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Queensland, Australia
I'm an Australian author of Contemporary Romance, Romantic Action/Adventure, and Historical fiction. I live in Queensland, Australia. www.noelleclark.net

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Week in Paris - Day 7

I awake to my last day in Paris. How sad. As I lay in bed enjoying a lazy morning, a rare treat, I allow myself to think back over the last week. I have just loved it and being here for a week has allowed me to get to see not only all the famous monuments and typical tourist things, but I have also become very adept at using the Metro (much easier, cleaner and cooler than the London tube), at meeting and talking to locals, using the supermarkets they use. I feel like I have Parisian blood flowing through my veins.

Paris is a simply magical place. The French people are just great; the food, wine and coffee superb; my French has been most adequate; our Hotel just great, its location could not be better, rooms small but clean and staff most helpful - above and beyond really. I have been getting around on the Metro as if I am a local and hoofing it everywhere. I am sad to be leaving, but as I lay here, I at last get the chance to reflect on just how good my week in Paris really was.

I was able to fulfill another wish, which was to be out there walking early enough to observe Paris coming awake. The very early pre-dawn walk with Matt last Saturday was a special memory. Parisians are not early risers so it was a good chance to see the city yawning and stretching and awakening without the rush and bustle of the crowds. We saw the garbage men emptying bins and people hosing down footpaths. We were spoiled with the wonderful aromas emanating from the bakers and patisserie shops, early workers making nice things - bagels, buttery croissants, tarts, sweet cakes and the first round of long French bagels for early sale to the locals for their breakfast. We saw cats, we saw homeless people asleep on benches. We pounded the footpaths, delighting in the quirky white hands that someone had painted coming out of the sewer manholes. We really experienced Paris from a level that is not superficial, but allowed us to absorb the hum of the city, the day to day awakenings, lunch times, and the bight and lively evenings. Paris in all her moods.

Eventually I wander downstairs for breakfast in the little cavern in the basement of the Cabourg. As I enjoy my meal of croissants and bagels, butter and jam, OJ and yummy coffee, I muse that this continental brekky may not sound terribly healthy to overweight Aussies like me, but I saw few fat French people.

Before heading back up to pack, I stop at the desk for a brief chat with the friendly staff, jump on their internet briefly, and then say goodbye to Nina, the lovely old cat who befriends anyone who uses the internet. Very old but very friendly, he (or perhaps she), during the course of my stay here, got into the habit of sitting on the keyboard as I typed my emails to everyone at home. I used to speak to him in my basic French, but am convinced he understood Aussie too! Au revoir Nina.

I pack my bags, leave the Hotel du Cabourg, and head up the road to the Place de Clichy Metro station, catch the train to Pere Lachaise where I have to change lines to reach Galleni which is where the Bus Station is. Hmmmm, nowhere to stash my suitcase so am destined to idle away three hours here before my bus leaves at 2pm. As all travellers know, it is important to be patient and to get used to waiting. I have books, my iPod, I can buy a sandwich and a coffee. But when it comes time to go to the bathroom, it is VERY awkward with the suitcase. For a start, you need coins to use the toilet. I don’t have any. I eventually ask a leaving user to let me in the cubicle before the door locks again. Then I have the awful realisation that my suitcase just won’t fit in the toilet. I do what all travellers are urged not to do. I leave my suitcase outside the cubicle for a minute or two. What else can I do?

Eventually the National Bus is loaded with luggage and passengers, all set for the journey back to London via the train under the channel. It is another glorious warm, sunny summer day in France and so I get to really see and enjoy the French countryside as we leave the suburbs behind and wend our way onto the highways. On the trip in last week, it was raining heavily and I could not see nor enjoy it. The farms remind me strongly of the Darling Downs after good rain (when was that?), but every few minutes, it seems, we pass gorgeous little villages with steeply roofed houses made of dark brick. There is a cemetery for each little village and each one is dominated by a tall, elegant spire of the village church. Beautiful. Crops seem to be mostly beans, potatoes and big rolls of hay. My mind wanders here as I try to imagine what it was like during the war, for we are in the Amiens area and there are several monuments to the war along the roadsides, mostly as thanks to the Americans and Canadians (alas I don’t see one to Australians but I’m sure there is one somewhere).

The road from Paris to Calais passes through Amiens, Chantilly, Arques, and heads up towards Lille and Dunkerque – right in the top left hand corner of France, near Belgium. As I enjoy watching in the peaceful farmland that glides by, I cannot help but think back to the wars and the horror that overtook these peaceful fields. Trying to imagine the trenches of the First World War in these verdant, picturesque landscape is difficult, and I imagine that this is what it was like prior to the war too. Even in Paris – where the Germans occupied the city and moved into its main buildings – one can see signs which point to a certain resilience in the French psyche that enables them to retain their own sense of identity even after the indignity of being invaded and having endured war in their own back yard. The French people seem fiercely Republican and everywhere (even in our hotel lobby) they unashamedly display their flag en masse.

The coach carries us along the smooth French motorway and a little more than three hours later we arrive at the Tunnel Port at Calais. Coming over from England last week, it was simply a matter of holding up our passports for the Police to glance at. Not here. Firstly several passengers are frog marched off the bus and the rest of us have to sit for a considerable time, wondering when we will be allowed to continue our journey. After about an hour we are told that we all have to disembark, take ALL our luggage (my suitcase, backpack and handbag), line up and suffer the embarrassment of having our suitcases opened, rummaged through and inspected in full view of everyone else from the bus in our line up. I had packed some little piccolo champagnes that Matt and I had bought but not yet drunk. The three people in front of me all undergo major inspections, with everything opened and searched thoroughly. The lady in front of me has all her personal stuff ripped out in front of everyone. I feel so sorry for her as it is embarrassing. The French Customs seem very aggressive to her, making her show her paperwork over and over. They find one small champagne bottle in her suitcase, but also search through her makeup purse, toiletries…everything. I begin to feel a rising anxiety as my first thoughts are that it is champagne bottle which has the Customs interested. My turn, and my suitcase is scanned in the x-ray machine and clearly shows my bottles. In French, the Customs officer asks me about them. I tell him I have three small piccolos, then he surprises me by saying “right you may leave Madame”….YIPPEE. I am relieved, I can tell you. I mean, I knew travellers are allowed to take small amounts of alcohol so I knew I was doing no wrong, but… well, I am glad that is over.

We all eventually file back on the bus. But that’s where we stay for another two and a half hours!! We are told that several passports do not check out. It is hot. There is no toilet (I have become good at holding off for 8 hours or more), and the poor bus driver was becoming agitated as our bus is by now way behind schedule. We miss firstly one train, then another….

Eventually we are allowed to leave – we move literally 100 yards to the BRITISH Immigration – and then are told to alight once more. This time it is just passport checks but, honestly, the manner of the British Customs is really quite abrupt and makes us all quite anxious. I am asked questions such as: Travelling alone are you? Ohhhhh. Where have you been? Just a holiday Madam? How long were you there? Where will you be staying in the UK?

Being an Australian I am allowed through the border gate but not before being thoroughly scrutinised. I once again climb back on the bus, but the same three passengers are detained again. Another hour passes and we wait. It is useless to complain or even to ask questions. I am beginning to worry as at this rate, I will be arriving in London quite late and must make my way down to Pimlico with all my luggage, in the dark. Eventually, our bus is ushered onto the Euro Train a whopping three and a half hours later than it should have.

I finally arrive at Victoria bus station in London at 10.30pm. I sms Matt to tell him I have arrived and then I walk up to Victoria Tube station (2 blocks), to catch the tube to Pimlico and back to Matt’s place where he has a lovely dinner waiting that he had cooked for me.

And so, even though my week in Paris ended in a not so magical way, the memories of this week in the City of Light will live with me forever, or until dementia sets in, whichever comes first.

Au revoir from Paris.

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