How I got there

Pre-departure hassles

I left the day before the flight, overnighting in Paris, which is never hard to do.

The plan was to leave the car with a friend, who would take me from his house to the station, some 5km down the road. That part went fine, my error was in asking to see the property, a converted railway station. My friend opened the gate. His dog, a hefty Australian shepherd, saw me, growled once, thought “Lunch!”and launched itself at me, attaching itself to my arm until our combined shouting animal caused it to let go, and, perhaps aware of the likely and imminent rushed into the house followed by an irate owner. I was none the worse for the incident, being saved by a thick jacket, but, judging by the brief discussion I overheard followed by a lou thwack, then an ominous silence, the dog was less fortunate.

When my friend emerged,  nursing his hand and apologising profusely, we continued on our way.  He was worried, as it can be the case, he said dolefully, a dog that has attacked once may do it again. I suggested obedience training, a little shamefacedly as the world knows I let my own dog run riot. He agreed agreed, then his mood darkened. ‘Yes but your dog loves the world. Mine isn’t so sure.” He fell into a dark unhappy silence

There was nothing I could add, and was relieved when the station appeared.

The second mistake, or so it appeared, was the Hotel des Belges. It is within a handful of metres from Gare du Nord, so google told me, sandwiched in between an upmarket Chinese restaurant and a smart Accord hotel. Given the price, it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but I was unprepared for a shabby bar nurturing years of neglect from which hung a sign saying Hotel followed by a hand-drawn arrow. I entered the. The one customer was talking with a lady who looked like she had been serving since the dawn of time itself. I looked at the surroundings, briefly cursed Agoda and its clients for giving this place such positive reviews, and acknowledged the second mistake of the day. Only it wasn’t.

The Hotel bar was in the classic polished wood floor and furnishings of Paris the early 1950s, complete with red rugs and stair carpets. It did not look as though the 21st century had touched it. The lady gave me a form to complete, then gave the price. I’d assumed it would be in cash, given the surroundings, but she unearthed a wifi enabled card machine and handed it over. She gave me a brief but strict lecture about a 1 am curfew, which I assured me would not be a problem, then pointed me to a door. Inevitably there was no lift so I followed the threadbare carpet up three flights to my room. It was small, old, but immaculately clean. The toilet, or rather the cistern, was antique: a cylinder with a faucet below that, when turned (and it needed some strength) blasted out water with the flow rate of a firefighters hose. That was the thing about the hotel, it was old, but everything worked. Nothing was dirty, just faded, a little like me, really.

Getting there

The next day I left early for the airport, an uncomfortable journey on the RER during peak hour. CDG was its overworked self, but I was pleased to see my online checkin worked which avoided one of the queues. Once you’ve been through passport control and had your baggage searched there really isn’t a lot to do, but I managed to while away the time until the flight was called.

There are a couple of things with Air France that impress me. Their safety announcement has to be one of the best, featuring as it does 6 girls in long dresses performing mime/dance while an attractive hostess floated in every now and again to do the serious bit. Then there is the in flight magazine, which has to be the biggest I’ve read, coming in at well over 200 pages if you include the duty free section at the end. Mostly, though, it was the Heidiseck champagne they dished out which impressed me.

For once, the vegetarian meal, which airlines in my experience usually look like a congealed grey mass on rice despite the optimistic name given, a chick pea couscous, was spot on. The only downside what comes part and parcel with special meals, in that you get served first, then are stranded in your seat, tray down, until the everything else is served, consumes, and taken away. On this flight matters were exacerbated by a passenger falling sick just after I had been served but before everyone else, which suspended all meal operations. As a side note, this was the first time I heard the classic announcement beloved of movies, the one asking if there was a doctor on board. Hard not to fear the worst in these cases, but a genial-looking chap appeared, and within not too much time the patient was back in his seat enjoying a hearty meal.

Anyway, 11 hours after take-off, we landed in a grey and damp Ho Chi Minh city.  Having only hand luggage and pre-equipped with a visa, ten minutes after disembarkment I was standing outside the terminal, looking for the bus.

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