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 Arc De Triomphe in Paris, Louvre and Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Charles de Gaulle, Porte de Champerret, Disneyland Paris, Chanel on Berthier Street.

 

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Parisian Sojourn

'Sanyaa had just returned from a trip to France. She was thrilled to have seen all the sites and the monuments, and a culture that was different from her own. It was her first trip to Europe. Her friends came to see her, and they were sharing stories. Layla had been to Leh and Ladakh with her parents and Pam had just come back from the Andaman Islands. "So, how was your trip? Did you see Disneyland? Is the Eiffel Tower truly daunting? Did you get any souvenirs,’’ Layla asked.

"The trip was fantastic,’’ replied Sanyaa. "The India Gate in New Delhi and the Arc De Triomphe in Paris look so similar. And, the Eiffel Tower is indeed impressive. But the city is quite crowded now. My parents say that it was not that populated ten years ago. Anyway, we also saw the Louvre and Notre Dame. But most of all, we gorged on French fries and had lots of ice creams and cakes. It was fun,’’ she added. Sanyaa had been thrilled when her father announced one morning that they were going to France during the summer vacations. His friend had also decided to take his family to Paris that month, and so, the plan was finalized. Sanyaa packed her bag with a lot of care, keeping some winter clothing besides a scarf, nice walking shoes, a hat and lots of colourful dresses. She also carried her diary. She was going to record all the details of her trip, write a report and put it on her page on Facebook.

 

When D-day arrived, the two families reached the airport. "We were a group of nine; four adults and five children. Munish Uncle has two sons, Samarth and Madhav. And Sanjna and Shivang and I were the other three children. We were very excited, and kept running about while our parents fulfilled the formalities of checking in the baggage and getting the boarding cards,’’ she elaborated.

"When we landed at Charles de Gaulle, we were transported into a different world. The airport was huge; it had long travellators or travel belts on which we could stand or walk slowly on, to get to the next portion of the airport area. There were innumerable escalators and lifts all around. It was amazing,’’ she said, her eyes shining with wonderful memories of the time. "When we had collected our bags, we had to get to our hotel which was in an area called Porte de Champerret. In Paris, like in many modern cities, maps are very useful. The entire road, rail and metro network of the city is laid out clearly on these maps,’’ she pointed out.

"Dad decided to go to the information desk and ask for directions. We tagged along and heard the conversation. There were three options. We could take a cab, which would be expensive. It was going to cost at least 60 euro per cab, which seemed like an awful lot to pay, by Indian standards. We could opt for a bus, which would not be that expensive but it would take time. And then, there was the Metro,’’ she explained. The group decided to take the metro.

According to the train map, they had to go westward from Charles de Gaulle. The map showed the rail lines marked in different colours and with different alphabets identifying them. A thick light blue line called the RER B would take them up to a point called La Chapelle. They had to get off there and take a thin but dark blue line, and go up to a place called Villiers, which was in the north-west part of the city. From here, they had to join a thin jade line, and their destination was the fourth stop from there.

Layla and Pam were quite curious to see the map. "Do you have a copy? It will be wonderful to see this network that you describe,’’ stressed Layla. Sanyaa went to her book shelf and brought out a file marked - "Parisian Sojourn.’’ Inside it were a lot of souvenirs, including a map of Paris, a map of the metro, photos of the Eiffel Tower, post cards, a guide map of the Louvre, cards of paintings therein, tickets to Disneyland Paris, small Eiffel Tower souvenirs and key chains.

 

Sanyaa brought out the RER map and laid it out on the bed. It was a great maze of lines cutting each other all across the city. There were blue lines and green lines; red and pink lines; yellow, orange and mustard lines and purple and brown-coloured lines as well. The children hadn’t seen a map like that before. "Wow! This is awesome…But quite complicated. How do people even learn to read it,’’ asked Pam, a bit surprised.

"I know, it seems a bit over-whelming but with a little practice, each line is clearly visible, with every station marked quite well,’’ Sanyaa insisted. "The map is pasted on all trains and notice boards all over the city. One needs to just read it carefully to decide which train to take and from which station. It is very practical. Then, there is the city map, which highlights all the main roads and streets,’’ she added.

"We had both maps and were quite confident of locating our hotel as we got out of the Porte de Champerret station. Despite our best efforts, it had taken us nearly two hours to get there from the airport. We had too many bags, and had to drag them all across the underground subways. Then, there was the question of managing Shivang, who is but a baby. Besides, Anu aunty had a knee problem and she walked really slowly but she was great fun and cracked jokes all the time and made us laugh,’’ Sanyaa narrated.  

"When we got out of the station, there was yet another issue. We did not know where our hotel would be. Munish uncle took out the voucher and read the name of the hotel. It was called Chanel and it was on Berthier Street. We looked around for the name but could not spot anything. The road on which we were standing was called Avenue de la Porte de Champerret. It said nothing about a Berthier. Everyone was getting impatient and anxious. Mom was tired of carrying Shivang. Anu aunty’s knee was aching. And, Samarth, Madhav, Sanjna and I were completely fatigued from lugging all those bags,’’ she pointed out. "We were all going in different directions. Some of us wanted to cross the street and check on the other side. Yet others were dissecting the map. Samarth was checking out further on the same side of the road. It was one big cauldron of confusion. And then, by consensus, we just crossed the street. Dad went to check the far end of the street on one side and Munish Uncle went off to the other end. We were sitting on our bags and waiting for them. Behind us was a lovely florist shop with huge glass windows. The door was open, and the smell of the flowers wafted out. Our attention was diverted and we began looking at the big flowers kept in large colorful vases, when Samarth said - Hey Sanyaa. You know French, don’t you? Why don’t you go in and ask for directions? I was a bit taken aback. I did know a little bit but would I be able to do this, I asked myself,’’ Sanyaa confessed to her friends.

"Anyway, I went in, and for the first time in France that day, greeted someone in French. The florist beamed at me. I then told him that I was lost, and asked him if he knew where that particular hotel was. He started grinning, and took me by the hand. He brought me up to a street behind his shop. There, written in beautiful red letters was the name of our hotel. Pretty little flower pots were hanging out of the windows of the building. I almost cried with joy. I thanked him profusely and began running back to the main street,’’ she described. "Using the native language had helped. I should have thought of it earlier,’’ she added. Her friends smiled. And, Pam had the last words - ``It doesn’t hurt….to try,’’ she said.

Contributing Story Teller Sangita P. Menon Malhan, I am a short story writer, located in New Delhi, India. For most of my professional life, I was a journalist with a national newspaper. I am currently a freelance editor and translator. The stories I write are primarily for children and the youth. Their readership, so far, has been Indian, and therefore, the stories have Indian sensibilities.

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