Thursday, April 29, 2010

Three Countries in Three Days

(Celebrating 101 blog posts!)

I had quite an eventful week, I have been in three countries in three days, spent 23 hours in the air and all for a four and a half hour interview. It’s quite bizarre now that I finally have time to sit back on solid ground and think about it. However, the experience was a great one: I was fortunate enough to fly business class on the Airbus to Paris, then on a Learjet to Luxembourg, and then back again to Paris and Johannesburg, South Africa. This trip was not only an eye opener on how the truly wealthy lives but also filled with some extraordinary experiences.

Only on an airplane can one clearly differentiate the vast differences between social status and the economic class system. It something that must have been dreamt up by Capitalists and is the thorn in the side of any Communist. You see, I have flown many times before but always in economy class. Whilst sitting there in my cramped seat eating bland food I always secretly wondered what it was like behind that curtain separating my cabin and that of the fortunate people where the seats are more comfortable, the cabin crew more attentive and the food better. Finally after several years I had the opportunity to find out and it was everything I expected.

Flying business class has many advantages. You and your luggage get priority. You have access to comfortable airport lounges where you are spoiled with food and drinks, access to the Internet and play stations all of which are free. When it’s time to board the plane you embark and disembark first. Your luggage gets handled separately as if superior to those of the others and all airport transfers are effortless. On board you are treated like royalty, being welcomed with champagne and warm towels while you settle into your large comfortable chair that reclines a 180 degree with build–in massage function. After takeoff you are served decadent orderves (hors d'oeuvres), followed by an appetizer (l’entrĂ©e), then have a choice of four main courses and the meal is concluded with a delicious trio of desserts – all accompanied with the appropriate wines off course!

I have always been partial to foi gras, even though I have a intense distaste for the manner in which it made, but as I saw this as a “once in a life time” opportunity I fully exploited it – I had the foi gras orderve and appetizer, it was scrumptious! Little did I know that foi gras would be a feature on almost every menu I was presented with during the following days. The experience of leaving the Airbus and boarding the Learjet didn’t disappoint, even though the seats on the jet reminded me of economy class with the only differences being they are slightly more comfortable and are real leather, the service during the flight was immaculate as was expected. For a while I felt like a rich bitch and it was something I could get use to.

Arriving in Luxembourg being relaxed and having been spoiled beyond belief I exited the airport looking for my hotel’s driver. There was a young man standing with board with a hotel’s welcome logo on it. It wasn’t the hotel I was booked in at, but I assumed my reservation had been changed. I approached him and ask whether he was my driver, he responded by saying he was there to collect a guest from Paris and both of us assumed that guest was me. So it was off to the Le Royal Hotel. On arrival it soon became clear that there had some misunderstanding and my original booking was still in place. Somewhat embarrassed I took a taxi to the Grand Hotel Gravat, a quaint four star hotel in the heart of Luxembourg. My room was basic but the view was spectacular. I was awestruck standing on my balcony looking at my 200 degree view. On the one side the most spectacular park views and on the other side views over the old Luxembourg.

Not wanting to waste any time I hastily unpacked and then went for a stroll. I was amazed by the people and how relaxed they all seemed. Most dressed in perfectly tailored suits, designer shoes and groomed to perfection. While climbing down, which felt like a thousand stairs, I descended into the submerged park in the heart of the city. It being spring the smell of flowers and new growth permeated the air and it looked like a forest from a fairy tale. I walk passed business people having their lunch, (oddly enough Chinese take away), people walking their dogs and groups of joggers. After drinking in all the wonders I decided to leave and had to make my way up all those stairs again. When I reached the top I was dripping with sweat and vowed to join the gym for the second time.

Now being late afternoon I returned to my hotel to get ready for my dinner. While getting dressed an orchestra of Church bells sounded the end of a working day. With a cigarette in hand I watched Luxembourg returning home from a day’s work, many popping into shops to buy bread, passing friends and stopping to have a chat and cigarette, convoys of black German cars, porches and Ferrari's’ making their way home. At seven I was joined by the man who was responsible for me coming to Luxembourg, we took a brief stroll around the park to the restaurant where we had a fabulous dinner. The food was only triumphed by yet another spectacular view. Watching the sunset over the most beautiful city I have seen, while sipping good wine and having an interesting conversation most definitely was one of the highlights of my trip. At around eleven I returned to my hotel for some much needed sleep.

Seven o’clock the next morning I was rudely awakened by a marching band. First I thought it was a bizarre dream. I made my way to the balcony and there they were marching towards me – a marching band of approximately a hundred people. I was not aware that there was some festival that day, and it was one of the most queer wake-up calls I ever had at a hotel. So being awake I ordered breakfast, had a shower and got dressed and packed my bags. My interview was scheduled for 10:30 and I was ready by 10am. The interview was conducted at a very posh Gentle Man’s Club in the centre of old Luxembourg, hands down the most culturally rich and impressive part of the city. It was a four and a half hour interview with one of the most interesting and rather eccentric people I have met in quite some time. During the interview we also took a walk through one of the world’s cultural heritage sites which was breathe taking. We then returned to the club and the interview was concluded with a four course meal. After the interview I returned to the site we walk through previously, this time camera in hand. I was on a tight schedule and did not have much time for pictorials. I made it back to the hotel, taxi waiting, got changed out of my suit into jeans and a T-shirt and made way back to the airport.

Arriving at Charles De Gaulle in Paris at 17:35 I had six hours before taking the Airbus back to Johannesburg. Paris being a city with many smokers I found it strange that they did make any provisions for smokers in their international departures hall. Faced with the prospect of 16 hours without a cigarette I decided to hang around outside the airport for a couple of hours. During this time I probably smoked about 10 cigarettes while doing my favorite thing – people watching. At some stage there was a model sitting next to me on the bench. She was headed to New York. She was a pretty girl but very thin and presented rather bizarre behavior. After her 20th cigarette she went and bought a three cheese sandwich and a large bottle of water. All normal behavior but what followed intrigued me. She opened up the sandwich but instead of digging into it, like a normal person, she proceeded so smell it; alternating a puff of smoke with a deep inhale of cheese aroma. She continued doing this for several minutes. Eventually she stuck her pinkie into the cheese stuffing and sucked on her finger. This she repeated twice and then went back to smelling the sandwich. Eventually she took one big bite out of it and chewed on that bite for a good 15 minutes. She then downed a liter of water before throwing the sandwich of which she spent a good hour smelling and only took one bite off away. She came back smoked two more cigarettes and then proceeded to check in for her flight, probably still hungry. I decided to do the same.

One thing you should know about Charles De Gaulle airport is that they take their security quite seriously. Any unattended luggage, bags or parcels will bring the airport to a standstill. Every so often you will hear a security announcement stating that they have identified an unattended item, and the owner of the item should come and claim it. Ten minutes later this announcement will be repeated this time in a more serious tone. Then they will announce that the police had now seized the item and it will be destroyed. The bizarre thing is that after the second announcement the police and army will barricade the area surrounding the unclaimed item. Whether this barricade prevents you from checking in for your flight and possibly missing your flight is inconsequential to them. In my case the item causing the disruption was a takeaway bag filled with food left against the wall of the corridor leading to passport control – causing the whole of international departures to come to a complete halt over a burger, chips and a Pepsi! I wonder how and by whom that unclaimed parcel was destroyed!

Eventually I made it to the business class lounge with 3 hours to spare before boarding the plane back home. It’s funny how when you are not allowed to do something you actually can become obsessed about it. Now being in a smoke free zone, the only thing I wanted to do was smoke – and I was not alone. I tried to take my mind off it by browsing the Internet, checking my Facebook and Twitter. Trying to do this on a French keyboard proved challenging as all the letters and numbers and function keys were in the wrong place making me feel dyslectic. Eventually I got the hang of things but the craving for a cigarette become just too much. Luckily I brought nicotine patches! Reaching into my bag I grabbed a couple. As I was opening one a visibly agitated lady stormed towards me. It was a rather frightening sight and I thought she was going to assault me and I was ready to hide under the table. Half way towards me she hollered “Is that nicotine patches?”, relieved I nodded. Out of breath she reached me and offered to purchase one from me for 20 Euros. I gave it to her for free. As the nicotine started to be absorbed into my system the craving subsided and while sipping a glass of champagne I watched the sunset, saying good bye to Paris, the city I only saw from the sky.

At 23:35 the Airbus lifted off from Charles De Gaulle on route to Johannesburg. Again with champagne in hand I looked out of the window and pondered on how lucky I have been for the experience I had. Things like this do not happen to many people nor does it happen often, I have been fortunate and if all goes well I will get the job and be able to do this again soon.

Till next time.

Ricky Martin


swkpboy said...

Brilliant writing. I was captivated by every sentence. I would love to know what job they were interviewing you? It is probably a secret so no worries.
Hugz Pierre

Pierre said...

Thanks swkpboy! The job I interviewed for is not secret. The fact that I am still in the running for it is the reason I am keeping it confidential. If I get it I may reveal it. Watch this space!

Jenn said...

Mmm, your post took me away from my deskjob for a few minutes :) Lovely and captivating writing. I need a glass of wine now lol. Good luck with the job!

Pierre said...

Thanks Jenn, this is one of the longest blog posts I have written thus far and I had to leave out so many things. Didn't want to write a novel about the experience but I can. Glad you enjoyed it.

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Blogger said...

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