Sunday, 24 November 2013

Crossing the English Channel / French Girolles




P&O Ferry



I've taken the Eurostar quite a few times but tickets were really costly this time of year, so I decided to try to take the bus instead on my most recent trip to Paris. I got a National Express ticket, but the actual bus I took to and from France was devoid of any of the usual National Express livery. Instead we were in a strangely bright coloured bus with a drawing of a coconut tree on it. It was otherwise very fine and clean and lovely on the inside, except that on my outward journey there seemed to be someone onboard who was transporting a lot of potatoes or yams along with them, so it seemed a bit... um... earthy?

Eurotunnel Route - View Larger Map

The journey from London to Paris is very straightforward without any passport checks - only spot checks. We went via the Eurotunnel and there was no need to disembark from the bus at all. But the journey from Paris to London is more complicated as entering the UK requires one to go through a number of checkpoints. There is a checkpoint in France where you get off the bus and go through two posts (French Border Exit and UK Border Entry) with only your passport in hand. Following that, when you get to the Calais-Dover ferry crossing, you will be required to disembark from your vehicle for the full 1.5 hours of the ferry ride. Finally, our bus was picked out for an additional passport check at Dover; we were all asked to disembark with all luggage (handcarry and stowed luggage). They did a cursory check of people's nationalities and waved almost all of us along without much checking, but they took aside two people for questioning. To be honest it seemed like it had been some sort of pre-planned "sting" operation targeting some individuals which the authorities in Kent must already have known would be on this bus (it is after all the cheapest route and also involves a seemingly less stringently monitored border crossing compared to the planes or intercity trains). Consequently this entire episode caused an immense delay to our journey as our bus was delayed to the point that we met with London's peak hour london traffic all the way back to Victoria... Grr!

The lady bus driver on both my journeys was quite a character: she was quite old but still wore her hair in two blonde pigtails and wore ridiculously bright red blush on her cheeks despite being desperately pale. She also used the talking sat-nav for the ENTIRE EIGHT HOUR BUS JOURNEY FROM LONDON-PARIS, and on the way back from Paris to London. All whilst listening to ABBA. 8 HOURS OF A VERY-POLITELY-LOW-VOLUME PLAYBACK OF SEE THAT GIRL! WATCH THAT SCENE! DIGGING THE DANCING QUEEEEEEEEN! It was so soft and timid, you could not complain. She was a sweetheart. But some of the passengers were quite rude to her because of the delays which were out of her control.

In conclusion: I cannot in good faith recommend the eurolines bus as a means to getting from London to Paris the next time around. It is simply fraught with too many unpredictable factors and the land journey is really very very long and tiring, and on top of that prone to more delays. However, if you are on a severe budget and willing to lower your expectations, then it will be the lowest budget method of getting to and from Paris from London. Eurostar is usually in the £70 range and upwards, and a flight to Charles de Gaulle might be around £60+. A Friday Night bus on Eurolines/National Express booked only one week in advance will cost just £35. Apparently if you book well in advance it might be as low as £9... but who manages to do that?

Girolles / Chanterelles

Whilst visiting Paris, I brought back home a small bag of Golden Chanterelles, aka Girolles (if you're in France) or Pfifferlinge (if you're in Germany). They seem to be much more common on the continent and I don't see them around very often in shops in London unless I've gone to the wild mushroom corner of some farmer's market. They are quite delightful (although not cheap) and I find that these chanterelles have a lot more texture to them and a more 'meaty' taste - perhaps in some ways a little bit similar to an oyster mushroom, but very yellow and much more dense and intense in flavour.

20131120_102312_Amhurst Park

One morning I made a simple dish of girolle accompanied by couscous with raisins. FOR BREAKFAST! Because breakfast can be epic too. The chanterelles were cooked in a pan with some butter, onion and spinach, a splash of rice dream and a few shavings of parmigiano. This was really fast to prepare. It was kind of madeup but I think I like making up recipes as I go along. Couscous was also really simpler to prepare than I recalled; it is similar to the technique of preparing bulgur wheat, you just boil the same amount of water per ml for each gram of couscous, season the water with salt or a stock cube, and then throw the couscous in the boiling water. Take off the heat and cover with a cloth or a plate for 5 minutes. After which the couscous is done and you can fluff it with a fork. I've often seen couscous paired with sultanas or currents so I threw some on top...

20131120_110424_W Bank

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