Friday, May 25, 2007

A Train Going Into a Tunnel: the Black Queen Story Part 3

For the previous part of this story, see "A Long Distance Relationship: the Black Queen Story Part 2," 14 April, 2007.

Upon my return to America, from Christmas with D---a, in 1997, I was committed to marrying her. I started thinking about where I might propose. I wanted to do something different than I did when I proposed to my first fiancee, Kelly Lucas. If D---a found out, one day, that I had recycled my proposal from a previous girlfriend, I was sure she'd hit the roof. I wracked my brain, trying to come up with an idea. My inspiration came from watching the film, "Mission Impossible." The climax of the film takes place on a TGV train, between London and Paris. As far as I know, the TGV didn't run between London and Paris, but the Eurostar does! The proverbial light bulb went off in my head. I decided to propose to D---a on the Eurostar, while it travelled under the English Channel. To me, this signified our living in two different countries, so I would propose in this "international" space.
Next, I turned toward buying a ring. I wanted to get a bigger diamond than I had bought for my first fiancee. Visiting a well known jeweller in America, I picked out a stone and a setting. Once I had the ring, I set about organizing things. I suggested to D---a that we go on a trip, via Eurostar. The Eurostar only went to Brussels and Paris. Both of us had visited Paris before, so we agreed that Brussels would be the destination of choice. D---a is good at organizing things, so once I got the ball rolling, she grabbed the bit between her teeth and brought my idea to fruition (the bit between her teeth metaphor was not meant to imply that she looked like a horse...she was a beauty!). She visited her local travel agent and called me with a proposed itinerary. I let her pick the hotel, but I insisted that we should opt for "First Class" on the Eurostar. She tried to dissuade me, but I was paying for it, so I got my way.
When I flew over to London in advance of our Eurostar trip, my future father-in-law, D---a's step-father, picked me up at the airport. I was so excited about my impending proposal that I showed him the ring and took him into my confidence. For once, he did the right thing and kept my secret. On the next Friday, D---a and I took the local train from her village to London's Waterloo Station, the departure point for Eurostar. For anyone who doesn't know, Eurostar is a high-speed train, which runs between London and Continental Europe, through the Channel Tunnel. There are two classes of service, "standard" and "first." We had a Friday evening train and when we boarded, we found that our first class seats were in a virtually empty train carriage. The only other occupant was a ginger haired man, travelling on his own. The majority of Eurostar travellers go standard class. Ironically, even though there was only one other person in our carriage, he was seated in the row right in front of us. Why couldn't he be seated at the opposite end of the carriage? Despite my desire to be engaged to D---a, the nervousness set in. Even though I was an experienced proposer, I found myself hesitating, just as I had 12 years earlier, during my first proposal. I wanted to time it to occur while we were actually under the English Channel. We were moved to a seat at the end of the carriage, for our meal service. That would have been a good time to propose, away from our fellow traveler's ears, but the tables for our food were in the way and I wanted to do the whole one knee bit. After dinner, we moved back to our original seats. I kept fingering the box with the ring, in my pocket. If I didn't get on with it, we'd be out of the Channel Tunnel and the moment would be lost. I made a clumsy move to one knee, in the space between our seats and the ones in front of us. Dragging the ring box from my pocket, I asked D---a to marry me. Thankfully, she said, "yes."
The man in front of us heard everything. After I re-seated myself, he stood up abruptly and rushed off toward the other end of the train carriage. He disappeared through the door at the end and I presumed he had an urgent need to visit the toilet. I shared my theory with D---a and we both laughed out loud. After a short time, the man returned and sat down again. About five minutes later, the hostess came into the carriage and approached us. She had a bottle of champagne and informed us that the man in front of us had arranged the champagne for us. He spoke up and said he couldn't help but overhear, then offered his congratulations. We thanked him and were both over the moon about getting free champagne. We both liked our bargains. I asked the hostess to give a glass to the man. At first he graciously declined, but I insisted and he accepted. He said he planned on telling his wife about our getting engaged on the train and that she would love the story. A little while later, the hostess returned with another, unopened bottle of champagne. She presented it to us and said it was with the compliments of the train crew. Wow! Free stuff! Getting engaged has its benefits after all. We saved the second bottle to take home with us.
After our train arrived at Brussels' Midi Station, we had to take a local train to Brussels' Central station, to get to our hotel. We missed our stop at Central station, then got off at the following stop. D---a and I ran from the platform and down the stairs, then back up to another platform, to catch a train going back the other way. We were both giddy and giggling. Oh to be young and in love, in Brussels. At Central Station, we went outside and approached a taxi rank. When we gave the driver of the lead cab the address of our hotel, he said we could walk there. We were tired and it was late, in a strange city. Also, we didn't know the way, so we asked him to take us anyway. He was right. The hotel was embarrassingly close, so I gave him a generous tip. Our hotel was moderately priced, with a small, cosy, yet modern room. The location was great. Right in the old, central city of Brussels. We had a nice, quiet, relaxing weekend there. The alleys of the old city come alive at night, with dozens of restaurants putting out sidewalk tables. They even had outdoor, gas heaters, to render the temperature comfortable, even though it was the dead of winter.
On Sunday, we checked out of our hotel and caught the train back to Britain. We tried telling the train crew that we'd just gotten engaged, hoping to get another free bottle of champagne to take home. The hostess brought us free glasses of champagne, but didn't give us a bottle. The Friday night crew was definitely more generous. It didn't matter, we were engaged to be married. It was my third engagement and D---a's second, but this time, I was going through with it.

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