Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Paris Diaries | How to be a tourist for 4 hours

Day 5.

*He’s got that James Dean, daydream, look in his eye*



It was pitch black, and Taylor Swift was telling me to get out of bed. I gave myself a mini pep talk about how it was only an hour earlier than the time I usually wake up. But I knew, 5am is night-time and no human should be up at that ungodly hour.

‘Think of the Eiffel Tower’ was the morning’s motto as I shoved myself under the shower.

It was cold, dark, and too early for me to grab breakfast at the hotel. I had four hours to explore, so a route was carefully planned to ensure the least amount of travel time. I jumped on the metro and headed for my first stop, Notre Dame de Paris, it was still pitch black when I got there but the lights were beautiful. I expected the cathedral to be somewhat bigger than it was, but it was beautiful nonetheless and mind blowing to think it’s been standing, in all its Gothic glory, for over 700 years.

I couldn’t take any photos, I knew my camera wouldn’t be any good at night, but I stayed for a while and sat on a bench, soaking up the scenery and wondering if they’d have macaroons by the Eiffel tower.

After another twenty minutes on the underground, I was there. I followed the signs for ‘Tour de Eiffel’ and got slightly concerned that I would miss the turning. No need, I caught a glimpse of iron next to me, looked up to my right and there it was, the big iron giant, looming over my head. I’ve been before, when I was a child, I remember looking at it from the car window in amazement. My face was probably similar today, staring up in awe. I just didn’t expect it to be so gigantic. Armed forces were surrounding the area, causing me to wonder if it was even open. I asked and was told they were happy for me to wander through. So there I was, standing under the Eiffel tower at 6am on December 4th, surrounded by a military unit carrying guns bigger than my body. It was certainly a first.

I stayed for over an hour, wandering around, taking photos and talking to the soldiers on site. They were lovely, and pointed me in the direction of breakfast. It was too early to catch a ride to the top, but it was still a highlight of my trip to see it from the bottom.

After a quick croissant, I jumped back on the train and headed for stop number three, the Arc de Triomphe.  It was an archway on a roundabout, with cars driving chaotically around it. Apparently your insurance is invalid the moment you enter the roundabout by car – which doesn’t surprise me. Parisian people drive like they have moments to live, a great attitude to have but I certainly wouldn’t like to be the passenger.

I was back at my hotel room for 9am; I got in a few hours of work before heading to the airport – taking a pit stop at Gare du Nord to grab a coffee with Ettore, my Italian ex-housemate who had just arrived in Paris for the weekend.  Being in the same city on the same day wasn’t planned, but I like to think of it as divine intervention (I missed him).

Then there was a train to Charles de Gaulle airport, a plane to London Luton, a train into Kings Cross and another train out to Yorkshire. I arrived at 11pm and slept most of the weekend. It was such an exhausting week, but it was one hell of an adventure... Paris, I’ll be back, hopefully next time I won’t have to work so much!


Monday, December 14, 2015

The Paris Diaries / Broken phones and Christmas markets

Day 4.

I woke up feeling refreshed and warm, like I’d slept so well I could almost get up and go for a run, not that I was going to do that, but I could have. I opened my eyes to the morning light and tapped my phone to check the time. My alarm still hadn’t gone off but it felt late, I tapped and tapped but my phone wasn’t responding and panic was beginning to creep in. I jumped out of the bed quicker than Muhammad Ali in the boxing ring and flew to my watch.
8am... two hours late... sh*t!
I threw on clothes, brushed my teeth and ran out of the hotel without breakfast. I rang the ladies in charge while simultaneously running to the station and wondered why my phone decided to let me down when I was hopelessly relying on it. I tried and failed to turn it on, before finally seeing the white apple sign appear (damn you Apple!).
I arrived at the event, threw on my showmaking shirt and heading to reception to deal with the crowds, luckily my slight lateness didn’t seem to have an effect on anything, so the panic was kind of unnecessary. I just hate being late, it’s that feeling of having no control over getting somewhere that fills my stomach with dread every time.
The last day of the show also means surveys! Everyone wants to know how well the show went, and the only way to know is to ask. Ultimately, nobody wants to stand and fill out a questionnaire, especially when they have other things to be doing. Needless to say, I sucked at surveys! I asked countless people and was met with disappointment every time. Most didn’t speak English, others were too busy, or running late. I tried asking nicely, I tried selling the free Ipad they could win; I even tried cornering people while they were waiting for partners outside the toilet. But in the end, after two hours of trying, I got three people to answer my questions. I don’t think a sales career would ever be one for me.
I spent the afternoon working with a lovely lady, who is based in the Amsterdam office but calls Holland home, and who kindly distracted me from realising how exhausted I was. Today was quiet, the last day of an event always is but as luck would have it, the event was run for the food ingredients industry, meaning there was yummy food everywhere. With the last day being so quiet, it gave us showmakers a chance to walk around and talk to all the exhibitors.  After lots of free samples, chocolate explanations and a rack of free macaroons, the end of the day finally arrived and I headed to the briefing room to put my feet up. I could have fallen asleep on the show floor I was so tired.
The showmakers who got the most surveys won Amazon vouchers; I sucked so bad I knew I had no chance. Turns out, I was still awarded a voucher, not for my terrible survey skills, but for being the only showmaker to have worked the full three days of the event. It was one hell of a lovely surprise!
I headed into central Paris and walked through the Christmas market – I had wanted to go all week but kept putting it off because I was so exhausted. The lights were so pretty, and the shops were all expensive – I expected nothing less.
I grabbed a pot of Haagen Daaz ice cream and sat and ate it outside the Louvre. It was such a beautiful night I didn’t want to head inside, but I was only too aware of the extremely exciting, potentially exhausting day that was occurring tomorrow.   


Friday, December 11, 2015

The Paris Diaries | Puppies, ponies and parisians

Day 3.

Day two of our three day event was a chaotic one, with tens of thousands of visitors heading pilling into the entrance in the first hour of the day. It was hot, packed and stressful – but luckily I was working with a team of angels, mixed up of employees of my company from the Amsterdam office and local students, who made the day so much more fun! Working alongside a group of upbeat, interesting group of people, who kept me laughing all day, made my day of work seem more like a holiday.
With so many people in the venue, security was tight and police presence was felt. The French police who patrolled the area were lovely, with every single one of them coming over to say hello and shake my hand. Nothing makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside the way good manners do!
One police officer was kind enough to bring a puppy along to the show, which made my mid-afternoon stint in the quiet lobby much more enjoyable. We were told ‘they’re not dogs you want to stoke’ but I strongly disagreed. He was wagging his tail so much I could tell he wanted to play, so I headed over and asked if he was friendly before bending down and being attacked by cuddles. His name was Abel and he was a cutie, rolling on his back so I could give him a belly rub. Sadly I couldn’t stoke him all day, I had work to do, and the police officer jokingly remarked that I was ‘ruining his image’, which was a fair point.
Not only were there puppies in the building, but horses next door – the next building along were hosting a horse show on the same week as our event. Sadly, despite my eager attempt, I couldn’t make it through the security on the front gate. I did however, get to hold a door open for a Shetland pony who was arriving late, I stroked him as he walked passed and sneezed all over the door. I named him Sheldon.
After my stint on the front lobby, I ended up in the lunch hall with the girls. I sat eating a bowl of vegetables (the vegetarian options were limited) with two French girls, two Chinese girls and a girl from India. They all asked me questions about London, I asked them questions about their events management course in Nice, I learnt how to say ‘I love you’ in Mandarin and thought about how strange it was that we all ended up at the same dinner table.
Sadly the girls weren’t working the third day of the show, meaning I had to say goodbye to my new French friends. We exchanged details and I’m already mentally planning a trip to Nice! The best part of working while you travel is the people you come into contact with – working means you’re constantly interacting with people you’d otherwise never get to meet, and I got to meet a very lovely bunch!  


Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Paris Diaries | All work and no play

Day 2.

Travelling for business is far from easy. The hours are long, the work is strenuous and trying (and failing) to speak French all day is exhausting. I arrived at 8am every morning and was on my feet until 6pm (minus 30 minutes sat down for lunch). The first full day of work hit me like a ton of bricks and by the end; I was already wondering how I would survive another two full days.

I left for work in the dark and arrived home in the dark; I’d been in Paris for two days and had yet to see the city in daylight. Not only was I working long hours at the event, but I’d get back to my hotel and have to log on to my laptop – the day job back in London was still there after all.

After my extortionate, and quite frankly unappetising, room service the night before, I was on the lookout for dinner on the walk back to the hotel. I found it in the form of take out Pasta, I could have cried of happiness when I saw cheese covered penne arrabbiata in a pot.

I even treated myself to a chocolate macaroon, my first in fact, and it was delicious. I always thought Macaroons were biscuits, but instead I got a chocolate flavoured cake with gooeyness in the middle. Yum!

Oh, the luxuries of business travel.


Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The Paris Diaries | Travel issues

Day 1

So there I was, bolting through the airport in my socks, a shoe in each coat pocket, hugging my suitcase like a baby and scanning for gate 1. To null any misconceptions, gate 1 was the furthest from the entrance, so by the time I arrived I was red faced and without a boarding pass. Luckily the staff were forgiving, but sadly I couldn’t say the same for the passengers on board, who each starred me down like I’d just run over their cat.

Shoddy time keeping is not a usual occurrence for me, but in my preparations I failed to take into account delayed trains and heavy security. Every mode of transport let me down and airport security searched me so thoroughly, I became genuinely concerned that somebody had planted something in my case. They tested so much of my liquid it seemed pointless me bringing any in the first place, in fact the only stone they left unturned was picking up my phone and reading my text messages.

It wasn’t exactly the best start to my first solo trip, but at least I didn’t miss the flight and end up in tears at the airport – that would have been much more embarrassing than boarding the plane in my Iron Man socks. 

The security didn’t stop when I left London, after the attacks, Paris was on high alert – and walking around the city with a suitcase resulted in it being opened and searched every time I passed through a door.

Police presence was the highest I’ve ever witnessed, which was understandable, especially considering the Climate Change talks that were occurring around the corner from my hotel. Any concerns I may have had about visiting Paris, which were minimal, were diminished as soon as I arrived – it really did feel like the safest place to be.

This was a business trip, which meant straight to the venue for a meeting with the team I’d be working alongside all week, thankfully some were students who volunteered to work at the event and all lived in France. A lovely chap showed me to my hotel, meaning I wasn’t wandering around Paris all night by myself, and I checked in without a hiccup.

I stayed in Hotel Normandy, strategically placed in the centre of Paris and also extremely posh.  So posh in fact, that as I experienced room service for the first time, I was charged 4euro for a bag of crisps that I stupidly mistook for a portion of chips, a rooky error on my part.

Make no mistake, despite the posh appearance; the hotel was probably the oldest building in Paris. This led to severe concerns that the place was haunted, and those who know me will be well aware, I don’t do ghosts. I used my 21 years of wisdom however and had words with the room to leave me in peace for the week, they played by the rules and I left the chair in the corner alone (it looked as if it was positioned for somebody other than myself). BBC World was on the TV and I fell asleep in a bed big enough for ten in a room big enough for a party.

Overall, an interesting first day.

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