Our flight over to Paris was uneventful and short by comparison to our previous endeavors. When I had arranged everything I knew we were going to be arriving well before check-in was open at our hotel (Holiday Inn Canal De La Villette) but the reviews had said a few people had managed to wrangle their way in early. Alas we were not so lucky and had 3 hours to burn while we waited for our room so we could wash away the previous days travels. I had figured we could just take a short trip into the city’s center and wander around for a bit but my poor wife was in no form to do so.
We followed the canal southward, perusing the various cafes and restaurants as we went. I was a little taken aback by how similar all the menus seemed to be, all offering the same variation of a couple dishes. Turns out this must just be the street menu as when we finally decided on a place their offerings were far more wide and varied. I settled on duck with a pepper sauce accompanied by potatoes covered in bacon. A decadent meal, to be sure, but its simple composition is something that I really did appreciate.
Full from lunch we waddled our way back to the hotel, only managing to kill a couple hours. My wife decided it was nap time and used my legs as a pillow whilst I continued reading my book and playing a few games on my phone to pass the time. We were eventually allowed up into our room, a balcony suite on the top floor, and we both quickly made a beeline for the shower. My wife then collapsed on the bed where we inadvertently spent the next few hours, something that won’t do us any favors jet lag wise.
We then started to plan our activities for the coming days only to find that trying to book things this close is something of a fool’s errand. Now this may be because we’re here during the middle of the Euro 2016, something which I (in my usual fashion of not following sports at all) had neglected to account for. So instead we’ve settled on something of a priority system: go early to the things we really want to do and then do others if we’re able. This has us settling on doing the catacombs in the morning, the Louvre right after and then seeing what the lines are like over at the Eiffel Tower. Whether we make that all or not is a question I’ll answer tomorrow.
My first impressions of Paris are much like that of Montreal, although without the dichotomy of new and old in such stark contrast. It is interesting to note the cycle of the city is different to what I’m used to, the ebbs and flows of everything happening well after I’d expect them too. We’re towards the outer rim of the city so I’m sure it will be much more frenetic when we finally make the journey to the center tomorrow morning. I’m hopeful that we’ll get to do all the things we’ve planned tomorrow, even though we haven’t been able to secure our spots ahead of time.
We almost immediately fell back into our old habits again, trying to plan as much as we could in the short time we have here. Whilst I certainly want to make the most of this trip the last thing I want to do is burn myself out on planning before it even starts. I’ll have to keep an eye on that.
It was almost 20 hours ago that I woke up to the rude sound of my alarm, blaring out random garbles in a feeble attempt to wake me from my slumber. Today was the day I’d set out for the USA and my first plane was due to leave at 8am, just 2 hours away. Wait laid before me was a grand total of 20 hours of flight time and an entire day lost to the mere act of travelling. Still my wife and I were excited for our first long trip overseas together, even though we’d be spending the first 10 days of it apart. With all that running through our heads we made our way to the airport thanks to our good friend Danne, who volunteered his services not only as a chaffer but as our house sitter as well as we gallivanted around the lucky country.
The flight over was not as bad as I had expected. I’d been on a long haul flight before, 8 hours to Japan back in 2001, but this was going to be 13 hours and 33 minutes. The prospect was made even more uncomfortable by the fact that upon checking in we were told that there would be a seat between us, and no indication if it was filled or not. Luckily for us it wasn’t and we enjoyed the extra space and convenience that it provided. I was able to get 6 hours or so of sleep but Rebecca, as always, struggled to get even a couple minutes. She didn’t seem any worse for wear because of it though, but I guess after dealing with insomnia for so many years you get used to running on nothing. The food and service was quite good for the ticket price we paid, I was wholly expecting to get nickel and dimed for each and every little thing but Delta Airlines felt almost identical to the Qantas flight we had taken hours earlier.
A long 13 hours later we were in LAX, the thriving hub of transportation that it is. After disembarking we were lead to immigration where they took not only our entire set of fingerprints but also our photo. I’d known for a long time that the USA had been doing this and whilst I didn’t object to doing it, I still didn’t feel completely comfortable with this piece of security theatre. Still it was painless at least and once we were out of there our bags were waiting for us, ready to be picked up. After spending a confusing 30 minutes trying to figure out where each of us had to go (Rebecca is going onto Canada, myself Orlando) we finally found the shuttle Rebecca had to take. Mere minutes later it arrived and she was whisked away to LAX Terminal 2 where she would catch her flight to Canada.
I stumbled around trying to find my way into the terminal that would take me to my final destination on this leg of my journey, getting hopelessly lost in the desolate landscape of LAX. I eventually found my way there through a long corridor that started evoking images of Orwell’s 1984, with a loudspeaker blaring warnings and my footsteps echoing in the lonely fluorescence. Then I was greeted with the friendly face of the TSA and my first ever American airport security check. They went over everyone’s ID with a UV light, took people’s bottles of water, made everyone take off their shoes and frisked about 1 in every 5 passengers. Suddenly the Australian security checks seemed mild in comparison. I got through with barely a second glance, but yet again I had that terrible feeling that my civil liberties were dying as the USA’s paranoia. This country didn’t make the greatest first impression.
I tried fruitlessly to find wifi and a working ATM, the lifeblood of my generation. None of the ATMs could do a cash withdrawal on my cards, even the Westpac one that’s apparently in cahoots with the Bank of America (which I was trying to use). All the wifi hotspots were either secured or paid portals leaving me disconnected and alone. I did nothing for almost an hour before sitting down to write this, thinking there was no point if I couldn’t publish it right away. Still writing is a great way to pass the time and I still had over an hour before my next flight was scheduled to depart.
The flight to Orlando was painful, even though I lucked out with the emergency exit row. Neither of my temporary travel friends were interested in striking up a conversation and the jet lag was setting in with vengeance. Couple that with my bony ass being unable to find comfort in the seats and it was 5 hours in the air that couldn’t go fast enough. I eventually found solace in one of the books I had picked up (Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton) and managed to pass the majority of time without too much fuss. Then came the dreaded moment, would my luggage be there to greet me when I landed?
Although I’ve never lost anything through the airports I still have a healthy paranoia about them. If it’s anything but a direct flight I always think it’s going to get lost in the airport machine, doomed to bounce endlessly around the globe while I lay stranded, devoid of my clothes and other miscellany. 10 minutes after landing however there my bag was, just as I had left it at LAX 6 hours earlier. Flush with the victory of picking up my luggage I made a break for my hotel for the night, the Hyatt Regency at the Orlando airport.
Unbeknownst to me the large atrium I had walked through to get my bags was in fact the hotel itself. After grabbing my keys I went to my room, which as it turns out is quite opulent. After quickly changing into something more comfortable I went to the gym for a quick workout before making my way out for dinner. I decided to try the in hotel restaurant, McCoy’s Bar and Grill. The food was so-so but the Californian wine was quite good and the service was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. This definitely was capitalism taken to the extreme where minimum wage workers fight their way out of there by providing you the ultimate in service. Having dinner out in Australia feels like getting spat in the face by comparison.
And now I’ve resigned myself to finishing off the $30 bottle of wine I have beside me and watching the Discovery channel until I pass out. Hopefully my plan skirts around the horrible jet lag I felt earlier, but either way tomorrow I take on the challenge of trying to drive on the wrong side of the road in a Toyota Corolla, in preparation for one of the reasons I came here: to drive a corvette around Florida for a week.