Day 1: Paris
Beautiful people, decadent cafés, exquisite architecture and… Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs
So, let’s start with the first day of our Euro Tour as I’ve finally found the opportunity to put into words some of what I’ve seen and experienced since our arrival.
The first stop was Paris, if only for 12 hours. But before that, the 11h30min flight must be mentioned: despite my 1,66m frame, I was always short of legroom. My back ached. I was cold. Then I felt flushed. My eyes burned and I flirted with deafness. I was only able to sleep in 20 minute increments — but I did watch Meet The Parents on my own private screen, the French accents of the pilot and crew were a joy to listen to and the graphic that displays the flight’s course in real time was fascinating to watch. As we flew out of Africa, I did feel quite emotional that after all the money-saving and the years of daydreams about flying abroad, it really was finally happening.
Then, we landed in Paris!
The airport, whilst huge, didn’t offer up too much to support the glamorous image I had of France’s most populous city and neither did the neverending journey on a combination of foot and train simply to exit the airport. What was apparent, however, were the beautiful people we were surrounded by: clad in gorgeous, form-fitting coats, sounding like heaven and with a permanently staid but intense expression on their faces, they were in stark contrast to my puffy jacket, matted hair and general air of confusion.
After an endless, fast-paced train ride through what one of my friends correctly likened to Cape Town’s southern suburbs (Newlands, Claremont and eventually Observatory and Salt River — that was as far from the vision of Paris as one could imagine), we navigated the many twists and turns of the underground subway before finally emerging in… PARIS! It was my first ‘wow’ moment of the holiday as we stepped into the modern-yet-classical centre of the city, the graffiti-lined train tracks suddenly a distant memory.
Here, the people were even more beautiful, their coats even more decadent and the various cafés adorning the streets filled with a standard of pastry goodness that will leave Woolies Food Market in Constantia with a badly bruised ego.
Naturally, we stopped at some of the city’s most prominent landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre art museum. The former initially appeared a little smaller than expected, until I got close up and took in all 324m of its iron latticed allure.
Being just a day after Christmas, there was still the lovely feel of the holidays in the air, with tourists littering the streets and Christmas markets set up everywhere selling warm Glühwein, melt-in-your-mouth macaroons, cold ice cream and everything in between.
At some point, I was so transfixed by the sights and sounds around me that I began crossing a road in front of an approaching, beautiful, black Mercedes-Benz S-Class (these grand saloons were absolutely everywhere) — thankfully, my Euro Trip wasn’t tragically cut short by this majestic machine, but it would have been a somewhat appropriate way to go.
What did take some getting used to was the underground subway system in Paris — here, walking pace will not suffice as people come whizzing past you from all sides. One can’t simply pause to consider which of eight exit points is the right one, for you will be bashed right out of the way by everything from kids in fashionable prams to old ladies who look pissed off with the world. The last train that we needed to board out of the centre of Paris — to get back to the airport — was absolutely packed. By this point, however, I realized that here, it’s every man for himself. Initially the polite tourist, I summoned my inner Cape Coloured and used all my strength to force my way onto the train, complete with the standard French dirty look affixed to my face.
And what about the cold?
Well, we arrived in Paris with the mercury sitting at 1 Degree. Initially, it was quite refreshing after a long flight huddled into a tiny space. As the day wore on, there were certainly some freezing moments, but whichever shop or café you step into brings instant, toasty relief.
As I reflected on my fast-paced Paris experience whilst gazing longingly at unreasonably attractive people on the train, it was those little walks in the smaller streets and the peeks into neighbourhoods we passed that I found the most fascinating, more so than visiting the major landmarks. The same is evident in Switzerland, but more on that snowy adventure in a day or two…
By the time we arrived back at Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport, I was physically and emotionally shattered (my friends affectionately refer to this state of mine as being ‘”KRF’d”), but in awe of a frenetic and eye-opening day spent in a city very unlike my own — the tone had been set for a winter Euro Trip filled with surprises and new experiences at every turn.