Saturday the 13th of June
This day is one I have been anticipating for the past few months. An early start was required to get us onto the bus and on route to our next destination. The contiki coach, that would be our sole piece of familiar on this journey of discovery, was cold and left me little room to rest. It was a comfortable trip in which I could catch up on urgent journal entries whilst I stared out of its large windows at the green plains that passed. Eventually the smooth road began to dip as we passed the famous White Cliffs of Dover and boarded a P&O ferry along with a line of large vehicles also journeying across the ocean to France. Once processed through customs, we were allowed to disembark the coach and take a better look at the chalk peaks streaked with black flint that are considered a miracle of nature. In the simplest of descriptions, the White Cliffs of Dover exactly resembled their name due to the unusual geological composition of the chalk rock and flint stone.
Touch down to the very northern coast of France, we were greeted with an unexpected sight: to our left a camping arrangement of makeshift tents resided at the boarder with flags of black, green, red and a white image in its centre. Our tour guide, Michael, explained that France had been experiencing some immigration issues requiring drastic defences, such as the looming white fences to our right, to protect its land and social policies. Talk quickly turned to a lighter subject: that France has fifty-eight nuclear reactors and it produces eight billion bottles of wine per year! It is also the birthplace of delicious champagne that was accidentally discovered when a bottle of wine was fermented twice and has because of this become the popular phenomenon enjoyed by millions today.
The bus came to a cautious slow as we entered the side street slums of the flea market. The budget hotel was not in the heart of Paris or with the most gorgeous view, but it did its job of providing us a safe place to sleep. The footpath was littered with mismatched shoes and dirty sales things that were not worth the interest of those passing by. From the raised cabin of the Contiki Coach we gazed at the immigrants below who stared back – some of the men winked or blew kissed at our company, a gesture that was flattering but simultaneously creepy. Being careful not to trample the sales stock we made our way into the hotel and prepared for dinner with our new group of friends. A glass of champagne and escargots welcomed us to our home for the next few days.
The itinerary for the evening was a tour of Paris by night. We drove through the concrete jungle to the historically rich monuments that have become the icons of the modern world today and were left to explore the memorable Eiffel Tower. It was late in the evening however the sun was still high in the sky, making for a gorgeous view of the city from the second floor. The sun had fully set by the time our feet touched back to the ground and I felt myself getting incredibly tired; but there was no chance of going home or to sleep – after all, we were in Paris!
With each a bottle of alcohol in hand we picnicked on a grassy expanse underneath the tower. The feeling in the atmosphere surrounding our new group of friends was vibrant! A unique rapport between the individuals had developed in such a short time fostered by the magic of the intricate structure before us. We were in the city of lights and love! Captivated by the history of romanticism that was evident in the awe-inspiring architecture, we spent the evening under the illuminated Eiffel Tower. I cannot imagine how this steel structure had once been dubbed by locals the ‘unfortunate lamppost’ when sparkling lights began to flicker on the hour, followed by a chorus of oohs and ahhs. I could imagine no better way to have commenced our Contiki Tour. I will forever remember this moment.