Ian flies the world
So it was that, after careful study of the timetable, I reserved two Business Class tickets for the Saturday, routing back to London Heathrow rather than Birmingham because the last flight to Birmingham would not have given us long in Paris at all. However, return was early enough to give us a chance to return by rail to Birmingham at a reasonable hour.
It is not for me to mention the name of the travel agent, who have since ceased trading. On arrival at Birmingham airport, we were shocked to find that the first flight coupon was not present in my ticket. An enquiry on the computer system showed that the agent admitted the mistake, and so the ticket was reissued. I pity the first person to whom this ever happened: the computer software probably couldn't have handled it then, and they would have been obliged either to pay again, or to cancel.
Checking in is much more straightforward if travel is in Business Class with only hand baggage, and so it all ran very smoothly once I had a ticket. After this, a short wait before we boarded the BAC 1-11 and were issued with a sumptuous breakfast with champagne. An hour later and the six passengers in the Business Class cabin got off the aeroplane and cleared immigration and customs in Paris. After that, a short train ride took us into town, and we saw, inter alia, the Seine, Notre Dame, Champs-Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, Tour Eiffel, Opera House. All this in one day, a snowy day at that.
By evening, it was the end of a tiring day, and time to return to CDG. Again, there was no problem at check-in. One thing I had not realised was that the aeroplane back to London was to be a Tristar. This large airliner was probably well- suited to the busy route during the week, but on a Saturday night not many people are travelling back to London. So we sat near the back of a very large Club cabin, speculating how the cabin staff ever manage to feed the people if it is full. Club means a fairly large meal, but on this route very little time to consume it. Fortunately, we both eat fast. The food was all good.
On landing, all went smoothly. From Terminal 4 to underground, from underground to Euston, arriving back home before midnight. All in all, a very rewarding day, and one in which I suspect we had done more than we might have done if we had been away for a long weekend. The travel bug had bitten hard, and we would never be the same again.
Checking in was much the same as it had been when I had travelled the same route just a couple of months earlier. The price of the ticket was the same too, though the French Government had introduced a security charge of FRF 3.00 in the meantime. Still, I wasn't paying it.
Travelling in Business Class on this route on Sunday evening was not particularly special, except that I was given better food than the economy passengers. There was no special club cabin on this flight, as I remember, just a curtain pulled across. The fun started after we arrived in Paris.
Queues at immigration were quite amazing, considering that I was only coming over from the UK, but this could have been connected with the rugby international that had taken place the previous day. I had often wondered whether the French really sing Alouette, and this was my opportunity to find that they do. However, as the song progressed, the parts of the body named in the verses became words with which I was less and less familiar, until by the third verse I could only guess, probably at least nearly correctly, what they were singing. However, I'm sure the average alouette doesn't have feathers in all those places.
After a taxi ride to the hotel, it was a quiet night, which I found quite relaxing.
The course I attended proved most interesting and fulfilling, and would also result in further travel, which was obviously just what I wanted. It was all I could have hoped for: an interesting course, containing worthwhile and practical material which I would be able to use both professionally and personally.
The people on the course were friendly, and we went out most evenings during the week. On the night we didn't all go out together, I went to La Mariacha, a Mexican restaurant just off the Champs-Elysees. It offers excellent Mexican cuisine and live music. The drawback is that it is very expensive, but worthwhile. If you go there, choose wine with care and don't get ripped off. La Mariacha doesn't open till 9 pm.
At the end of the course, we shared a taxi back to the airport. I found it most embarrassing when I got in the wrong side of the taxi, and found myself confronted by a steering wheel. The whole assembled company found this most amusing. Why don't the rest of the world drive on the correct side of the road? If it's good enough for the Japanese, the British, the Australians, the Fijians, the New Zealanders, why not for the French?
The staff canteen at my company's offices in Paris offered an unusual scheme of payment. All attendees of courses were issued with a fixed value pass, which one could use during the week. On the last day, I still had a fair value left, so rather than waste it, I bought a half-bottle of wine. This, it struck me later, might not have been a good move, because it took me over the duty-free limit available. It seemed a shame not to put it to good use, so I drank it in the departure lounge at the airport. Combined with the lunch we had consumed earlier and the copious amounts of alcohol furnished on the flight, combined with the fact that I had not been speaking with native English speakers for nearly a week, my style on arriving back in Birmingham was not one that my fiancee saw in an entirely postive light.