Thursday, May 27, 2010

My vacation - Part 4 - Onward towards Paris


To most people the name conjures up an image of a skinny pouty oversexed disinherited heiress but few know that it is also a city in France.

France, if you are a widely read person, you might know as a country in Europe but confusingly, it is also the name of a popular seafood hors d'oevre in Mysore (Chilly France, corrupted to Chilly Prawns in westernised Bangalore)

We landed in Paris (the city, not the heiress) from Uganda via the United Arab Emirates, which is a little story in itself, though not worth narrating. So here it is.

After Jinja, we tooled off to a charming safari lodge in western Uganda called the Paraa Safari Lodge.

Amidst all the three course meals, buffet breakfasts and high teas it was really hard to find time to go out into the wild and look at animals but we managed it. We saw deer, antelopes, giraffes, elephants, crocodiles, hippos and buffaloes.  Splendid experience actually. The only beasts missing were the lions. Probably had an offsite or something. But we're nothing if not resilient. We went back to the lodge and tucked into some Poulet Roti Provencal or something. The chef turned out to be a Kenyan. We went and met him and only the strongest exertion of will prevented me from kneeling before him and kissing his hand.

It was here that I noticed the curious phenomenon of belt shrinkage. My belt seemed to have shrunk gradually and I was having to wear it a whole notch looser. It must have been a combination of the atmospheric conditions with the ambient temperature causing a slippage in molecular adjacency resulting in an anisotropic x-axis dimensional variation. I can think of no other explanation. The missus only rolled her eyes when I told her my theory but then she's not the kind who appreciates deep scientific analysis. "You've become fat, silly!" she said and went off into a gift shop right there in the middle of the savannah grassland.

Well, perhaps she's right. Or the molecular slippage thing has affected all my garments as well. But I've been hardly eating anything.

By now the jolly old volcanic ash cloud responsible for the cancellation of our Europe plans had drifted over the Atlantic and the airline companies were back in business making losses. We re-booked our tickets and decided to take a pitstop in the United Arab Emirates, staying with some old friends in a place called Ras Al Khaimah. "No silly, ras al khaimah does not mean 'juice of khaimah'" said the missus, in response to my observation.

The UAE is an impressive place. From the sky as one lands, it looks like one big stretch of enormous malls and buildings in the middle of the desert but when you land you find that it is actually comprised of smaller stretches of enormous malls and buildings. In my childhood, I had heard the joke that the national bird of Khalistan was tandoori chicken. Well then, the national bird of the UAE is the construction crane. They are all over the place. On the ground. Atop towering skyscrapers. In the middle of the desert. Everywhere. But they do have the most staggeringly huge shopping malls, which the missus seemed to consider the one redeeming feature of the UAE. They also have excellent restaurants featuring every conceivable kind of cuisine. 

Our flight to Paris was uneventful and we landed in Charles De Gaulle airport. This is Paris' main airport, probably named after their famous president, Charles de Gaulle, as I surmised from my encyclopaedic knowledge of world affairs and my keen deduction skills.

Our luggage was late in arriving and we spent a funfilled hour with disinterested airport officials who spoke only in French.

My complete knowledge of French upto that time was Merci Beaucoup which means thank you very much but after about fifteen minutes of thanking everybody I realized I was no closer to getting my luggage.

Very soon the staff had me figured out for an obsessive compulsive thanker and would look the other way when I approached them. Just as I was beginning to despair, the conveyor started working and our luggage appeared quite miraculously. Flinging around a few more 'Merci Beaucoup's, we made our way to immigration, or passport control as they call it.

It was the quickest and the least intrusive passport control I've ever experienced. The chap across the counter was reluctant to make eye contact even. He quickly stamped my passport and flung it across the counter.

We were in Europe at last.