“I’m leavin’ on a jet plane” I feel this strong urge to encapsulate experience via ancient pop song lyrics. Hope I shake it off soon.
Thirteen hours, arse cheeks burning. My darling wife in her infinite wisdom has had the good sense to pony up with the extra moola and get us seats where the wings join the body of the aircraft so I have a body length of leg room in front of me. Yet no matter how I twist and turn my arse is on fire. The downside to our seating position is that it is immediately adjacent the busiest real estate on the plane, if you know what I mean. That place where people congregate and do funny little dances whilst avoiding eye contact. Here is a life lesson re long distance flight for the taller amongst you; when the choice is between being able to stretch out your legs or the regular whiff of deodorant laden human excrement, choose the leg room.
We alight from the first leg of our journey and enter an edifice of currency and chrome. I see my first real life Rolex watch. My personal position on wearing no jewellery remains unchanged by the experience but I would kill for a big bottle of cold Evian. Being in backpacker mode and already seeking the ‘genuine experience’ Pam insists on finding a water fountain in Dubai Airport which three hours later we do. “Been through the desert on a horse with no name”.
Back into the air again. This time with trolley dollies straight from the 1950’s. Thank you Emirates. Seven more hours of twisting turning arse cheek burning fun. I feel sorry for Pam who is stuck between two tall guys who just won’t sit still. Towards the end of the flight the sun rises and I see France for the first time. Organised rural fields and villages, much browner than I had imagined. I am impressed by the area still forested, the parts I see appear to have left room for both man and beast. You can take the beast out of the man, but take the beast out of the world and soon there will be no man.
The rural fields continue right up to the Charles De Gaulle airport where we touch down. If every customs experience is like this first one I will be a happy man for it is swift and painless.
We slide into France unnoticed and without fanfare, just the way I like it.
One would hope, nay expect, that half way round the world things would be very different to life at home. I try to get into the drivers seat in the cab, seeing the steering wheel wakes me up, the cabbie looks on bemused and points to the correct side. The plants are all unfamiliar, even the weeds. The doings of people change according to whim and custom however when the plants are different thats a sure sign of geographical distance. The drive to the city takes us past many industrial buildings that possibly looked modern in the 1980’s. To our left on a hill I see the enormous minarets of what I later find out is the Sacre-Coeur, a Neo-Byzantine basilica where a famous 19 ton bell named La Savoyarde hangs in the bell tower.
Now there is something you don’t see every day.
We arrive exhausted at our hotel, the Le Dokhan’s, and enter. It has an air of timelessness and I notice the chessboard masonry of the foyer contrast with the lobby’s beautiful rough joined hardwood floor. Pam has chosen this hotel for it’s handy location, large rooms (by Paris standards) and ‘authentic Parisian experience’. She has chosen well. The girl at the desk is delightful however our room is not going to be ready for hours so we hobble back out into the streets. Apparently every Euro counts when you are backpacking so we comb the streets in search of cheap ‘authentic’ food. This we find in a little bakery on some side street I can’t remember. The bakery is so authentic even the cops come here to eat, however by the time we sit down on a sidewalk bench beside some bronze military statue to eat, I am so tired that I don’t notice the Eiffel Tower looming over the roofline of the terraced housing until Pam points it out.
My ham and cheese baguette is tasty and the chocolate croissant sensational. I am going have to check and see if we kept the receipt cause I want to go back. Having the Eiffel Tower there didn’t hurt either. Damn we didn’t keep the receipt….stagger left….stagger right……I’ll be back.
Our hotel room is still not ready on return, apparently some famous American rapper has been there and only just checked out. The fall on our expression must have been so clear that the fabulous desk clerk, who seems to have struck up an instant rapport with Pam, swaps our rooms. On experience thus far I have no idea where the aloof, stuck up, unfriendly French cliché has arisen from as everyone has been polite, super friendly and accommodating.
The lifts at Dubai Airport were the largest I have ever been in, church congregations with full choirs could ascend and descend comfortably in each one. The lift at Le Dokhan’s had room for Pam and our backpacks to squeeze in, leaving me the pleasure of the broad circular staircase running the height of the building. Three floors up our room awaits, beautiful and cool. Thank goodness the authentic experience still accommodates modern touches such as air conditioning, because walking up those three floors in my zombie fugue has sapped me.
The interior is soothing, vertical blue green striped fabric (not wallpaper) that is soft to the touch covers the walls, the cornices and ceiling are simple and well fitted. Tasteful prints in gilt frames. Curtains of fabric matching the striped walls one side, and on the other, idyllic scenes of young boys from bygone eras fishing and climbing trees for fruit, frame the window and cast a partial net over the bedhead. The same boys play out their carefree lives on the cushions of the three apparently antique chairs. The pattern of the wood at the top of the small table and bedside tables matches the pattern of the cornice. Pam has chosen well.
Nothing soothes the aching body like the flow of running warm water and I prefer my showers a bit on the Silkwood side. I had been warned of Europe’s flaccid shower experience and was prepared for the worst. Le Dokhans delighted once again making innovative use of minimal bathroom space. A shower head at least a foot (30cm we are in Paris after all) above my head jetting into an ample, clean, oddly angled receptacle. In addition to which, a hand held shower piece to accommodate extra flow paths as desired. Each device controlled by only one tap between which lies a large dial to modify temperature of each to my exact requirement. What a great idea, I’m installing one when I get home.
Ever in search of new experience I put on the terry-towelling robe provided. First time for everything right? Feels good enough to sleep in……I hope the bed is comfortable……mmmmmnnnnnn Pam has chosen well……..guess I won’t be able to say the furthest overseas I have ever been is Fraser Island anymore……………….zzzzzzzz……..zzzzzzzz.