Nothing to Eat in Paris.
I had been in Paris for the past 2 days and I was already getting bored of the city. Apart from the fact that there was nothing familiar to eat, I have spent some good amount of money doing trial and error on some foods that I thought would be something close to the type of food am used to back in Lagos. A remarkable incident around the Louvres Museum was quite remarkable and sad. I had gone into a restaurant and on their menu, I saw something that had chicken sauce in it and I assumed it was going to be the normal chicken I eat in Lagos but when it was eventually served, it was one of the most annoying things I had ever eaten in my life. It was a little chicken mixed with something like milk and some spices. I managed to force the thing down my throat and after the meal, I was surprised and sad to see a bill of 20 euros. I was very sad for not asking for the cost before eating. For this singular reason, I vowed I will not eat anything till the next day that coincidentally, I would be on my way to Thessaloniki in Greece that same day.
I arrived Paris a few days earlier. First of all, I decided to come to France so I could practice speaking French. I had been learning it for the past two years. I had earlier travelled to several French speaking West African countries but I also needed to try speaking French the French way. I had spent the first and second day visiting different places around Paris. I honestly did justice to all the popular places tourists visit in Paris – Louvres, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Eifel-Tower, Champs-Elyse and several other places I cannot remember. I was with a friend Cyrille, who I had earlier met in London two years before that time. Cyrille was in London to improve his English and also to work. We had met in one of those tours around London and I told him I would visit Paris someday. The day I was to arrive, he invited a friend of his Mike who at the time was dating his cousin. The other thing about Mike was that he is half Nigerian and half French. His presence at Cyrille’s home made a lot of difference. We discussed a lot about Africa, secession, trade and a lot. We also visited lots of places that same day together before I came back to sleep. As noted earlier, Paris was great except for the food. I have had problem finding something ‘good’ by my standard to eat but was unfortunate.
On the third day, I left Cyrille’s house around Porte de Versille to Beauvais Airport from where I would get a plane going to Thessaloniki in Greece. I was hungry that morning but for the excitement of the new destination I was headed to, I could not feel it. From where I was to the airport was almost a 2-hour trip. I however did not know that one of the trains that I was to use from Gare du Nord termial in Paris to Beauvais departed every hour. My plane was scheduled to leave 12:30pm. I left home around some minutes past 9 o’clock in the morning. Arriving at Gare du Nord at some 5 minutes past 10 that morning, I was told the train had left and I will have to wait for the one that will be leaving by 11 o’clock. This was a big trouble as I would have to be checked in 40 minutes before departure and the estimated time to arrive the Beauvais terminal is almost 1 hour 10 minutes and I could not tell how far the airport was from the Beauvais terminal. Anyways, we left at 11:00 that morning and in some twenty minutes into the journey, I thought of checking in online and I did that successfully. I still however had doubts if I could get there before the departure time.
We arrived at the Beauvais train terminal around 12:10pm and it was difficult to get someone to describe how to get to the airport. I met some taxi drivers who asked me to pay 24 euros for a ride to the airport terminal, which I was previously told that would cost nothing less than 2 euros or even free. For almost 20 minutes, I was loitering there trying to get a bus or something cheaper. But miraculously, a bus arrived at around 12:27pm or so and I got to the airport 5 minutes later. On arrival, I was told I cannot check-in anymore. I tried very hard to explain to the airline official that I had checked in online and he demanded for a proof which I showed him on my phone. A pdf document I had saved after doing the check-in. I was eventually allowed to board but not after some drama where the immigration had to check my passport. The immigration officer had some doubts if it was a picture of mine on the passport and he had to move around to different positions to look at me to confirm if it was myself on the passport or someone else. At a point, he started squinting his eyes and as if that was not enough, he called one of his colleagues to look at me too. At that point, I could not control an outburst of laughter. His colleague I think has worked in Africa and perhaps knew a lot about Nigeria. He asked me if I were from Lagos and I said yes… We spoke for about a minute and he handed back my passport to me with a bon voyage. Finally, I was boarded to Thessaloniki.
I was 8 years at the time when I dreamt of myself travelling to a place called Thessalonica – one of those books in the bible. In that dream, I visited the ‘country’ and on my way back in the dream, the aircraft I was in crashed and something happened that I can only describe as death and I woke up. At that age, this dream was very fascinating to me but I kept it to myself. After some 6 years or so, a friend of mine whose uncle lives in Greece brought a bag that his uncle had bought for him from Greece. The bag had an inscription saying Made in Thessaloniki, Greece. This reminded me of the dream and also that a place like that still exists. Initially, I was thinking some of those Bible cities were history but the bag made me think otherwise. It was then I made up my mind that one day, I must visit that city.
Now, its 17 years after seeing the bag and 23 years after the dream, I was planning to visit France and I wanted to visit Toulouse and Paris. When I was trying to make a booking for Toulouse, and just at the point of selecting it, I saw Thessaloniki just before Toulouse I was looking for. I instantly changed my mind to visit Thessaloniki since it was almost the same amount I was to pay Toulouse – roughly 80 euros for a return trip and I needed no visa.
We boarded and left Paris that afternoon. The flight was very interesting. First of all, I noticed I was the only black person on board. Every other living thing in the plane was white and guess what, they were all friendly. It was a two-hour flight. During the flight, my mind was always going back to the dream I had as a kid – what if this plane blows up midair. In any case, I maintained my cool. I had a good time talking with the passenger sitting next to me and two of other air hosts who were near us. The passenger near me who was half British and half Greek told me he was a boxer – that he is coming from a competition in London. He told me quite a lot about Thessaloniki. I in turn told him about Africa. The two air hosts also talked with us. The more junior one said he took the job because he wanted to be a pilot. The person that impressed me the most was the other air host. He was Turkish and he could speak up to 7 languages. He made announcements in 7 different European languages and I was like wow. He told me he has been learning since he was a kid and he is still learning. He was one of the reasons I was inspired that it is possible to learn and speak multiple languages fluently. We arrived something around 3:30pm or so. There’s one-hour difference between Paris and Thessaloniki. Landing was fun. The beautiful Aegean sea was so nice to behold.
Lost in Thessaloniki
Before this trip. I had made a reservation for an AIRBNB apartment. It was when I got to the airport I leant that the apartment was located on the outskirts of Thessaloniki. From the airport normally, I needed two different buses to get there. First was a 1-euro ticket to the city center and another 2-euro ticket to a place called Fix Bustop. I took the first bus to the City Center. It was so frustrating because so many people in the bus did not speak or understand English nor French. On the road, I admired some of the building initially. I also noticed that unlike other European cities I have been to, there were air conditioners on some of the buildings. On arrival at the City Center, I realized how hungry I was. I had not had any meal for almost 24 hours and I was in place I could hardly communicate. This was somehow a climax for me. To add salt to this injury, I did not know where to take the next bus. So, I decided to get a bottle of coke and a croissant. Even though that did not make much difference, I was somehow satisfied that I have taken something. Not knowing what to do or having anyone to ask directions, I entered a random bus hoping I would find someone who speaks English inside the bus. By now, it was getting dark. During all these wandering, I did not spot any black living thing. Everything was white. It got to a point, I was tired of asking and I was just sad and gloomy in the bus. There was no wifi or internet to call my AIRBNB host at least to get him to direct me or speak to someone to direct me. It was so sad for me honestly. I thought of crying to express my emotions but I knew that would not do me any good. I could not do anything but continue till the bus got to a final bustop and it was around 9:30pm in the evening. I had to alight since I could not find anyone who could help with telling me how to get to FIX Bustop. It was at that point I felt I should ask a girl in front of me if she spoke English. She answered YES with a big smile and I was like ‘oh my!’
This was miraculous as far as I was concerned. I took time to explain my predicaments to her and she understood. She described in details how I will get to the FIX Bustop. I also asked her to write down the description in Greek and English so it could be easier for me to remember and I can also be able to ask someone to help. First I had to get to one Vox Bustop and then take another Bus 31 to Fix Bustop and that worked like magic. I got to the place around 11pm that night. My host was most delighted to welcome me. They offered me tea (I am writing this with a frown as I was very hungry that night and the tea made no difference) anyways, I took the tea and went to sleep.
The next day was the time to explore the city. First was to go find something to eat. Even though my host told me I could cook, I wanted to eat an already prepared rice. He directed me to where I could buy rice and sim in town. I strolled and watched different places in the town and I saw a restaurant before I could get to where he directed me to. I paid for a 5-euro breakfast which I had to force down my throat. Also, playing on the radio in there was Terma by Giorgos Mazonakis, a popular Greek musician. I was able to find out with Shazam. I still enjoy his songs till today. Right there in the restaurant, was a guy who came to eat and we got talking. He told me he works in a particular Greek Island and he has an African colleague that I looked like. The name of the Greek guy was Yannis and he was very kind. After the breakfast, he gave me a ride to show me some part of the city after which he dropped me off at FIX Bustop.
At my AIRBNB, I had a nap and then decided to take another stroll that evening. I was headed towards Aristotle Square. It got to a point I could not continue as I neither found someone who could direct me nor had internet to find the location. I walked close to a shopping mall and met a young man who spoke both English and French and that was so nice. He directed me to where I could buy a sim card but at the time I got there, the shops were closed. He told me that if I wanted internet, he could connect my phone to a wifi in a coffee shop nearby. After connecting me, the next thing was where to sit and he bought me a cold coffee so I could be allowed to sit and use their internet. That was so kind of him. Giorgios (George in English) was a very kind guy. After a while, he came to introduce a lady to me who is his girlfriend. The girl was as kind as him. She requested me to come back the next day and promised to give me a gift if I come. I explained that I would be going back to Paris the next day and she gave me this nice energy drink. I decided to spend the evening with them and added them as friends on Facebook and Instagram. It is two years down the line and they too are no long together. Sad.
On my way to my AIRBNB residence that evening, I got lost again. I could not tell the route again and I now had to go into a Mall to ask for directions. A staff of the Mall called a 4-euro taxi to drive me back to my residence that evening.
I left the city to the airport the next morning – this time very early so that what happened in Paris will not repeat itself again. The flight back to Paris was 3 hours unlike going that was just 2 hours. I sat close to a white religious lady who was doing one religious activity or the other till we got to Paris. Also, during the flight, I was thinking the same thing that happened in the dream I had as a kid would happen but it did not. I really had a nice time in Thessaloniki and I plan to visit again very soon.