Paris tour although consumed lot of time in travelling by road was a great experience. In fact the bus journey from East-Ham through the country side of England towards Dover and later view of beautiful white cliffs at the port gave us a chance to view southern English terrain and countryside.
The view of the mountains with the white sandstone cliffs overseeing English channel was fascinating. The sunny day and the busy port had added different falvour to the holiday and Sheetal and Maitri were quite excited and were sharing the experience with few of our friends ones over phone.
The immigration check at Dover port was quite quick and the French Immigration Officer got into the bus and got our passports stamped quickly, without any hassle of leaving the bus. But Dover port is quite busy and number of Ferry operators including P&O had continuous service from Dover to Calais and few other ports in Belgium and Netherlands. Recently got to know that this Port of Calais was also part of British Empire for some period and then again lost to French in 16th Century.
Finally we our bus got boarded into one of the huge vessels and we got up to the deck to enjoy the sunny weather. The duty free shopping, hot coffee, fresh sand-witches, people relaxing over deck grabbing their favourite corners and looking forward to their French holiday, was a good break from our bus journey. Soon we were at the Calais shores touching French soil for the first time.
The bus journey from Calais to Paris was much longer and took us through the country side of France as well. A sweet kid sitting in the back seat would start yelling with joy, as the bus passed by long never ending fields of yellow flowers. Well, I made all the possible efforts to capture that beauty in my camera, but then it was too tough to capture all that beauty. The terrain was plain and much open. The houses were scattered and unlike the tall British houses, they were mush shorter in height and had a horizontal spread. The landscapes were amazing and the spring had already arrived here unlike London where the cold was not ready to leave and people had almost removed the term summer from their dictionary.
I had called Sunil, my childhood friend from Vasai, settled in Paris for long and informed about this trip. I was quite excited to meet him and visit his place as well and assumed that whatsoever the schedule, I should be able to take an hour out to meet my friend. In fact Sunil had invited us for dinner and I was trying to find my hotel location from the tour guys. Finally on a day before my tour, I got my hotel location. It wasn’t that close to Sunil’s home though. I had decided to call up Sunil and plan visit to his home, after finishing our day’s events and reaching the hotel.
I was staying in company guesthouse at Deptford Bride during this period. Since DLR trains do not start before 5 am, we had to rely completely on the London bus service to reach East Ham. It was too tough to get up at 3 am and we had finished almost all morning rituals including bath at night, so that we just had to put up cloths and get going. Although we changed 4 buses to reach our pickup point in East Ham, none of the buses missed their timings and we arrived 15 minutes before the scheduled time. It was fun to see the huge “All Indian” crowd out there, next to the Town Hall, waiting for the bus. This reminded me of the school picnics, where we were required to get up early and wait at some common pickup point.
The earlier plan was to spend a week in Switzerland and then another in Italy, but I got advised as to apply for the Schengen visa through French embassy, as the process was much more streamlined and hassle-free. I decided to plan a Paris trip a week before I travel to Switzerland, but the project schedule did not allow this and I had to postpone my Paris trip. In effect, I had to adjust it in the same week, during which I was supposed to travel to Switzerland.
Although the Paris trip consumed 3 days from my Switzerland trip, it gave me a six month Schengen visa and not to forget, the help from Star tours to get that visa. Without this my Switzerland and Italy trip was really difficult. The things like getting an authentication form from Indian High Commission to authenticate our relationship of husband and wife as well as the birth date of my daughter (I don’t understand why the name on the passport can’t be held as a valid proof), or the need to get Travellers cheques in Euro were few of the value added checkpoints, which otherwise I would not have imagined. Generally a marriage certificate in English works, but again the issuing authority is very important. The authentication provided by Indian Embassy is regarded as more authentic and I had no choice as my marriage certificate was in Marathi (My Mother Tongue).
Our guide gave us some insight into the City‘s landmarks as we entered Paris. The runway of Orly airport in Paris runs over the tunnel and it was fascinating to cross the tunnel as the roaring planes passed over us for a take-off. The Montmatre church situated over the hill, was visible from distance and the architecture looked quite enticing. The City looked quite modern with taller buildings standing close to the olden architecture. It took 40 minutes to reach the Eiffel tower after entering the city. Soon the bus was parked in front of a park, very close to Eiffel Tower and we were facing this well-known monument, standing there welcoming us on behalf of this historic city.
The first look at Eiffel Tower wasn’t that romantic though and it looked like a huge construction site, with the huge metal structure dwarfing us, people waiting there endlessly in queues to get to the top. But this view changed drastically when we reached the top of this tower and more so when we looked at it in the twinkling lights, the next day night.
After a long, never-ending waiting period in the queues, finally it was our turn to get into those giant lifts, more like giant pulleys used on construction site. At first look it was real scary and we looked at each other with questions, “Does this thing really work and safe enough?” :). As the lift started moving and we losing ground there was this lump of fear rising from the pit of my stomach and the shaky feet trying to hold to the ground. But at the same time the fascinating city of Paris started appearing slowly, and before I can get the complete picture we were at the second level to change our lifts to go to the top.
These lifts rose vertically, rather than the lower ones, which went in a diagonal direction. The lifts are designed in such a way that the city is visible all the time, as you rise to the top. As we rose to the top of the tower with the city was getting tinier and tinier, while our heat-beat were getting heavier and heavier. This lift was pretty quick and once we were at the top it was more like at the top of the world. The feeling was a mixture of excitement, joy and achievement. The long bus journey, waking up early morning, waiting in the queue was soon left behind.
The magnificent spread of the beautiful city of Paris lie in front of us, with winding Siene river, the cruise lines, the gardens, the huge food ball court, the fountain, a view of the Montmatre church from distance, few of the artistic bridges on Siene river, the beautiful middle age building, overall a magnificent town. Everyone was trying to catch every view, every angle of it from the top, moving around the watch tower. We had a time limit set by our tour manager “Jatin” and that kept a check on us to wind up. But otherwise I had no intension of leaving the place and go down.
All the buildings were of five to six floors of height and were laid out systematically in sections. Paris has a very good metro train network and all of the electrical and communication line network lie underground. This really gives a clear, uncluttered view of the city. Time was really a constraint and to capture the glimpses of the beautiful Siene river and its bridges, and the huge fountain right in front of us wasn’t that easy. The long stretch of the garden right in front of the tower and a triangular obelisk on the other hand, reminded me of the Lincoln memorial and the Washing ton Monument in Washington DC.
After spending good amount of time at the top and immersing ourselves in the beauty of Paris, finally when we could not see anybody from our group around, we had to get going. We did not really want to be too romantic here by getting stranded at Eiffel tower, while the tour has left, after waiting for us for long time, for a delicious dinner. Our empty stomachs had started complaining by now and soon we headed towards our restaurant in the area Montrouge called as Bombay Villa.
The food was good with those tiny “Parathas” looking more like “Puris” and perfectly cooked savoury chicken gravy. The rest of the veggie stuff wasn’t that great and I opted to enjoy chicken with “Parathas”, Rice, “Papadam” and the sweet. Sheetal had a bad headache by now and the lack of sleep last night followed by the long journey had taken some toll. She finally had to vomit out, to get rid of the acidity. A nice walk in the pleasant weather and she was a bit better. Now the body was craving to be in the bed. Somehow we carried on to the bus and then to the Novotel hotel in Runjis. We did not really know when the sleep had taken over us.
I could manage to call Sunil from the restaurant. It was really too late and we were so exhausted to go anywhere by now. We decided to visit Sunil sometime later at much leisure, rather than trying to cramp it somehow in our tight itinerary.