Today is the day. The day I finally tick Paris off my list. It’s been in the works for just short of 6 months and now it’s finally here. The excitement developing inside feels as if it’s going to form a physical essence and rip itself from my body, thankfully it doesn’t.
As I splash my face with ice cold water, I feel the tiredness of my eyes evaporate. The Icey beads of liquid shocking them to life. In my mind, I retrace my movements and make sure I have everything packed that I need for a weekend away. Danielle is downstairs in the kitchen preparing snacks for our journey; Sandwiches, fruit, crisps and the all-important cans of white monster. Survival without them is low.
With the mental checklist complete, shoes on and bags in the car, we head out the door.
Next stop, the train station.
Blackpool North station is a literal sight for sore eyes, believe me. So outdated, so small and unimpressive. It is nothing compared to the likes of Liverpool’s, Manchester’s or even Edinburgh’s stations. Offering only 6 platforms, 4 that actually get used, one café and a tiny magazine shop, again nothing impressive.
The automatic doors slide open, we step through. Greeted by the damp and musky smell of age. This place has definitely seen better days. I pull up my mobile ticket and slide on through the barriers, Danielle follows. It’s not a long wait until we are safely secure in our seats embracing the 2-hour ride ahead. Cushion’s at a semi-soft consistency, the carriage relatively quiet, we are on our way.
Next stop, the airport.
Embracing The Jungle
The train drifts at a slow, bumpy crawl, getting into Manchester on time, which is a first. We ready ourselves and trek on through the doors and out into the open, cold air hurrying us around the side, down a path and into a building displayed as departures.
I try to remember the route we took last time but it all just feels like déjà vu, blending into one memory. The direction we head, conversation’s and observations we make, it’s all happened before. I start to presume we are lost and brace myself for the possibility of asking for directions when suddenly out of the blue, a spark of realisation hits Dannielle and she remembers the way. Up the elevator, through the tunnel, along the floor escalator, down some steps, around the back of the building and we seem to be here. Passports in hand and ticket barcodes scanned, we enter the jungle that is the airport waiting area.
Pushing, shoving and sliding past people is all we seem to be doing. This place is rammed. People in all directions, waiting, staring at the information boards above. The thought of finding seats in this place seems like a mere myth until unexpectedly across the room two vacant places open up, this is it. People are hunched together on every available floor space. A few steps forward and then a climb over someone seems to be the pattern to get across. I feel time ticking at a faster pace, worried we will be too late to claim those seats. Scraping bodies as we pass, kicking, bumping and repeating the word “sorry”, those seats are ours.
Up, Up and Away
It’s a 40-minute wait until we are granted access to our gate. Both Danielle and I are now in a jittery caffeine daze, buzzed and ready for the flight ahead. Once at the gate entrance, Danielle’s hand luggage is clocked and issued a hold ticket with instructions to leave it next to the plane so it can to be put down below. That’s not happening. There is no way her only item of luggage, a small cabin bag filled with the weekend’s essentials, is being placed in the deep dark depths of the hold cabin. A place some cases go and never come back, a place that offers no reassurance and no promise of a safe return back to her.
As soon as we pass the stewards I viciously rip the ticket on her bag off and hide it out of sight. Queues have formed at the base of the plane and there is a mixture of bags before us, both with and without tickets. How would they know what I’ve done? We head round to the rear of the plane, the feeling of eyes watching me as I convince myself somehow someone saw. I am left feeling on edge and paranoid about what could happen. As I walk up the steps and through the door I play it cool, giving a subtle nod and smile to a hostess as we take our seats. Row after row I see empty overhead cabins, all waiting to be filled, this eases my conscious and causes satisfaction to rush through me.
Next stop… Paris.
Transfer This, Transfer That
We clap, we stand, we wait, we walk, we rush and we gather, in a matter of minutes, we are outside breathing in the French air around us. Not that it’s any different to our normal air. Beavus Airport is surprisingly small to say how popular it is. There are just two terminals and a handful of shops, all located within one building. Once we stepped off the plane we walked in a straight line, through passport control and straight out the opposite end, such a breeze. No queues, no hassle, no effort, simple and bliss.
Now we stand patiently waiting for our transfer to arrive.
Any minute now.
Over the loud roaring of the wind, I managed to hear the familiar sound of a coach approaching, wheels turning, gears changing and the suspension rocking, it eases into the parking space in front. The queue we were part of breaks and heads frantically towards it. Bags scraping on the gravel, tearing fabric away like a knife through butter. The sound of grunts and groans in the air as the strongest of us help lift cases into storage. We climb on board, anticipation radiating the faces we pass, all surrendering control to the driver.
The coach begins to move.
As time passes I peer out the window in awe and amazement at the landscape shooting by. Small cottages, apartments, roads, and suburbs circle the outskirts of Paris, adding flavour to the main dish that is the center. As we got closer inland I noticed something that left me speechless.
On either side of the highway piles and piles of what seemed like rubbished whizzed by us, a blur of colour and sizes. We change lanes, etching closer to the left-hand side. As we do our speed reduces and I realise those piles of rubbish are in fact blocks of make-shift huts all compressed together, creating a long snake of houses. Communities of adults, children, and animals gathering outside the entrances, playing in the dirt in front of cut out shapes representing doors. I steal a glimpse of inside, the floor dark, the walls thin, the furniture minimal. Cardboard, plastic, sheets of metal and abandoned items, anything and everything seemed to be used when constructing these houses. Everyday junk becoming a lifeline for these people I see before me.
I take a moment to process this concept. Thinking about their lives, their stories, their environment, trying to understand the hardship they must be going through. Sorrow, disbelief, and guilt consume me.
There is nothing I can do.
The rest of the journey I am silent, thankful for the life I live.
The Eiffel Tower in the distance, we’re almost here.
I’m Loving It
As I lie on the hotel bed, body fatigued but thriving, I start to feel hunger prick at my stomach. Knotting and twisting, turning and pulling, making itself known.
I need food.
Downstairs we check the hotel’s restaurant, it’s closed. The knotting and twisting, turning and pulling gets stronger. With a panic in my voice, I ask the receptionist what are our options, there is no food available tonight at this time. The knotting and twisting, turning and pulling gets stronger and stronger. I clench Danielle’s hand hard and lead her outside, using my nose as guidance. Somewhere must sell food, please god somewhere sell food. We have no direction and no plan.
As we approach the end of the street, my face illuminates under the large fast food sign directly in front. Flashes of red and yellow are blended with the colours of skin on my face. A bright yellow M shape reflects off the glossy surface of my hopeful eyes.
McDonald’s, it is.
Lost in Translation
There’s not much to say, McDonald’s is McDonald’s. Perhaps being in Paris we should branch out and find some local delicacies, but my stomach is restricting me in doing so. Leaving this as the last resort.
As we enter I spot Interactive screens lined up along the right-hand side, seats on the left and a large long counter at the back of the room. Orders coming in hard and fast, grease lingering in the air, locals tearing and shredding through buns of meat. To avoid confusion, we order through the interactive screens. Quick, easy to use and most importantly, it’s in English. With our order sent to the kitchen, we wait gathered in a huddle next to the till.
My taste buds salivating with every passing minute. I try to focus on remembering the number for our order in French, 56, It’s hopeless. Any number after 10 is foreign to me. Order after order the servers shout in their native language, and after each order we are straight to the counter, wide-eyed and innocent, questioning to find out if it’s ours or not. An employee from the back spots this and comes heroically to the rescue. Forming a conversation out of her broken English and our broken French along with multiple hand actions we manage to collect our order. The knotting and twisting, turning and pulling of my stomach now in a ravenous frenzy as the scent of our food travels through my body.
There’s a rush in my step as we sprint down the street and into the hotel. Tonight, I let loose, tonight I consume, gathering energy ready for the days ahead.
Paris, we will be ready.