Tale of two cities

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Doha airport

Doha airport

CDG Paris

CDG Paris

Inverted Pyramid, Louvre

Inverted Pyramid, Louvre

Do you believe in ravens, omens & signs?

In transit at Doha on an onward flight to Paris we decide on a quick cuppa before boarding. The coffee spills, oops! over the table, the floor & on Chanson’s clothes. No matter. She has a change. Minor mishap. The first & the last, before journey end, we hope.

All seated & ready for take off, there is an unexpected delay. We are informed about a ‘technical’ snag because of which passengers must disembark, only to board the aircraft four hours later, arriving in Paris past midnight instead of 8 pm.

My friend has traveled ‘Business’; I ‘Economy’ & we have agreed to meet at ‘Immigration’. I see her fetching up accompanied by a policeman. ‘Hey, Chanson”, I wave. She indicates that she is unwell so I leave the queue to join her.

‘Parlez vous Francais?

Parlez vous Anglais?

In the middle of the night! Alas! We have just arrived after a grueling flight. (New Delhi – Doha – Paris)

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Paris:angular streets

Paris:angular streets

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The Seine

The Seine

After a long wait, unending explanations & umpteen glasses of water (my friend is dehydrated) our passports are stamped & baggage collected. This I manage with the help of friendly airport personnel who, manoeuvre me via several shortcuts across, that humongous airport that is ‘CDG Paris’.

We are taken to a paramedic centre where Chanson is made to lie down & get medical parameters checked. Her blood pressure shoots up & down dramatically. This happens over a course of hours. She is anxious & feels dehydrated. Has plenty of water and, wants to use the loo, but no. She is not allowed to move. A bedpan is brought. Fluctuating BP, breathlessness, dehydration, water – bedpan – more water. It goes on into the night. The doctor fears a blood clot from prolonged inactivity on a long distance flight. He cannot take a chance so recommends going to hospital for further tests. We won’t risk the chance either & agree.

Another long wait before an ambulance arrives with assistant & stretcher. It drives us through the dark & empty streets of Paris. An eerie 6 – 10 km ride, on this our first night in the city.

The Robert Ballanger hospital – believe it or not – is blood splattered. Wish I had taken some pictures. And there are patients waiting everywhere. Chanson is moved to a bed & told to wait. It would take time for the doctor to arrive. Those before us would be attended first. A man had been brought in five hours ago & was still waiting. ‘Just relax. Be patient’.

The clock ticks on. Dehydration. Water. Bedpan. More water. Worse, not knowing the blood pressure as there was no one monitoring it.

It is a long night.

Finally. The doctor arrives in the wee hours of the morning. He checks her pulse & voila she is to be discharged.

Just like that?

Yes, just like that. Never mind the BP or the ‘clot’, not to speak of trauma or money down the drain.

Outside, the dawn is slowly breaking & it is another day.

Welcome to Paris.

Old Port, Marseille

Old Port, Marseille

We have six hours before departure. What we must resolve is whether or not Chanson is up for the trip or should it be postponed by a day. She looks & feels better. In any case there are doctors everywhere – if need be, God forbid.

That decides it.

Marseille, the lovely seaside town every travel guide warns you about. Drunken sailors. Muggings. Brawls. Clever sleights of hand. Pick pockets.

Part of the experience.

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‘Hotel La Residence’, overlooks the old port. It is a boutique hotel & we are lucky to have a harbor facing room with the Notre Dame in the distance. Despite a bustling port it is tranquil & quiet in here. We arrive around 4pm & spend the rest of the day loitering around La Panier & Canebiere –  simply getting a feel of the place.

Chateau D'lf, Marseille 'Count of Monte Cristo' Remember?

Chateau D’lf, Marseille a la The Count of Monte Cristo’

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harbour view

harbour view

Calanques,Cassis

The Calanques at Cassis

There are plans for Cassis next day. Cassis, a tiny fishing village 20 kms to the east – along the coast – of which it is said,

“ he who has seen Paris & not seen Cassis, can say ‘I have seen nothing’”

Along the quay fishermen begin to set up stalls early next morning. Displaying every variety of exotic ‘catch’  and – as the song goes, “cockles & muscles alive……. Alive O!” Handsome Catalan faces against an aquamarine waterfront. Weather beaten faces that beckon – come taste the salt of the sea. The Concierge too urges us outdoor on to this, not – to – be – missed scene. I sling a rucksack & go out & mingle with the crowds. Blue skies, bluer seas. It is a beautiful day. Strolling, watching, quizzing, peering, talking, taking pictures, in short enjoying every bit of the action. Fish and Folk.

We would have lingered, but for Cassis.

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What is your worst travel nightmare?

Mine is falling ill and/or losing baggage

In no particular order.

A man at the Metro points to my rucksack warning that it is open. I do remember closing it. However, let me see. Lo & behold, it is wide open, all zips undone. That sets panic bells ringing. I rummage through quickly, turning it inside out, checking each & every pocket, emptying out contents only to find the money belt missing. It had all the cash, credit cards, travel card, medicine and Passport.

I could have kicked myself. As Chanson pointed out, why was I carrying everything in the first place? She advised calm as we walked back to the hotel in the forlorn hope that it had been forgotten there.

Of course it hadn’t. The backpack had not been touched since our arrival. I had picked it up as it lay & walked out into the day.

The tally was euro 1500 cash – lost. Luckily it was too early in the day for merchant transactions. We were able to block all  credit cards & have the balance in the Travel card transferred to a duplicate one. That, fortunately was still in my possession. The next step was to alert the hotel.

Ricardo was speechless with disbelief, as were Eric & Julie. A wonderful lot, they were full of care & concern. Julie, the young manager personally offered help but it being a public holiday there was not much she could do. Worse, it was a Friday, to be followed by Saturday & Sunday. Nobody in the embassy could be contacted until the next working day. We had plans for Portugal (expense paid) but without a passport we were stranded.

Julie thought a meeting with a police ‘higher – up’ was in order & tried to arrange one but, it being a long weekend that too came a cropper.

Police in any case had to be informed just so travel documents were in order.

She accompanied us expressing dismay along the way. No matter what was written & said about Marseille, it was a safe place. She often went home without incident, alone at night. Ours was an unfortunate occurence. She narrated a similar experience in Mexico where she had to borrow $ 2000 to continue with the remainder of her trip. This she stuffed inside a teddy bear, afraid to lose it if she carried it in person. She would stitch/unstitch the bear every night, as & when money was needed. She also told us that every police station in France had a ’lost & found’ cell where stolen goods sometimes showed up.

Julie Pseat

Julie Pseat

Sweet, Julie! her continuous chatter made me forget the problem at hand, to the extent that I actually began to enjoy the walk.

“ Never mind the cash,” I blurted absentmindedly. “If only the passport is returned”

Chanson thought that was a far cry. It never ever worked that way.

“Just a thought”, I murmured, saying a Gayatri mantra to myself.

I am not a religious person yet I said the mantra & I said it without thought of profit or gain. It had been only a few hours since the horrific incident but the mind had reconciled & moved on. Taking stock, the situation did not seem that bad after all. We had scraped through pretty well. The actual loss was euro 1500 only. Perhaps I owed the bloke this money or perhaps his need was more. As for Portugal, that was another 15 days away. I would have a fresh passport by then.

Inside police headquarters Julie immediately got down to the task, explaining everything in detail to the officer on duty. He politely listened, nodding now & then while I stood idly by.

A voice suddenly called out, wanting to know my name.

“Sudha”, I said.

“Voila! Here is your passport”

“What”????

Come again!!!

The passport??

No kidding. No fuss. There it was, in the hands of a lady officer – the black leather belt with everything in it. Everything that is, minus the cash.

Note: Pick pocketing is rampant in France so much so that the Eiffel tower had to shut down one day. Travelers are constantly advised to be careful. We certainly had several near encounters – that we escaped, if only by a whisker.

The French tend to blame immigrants, especially those of Algerian descent but the 20 year old who found & returned the bag was Algerian. He had gone to dispose a cup after having coffee when he spotted it in the bin & brought it to police.

Bless him always!

And

Au revoir Marseille. If I return it will be for the likes of, the boy & Julie.

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