Our last full day in Paris commences with us being good Aussies proud to fulfil our civic duty.
Voting at an embassy is a different experience however the forms are the same as it ever was. The experience is simple yet bizarre in some indefinable manner.
Pam has been to Paris twice before this trip, each time with companions unwilling to climb the Eiffel Tower. Her current companion has no head for heights and is also unwilling however Pam is having none of that.
We join the inevitable queue and then commence our ascent.
The iron trellis that had looked so sturdy from the ground now looks like gossamer, the stairs are narrow and winding and I feel each person’s foot thump rattle the entire structure of the tower. I spy a spot of rust and terror quickens my pulse, I know today is the day the whole structure will collapse and I grasp the stair rail tighter and tighter as the ground diminishes below.
I had started the climb with jelly legs and needed frequent pauses for breath, by the time we have passed the first floor and are climbing the stairs for the second my adrenal glands have dumped a truck load of adrenaline into my arteries and my legs feel strong, Though higher than the climb from the ground to the first floor I don’t need to pause between the first and the second. ‘I could get to like this’ I think to myself.
The queue at the second floor to take the lift to the top is long and slow, my adrenaline dump has slowed by the end of it and terror has settled in my bones. We strike up a conversation with the two men in front of us, the older is Italian however lives in Luxembourg, he is visiting the tower with his younger nephew who lives in Rome. He sees my discomfort and tells us the top of the Eiffel Tower can move up to nine meters sideways on windy days (we check this information later and the sway is actually 7cm in high winds). My face turns grey at the thought and Pam’s teasing intensifies accordingly.
If having your personal space invaded is something you cannot abide, don’t take the lift to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
After dislodging appendages from crevices we exit the lift and make our way round the top, Pam enjoying the view and urging me to look at the sights (which may or may not have been magnificent), me with my back to the innermost part of the structure I could find ignoring her.
Finally she takes pity on me and we join the lift queue for the descent. The lift is full of British families with young children all of whom talk of the lift plummeting to the ground, laughing all the way. I desist from throttling the runts, probably because I could not let go of the bar I am hanging on to do so anyway.
The stairs from the second floor to the ground pass in a blur of iron and I burst from the stairwell singing Pearl Jam ‘I kiss the Earth and then I get to thinking’.
‘Never ever again’ I say to Pam’s laughing enquiry if I am ready to go a second time.
We return to our hotel and being our final preparations for our departure on the morrow.
Today, I climbed the Eiffel Tower !!! With a giant baby. Pam
We wake early the next day, check our room again, and depart our little blue striped haven for the last time. Only Pam and the backpacks can fit in the gorgeous Louis Vuitton lift and the concierge looks on amused as we heave them on to our backs and set off into the Paris streets to walk the five and a half kilometer journey to the Gare Montparnasse (Railway Station).
Walking with the backpack is hard work and Pam is stressing that we are going to miss the train despite leaving our hotel almost before dawn. I have no chance of keeping up with Strider as she powers on ahead of me.
By the time we have reached the train station (after seeking directions from several locals) I am a gasping ball of sweat and am seriously concerned that the 900 kilometers of the Camino is going to kick my arse.
We make the train station with an hour to spare. Thanks Strider.
The TGV (France’s high speed electric railway system) is a magic carpet ride where you smoothly and silently travel at speeds at up to 320km per hour isolated from world as it glides by on each side. The seating in our section (first class this time) is comfortable and spacious.
Our traveling companions seem mostly older and one quaint gentleman who had been fiercely guarding his luggage as we board gets up at each stop to recommence his vigil.
Grateful for the umbrella of his protection I am lulled by the serenity of the journey and spend the five hours to Bayonne drifting in and out of consciousness.
The French countryside I see is beautiful, rural crops and fields and ancient villages contrast with modern irrigation and farming equipment. Massive wind turbines spinning lazily abound on the flats and hilltops as we speed by.
Australia could seek some education in such matters from the French.
We spill from the TGV in Bayonne and spend the next couple of hours awaiting the train to take us to the Camino base camp Saint Jean Pied de Port.
There are many other Camino pilgrims waiting with us and when the tiny single diesel engined train pulls into the station I incredulously ask Pam if this is indeed our train. Given the rush for the two doors by our fellow travelers there could be only one answer to this question and we push our way inside.
Luckily I am able to get a seat for both Pam and myself before all the passengers enter for by the time the train pulls out the are people sitting on the floor and standing. There is not enough room for my backpack in the overhead luggage so I carry it on my lap as there is no room left on the floor.
The trip from Bayonne to St Jean Pied de Port is in stark contrast to the TGV, the tiny train is slow and noisy, rocks from side to side, stops frequently for no apparent reason and is filled to the brim with people.
Everyone is eager to commence their Camino Pilgrimage, people are friendly and talkative. We strike up a conversation with a German lady opposite us on the seat, two years previously she had broken her back and spent three months lying without movement in recovery. She is seeking a fresh start in her life and as for so many others the Camino has beckoned irresistibly.
People from diverse backgrounds and countries share their stories as the tiny cramped rocking train slowly follows the course of the winding river Nive and its beautiful surrounds. The Nive is shallow and rushing in the opposite direction to our train’s path, the rate of flow indicates our ascent. Conversation is quelled by the peaks of distant mountains showing and the realisation that soon we will be climbing these slopes.
Onwards ever upwards we go as the sun sinks towards the horizon.
The bursting train spills its inhabitants at St Jean Pied de Port, a picturesque town nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees. As a noisy gaggle we make our way from the train station through the town.
Pam and I make our way exhausted to our hotel as the sun sinks.
Our tired bodies cannot suppress the jubilation in our hearts as we tumble at last into our bed.
Mick and Pam