I had always wanted to travel to France ever since the first time I visit London in 2014 and made friends with French people. The desire to visit was also fueled by my going to study French at L’Alliance Française Lagos. I heard a lot about France – the romance, the language, the fashion, culture and colonial prowess. There are several reasons why people want to visit France but for me, it was just to see the culture and practice speaking French like the French did.
My first attempt to travel to France the previous year failed. I had applied for a visa which I was successful but for work related reasons, I could not travel and when I had time to travel, the visa I had was already expired. Now almost a year later, I have another visa for this same puropse.
Preparations for this trip was very simple. I was lucky to find a cheap ticket for the trip on Air France – they had a Valentine special fare promotion going on then. I was New York bound via Paris. At Paris, I would spend 5 days before I continue to New York in the United States of America. I only had an averagely sized travelling bag with a few cloths – mostly those for cold, in fact, some immigration officers in Lagos would ask me if I was a doctor traveling on a mission because of the few cloths on me. I also made sure I had the address of where I would be staying in Paris and New York printed out for Immigration at Charles de Gaulle and John F. Kennedy Airports.
On the departure evening, I had some challenges when I was checking in. The Airline insisted that the ticket I had was meant to be for two people travelling together. It took a 30 minutes back and forth with KLM, whose office they referred me to for a resolution of the issue. I was allowed to check in afterwards.
Something funny happened when I was boarding. My seat number was 7E or so on the economy cabin but due to the fact business class and economy classes boarded the aircraft from the same gate, I wrongly assumed the first 7E I saw was my seat. I however noticed that the seat was extraordinarily large and spacious. I also noticed that people stared at me as they passed to locate their seat which was behind. I sat there till the rightful owner’s arrival. A white gentleman who looked and dressed like an American movie actor. Anyways, he asked for my boarding pass and advised me to where I belonged for that night – the economy cabin.
On arrival at Paris that morning after a 7-hour long flight, I was a bit tensed about immigration formalities. I have heard stories of people being deported because of very simple reasons. I however had all my documents ready for any question – my ticket and addresses. Good a thing, when it was my turn to be attended to, I approached the young French immigration officer who I could guess was less than 25 years of age. The young man smiled, never asked me any questions, he just stamped my passport and said ‘welcome!.’
The next challenge was finding my luggage. When it was obvious I could not find it, I had to make a report in one of the offices and within minutes, I was given the bag which was mistakenly moved to the transit section – they assumed I was going to New York immediately.
I now headed out to my hosts’, Cyrille’s residence. The few impression I had about the city was that it was overhyped and that everything looked old and somehow unkempt – especially the train route out of airport (CDG) to the town (Gare du Nord).
The first few days in the city were for visiting different places around the capital Paris. I 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 Cyrille, who was more of a tour guide and a friend I had met earlier in London two years before that time. Cyrille had come to London to improve his English and also to work. We had met in one of those tours around London.
Cyrille invited a friend of his Mike who was at the time dating his cousin. The other thing about Mike was that he is half Nigerian and half French. His presence at Cyrille’s made a lot of difference. We discussed a lot about Africa, secession, trade and governance after which we visited lots of places that same day together before I came back to sleep and rest from the 7-hour flight from Lagos. Mike also had to travel back to Bordeaux where he lives same day. As noted earlier, Paris was great except for the food. I have had problem finding something ‘good’ by my standard to eat.
The next day, Cyrille had taken time off from work to take me round Paris. There was lot to see and take photographs of. There were lots of nice sights as well. Like good old friends we made fun of some other tourists we saw – especially those who displayed affection for each other openly. There was a pathetic case of a very old man with a very young bride. There were a lot to see in the streets of Paris.
Also, I noticed a lot of my fellow African brothers on the streets of Paris selling souvenirs and other little things to tourists. At a point, I was very worried about these ones who instead of staying back in Africa to work, decided to stay in Paris to hawk souvenirs and take up all sort of menial jobs to keep ends meet. On a second thought, I felt they were better off there than back home in Africa, considering the very poor standard of government and the poor infrastructures we have back home.
At some point, I was started getting sick of the city. Asides the fact that there was nothing familiar to eat, I had spent some good amount of money on trial and error on some foods that I thought would be something close to the type of food am used to back home in Lagos.
A remarkable incident happened in a restaurant around the Louvres. I saw something on the restaurant’s menu that had chicken in it and I assumed it was going to be the normal chicken I eat back home 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 piece of 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 to see a bill of 20 euros. I was very sad for not asking for the cost before placing my orders. For this singular reason, I vowed I will not eat anything till the next day that coincidentally, that would be the same day I was to travel to Thessaloniki, Greece.
Being that I had limited time on the overall journey, I had to leave to Paris on the third day of the trip, I left Cyrille’s residence which was close to Porte de Versille to Beauvais Airport from where I would get a plane going to Thessaloniki in Greece.
That morning, I was initially hungry but for the excitement of the new destination I was headed to, I never bothered to do anything about it. From where I was at Cyrille’s apartment to the airport was almost a 2-hour trip on train.
I however did not know that one of the trains that I was to use from Gare du Nord train terminal to Beauvais departed every hour. My plane was scheduled to leave 12:45pm. I left home around some minutes past 9 o’clock in the morning and I arrived at Gare du Nord at around 5 minutes past 10 that morning, I was told the train had left and that I will have to wait for another one that will be leaving by 11 o’clock.
This got me very worried. I would have to be checked into the plane 40 minutes before my departure to Greece and the estimated time to arrive the Beauvais Train terminal is almost 1 hour 10 minutes and also I could not tell how far the airport was from the Beauvais Train terminal. Anyways, we left at 11:00 that morning and in some twenty minutes into the journey, I thought of checking in online into the plane and this I did successfully. I still however had doubts if I could get there before the departure time.
We arrived at the Beauvais Train terminal at 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 on a bus or even cost nothing. For almost 20 minutes, I was loitering there trying to get a bus or something less expensive. But miraculously, a bus pulled by at around 12:27pm or so and I got to the airport 5 minutes later.
On arrival at the airport terminal, 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 someone I thought was an airline officer or 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, looking simultaneously on my passport and my face to confirm my identity. As if that was not enough, he called one of his colleagues to assist him verify my identity. 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.