Monday, 8 October 2012

Encore France: Day 1 - Travelling

(Sorry, folks, no photographs today [lots coming]. Just read, close your eyes, and imagine yourself in a big, silver bird flying off to the place of your dreams and you will have all the images you need.)

Wow, I can’t believe it: here we are ready to head off to wonderful France again. It’s been France, Hong Kong, and now we get to revisit the place we so fell in love with.

Right from the start we knew this trip would be interesting. Instead of the usual hanging around, hanging around, drinking over-priced coffee or (much cheaper) booze at the airport, we got chatting to a couple of men from Scotland. One of them, a middle-aged bloke, works in the offshore industry and had been out here in Western Australia for a while on business. He had really enjoyed himself but was looking forward to getting home to family and friends. The other, a young guy, will stay in my memory for ever, I think, because I felt so incredibly sad for him. He was ex-British Army. He had served his time in the forces, including a total of 11 months in Afghanistan. Once demobbed, with money he had saved over a few years, he make a dream come true and bought his ticket to Australia. He would spend 12 months Down Under, learning to surf, seeing the outback, sleeping under the stars near Ayres Rock, hopefully meeting lots of lovely tanned, blonde Aussie girls. After only being here a week, he received a phone call last Thursday from the Department of Defence, recalling him to active service. Of course, as I know from personal experience, he would have been on the A-reserve for a while and liable to be called up, but here was this lovely young guy whose life dream had just been totally shattered. He told us that he would be flying into London and reporting for duty, getting kitted out etc. He had been told that he would be shipping out to Afghanistan again within three days. He had also served in Iraq and said he considered Iraq a holiday compared to Afghanistan; he hated that place and called it a part of hell. I wanted to give him a hug. I did say a little prayer for his safety. I think of him often, still mention him in my prayers, and just hope he got through okay. “Okay” is relative, though, isn’t it. Meeting him really made me realise again how incredibly lucky we are, and how uncertain is life – so enjoy it when you can.
Ah, back to lighter things. On the plane we were seated next to a fascinating woman, an Italian lady who has lived in the UK, Australia, Switzerland and France. She now lives back in Italy, where she and her husband run a school in Bologna. I didn’t ask why she had been here, but imagine she had been visiting friends or family. Seated next to her was a young Anglo-Indian Australian guy who was on his way to England to meet up with friends living in London. His plan was that he and his mates would then spend four months touring around the Continent. This lovely Italian lady gave him her card, invited him and his friends to come visit with them in Bologna, and ensured him that she would make sure she lined up some young people she knows to show them around and make sure they have a great time in that part of Italy. I was really struck by such warm, and obviously very genuine, hospitality and generosity of spirit.
The young soldier; the middle-aged lady. Somehow an incredibly human start to a holiday.
At Singapore Airport we freshened up, had a great coffee and cake in one of the many cafes, and then boarded our Air France flight to Paris. On this trip we flew mixed class – Qantas economy to and from Singapore and then Air France business Singapore/Paris/Singapore. Economy is fine for the short five hour flight up to Singers, but it was fantastic to move to the AF 777 business class. The seats were comfortable in the extreme, the flight attendants were – of course – gorgeous, and the food was absolutely superb. Oh, oh, oh, I salivate just thinking about it.
I was struck, though, that most of the movies which had been on offer on the Qantas flight were also amongst the selection on Air France, and I fully intended to enjoy a couple of them. So, fully replete after a meal of pate de fois gras, chicken cooked in a cream sauce to die for, melon sorbet, cheese, port and coffee, I eased back in my seat, donned my headset, and watched a fabulous movie, “The Bank”, while sipping on a fantastic Bordeaux and nibbling the finest of chocolate.
Does it get any better? Possibly, but this will do me just fine.
See you tomorrow in Paris.

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