Friday, May 27, 2011

Travels in foreign lands-VII (Paris, a “Moveable Feast”-I!)

After completing the Outward Bound course, I had intended to return to France and visit some more ski resorts. However, my climb of Hellvellyn, the second highest mountain in England had made me sick.
I developed a severe cough due to the chill caught during our marches in rain in the Lake District. It seemed that I had developed some congestion in the lungs. So I told my friends in France that I will return after ten days or so after I had recovered from the severe cold. I wanted to be fit to go to French and Austrian ski resorts. I asked Bashir to suggest some good doctor so that I could get my cold treated. Dilshad told me that the healthcare was very expensive and a General Practitioner will charge me £ 20. He advised me to go to a Hospital Emergency and tell them about chest pain. As advised I went to the Emergency counter of the King George Hospital. I told the receptionist that I had a severe cold. He replied that they do not treat common cold in the Emergency. I then told him that I have chest pain also. He at once became very alert and wrote my details in a register and asked me to go along with a nurse. She took me to doctor who asked for a chest x-ray and ECG. I was whisked by the nurse to both x-ray and ECG room and within hardly 10 minutes both these tests were done and I was brought back to the doctor. He conducted a detailed examination and told me everything was fine and there was no cause for worry. I had severe chest congestion. He gave me some antibiotic capsules and cough syrup for five days. Thus I got the best treatment free of charge. Exactly in five days all my symptoms disappeared and I was fit once again.
I informed my French friends that I will return in a couple of days but would spend few days in Paris before travelling to Grenoble. In the first visit I did not have the opportunity of going round Paris. This time I flew from London to Paris as I got a very cheap return fare but the flights were fixed. There was no change allowed. A friend of mine had come to receive me in his own car. He drove me to the heart of Paris where he had booked a room for me in a medium category hotel. He also introduced me to the famous French Metro, the underground train. There is no better way to see Paris than the Metro. It is fast and also cheap. One can buy tickets from even newspaper vendors. The only thing to know is the direction in which one has to go to reach a particular destination. Those days Metro stations were very neat and clean. It was a joy to travel on the Metro. Apart from sight seeing, I wanted to meet a number of friends whom I had met earlier in Kashmir. The first one was Francois, the correspondent of the Le Photo magazine. The first thing he did was to take me to a Bistro for a true French meal. Bistro is a traditional French restaurant.
We tasted a number of French delicacies like foi de gras; les escargots; cote d’aignou and so on. French drink a lot of coffee. The breakfast usually consists of coffee with milk called café au lait and croissants which is like our soft baqir khani shaped like a crescent! Next Francois took me to the famous night show, the cabaret in Lido. The show goes on till past mid-night. Next morning he gave me guidance for visiting various tourist spots. I was keen to visit the Louvre Museum to see the Mona Lisa painting. The other spots were the Eiffel Tower, the River Seine and the bridges on it, the Champs Elysee, and the church of Notre Dame. A little distant sight was the gardens of Versailles. I began by visiting the Louvre. There are dozens of paintings in the Museum. These are of all sizes. Some are very huge occupying large portions of the walls. I asked the guide inside about the Mona Lisa painting and he gave me directions to find it. However, seeing it was an anti-climax. It is a small painting encased in protective glass.
Next I went to Eiffel Tower. It is a huge steel structur. There was a long queue for tickets. One can go by lift right up to the top of the Tower. There is also a restaurant at the middle level. The view of Paris from the top is fantastic. However, there is protective iron grill to prevent people from jumping over. There have been cases of suicide after which the protective grill has been fixed. At a walking distance from the Tower across the road is the huge fountain of Tocodero. It is a lovely sight during night when the whole place is illuminated. I was visiting most of the places through the Metro. Almost all the tourist sites are just walking distance from the Metro stations. In the meantime, I contacted some of my other French friends whom I had met in Srinagar. A brother and a sister had visited me in Srinagar in August, 1974 for assistance to go to Ladakh.
They were called the D’Sivrys. They lived in a huge house near Champs Elysee. When I phoned them, they informed me that their parents wanted me to have lunch with them. Their house was very near the Tocodero Metro station. The street was known as the Avenue George Mandel. When I reached the house, the parents of the young couple were very glad to receive me in their house. They profusely thanked me for helping their children during their tour of Kashmir and Ladakh. They had arranged a very special lunch for me. I came to know that they belonged to French Aristocracy and that was the reason of attaching D’Sivry with their names. I had heard that the Parisians are very snobbish but the behaviour of the D’Sivrys was an anti-climax. I asked my Le Photo friend Francois about it. He told me that the French are truly snobbish but there is a difference. The people who travel are different. They are warm and friendly. I found it to be true during my later visits to Paris.

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