… which is lucky as I never made it to Casablanca.
With the watery ghost of the viral infection/food poisoning still lingering, I was physically exhausted. On the plus side it was great for losing weight, but the minuses sucked. Sleeping was difficult and I couldn’t venture far from a bathroom. Although I’ve a generally robust immune system even it was struggling to cope.
My daily wanderings around the city had slowed and I was barely leaving the house. I couldn’t even walk across the street to the supermarket without feeling dizzy, which was annoying considering I’d averaged about 24 km per day walking on this trip.
Damn you Tozeur. You and your dodgy camel hotpot.
Usually its a simple fix for a gut bug – just load up on medication – but this year I’ve been experimenting with natural remedies and relying on my own immune system. So hot water and vinegar, garlic and ginger tea, and rest. After 3 days straight in bed (sleeping sometimes 14 hours a day) I’d finally started to bounce back.
Unshackled from the toilet, I began exploring again but already Tunis was losing its sparkle. Yosra was busy with assignments, Hasna was in France on vacation, Arianna was getting ready to leave, and Dianna was busy with study. I was going over old ground, the same places, the same markets, even the food was annoying me (meat, meat and more meat). I chipped a tooth on a piece of gravel buried in a makloub – the first actual real food I’d had in days (grrr) – and that was the final straw.
It was time to go.
Still recovering, the thought of battling Morocco (which was even more aggressive to tourists than Egypt, I’d heard) did not fill me with joy. With my birthday plans having changed for the better, why was I going to Morocco anyway?
I needed a softer option.
With Europe quite literally on my doorstep, and airfares cheap ($55 to Paris one way…c’mon!) once I started looking the decision was really easy. For the cost of an airfare to Marrakesh I could fly to Paris, then Rome, then fly back to Tunis if I wanted.
*also I don’t speak French, but fake it til you make it, I say. Besides, I’d faked my way through Tunisia with my terrible high school French – how hard could France possibly be?
Screw Morocco. Decision made.
I was off to Paris!
Getting out of Tunisia was a breeze – booked a Tunisair flight online for $55 one way, grabbed a taxi for 5 dinar to the airport (now that i know the real fare and can argue with the cabbies its a no brainer), early check in, bag drop and then an hour of grace to relax and review. A quick round of thank yous and goodbyes then Bam – I was set .
First job was to find a place to stay, so I hit the Hostelworld app and Airb’n’b (the usual suspects) and discovered the bleeding obvious – Paris is expensive!
After trolling through countless sites and internet travel blogs, I discovered a hidden gem – tucked right in the city, only 2 blocks from the Musee de Louvre in the cafe district, was the BJV Louvre, a youth hostel with the bare basics but a stupidly cheap rate. $24 AUD per night. Now this place had mixed reviews but the location and the price was a complete winner for me so I booked in for a week and trusted the travel Gods that it wouldn’t be a complete dump.
Arriving at Orly (or the crappiest no services airport Ive even seen), I picked up my bags and absolutely breezed through security and immigration. I was really surprised how fast – the airport was practically deserted, the immigration cop barely glanced at my Passport and made little comment except “Hmmph…you are Australian? Why are you traveling alone? This city is the most dangerous city in Europe – be very careful here. Have a nice day”.
Wow. Lucky I have my trusty climbers knife still (Thanks Sean it’s been really handy)
Not a great introduction to Paris be sure, and Orly Airport certainly didn’t impress. Nor did the weather. After Tunisia’s bright and sunny 30 degree days, the dull grey 9 degrees of France in Autumn was a cold but ultimately refreshing slap in the face. Luckily I’d lugged cold weather gear around with me since Washington ( yes I may not have even unpacked) so I rugged up, popped on a beanie and my hilltribe scarf and was set. Very chic.
Getting from Orly to the City was a breeze (ORLYVAL plus a RER B change at Antony station), then a quick METRO ride and I was there. Traveling through the French countryside by train, listening to the grey haired gypsy-like accordian player busking in the carriages, and watching the transition from autumn forests into urban cityscape was simply wonderful. The babble of French was champagne to my ears and not speaking any, I was blissfully unaware of peoples lives and conversations but full of a growing excitement.
Paris! My God. How on earth did I get here? It’s a long way for a kid from Wombat, NSW (pop 120). Grinning like a fool I leaned into my backpack, settled in and gazed out the train window as Paris City zoomed into view, the sun setting and the rainy grey cityscape disappearing into the dusk.
After a few lines changes, some confusing station signage and a slight wrong turn, I found myself on the Metro heading into the city through the Paris underground system.
Eventually I was spat out at Palais Royal Musée du Louvre – quite literally right in front of the famous museum.
Reaching the top of the stairs at the Metro station, I turned and looked up through the adjacent passageway. My jaw dropped and remained there for the next hour.
I was here.
At the Louvre.
And there I sat for an hour or so. Leaning back against my trusty rucksack, against a massive statue of Louie XIV. Feeling…odd. Emotionally flip flopping. Elated. Defeated. Lost.
The transition from North Africa to Paris was unsettling and had caught me completely off guard. A literal culture shock and it floored me.
Sitting on the cold concrete, watching the families and tourists mill. Grounding myself or at least trying to. Surrounded by people but very much alone. For the first time in weeks I wished Jen were here. Should be here. Wasn’t. I recall taking a long, shaky breath at that moment.
“Just breathe it out” I told myself. Let it out. Let it go. But I felt wrong. Askew. A massive emotional mass was shifting and stirring, an uneasy sensation from some thing slithering deep in my darkness; sniffing at life, sensing insecurity, seizing opportunity – breaking loose from imaginary bonds and hungrily making for the surface.
Taking away its power is the trick. That takes a little focus and control but is easy enough once you know the signs. And I do, now.
Just as suddenly, it let go and the moment passed. (Overly dramatic? Maybe. Looks like I still have some work to do though)
But still I sat quietly. Just observing. Feeling. Unbelieving. Watching myself at first, then the honeymooners, the lovers young and old, the photographers framing shots and the artists sketching wildly away; the families roaming, hearing their kid’s laughter echoing loudly around the plaza. My eyes swept the space, noting the lions and the lambs: the hawkers and the scammers versus the tourists – finally glancing up to meet the cold judgemental gaze of the many statues perched on the rooftops of the Louvre, frozen in space and time. Like I was, pinned there by the weight of this reality. Breathing in the cold Parisian night air, mesmerized by the spotlights from the Eiffel tower playing over the city, gazing into the reflective pools, marveling at the sheer beauty of it all. The history here had such a palpable weight and I felt the briefest moment of connection, an earthing, to this place.
I sat there for a bit longer as the crowds dwindled and the night got colder. A little in shock, a little sad, painfully lonely, but somehow still connected and feeling very much alive.
This is how it must feel.
I like it.
to be cont.