Going South

I wanted to go to Lyon. I’m rather a fan of Antoine de Saint Exupéry. Design me some mutton, etc, etc. KLM had reasonably priced fares out of Southampton for a time. It has always struck me as a beautiful city and the French is supposed to be clear and easy to understand. Alas, alack, the female-type parent pressured me to fly to Paris instead. Being of a generally cynical persuasion and worldly enough to recognise that major cities, especially on the Continent, are generally cesspits I was personally hesitant to go. In that eternal, infernal way, maternal pressure – however mild its application – proved to be extremely effective.

I flew from Southampton to Paris-CDG. I liked Southampton-Eastleigh. There are some 99 steps between the train station and the airport. I didn’t count, the airport used that as their slogan. Southampton, as far as airports go, is painless. I passed through security quickly. I flew with Flybe, Southampton’s main operator of flying peasant wagons. It felt like a peasant wagon. Flybe operate tiny regional aeroplanes. Fair enough. They also measure their hand baggage differently than most carriers. I have a small, standard-size 20-inch suitcase. It would have been problematic as they choose to measure from the base of the wheels to the top of the handle and use closed size check boxes. Having only wizened up to this after buying the tickets, I used my Heston by Waitrose bag.

I wasn’t terribly impressed with the flight to France. Nor was it a bad flight. The air hostesses were friendly and their charges weren’t outrageous. Still, I prefer the likes of Lufthansa or KLM: full-service carriers. I really didn’t like having a window seat. What made it worse was that the woman sitting next to me didn’t so much have something of the beluga whale about her as much as she had something of the blue whale that snacked on a gam of beluga whales about her. Upon arrival, the air hostesses had to find the largest available shoehorn and prise me out of the aeroplane window with it. My spirits were quickly restored, however. I witnessed a showdown of two of the most insufferable species: French officials and fu er dai nu ren, or the princess daughters of China’s nouveaux riches. Sons might be more valued, but their relative scarcity compared to those with the odd Y-chromosome means that they can be exceedingly demanding and temperamental. The French fell.

I spent a few hours wondering aimlessly around the 9th Arrondissement. This was not entirely intentional. For whatever reason, I could not use my map or internet apps. I had to try to find my way using the occasional map posted by metro stations. Paris is a singularly difficult place to navigate. The hub-and-spoke system of roads makes it extremely easy to get lost, even when one is geographically close to one’s destination. Finally, after over three hours of confusion I arrived at my hotel. As luck would have it, I had arrived in the middle of a major renovation. Brilliant, innit? There was no insulation, or very little, in the walls. I could hear everything me neighbours did. In fact, I could hear everything people on the floor did. The people in the room next to mine apparently possessed a fondness for beans that matched their very healthy libido. The construction crew, Poles and Czechs, started work diligently early each morning.

The hotel provided breakfast, albeit a very modest one. Jam sarnies, cheap pastries and coffee. Beggars can’t be choosers. Annoyingly, I had to endure the wretched noises emanating from a most social Spanish couple. Horrid people, that lot. I was considering giving up on life when relief came in the form of an animated Chinese couple who sat between me and the spawn of Castille. Joy! They drowned Portugal’s lesser neighbours out. Then a couple Italians came and started nattering away. The NHS has given me an appointment to meet with a hearing specialist in ten years. I fear I shall be deaf until then. This is one of the less appealing aspects of southern Europe. They’re so bloody loud. Why do they have to be so bloody loud? It seems as if the only time they’re not being loud is when they’re being deafening.

I beat a hasty retreat. I popped upstairs for a quick shower. As I stood in the lift on my way to join the urban fray outside, the doors opened and a Spaniard wearing nothing but knickers walked in. As is typical for his species, he wasn’t able to speak a proper language – even a proper form of Spanish – and I had to give him the directions to the shower room. I quietly laughed inside when the lift’s doors opened on the ground level and el Thicko was revealed in all his glory to a group of people waiting to go upstairs.

My first day in Paris started in a tolerable fashion. La Conciergerie was interesting. Seeing Marie Antoinette’s cell was poignant. The reliquary of the family of Louis XVI humanised the events that went on. There was little effort to either vilify or romanticise the events that took place at la Conciergerie. While some writers were clearly more sympathetic to the Revolution than others, the general tone was respectful to all sides. In my typical fashion, I timed things badly. The morning started out gorgeous and all Paris was treated to glorious blue skies. Had I visited Sainte-Chappelle first, it would have been a more rewarding experience. The sky grew increasingly cloudy and, while still stunning, there wasn’t nearly as much light pouring through the stained-glass windows as had only an hour earlier.

Its relative proximity made the Notre Dame my next destination. I was once again subjected to aural assaults by Italians and Spaniards. I grew so irked in the queue that I willingly parted with €8 to visit the archaeological dig site below the cathedral. It was interesting, but I still preferred o Sé in Lisbon. Notre Dame, once one gets through the queue, is a stunning building and the rose windows were worth the wait. I made sure to embed myself like a meerkat among felines in a group of Chinese tourists to ensure that I wouldn’t be tormented by France’s more vocal Latin cousins.

At this point I made a decision that has haunted me since. I walked to the Cemetery of Montparnasse. I wanted to pay tribute to Porfirio Díaz, the president of Mexico for over thirty years in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I walked too far in shoes that were anything but sensible. They are perfectly comfortable for short 1-2 mile walks, but they were a catastrophic error for extended walks. I managed to strain my left foot and give myself a bad cramp in the right. Still, I enjoyed the visit. Other famous figures buried in the cemetery do not receive quite the same attention as Díaz. He turned Mexico from an international laughing stock, a bankrupt, dysfunctional nation into a serious economic power and exporter of natural resources. Like Salazar in Portugal, he was a necessity that overstayed his use – and his welcome. His reputation is mixed because he did not know when to relinquish power.

There was a disruption on the Paris Metro and I had to walk a couple miles to my hotel. My hotel wasn’t in a bad part of the 9th Arrondissement, but I had to go through some of the dodgiest parts of inner Paris to get there. I was followed and badgered by sex club promoters and Romanian scammers. Paris hadn’t heard the degree of ordering about in German as it did then since 1944. But that’s the way of Paris, isn’t it? It’s a beautiful city, a city with a certain je ne sais quoi but a city with so much that is dodgy among all the glory. I ate at a Vietnamese restaurant that night. The price was reasonable and the food was good. Unfortunately, I was treated to two exceptionally annoying examples of the Touristus Americanus. Yes, they did order ketchup, Coca Cola and “lots and lots of waderrrrr”.

The next morning, I travelled to Versailles. Well, it was morning when I left! As my esteemed co-charioteers will know, Paris is dealing with severe flooding. The relevant suburban train line was closed in most of the city. I had to run back and forth across Paris to finally find a place where I could get to the former palace. It took over three hours, but I made it at last. I was treated to a symphony of Americans and Spaniards on the train ride.  I survived – just. I quickly found a herd of Chinese tourists to roam through the palace with. Sadly, I at times found myself without their capable protection and had to suffer through the screeching of Italians and Spaniards. It was an interesting enough experience, but not quite what I had expected. See enough monumental buildings and they all start to blur. I did, however, enjoy the Galerie des Batailles, the gallery of paintings celebrating France’s military triumphs from the Battle of Tolbiac in 496 to the Battle of Wagram in 1809. Feeling distinctly cheeky, I walked up to the guard to ask him a question. “Excusez-moi de vous déranger, pourriez-vous m’aider”? “Oui, Monsieur”. “Merci. Où est la peinture de la Bataille de Waterloo”? He just looked at me and walked away. Harrumph. It was a most reasonable question!

I preferred the Petit and Grand Trianon. They are more accessible and, in many ways, more human than Versailles itself. The kings and queens of France and those around them were merely human with all the foibles that entails. You get a greater sense of that there. Whereas Versailles is designed to highlight the glory and puissance of King and Country, the Trianons show more personality. I managed to get lost when I took a “short cut”. Instead of going to the nearest train station, I went to one further away. It still gave me the chance to see the town of Versailles. It betrayed some of the malaise of France. It is beautiful, but somewhat run down and lacking in proper care. There’s a hint of depression in the air. People try and do their best, but it’s clear that the place has been drifting for some time.

The next day, I took breakfast with a fellow Hun. Like me, she has spent much of her life outside Hunland and we discussed our frustrations with the place. She is planning to emigrate. She has work, being an IT expert, but she complained that Hun employers are very demanding while not being exactly generous with what they offer their employees. She also shared my concern about Hunland and its rapid decline. Whatever glowing news we hear about the economy, we both recognised the amount of poverty and underpayment. She, more than me, complained about how unsafe Germany now feels, how alienating the rapid – and overwhelmingly negative – social changes have been. She was slightly envious that I have found a niche in the UK. She was off to Lisbon to try her hand there.

I wanted to take one final walk in Paris. I alighted by the Arc de Triomphe and walked to the Place de la Concorde, otherwise known as the world’s biggest chopping board. It was pretty, but somewhat gaudy. Much like Piccadilly, Market Street (San Francisco), King Street (Sydney) or Ginza Hondori in Tokyo, it had all the same global chains. The shell was what it had always been, but it has seen better days. Only the wealthiest companies can afford the rents. The art deco arcades were beautiful, of course, and the art nouveau architecture is second to none so it was still worth a stroll. The Assemblée Nationale, Musée d’Orsay, etc. were also beautiful. Having made good time, I took a final trip to Sacré-Cœur.

Once again, I had to see the painful reality of Paris. The cathedral itself is interesting. However, one is almost obliged to walk through one of two narrow paths to reach the summit. On either, gangs of African men loiter in order to scam visitors. As they tried to engage me, I said “Messieurs, je connais bien Paris” and tried to push my way through. They then formed a circle around me and were trying to grab my wrists. I hissed “Laisse-moi en paix”. They were still trying to argue with me and I screamed “NE ME TOUCHE PAS”!!! With an air I developed in rougher California cities, one in which I instantly made all around me uneasy, it’s the “I will rip your heart out through your arsehole while defecating in your mouth as I laugh maniacally” act. They were utterly terrified and let me go. That ruined it for me, and I saw the bloody Gypo petition scam underway a few yards away. That did nothing to salvage the mood.

I managed to get to airport smoothly. It was painless. On the flight back, I was the only one without a neighbour. Yay! I felt lighter when, looking out the window, I saw the English coastline below. Things are really spiralling in Europe. Whatever its quirks and favours, Britain is a far better place to be. I passed through passport control fairly quickly despite having a pointed exchanged with the UK Border Force officer. I was able to make an early train and arrived far earlier than I expected, terribly unusual for me. Usually I have to wait because I miss trains.

I didn’t mind Paris so much. It has its problems, but all major cities do. Except for a few tense moments, I felt perfectly safe there. But I can’t pretend that I actually understand the French or why they tolerate as many things as they do. There were a lot of problems there that I never witnessed in London or even Hunland. In the UK and Germany, the police would be more proactive. In Paris, scammers and beggars acted with impunity. They knew that, short of killing someone or screaming “Allahu Akbar” while wearing a suicide vest there was precious little that the police would do. I would happily go back, the chances are that I will return to France in the future.

Author: Christopher-Dorset

A Bloody Kangaroo

21 thoughts on “Going South”

  1. I think you should have stuck to your original choice! As far as I’m concerned the only places worth visiting in Paris is La Sainte-Chappelle , and the Musée de Cluny, a Medieval Museum. I’ll tolerate the crowds for the glory of the former and the latter is usually ignored. There are a few places I’d like to go to in France – but Paris isn’t one of them

  2. Paris in the the Spring (sic) used to be pleasant. Parks, bistros, not so many tourists in those days. I always found the Metro unfathomable, did a lot of walking.

  3. Boadicea: Paris has its charms, but I think that Lyon would have been nicer. Paris, like virtually all major global cities, has been commercialised to the point of being a commodity. There wasn’t much discovery involved. I had already seen so many pictures of the sites, so many films about the city that even many of the side-streets were already known. I walked past the Musée de Cluny. I probably should have visited.

    Janus: I didn’t find the Metro that bad. The tourist crowds were more manageable because it was very much off-season and during the week. It was still uncomfortably packed in places. Queuing at Notre Dame for half an hour, getting jostled about at Versailles, etc. I don’t blame Parisians. They were generally nice enough, at least to me. The city was groaning under the strain of tourism and its associated problems. Most of the scams, most of the petty crime and even much of the filth is associated with mass tourism.

  4. I visited Lyons once. I also asked two of my staff, based in Holland and N. Germany respectively, to meet there to follow up a new biz opportunity. It was 1983 BMP (before mobile phones). They failed to meet! Lyons must be a maze or…..?. Yes, correct. They were prats.

  5. Janus: Even with mobile phones there is never a guarantee. For some reason I could not access the internet via my mobile in France. Things would have been much simpler had I been able to use Google Maps. I could use that app in Denmark and Sweden, but not France. What did you think of Lyons?

  6. Christopher – my first visit to Paris was many years ago – a school trip, where we all stayed in a Convent – had meals dished up in stages: as I recall the peas, chips and meat were dished up as three separate courses – and we couldn’t sleep because the Convent plumbing was so noisy… I walked out of the Sacre-Ceour in disgust at the blatant commercialisation – I was, believe it or not, once young and very idealistic!

    I went again two years later and found Paris filthy dirty. Paris may, indeed, have its charms, as I found in later visits. But your tale of being accosted by ‘beggars, etc’ is all too reminiscent of my last visit to Florence… I loved Florence – but, I would never go back, simply because I couldn’t walk more than two paces without being accosted for money. Not my idea of fun…

  7. Boadicea: Europe is growing increasingly tedious. It’s losing much of what formerly made it great as it grows more and more homogenised. The shell remains what it long has been, but the substance is turning rancid. I was disgusted to see Starbucks in an art nouveau arcade and Subway in a Second Empire building. The same scams are operated throughout Europe, more often than not organised by the same groups. Even the gypsies are interchangeable. The same human traffickers bring people in from Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia. I’ve long believed in a moderate and fair, but firm, order. Now we see what happens when we lose this. There have always been petty thieves and con artists, but not to the point that we can see exactly the same tricks done by people who look and operate much the same way whether it’s Lund, Paris or Florence. Perhaps that is why I would rather invest in airfare to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan or Hong Kong.

    Sometimes it’s better to only know things through pictures, to see the beauty without having to wade through filth.

  8. I had the impression that as you were going to Paris under maternal pressure, mother would be meeting you there. Not so. While I’m in favour generally of sons doing what mother tells them, I think next time you should follow your own inclination.

  9. Dreadful place, full of wogs and stinks, and of course the frogs!
    Considering you have had the good fortune to currently reside in ‘God’s acre’ of Dorset I wouldn’t emerge if I were you.
    Just buy their cheese and wine through a reputable importer, cheaper on both the body and soul!
    What is all this haring about rat holes, you never seem able to stay anywhere for more than five minutes?

  10. Sheona: My mother is firmly ensconced in Texas. She might visit me in England this autumn, but that’s still uncertain. I’m set to go to Japan on holiday in October, Dane in tow, so that might complicate things a bit. My mother has had Parisian dreams since she was a girl. She simply hasn’t had the chance to go. Since I was going to France anyway, she thought she’d have me go first so that I can give her a detailed report to see if it’s worth it or not. Next time, I’ll go to Lyon, Provence or some other part of France. Paris wasn’t that bad, but it was still strange.

    CO: I rarely leave Dorset. The only times I’ve left Dorset since November were when I went to Southampton to sort out paperwork. I will not leave Dorset until 31 March when I start a business-related visit to California. I know of a good butcher, a good cheese monger and where to source tolerable fruits and vegetables. I utterly despise grape wine and beer. Give me a proper single malt, Scots and Japanese; or a high-grade Junmai Ginjo or Junmai Daiginjo. Obviously, only Japanese will do. I am not governed by logic, but by pathos. Even when I am happy in the place I live, and I cannot imagine being much better off anywhere outside Dorset, I long to see something different, to live, at least temporarily, in a different dynamic. It’s just how I am.

  11. I have thought for some years now that ‘Christopher’ is a contestant for the Turing test. I remain unconvinced that he has passed it yet.

  12. The boy was similar, once managed to be in 22 countries in one year, quite ludicrous. I expect I ended up paying for a lot of the tickets! He worked very hard for me in the restaurants when he was home so had plenty of money with which to travel even as a student. Each to his own, I feel rather sorry for anyone who needs to rush about so. Were it not for friends in Wales I wouldn’t go further than the local town these days. You must have a very efficient immune system not to be made ill by the disgusting filth and diseases lurking beyond.
    I always rather envied a friend of mine, a farmer, who still sleeps in the same bedroom in which he was born 65 years ago. He does travel now he is retired but says the best part of going anywhere is coming home! He was particularly unimpressed by the South Seas Islands, kept complaining of palm trees and hot boring endless beaches, presumably lack of sheep and cow would have heavily prejudiced him against same. He does like New Zealand but said the pubs were crap! (That wouldn’t do AT ALL!)

  13. CO: I’m increasingly content to hear the announcement that my train has reached Pokesdown for Boscombe as that means I’m in Dorset again. I’ve managed to get horrendously sick at times. In 2014 I had the misfortune of sitting in front of a woman returning from India. She graciously gave me an unusually strong South Asian strain of influenza. I rarely take off work for health reasons but that was one instance in which I had to take off for several days. Given the choice, I’d go to clean, healthy countries like the Nordics, Australia and Japan. Even Taiwan and Hong Kong have highly-developed healthcare systems with populations that are generally in good health.

    Well, of course! The charm of many South Pacific islands is being able to sit on the beach for days at a time. There isn’t much else to do. That strikes me as hell and is also the reason why I avoid beach holidays. NZ is at least cool, but I’m sure that the ratio of sheep to people made him feel at home.

    For some people, especially those roughly my generation, experiences are worth more than material wealth. We might not have houses as large as our parents’s or nearly as many belongings, but we’re more likely to spend extended periods of time elsewhere.

  14. “but I’m sure that the ratio of sheep to people made him feel at home”

    Funny! I reckon you hit the nail on the head fair and square with that one, he reckons on being a cattleman carefully ignoring the couple of thousand sheep he used to have! But then I guess we are all self delusional one way or another, one up from mental illness anyway. With the rain here I’m concentrating on becoming amphibian, I fancy being a crocodile, some, of course, may already think I am one.
    The rain has stopped, there is some yellow thing in the sky and the dogs are agitating to emerge from their sofas, gotta go.

  15. “I couldn’t care less if you assume me to be a software programme other otherwise.”
    Ahha! I see what you did there. Very good.

  16. Christopher – I am not of your generation – but I have had a ‘bucket list’ of places I’d like to see and experience for a very long time. I don’t think that looking at videos is quite the same as being there.

    I can, finally, cross some of those places off that list – and fully intend to do so. So have started to organise trips. I will be going in some comfort and some style – which I know is not the same as going it alone! But, I’m not brave enough to do that. However, I am choosing where I go with some care.

    My first, in a few weeks time will be to Japan. There were lots of trips to choose from, but I took your advice and chose one that starts in Tokyo and then heads north going through more traditional areas and ending in Sapporo. There’s a fair bit of “free time” which I shall use to wander around on my own.

    Your comment re sitting on a beach being the equivalent to sitting in hell is spot-on… utter boredom and end up with the same sun-burn that I can get in my own back-yard… if I was that stupid.

  17. Only ever went on one proper beach holiday in Malta, the boy wanted to do that activity where a boat drags one off the water in a parachute and roars about. He was 9ish. Found an outfit that would take him but he was a bit small for the harness. Off they went, a few minutes later there he was out of the harness just hanging on to it. Frankly I thought the little sod had wriggled out of it deliberately, the boat men had total conniptions, roared back to shore and child just elegantly drops off 30 ft above the water and emerges laughing. Poor boatmen were gibbering wrecks. Probably thought we were mad not foaming at the mouth and suing them etc etc. Anyway that wouldn’t do for the boy. The harness was duly tightened, more straps were found till he looked like a bondage victim and off he went again. And again. And again!
    The beach was never boring, with bungee jumping, swimming with seals, leaping off cliffs and underwater exploration leaving his sub aqua on the sea floor rather than wearing it, I avoided it like the plague. Not good for incipient parental cardiac arrests. There was no point trying to stop him, he just did it behind one’s back.
    My firm adage was if you’re born to be hung you’ll never be drowned!

  18. Boadicea: I understand your point. In a way, I want to see Italy, to see much, much more of France. Grudgingly, there are places in Spain I’d actually quite like to see. I am enamoured with Moorish art and some of the architecture is splendid. Of course, there’s always the superlative Portugal! What bothers me is how many problems there are now and how many things that could have been avoided have gone terribly, terribly wrong. Dorset spoils me. It is very much what CO says it is: “God’s acre”. The food isn’t bad, the people are nice and there are few problems. I was burnt in Spain and have a hard time getting over it, and that’s really tainted southern Europe — outside of Portugal — for me. Then again, I might just go to China again.

    Northern Honshu and Hokkaido will be cold! The snow will still be beautiful, however. Hokkaido is famous for its heavy snow falls. Will you be going to Nikko? I think you’d find it really interesting. If you don’t mind me asking, where will you go in Japan?

    CO: Te he he! Brilliant story, thank you! If it were still like that it wouldn’t be so bad. Needless to say, I am an absolute control freak and I would never, no matter what the reason, put myself in the position that my feet weren’t able to be planted on a solid surface. In far too many instances beaches have become the resorts of the chavviest of the chavvy. Much of Spain and parts of Italy, Greece and Cyprus have been ruined by that onslaught. Bali has become nightmarish due to the invasion of the bogan — Australia’s answer to the chav. I might end up at the beach come April. I am being flown to San Diego again.

  19. Christopher – I’m going at the end of April: so I’d be interested to know what the weather will be like then. I prefer to travel as lightly as possible – so I’d rather avoid taking ‘just-in-case’ clothing!
    As you may gather, it’s an organised tour.. with a limited number of people going to Tokyo, Sendai, Morika, Oga, Hiosaki, Aomori, Hakodate, Sapporo and back to Tokyo to return to Brisbane. It was the only one I could find that didn’t want to take me to Hiroshima, did travel north, and guaranteed a small group.

  20. Boadicea: Hiroshima is very pretty. The people are very kind, the food is excellent. I will go there this autumn for the third time. Miyajima, one of Japan’s most scenic sites, is part of the urban region and if possible I’d like to visit Rabbit Island. If you have time to explore Tokyo alone, I’d strongly recommend an afternoon walk through Ueno Park. It’s a rare oasis of peace in the Japanese capital and in April you’ll be able to see a lot of blossoms.

    I think you’ll find northern Japan, especially Hokkaido, interesting. It lacks the plethora of great historical sites that you’d find in Kyushu and western Honshu, but the natural scenery is stunning. The people are also very different, especially in Hokkaido. They have more of a “frontier” mentality and are more direct and individualistic than people elsewhere in Japan. Expect the temperature to be about 4-6 in the lows and 13-16 in the highs. There should be cherry blossoms in Tokyo already. Further north, there’ll still be plum blossoms. Personally, I prefer plum blossoms.

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