Arriving at Orly airport, after admiring the beautiful snow covered streets of Paris I had left behind me and feeling ill made the usual sadness of leaving Paris, hurt all the more.
Even after a month in Paris, I still felt robbed of time. I wanted to stay with the snow, I wanted to get out in it, photograph it and experience it more.
But there never seems to be a right time to leave Paris.
In an effort not to have to travel for the next 24 hours in wet socks, I was careful not to stand in the wet sludge, formed by the traffic and melting snow, as I made my way into the terminal.
First item to check off the list was to claim my duty free.
Considering I generally buy my years wardrobe supply while visiting Paris, it seemed silly that I had not done this, on previous visits. Finding my way downstairs, I eventually found the desk, unmanned. Picking up the help phone, I hear a gruff man on the other end of the receiver, spitting down the line to wait 20 minutes.
That didn’t leave me much time to check in but I had to keep my bags handy for inspection of my purchases. Feeling slightly panicked, I prepared myself for their arrival, case unlocked, forms and passport in hand. 20 minutes later, two custom officers strolled slower than I thought possible to the desk. Chatting away, almost oblivious of my presence and impending flight.
He doesn’t ask to see the items and stamps the papers, well, that was too easy, I don’t know what I was panicking about.
He gives me, what seems to be convoluted instructions to claim the cash, all the while interrupted by their personal conversation. Once I think I understand that I must travel to the north end of the terminal, the other officer informs, the cash desk doesn’t have any money today and I must go to the southern terminal.
I run to the check in, queue and finally check in my suitcase.
With 40 minutes to spare until the flight, I slosh my way along the wet, slippery, open air pathway, in the still, falling snow. Follow the blue path he told me, that would be fine if the path wasn’t covered in slush and ice making the walk slow and dangerous and, if only I could see the blue line. I skid and slip, losing my balance on a piece of blue paint. I must be heading in the right direction.
The southern terminal was packed to the rafters. People, kids, dogs everywhere. Pushing my way through the crowds, I discover a long line of people, snaking through the terminal and one person on the desk. They cannot be serious, I think, are they in cahoots with the tax office, so they don’t have to return the tax?
Three Russian girls ahead of me, laden with high end designer bags, without a care in the world, chatting, laughing and looking terribly glamorous arrive at the desk. I count the people in the queue, I am now 12th in line.
They don’t have a thing prepared for the desk. As we huff and puff, standing on from one foot to the other, all the while, moving closer together in an effort to make the line appear shorter for our sanity, 10 minutes pass and they are still at the one woman operated counter.
Patience, on my part and fellow travellers was wearing thin, until it got to the point, I couldn’t queue any longer. Panicking, dragging my carry-on behind me, back through the snow and slush, slipping all the way. So much for travelling in dry socks, my boots and socks were soaked. I make it back to the northern terminal, after a 7 minute sprint, to find another long, slow queue, at boarder control.
We wait, not so patiently, as dignitaries and staff are allowed to jump the queue, by the time I reach security, I realise another reason for the hold up.
The queues are divided by gender one for women, the majority of travellers, the other, for men, the minority. The reason being, they only have one female security officer for body searches. Merde. I queue with the women as we watch the men’s section, void of people. My fever is rising, I haven’t been able to claim the €200.00 owing to me and now there is a possibility I may miss my flight, the only flight out of Orly to Heathrow.
I now join my 5th queue over the past hour, to board the flight. At this point, tempers are rising, travellers are becoming unsettled. As we queue on the bridge connecting the terminal to the plane, an Australian woman in front of me is continually complaining. This is the worst travel experience of my life, she moans, to anyone who will listen. As she continues, she drives myself and others around her crazy and fuels the growing tension.
If only she knew then, what laid ahead of us.
Relieved to discover the Australian was not seated within earshot, I wouldn’t have to listen to her moaning any longer. However, as if they were on an Olympic relay team, she must have tagged an American woman seated in front of me.
From her window seat, she goes about directing passengers, how to re-arrange the bulging overhead luggage bins. People, she shouts, get your coats out of there. Amazingly, people follow her commands. You, yes you, move that bag side-ways, for God’s sake, this isn’t rocket science, and make it snappy, I want this plane off the ground and soon, not in the next hour!
Maybe the Australian would have been easier on the ears after all.
For the four hours we sat on the tarmac, no food or drinks offered, listening to the American complain about the French, the terminal, the pathetic de-icing machine, the queues and that she has a connecting flight to New York, my temper was building along with my fever.
She almost reduces two flight attendants to tears. The head attendant comes to their rescue. Madam he says, apart from about seven people on this full flight, everyone has connecting flights to various destinations around the world.
She now wants to disembark the plane. This is not possible, the bridge has already been taken away. I want to tell her to shut the #@% up. I calm myself in the knowledge, I have eight hours to spare before my flight out of Heathrow. So all is good, I try to sleep.
Now the American is up, walking up and down the aisle of the plane, complaining to anyone who remotely gives her eye contact. The man seated beside me, calms his wife, stay out of it, he reassures her.
I am starting to wonder if my new, soft cashmere scarf could be flung over the seat in front of me, wrapped tightly around her neck, tight enough to make her pass out. Try to sleep, I remind myself.
Now she needs to eat and drink but there is not enough food to go around, they tell us. The airline had only catered snacks for 40 people, not realising it would be a full flight, for what should have been a 1 hour 20 minute journey ahead of us.
Nearby passengers offer her their personal drinks and snacks, to try to calm her. This probably seemed like a good idea on their part, but this only encouraged her to broaden her audience.
She is up again, banging on the pilots door, she wants answers, she wants to get off the plane. Try to sleep, I keep telling myself.
Finally I did, until she stood up, by her window seat and started engaging conversation with others again, against their wishes. She leans on the back of her seat, and looks at me. I glare at her, don’t talk to me sister, or you will be sorry you did. The glare must have been understood, she avoids me.
Is it now time to tell her, that I also have a connecting flight and a far longer journey than her and that I am sick, and tired, of listening to her winging and moaning and shut the &$#@ up!
Once again, I resist the temptation, finally we arrive at Heathrow, only to learn we have to wait on the tarmac again. This time for 3 hours.
Still trapped on the plane, with the American, after over 8 hours, I am surprised that someone, myself included hadn’t flattened her by this stage.
Sprinting through the terminal to find the transfer bus that would deliver me to another other terminal, was taking it’s toll on my feverish body.
Finally, settled on another plane, it was now late at night, and even although Paris, on a good day, was only 1 hour 20 minutes away, it felt an age away.
The American, I hoped was locked in a container somewhere, on a slow boat to her beloved New York, where everything is perfect.
There was not a moaner in ear shot or a passenger next to me. I had two seats to stretch out, and the flu and tiredness let me give into sleep.
Waking, thinking we must be at least half way, if not a third of the way, to Singapore by now. We were still on the tarmac at Heathrow, three hours had passed and we still hadn’t left.
I didn’t mind anymore, I was now in the flight system, there will be no ice or snow to deal with in tropical Singapore. How wrong was I.
Not about snow in Singapore but leaving Heathrow and being in the ‘system’.
Waiting 3.5 hours before we left Heathrow and sitting on Singapore’s tarmac for 45 minutes meant missing my connecting flight to Brisbane by a mere 10 minutes.
I had to queue again, this time to get a new flight to Brisbane via Sydney.
Taking an Australian internal flight after a long haul international flight is annoying and time consuming. Even although the flight from Brisbane to Sydney is only 1 hour, it adds a good 4 hours to travelling time, by the time you wait for your luggage, go through Sydney’s busy customs, sprint to the transfer lounge, catch a bus to the domestic terminal, go through yet more security and board the flight, disembark at the destination and wait once again for bags, it is arduous after an already long flight. So you can imagine my disappointment to learn this news.
Arriving in Brisbane and waiting, until that one last lonely, unclaimed bag, moved around the conveyor belt for the second time, I realised that I would have to queue again, this time, to report my lost luggage.
Being trapped in plane’s and airport terminals for the past 35 hours, walking out into the glaring, sweltering heat of Brisbane, after leaving the snow covered streets of pretty Paris was not a welcome arrival and intense.
My sunglasses were in my lost luggage and I could barely see, to find my way to the taxi rank, where for once, to my relief, I didn’t have to queue for the first time in 35 hours.
Tears in taxi’s normally start filling my eyes on my arrival in Paris and when I leave her behind. These tears arise from the joy of arriving or the sadness from leaving.
This time, sitting in the back of a yellow cab from Brisbane’s domestic airport to home, the tears that filled my eyes were from illness and relief. The long arduous journey had finally come to a welcome end. Luggage or not, in 20 minutes, I would finally be home.
Did it take the edge off my month in Paris? Hell no.
No matter how the past 3 days had unfolded, nothing or no-one can take away what I had explored or experienced over the last month.
It is all safely tucked away in my heart, mind and soul. Snuggled away in the recesses of my memory, resting, waiting for me to call upon it, at anytime. Allowing me to slip through a journey in my mind and to take me back to a warm, welcoming place, whenever I need to visit favourite places and experiences.
My wishes for snow were granted, even although, as The French Historian had hinted; with it, came it’s repercussions.
Jim Haynes, as always, opened his heart and home and not only welcomed me to his dinners but also ensured I brought the New Year in well, and was surrounded by people.
Sab, from Paris If You Please, kept his promise by organising a fabulous quizz night and joined me on a discovery tour of Paris.
Pulling Paris apart at the seams, I delved in and pulled out a few secrets. Discovering a cafè tucked away in the cellars of a church, rediscovered a wonderful jazz venue, stood upon the high roads and low roads, of the ancient walls of Paris. Spent a day with a Stranger, wandering the wet, rainy streets of Paris and a day with a Paris Volunteer, learning another side to Père Lachaise cemetery.
I attended concerts, theatre and a stand-up comedy. Photographed Paris, at sunrise, sunset, when rain was falling, or the sun was bouncing off buildings and bridges and even, when it was snowing.
I ate in some fine and not so fine restaurants and cafés, peoples homes, super clubs and consulates. I shopped at markets, dined on duck, deer, tartare, smoked salmon and pork, only sampling a morsel, of the abundance of food, Paris has to offer.
Once again, Paris opened up her arms and her heart and behind her beautiful exterior, shared some of her secrets and friends. Teaching me more about herself and more about me. As always, healing me, helping me become stronger, leading me on a journey of trust and hope.
I never tire of Paris, her beauty, her secrets, her inhabitants, her food, her culture and all that she has to offer.
Paris is my home away from home. Where I feel welcome, safe and on a continual journey of self discovery.
Years ago I trusted her with my broken heart, now I trust her with my recovery and growth.
Rain, shine or snow, she never lets me down and never ceases to surprise, excite and entertain me.
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