Because my passport had no a visa stamp (it was issued in November 2009, and my last overseas trip was to Paris in August 2009 with previous passport), The UK border control refused me to return to UK. A female officer told me that she would need to check with her boss in Brussels. I silently sighed because Brussels indicates loads of bureaucracy. I was right. Mike would have to bring my previous passport back the next day. There is one direct train from Ashford to Lille in the morning and one direct train back to Ashford in early evening, which we just missed whilst waiting for the reply from Brussels. Mike asked if I could travel with him to Ashford or London tonight and would wait there for him to bring my old passport. They said there were no passport controls in either station. We were facing the wall, a bureaucratic wall.
Because I had not used the passport since I renewed two and a half years ago, I had completely forgotten about the visa. There is no point to lament something that can’t be reversed. The real problem was I didn't have credit cards, debit cards or mobile with me. It was meant to be just a day trip, and Mike and I would stay together whole day. If I have carried cards and valuables, it would double the risk of being robbed. That was logic. It backfired for me now. I felt very vulnerable.
We didn’t have much time either. We had to buy another return ticket for Mike, find a hotel room for me, and pay for it with Mike's credit card, before the last train for London left. We had only two hours.
|Station. Just before I was stopped at UK border control|
We felt miserable. Tourist information was already closed. We had to find a room in the early evening. We walked back to the centre and asked several hotel. One after another, every hotel told us they were full. A receptionist told me that all hotels in the city centre were full today. From my past experience, I knew something was up, and I would probably have to go out of the city, but where? I told Mike that I would be able to find a hotel to stay by myself, and that he would need to buy tickets and get on the train. He had a lots of tasks to do before the end of the day; he will travel to London where he will have to buy a ticket to Canterbury, and take High speed train to Canterbury, then to book our dog walker for the next day, to look after our parrots, finch, chicken and dogs. We must return to the station. What if the train is already booked! Then I would have to stay two nights here alone! He was able to book the tickets. It was three times more than what I paid for the same tickets in advance (Dear travellers, notice this! Buy tickets in advance. )
|In late afternoon, we finally saw sunshine.|
I had shown my brave side, and I had kept telling him that I would be OK. But when I saw his back going away at the border controls, where I couldn't pass earlier, I suddenly felt very miserable and my eyes welled. Then he turned back and saw my tears. It was terrible moment. I had a sinking feeling. He caught the Eurostar, the second last train to London. As soon as he disappeared from my view. I hurried to an information board I had seen earlier. There were lots of hotels in the centre, but I knew I would have to find somewhere out of the centre. Luckily I had a good sense of direction, but it was restricted to City centre. I only have 120 Euro to survive until next morning. That's the most that could be taken from Mike's cash account.
While I walked back to the City centre, I was thinking if I couldn’t find a hotel room, I should go to a police station, a hospital, or night club. Then I refuted night clubs as soon as I passed a pub with 8 black leather-cladded middle aged men drinking alcohols. ‘No, not for me.’ I walked passed all hotels I knew they were full. Then I found Hotel Ibis. I saw this hotel chain in Paris before. I went in, and asked about a room although I knew the answer. A young female receptionist said that it was full due to a conference. Then I explained her about what happened to me, and I desperately need a room tonight. She said there were other Hotel Ibis outside City. I told her I would travel. She rang three Hotel Ibis, but they were full. Then she asked me if I would mind a cheaper hotel. I replied, 'Anywhere!'. She found a room for me. I would need to take Metro and buss. She said unless I would check in by 10:30, the booking would be cancelled. 'I would go immediately, I said. It was already eight o'clock. I left her a tip, (she refused, but I insisted.) and became a bit tearful because of the relief. She said 'Please don't cry, you will have a safe place tonight. '
|Metro station in Lille|
After thanking her, I headed for the nearest Metro station. There are two lines in Lille, and I found that I have to go back to local station to get on my line. When I reached the metro station at the railway, there were six soldiers with rifles in hand patrolling. Their presence scared me a bit, and I wanted to be in a safe place as soon as possible. The metro station I was instructed to get off was the fourth station. It was a very strange place. From outside, Metro station looks like a small dome. There was only staircases on the ground floor. Station itself was on a little island in front of a roundabout. Very sparse traffic went on both sides of the island. One side of the road was a roundabout, as I said, and at the other direction, the road is straight on the slope. Both sides of road were surrounded by lots of trees, all young lime green leaves. There was nothing, no shops, no houses, nothing on the road, as far as I could see.
|Photo : Jiel Beaumadier|
The pyramid like red and white building is the metro station.
There are several white high-rise flats near the station. One closest to the station has lots of plain windows, but there was nobody I could see. Spooky. There were so many flats, but no people were seen. It was very quiet, too. The flats and the station were only visible sign of people’s existence in the middle of nowhere. It must be a newish development, I thought. There was a tall red and white steel tower for TV or something in the middle of the roundabout. At the foot of the tower, I could see a car dealer which was, of course, already closed.
I soon found the bus stop, No. 10. There were about a dozen of teenagers in a gang. They all looked troublesome. They had sportswear and Mohican hairstyle. The youngest was about 10 and the oldest was about 17, perhaps. Most of them stared at me, and I could hear them whispering 'Chinoise...?' I was scared. What if my bag was taken? I would have no cash to pay the hotel or even to buy a ticket to Lille station tomorrow to meet Mike. Only defence I had was not to show my fear. I was probably successful. First, they a kind of surrounded me, but left me alone afterwards. But in fact, I felt hopeless. I was praying somebody would appear. Once a while, there were a couple of people appear from the station. But most of them were picked up by cars, or they drove away themselves. Nobody else was at the station, except for the gang and me. The gang didn't do anything in particular. They just hang around. They didn’t even talk to each other. Two of them were resting their feet on both front windows of an old car with different shades of blue paint on the parts. I looked at the time table. There would be still 30 minutes before the next bus. It seemed to me that I was waiting for the last bus service, or the second last. I didn’t know if it was in a term time in Lille. I felt more and more uncomfortable I held my bag securely and searched for any humans in the windows which were looking down on us, but there was nobody. Surrealistic! It is just like Rene Magritte’s paintings.
After 20 minutes, a young lady came and stood at another bus stop at the opposite side of the island. I felt a relief finally. I was holding a pair of strawberry mouse in my hand. When I saw Mike off, I took this sweet, just in case I would have to use all cash for a hotel room. Because it became warmer than daytime, and it had been already about 4 hours since we bought it, mouse started melting and leaking from the plastic container. It was a mess. I thought a bus driver would not be happy with me taking it inside. I decided to eat it. There was no spoon or folk, or no water to wash hands. I slightly hesitated, but there was no choice but using the fingers. There were four strawberry halves. They were easy. But how would I eat half melting mouse with fingers. It was difficult. I noticed that the gang was watching me eating. I kind of registered their surprise and perhaps disgust in their faces! This probably put them off. LOL
|Strawberry mouse, especially melting one, is difficult to eat with fingers!|
The bus finally came. A man appeared just before the bus arrived, and we were only customers. I had already checked the route several times, and my stop was fifth. The bus drove in the middle of nowhere, just like behind the station. I could only see trees, but no building or houses. Then gendarme station appeared from trees. The road curved and we came to a wide road with two lines each direction. But there were nobody seen from the bus window. I got off the stop as instructed. Next instruction was to ask passer-by where the hotel is. There was no one to ask! Address is 9, so it must be near the end. I looked further; it seemed there was a roundabout. I hurried towards it. I felt very insecure. There was very light traffic. It was a deserted place.
I could see empty industrial buildings, whose windows had cards ‘to let’ in French. Then I suddenly saw young man appeared from nowhere. I ran to him and asked if he knows the hotel. He thought a bit, and suddenly ‘ Ah! It’s there!’ He pointed at the opposite side of the road. I looked carefully, behind the trees I could see something, I thanked him, and started running towards it. I was desperate to go somewhere safe before dark. There was no car coming, so I just crossed the four lanes without any worries, and ran to the parking of the hotel. There I finally felt safe for the first time since 4 o'clock. It was already near 9 o'clock.
The young handsome receptionist was kind and efficient. I asked him to send an email to Mike, to assure him I had checked in a hotel safely.
I took shower and went to a bed, but couldn’t sleep. I switch on TV, and found a gardening program, of course, in French. I just needed some normality. I even did exercise in the bed. When I tried to sleep, I noticed my pillow was damp. Tears ran down. I didn’t know it was from relief or stress. I thought about Mike. He had the short straw. He had never blamed me, even a word. I thought I would try to be as nice as he was to me when anything happened to us in future.