-eaten. Chris refused to try an experiment to determine if that was the cause. She refused to eat what was left. So the mystery remains. I was hoping I would feel better before our lengthy flight home.


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