Chennai-Colombo-Paris was our rather tortuous path to the final destination. The final leg was to be covered on board the Sri Lankan Airlines. Having already found out the fares, I was confident that my first international flight didn’t have the makings of being a memorable one; I wasn’t let down! The food was abysmal, the service was pathetic and as I have been forever unlucky with air-hostesses; I couldn’t have expected much here. The drink we had (something alcoholic made out of coconut) would have been decent, but for the coke added by the steward. The only silver lining, though it is feature in all international flights I am told, was a small touch screen for every seat. Hence with nothing else to distract me (Did I mention the air hostesses?), I settled down to play some mindless games and watch some dumb movie.
Sunday, May 4th 1000 hrs local time, arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris. Met by an ENS student a certain Mr F. We happen to recognize him! He was a part of the CMI-ENS exchange program team to visit Chennai this January. We take a TTR into the main city from where he drives us to our rooms in a suburb of Paris called Montrouge. We freashen up, are taken out to lunch by our escort and make a first visit to ENS. Its a weekend and the campus is deserted but F shows us around. The canteen is closed on weekends, so F helps us buy supplies for dinner (Milk, bread and jam.) and we return to our rooms exhausted. The next thing I know a loud banging has woken me up. I check the watch; its 1830 hrs and I have just enjoyed a four hour siesta. Its P and kesh at the door and we go out for a nice evening walk. My afternoon siesta was evidently not sufficient as I retired to bed at 2200 hrs (theres still daylight outside) to end the first day in Paris.
First meeting with Prof. Olivier Glass, our coordinator for the trip. We are handed over the badges, and are pleasantly surprised to be handed out nice maps of Paris. We are also given passes for travel (unlimited!!!) inside Paris. We are given computer accounts and a library card (I was pleased to see quite a few books in english). I am then told my guide wouldn’t be in town for another week……my morning was getting better. We then proceeded to have lunch with Prof. Ollivier Glass’ colleagues.
Traveling in Paris is as easy as it can get (Yess that too without much French!).The system is so well organised you can hardly ever get lost. There are in all about 14 metro tracks strewn all over Paris. Each track has a number and a colour code. Every station has map of Paris with all the routes passing through the station with their colour codes. Plus every station has excellent signboards to give you directions. Even if this does not help you theres always a person at the Information desk eager to help you. And ofcource very much like Bombay, wherever the train can’t take you there is always the bus. The bus stops also have maps to guide you. The first fear when you come to a new land is usually about finding your way around the city; those fears were dispelled almost as soon as I stepped foot in Paris.
A walk about the Seine river-side and you understand why Paris is embellished with the sobriquet of “The city of romance”. And I am not only talking about the chicks here (Although you wont be disappointed on this count either!). No its everything about the city; the weather is fantastic with temperatures only just in the double digits, a nice breeze blowing across, the old-worldly style of architecture using white stone, the city is not exactly laid-back but there is no hustle-bustle of say a Mumbai, then we have the Seine river itself with that pavement along the whole length of it for people to take leisurely walks, cruise boats with soft music playing in them doing the rounds of the river. It is as P remarked on one of our walks down the river ” Its almost as if the city is made for lovers”.
The people are extremely friendly and polite. It is almost like a practice to say either Bonjour or Bonsoir when you run into people (even unknown people) down some passage or something. The usual courtesies need some getting used to though……….This is what happened the first day in Paris – I was down in the common kitchen near the sink filling up my bottle when this really gorgeous girl I had never seen in my life before walks in and smiles.
Girl (Smiling): Bonsoir (Good evening )
well this was something which had never happened back in India and all I can now remember is a LOT of fumbling. I went
VVD : mmmm….er….what….yes yes….bonsoir bonsoir……
Being a pakka non veggie, I had been told I should be looking forward to French cuisine. I did and am glad to say I wasn’t disappointed. The same cant be said about veggies though as my poor friend P found out. The food for the veggies can only be classified as cattle fodder. P has had to thus rely almost solely on his cooking skills which unfortunately are still in their infancy. To be fair to him though he has made a lot of progress in just one week; according to his own observation his cooked food finally seems to have entered into the edible range.
The ENS canteen is particularly good (and it helps that the food is free for us!). But the canteen being closed on the weekend makes for dull food on these days. Though I must say if you can survive on milk, bread, jam and cheese and an occasional dinner at a restaurant you can survive without spending a lot of money. I did try out a few variations like making a chicken sandwich, but this was a disaster. I hasten to add that this is not a reflection on my own cooking skills; the chicken was bad (sour grapes????). I next plan to try out a Ham sandwich (yess getting more adventurous).
The ironical thing really is that alcohol here is cheaper than milk! A beer (if bought in large quantity like 5 liters or something) turns out to be cheaper than poor harmless milk. Needless to say my beer intake has seen a steep rise already!
So passed our first week. It has been a vacation for me as my guide hasn’t been around. Its been all play and no work so far and I daresay I have gotten a bit sluggish; nothing like a small problem to work on to get the adrenaline pumping again.
So folks till next week its au revoir…….