What an uneventful journey was our 8 hours to Guangzhou – our 6 hour layover and then the final 15 hour push to Paris.
Despite the fact that I’m one of those people who love Chinglish, even I was overwhelmed with the sheer number of poor translations into English in the small area of the Baiyun Airport at Guangzhou that we inhabited for 5 hours – it’s really almost every sign that the ever-helpful Chinese translate that ends up botched. Don’t misunderstand – I’m extremely grateful that the signs are translated, but it does amuse me and it seems there must be a huge market for a canny translator out there. Suffice to say we avoided using “The Exit of Flight Cancellations”. We did not avoid using one of strange east-west restaurants in the terminal we were in which brought us smoked chicken sangas, prawn dumplings and noodley dishes, served with a small, unpeeled orange as dessert. The airline, China Southern, was all efficiency and unsmiling, but attentive flight attendants. The flight highlight though was the seated stretching/acupressure/tai chi lesson that was well followed by all on board just prior to landing on both our flights.
We were all a little tired and testy by the time we disembarked at Charles De Gaul and began to follow the signs to RER, which our relentless research had indicated was the correct way to reach Paris from the airport. Once more we can all attest to the restorative effect of a coffee / chocolate on the economy class traveller. RER delivered us unto Gare du Nord and the Metro, quite easily delivered us to our tiny, but funky Hotel 20 Prieure in Bastille, where we had prearranged to deposit out luggage until check-in time. Luggageless, tired in mind and slightly grimy from nearly 30 hours in an airplane cabin, we set out to ‘do’ Paris – in the style of a Cook’s Tour but sans the bus.
First stop – a pharmacy for a cure for a cut to the roof of my mouth which had prevented me from eating anything salty, crunchy, crusty, spicy or sharp. Small bottle of rhubarb extract and tiny paint brush applicator procured at the pharmacy on Place de la Republique and it was on through the fantastic backstreets and lanes to the Pompidou Centre (for the fontain); then the Ile de Citie to Notre Dame; a swing through the St Germain to drink in the atmosphere and a coffee and quiche. Stopped in at a curious store selling Basque Produce and sampled spectacular salami and cheese and drank a cup of what was described as Basque water but was actually more akin to Grappa (exhales loudly while thumping chest).
Paris was chilly to say the least – around 1C – and I was not well prepared having gambled back in Brisbane that I would not take a heavy coat for 1 day in Paris. After a visit to the glass pyramid outside the Louvre it was noted by all that our adrenalin may well be wearing off and we made for the Metro and a quick trip to the Champs Élysées so Eamon could take a Facebook profile picture with l’Arc in the background, before a return to Bastille to check in. We had a small, triple room with a bathroom and extremely comfortable beds, which we thought we might just lie on for a few minutes before hitting the town once more. I don’t know what woke us, but our few minutes of deep sleep seemed more like a couple of hours (it actually was more like a couple of hours, which explained the seeming).
After much cajoling, threatening and only small amounts of slapping around the cheeks, Eamon was ‘motivated’ to join us for a nighttime trip to the Eiffel Tower. Metro again to the Ecole Militaire, then walk a few hundred meters in search of an invisible tower. We were sure we should have been able to see it and doubts and recriminations started to fracture our small group before we realized that the golden glow we could see was it. It was just that the bulk of it was hidden in fog. It was kind of beautiful though, so we paid to ascend to the 2nd etage and gaze into the fog.
Our return to Earth was met with the sudden realization that we were hungry now. We headed back the Metro but our starvation led us into one of the thousands of suburban Brasseries that seem to inhabit every corner in Paris. We spotted one that was reasonably full and figured that we could maintain our urban respectability by dining now (the clock had just ticked past 8:30) – any earlier would have been shameful. This turned out to be a classic Brasserie – Escargot for entree; steak and frites; escalope; gateau; chocolate mousse and creme caramel. Our flight had well and truly caught up with us now and only a taxi back to the hotel would do. I know I fell soundly asleep in the cab and I suspect we all dozed off on the 20 minute trip. BTW – Taxis in Paris are cheap and by cheap, I mean much cheaper than Brisbane. Taxis will be added to my list of Brisbane whinges.
I feel I can safely say we all slept like rocks and woke slowly. We had breakfast at the hotel which had an amazing setup in the basement. There were machines for many breakfast items. One had water in it and little holders that hooked over the side for an egg to sit in. Toasters, Nespresso, Juicers, Kettles – a fine collection of breakfast electronics. All in an elegant room. We took it in then took off. Pip wanted to visit the food hall of Galleries Lafayette in the 90 minutes we had before we needed to be airport bound for our Easyjet flight to Spain.
It was an effort, but one that was worth it – what a fabulous food shop! Suitably impressed and looking like being late it was back to the Hotel in a cab; collect the baggage and back down the Metro to retrace our journey of 28 hours earlier. Made the airport by noon and checked in in the nick of time for our 1:45 flight which boarded at 12:45 so that the fight for seats can be over by take-off time. I was relieved that we weren’t involved in one of those situations they like to film on ‘Airport’, where the angry passengers threaten and abuse everyone while the hapless staff try to calm them down. It was quite easy really and Barcelona was soon to be.