Sunday, June 22, 2014

Europa! (Part Three) - Paris - Adventure, Exploration Unlimited

Paris is still fresh in our memory. The reason is that it was the last stop before we got back home. But by the end of the fifth day there, we almost owned it. There was a sense of familiarity-we felt so at home. The first day was as if we were thrown to an alien land our eyes blindfolded and our mouths scotch-taped. But by the last day, we felt we were leaving, only to be coming back soon. Gare du Nord, Chatelet Les Halles, Porte d'Italie, Chalet, Tolbiac...the names we had never even heard before, now keep ringing in our ears, bringing 'nostalgic' smiles on our faces.

So, we were in Paris for 4 nights and 5 days. The first 2 hours were almost 'traumatic'. With all our luggage, we confidently strode into the Metro from the Charles de Gaul Airport, thinking, all we need to do was just hop on and hop off to get to the hotel. But that was not it. If managing the luggage was hard enough, we had to change trains. No elevators. Only stairs. And a few escalators. While the hubby and junior managed, I found myself bumping, bungling my way through the escalators (I have a bit of a 'escalophobia' yes, that's the word for my fear of escalators). Hubby helped me with most of the luggage but even a handbag and a backpack felt like a thousand tonnes. The second station went miles and miles and miles. Hundreds of strange new faces around us, confidently zipping their way through the station. A zillion thoughts in my head, "oh, am I in the way of these people?", "what will they think of me?" "what will they think of Indians?" And finally the big question amid copious tears, "why are we even here? we should have gone back home from Zurich."
The trains stop at each Metro for just about 3 seconds before a scary sounding  beep would go off and the doors would close. So we were cautious, ready and quickly got off at our station, Place d'Italie. Now how do we get to the hotel? As we were standing there and figuring out the maps, avoiding eye-contact with the flower-seller who first tried to sell his flowers, then kept staring at us and then repeatedly asked us where we wanted to go. We somehow got out of the dark dungeons of the underground metro and saw day-light (yes there was still some light at 9 pm). We tried figuring our way ourselves - ignorant people are the best victims of con men, you see. We did ask a few people too. No con men luckily but most of them didn't know where Hotel IBIS was or the address or English. There was even a very drunk couple (around 60-70 yrs old!) trying to help us. After 30 minutes of search, a very sweet family who were also there on a holiday whipped out their cellphone and with the help of Google Maps informed us that we had got off at the wrong station! We had got off at Place d'Italie but we should have got off at Porte d'Italie!! How the hell were we supposed to figure that out in 3 seconds, amidst all the anxiety?
A young boy helped us. (maybe Asian? When you are in a foreign land, your eyes keep searching for familiar looking skin-tones. To your mind, even a Spaniard or a Mexican looks Indian.) He was on the same bus that we took to get to the hotel. We got off at the bus stop he told us to. He took us to the map that was fixed on a street corner. He apologetically informed us that we should have got off at least 3 stops earlier. Now what? Walk back! It was already 10:00 pm. We walked and walked and walked. Finally reached the rather small hotel, which was all closed and packed for the day. No restaurant. No room-service. We would think of that later. We first wanted to just dump the luggage in the room. The room...aha!...no more than 50 square feet. The tiniest hotel room I have seen all my life. Baby cribbing. Hubby cribbing. He was bent up on vacating immediately but it was 10:30 in the night dammit. We decided to wait till morning. It was finally 11 pm when we stepped out into the chill air to grab some food in a restaurant. The first stop was an extremely seedy looking Tuscan restaurant outside the hotel. More of a tavern. We heaved a sigh of relief when the waitress-with-too-much-make up-on squarely said, "sorry no vegetharian". We quickly darted across the road to another 'Italian' place - nice and warm, with some great food. The biggest blessing of the harrowing day was our baby. She was extremely co-operative. Walked all those miles without a single whine. Stayed hungry without a tear. As if she understood it all.
Phew! That was Day 1. Day 2 was great. We moved into the more expensive but lovely Novotel (thanks to some timely assistance by my brother-in-law). And as if by magic, everything started falling in place...and I started falling in love. A lot of lessons learnt (which I want to share sometime here).

State of mind on day 1: "Oh I hate Paris. We shouldn't have come here."
And now: "Oh I can't wait to go back there some day."

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