24 hours of constant travel – car rides, 2 long-haul flights, and a 3hr train ride all back-to-back – is exhausting, and yet there is something exhilarating at the same time. The challenge to your physical stamina in carrying your bags over and around obstacles, of heaving them into overhead lockers and hauling them up flights of stairs, the endurance to remain alert to your surrounds, to the other passengers that are travelling with you, translating the mess that can be transit lounge information board, and of course that ever present thought; ‘where’s the closest toilet’, and of course the sheer joy of going somewhere, whether it’s a new and unexplored territory, or retracing familiar steps. Travel, in general, is not for the faint of heart, it is a gruelling adventure designed to test you to your very limits, to push and try you to breaking point, and only the strong will survive AND enjoy the experience.
I’m relieved I can’t say that our journey to Paris was one that tried and tested us, of all the overseas trips I’ve taken – and over 20 years there’s been just a few – that this had to be one of the most straight forward and relatively enjoyable, given I LOATH flying to the degree that if it were a national sport, I would lead the charge! No, I’m not joking, I’m not even laughing, okay, maybe a hint of smirking. Flying for me has never been an enjoyable experience, I hate it with a passion that few know in life. For me air travel is a means to an end, not something to be cherished. I have my reasons, and maybe in some other post I’ll explain the childhood trauma that has left me despising what so many others relish. Boats and trains however, they’re my joy, my thrill, and I will get to that eventually in this trip too.
For the last 36 hours we’ve been on-the-go. A one and a half hour car trip to the airport, then a 23 hour ‘direct’ flight, and by that they mean 14+ hours from Melbourne to Dubai, wandering around there for an hour before the final 8 hour flight to London. With all that flying time you can imagine how overjoyed I am, add to that when our feet had no sooner touched terra-firma, then we’re onto the Underground and boarding a train to Paris. We’re exhausted, craving a cup of tea, and very tempted to sit in a corner huddled together and giggle like school girls. Not because we’re verging on a mental breakdown, but because we’ve managed to pull it off! Six months worth of planning, of plotting routes, of working out timetables and schedules has come together in an almost seamless way. Our flights, with Qantas, were some of the best we’ve ever had, the food was more than acceptable – fresh and tasty, with a wide enough choice and those with special needs catered too without hassle – a movie selection that was much better than I’d expected – I’d loaded up my iPad with a selection of tv episodes and movies to while-away the time, I never even turned it on! Dubai airport was a new experience for me, and having heard some stories about having to catch a bus from the transit lounge to the aircraft for boarding I was expecting the worst. Instead I was pleasantly surprised. We alighted our first plane after 14 hours of captivity in a confined space and made the most of the stroll down the long glass and steel hallways to the main concourse, where the transit/transfer information is displayed on two screens that were nearly as big as myself.
There’s only one problem with them. They change over so quickly that it’s almost impossible to read your flight information in one go. Instead you find yourself standing there for 10 minutes grumbling to yourself as the display clacks and rumbles the various flights around and around, leaving you thoroughly confused and more than a little cross-eyed.
Eventually though we managed to deduce which lounge we were headed for and made our way there, without further delay that is, as there was an announcement that our flight would be boarding shortly. Apparently shortly is now approximately one hour plus in duration. Whilst sitting there though we did have the opportunity to witness one of the best things in the world, the complete acceptance by children of others. Without a thought towards their differences we saw two children of opposite cultural/social backgrounds negotiate playing a game of cards and discuss animatedly meeting up when they were back home, to continue their play. It really was touching and reminded me that in many ways we are all born equal, it’s only as we grow up that we’re shown our differences and taught to find fault with others, and then having found that fault, punish the other for it. If I have any regrets from this recent experience, it’s that I didn’t go and commend their parents on raising such wonderful members of the human-race. I only hope they can keep these attitudes as they grow.
The flight from Dubai to London was delightfully uneventful, and I wish I could tell you of the great movies I watched, the sumptuous food that was served, the engrossing conversation I shared with fellow travellers. But I can’t, I wasn’t awake for most of it, of if I was, I was certainly in no way capable of thought/speech. Arriving into London in the early hours of the morning is always special to me, seeing the golden glow in the darkness from the streetlights of my favourite city in the world is always a heartwarming sight. Gliding over the Thames as it slithers in the glowing twilight like a giant snake making its way across the countryside, the first time I read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness I understood that reference, and given it’s actually a river, it’s probably the only ‘snake’ on earth that I don’t have an abject horror of. There’s something magical about watching the way the river creeps along out of and back into the darkness of outer London, the glistening waters as they catch the light from houses and cars, streetlights outlining its perfect form. It’ll be several weeks before I see the Thames again, but I’m looking forward to it, there’s a lot to admire about a waterway that’s seen so much history and survived all of man’s abuses, that’s borne witness to the evolution of our society and carried on just the same.
The train ride, on the Eurostar, was no different from the last time I travelled on it, with one or two exceptions. My first time on this train I was with my partner and I at least slept through most of it. I have a clear memory of seeing some of the Kentish countryside, full of rolling green fields and leafy trees, then equally clearly looking out and noticing that suddenly the houses looked a little odd, the roofs had changed. We were in France. That explained a lot. This trip though I’m surround by French nationals, two families, each of three generations, and they’re amusing to watch. The Grandmothers are in charge on the way home, the two Mum’s passed out, clearly exhausted by their sons, they each have one, who are now entertaining their grandmothers with much fervour. Part of me would love to doze off this time, to make the most of the darkness that the ‘Chunnel’ offers, though I’m reluctant to do so, mostly out of concern that I won’t then sleep tonight. After 36 hours of sketchy sleep, odd meal times and intermittent access to the usual hygienic facilities, I’m forcing myself to remain awake in an attempt to ‘right’ my body-clock into local time. It’s anyone’s guess if it’ll work, but It think it’s worth giving a crack, after all, it’s only more sleep I have to lose if it doesn’t.
As it stands we’re due into Paris at 13:00, and hopefully able to walk to our apartment by 13:30. After that, well, the world isn’t our oyster as such, but I’m hoping we can manage to go for a good walk and explore our surrounds. Last time we were in Paris it was the weekend of the French Open, it was 40 degrees with a horrendously hot south breeze, we were struggling to fight off jet-lag and a flu we’d inadvertently acquired en route. Needless to say we didn’t see much of Paris that didn’t consist of our hotel ceiling when awake, and the inside of our eyelids when we were not. Mind you, last time we were staying in Montparnasse and experience one of the most entertaining cab rides I’ve ever had, speeding and jostling through the city streets, whizzing past the huge glass pyramid of the Louvre before becoming completely lost and deposited at our hotel. This time we’re staying much closer to central Paris, in rue du Faubourg Montmartre. In theory it should be a nice stroll to the main sites, a half-hour to the Seine and the Notre Dame for example.
5 hours later…
Well, we made it to the apartment, without any major mishaps too I might add. We managed to navigate the Gare du Nord – much easier than last time – and walk down to Rue La Fayette without getting lost, which was more by the grace of a photographic memory than anything else – there was a debate as to which way, memory won. Upon reaching the address my worst fears were confirmed, our domicile IS right above and behind one of Paris’ oldest chocolate shops, I can hear my partner swearing and cursing me now. Hopefully I’ll get some pictures tomorrow, but I suspect if I don’t manage to pick up some treats before leaving Paris that it may be wiser to simply not come home. Yes, I am serious. We let ourselves into the property and conquered the various keypad’s to gain entry to the stairwell we needed, and after 4 flights of stairs we found ourselves on the fifth floor overlooking a rather charming courtyard and some equally typical Parisian rooftops. A couple of hours feet-up, a shower and general re-humanisation later and we were ready to go in search of dinner. Or anything really that was edible and that in our half zombified stupor we could pronounce. Mission accomplished. A baguette, some Camembert from Normandy, a couple of avocado’s, and two amazing coffee eclairs later and we’re ready to call it a day, ‘a’ day given we worked out we’ve actually been on the go for close to 2 full days, no wonder our legs and minds have turned into wet-mushy spaghetti.
On that note, au revoir!