Monday, May 27, 2013

-- Weekend in Paris --

A departure on a Ryanair flight from Dublin also implies that most of the time you will be forced to wake up early in the morning and join the waves of people leaving the rainy lands of Ireland on their onward journeys across the Irish Sea.

This is the case again, although the sun is shining before finding out the flight has been delayed for over an hour and I am forced to wait for boarding in the "Ryanair wing" in Dublin Airport.
Luckily the hop to Paris is very short and as soon as we take off, the dynamic of these hard-working and moody cabin crew unfolds in between scratch cards, menus, half-cooked burgers, packets of cigarettes and debit card machines.

The landscape outside the airplane window looks green and sunny as we approach Ryanair's version of Paris and we land dodging some strong crossed winds.
Beauvais Airport lies in the town of Tille, right in the middle of the French countryside and some two hours North of Paris.

As soon as we clear the distance, the motorway ends and the sight of industrial estates and silage work as a landmark for entering the Ilhe-de-France. In the distance, the Eiffel Tower dominates the horizon, only challenged by the modern and tall glass towers of La Defense.
The streets get busier and we enter the busy ring road and finally, by the Seine, the classic sight of Parisian architecture surrounds me.

Our bus parks in the busy Porte de Chatillon from where I decide to walk through a wide and green avenue to the Arc do Triomph.
Many memories return. Specially those ones from my first time in Paris, back in 2009 when working for Qatar Airways, experience that is also registered in this blog.

Back then things were different and somehow the deja-vu of being in this exact same place, overlooking the Qatari Embassy and the hoards of tourists queueing for their spot up the Arc, only reminds me of how time flies and lives can change in a matter of only a few years. That is youth I suppose.

The sunny weather has welcomed every single tourist to come around and crowd the footpath, sometimes turning into an impossible task to rush or even drag the little trolley bag.
Soon after having a truly crepe filled with chocolate and covered in sugar, it is time to take the modern Metropolitain (subway) to find my hotel in the Southern area of Paris.

From there and after a quick shower, I lose myself in the narrow and quiet streets of the 14th arrondissament through the spotless and well-manicured Jardins de Luxembourg and into Montmartre, a place boiling with tourists and where a nice little cafe overlooking the Senate, typically Parisian (including the rude staff) works as an oasis from the hectic of the trip and the streets of the French capital and as the perfect spot for the transition of the city into the darkness. The nickname "La Ville-Lumiere" (City of Light) becomes obvious and adequate when the sun sets.

The evening ends in a quiet walk around the neighborhood. Energy is needed to be saved for the next morning, starting with a strong sunshine invading the hotel room and a frugal breakfast consisting of a perfectly crafted omelette in the area of Saint Michel.

It is time to start the long series of walks by heading North to The Louvre. The glass pyramids are still there as is the baguette stand where I purchased food some four years ago.
The walk up the hills finally take me to Montmartre. Inspiration of every movie and every cliche regarding the French culture.

Dark narrow streets blend almost perfectly with cafes and boulangeries (bakeries) where pan au chocolat is crafted to perfection and enjoyed with a good cup of coffee. No Starbucks in miles.

Sacre-Coeur, the place that took my breath away a few years ago , this time surrounded by thousands of tourists, remains my favourite part of Paris. The sight of a world capital unfolding on my feet.
The thoughts of the happenings of an unique city rapidly fill my mind, while relaxing in the green and steep hills for a few minutes in between tourists and locals who crowd the place in search of the perfect pictures, or the perfect memories.

The long walk has made me hungry, the idea of a picnic by the Seine sounds appealing enough to me, my friends and some other dozens of locals who crowd the banks of this river, just behind Notre Dame while sharing stories, food, wine (which is a steal in France) and on the sight of some other hundred tourists navigating the cold waters in the sightseeing cruises.

It is time to rest again. The basic hotel facilities and free wi-fi keep me entertain for a while. The quietness of the Southern neighborhoods win and I fall asleep quickly.

It is Monday, and Paris shows the dynamic of a big city. People are rushing in their suits, buses are packed with people and traffic becomes heavy while I enjoy yet another omelette with a strong coffee in the area of Alessia.

Day of quick visits: Centre Pompidou and its challenging architecture, resembling a cage full of ideas or maybe a box full of tools. The banks of the Seine, the Eiffel Tower and Champs de Mars, perfect setting for a classic picture and because no visit to Paris would be complete without at least taking a look at its unique shape for a few minutes.

Through Champs Elysees, and after a visit to McDonald's (to remember the last time I was there and to take advantage of the free wi-fi, precious commonality in France), I make my way to Porte de Chatillon. The bus leaves on time. The traffic becomes horrendous.

We reach "no land Airport". Crowded, overly hot. Only two working toilets. Ryanair price.

Flight departs on time and gets lost in the dark. The lights of Howth guide our plane into the runway of Dublin Airport some hour and a half later. It is late and the weekend in Paris proved to be a mix of emotions, deja-vu's and probably a confirmation in my mind of the customs and lifestyle of the citizens living in this city, world icon and particularly... French.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

-- South American turnaround (part 2) --

The remaining days of my holidays happen in between copious amounts of food, meeting old and new friends and under a strong sunshine and warm summer heat.

Barbeques, typical dishes, Peruvian dishes and pastries seem to mash together on my mind while I enjoy the company of those who were and still part of my life for many years.

Two weeks later, it is time to leave the lowlands of South America and say good-bye to my beloved ones. No matter how many years I have been wandering around the globe, this part always moves me in an odd way and a big knot on my throat is formed shortly before the last hug.

Airside the story changes and a long journey back to Dublin is in front of me. Immigration queues, a delayed flight and the greenery of the area surronding Santa Cruz de la Sierra merges with the thick stormy clouds while Boliviana de Aviacion climbs up and Sao Paulo bound , where grey cumulonimbus shake the little Boeing 737 while we circle the Serra da Cantareira before landing in always-busy Guarulhos Airport.

As the rain falls heavily and I wait for one of my ex-colleagues to pick me up, deja-vus rain on my mind. The same smell of burned Brazilian petrol mixed with the humid summer air and moist soil floods my senses with memories and I see myself arriving into this city 7 years ago for the first time.
I was a little kid moving abroad for the first time then. I feel rewarded by the feeling and enjoy it throughly until my friend meets me at the Arrivals Hall and we drive under a thick storm into the city.

For the next three days, I wander around the largest city in Brazil. Place I once called home and now I visit as a tourist meeting friends, taking pictures of places I would walk through every day and enjoying the good weather and food.
Difference in time becomes obvious when paying for goods. Brazilian economy is booming and it is seen reflected on prices. What costed 10 Brazilian Reais back then , costs almost 18 now.

The last day of my trip is complemented with a visit to my favourite hideaway in the city: Parque do Ibirapuera, a massive lung in the congested life of Sao Paulo. Where joggers mix with entire families enjoying a walk and the thick social barrier line that defines the Brazilian society seems to fade.


Paulista Avenue, Viaduto do Cha, Se Square, everything is re-visited and seen as a tourist. A rather refreshing feeling that ends when I have to take a crowded subway Red Line that break downs, followed by a run and a bus, in the heat and carrying a backpack.

I make it to my flight on time and after another long delay sponsored by Air France, our old and dirty Boeing 777 leaves Brazilian airspace.

I am tired and collapse in my sleep to wake up for breakfast off the coast of Andalucia. We prepare to land shortly after and with a delayed flight, everyone seems to be in an state of alert for connecting flights.
We are told the airbridges are broken and await for further instructions. I can only seem to worry while holding my boarding pass and run across Terminal 2 in order to make it.

Long corridor, escalator, train, security check, escalator and Dublin flight. Made it. Bus journey to our little plane sitting on some forgotten tarmac sector at Charles de Gaulle.
We are again delayed because of the snow and sit on the plane for nearly an hour.

The "Air France Adventure Challenge" is finished when the sight of Dun Laoghaire and The Liffey can be seen on the right hand side of the plane and a rather bright day welcomes me to the Irish capital.

The South American turnaround is completed.