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Wanderlust Part 1: Hong Kong and London
DAY 4: December 28th, London to Paris
The instant I wake up, I know I’ve failed in my quest to keep this sickness at bay. I feel absolutely hideous as I drag myself out of bed and into the shower.
Downstairs, a huge crowd of three Topdeck tours mills around, checking out of the hostel and chattering away.
Our trip leader Morgan admits this is her first winter in Europe. At least I’m not alone. As for our driver Lloyde, his facial hair can only be described as epic.
He gives the safety spiel. There’s seatbelts which we don’t have to wear since we’re all adults, but if there’s an accident we won’t be covered by insurance. Cue sound of everyone reaching for their seatbelts.
I like the coach. The seats recline, there’s a footrest and charging portals at every seat. There’s also WiFi, but we’re limited to 650mb for the whole trip. I resolve to only use it sparingly.
We drive down to the white cliffs of Dover and catch the ferry across to France. We start meeting members of the group. It seems nearly everyone is from Australia, although I’m one of the few from Sydney. There’s a couple of girls from New Zealand and two Americans.
I’m not a fan of sea travel since my experience on the Spirit of Tasmania at age 11, and a lot of other people are getting nauseous from the rocky boat. It’s a relief to get on dry land and start driving to Paris. On the way Morgan gives us a brief history of the French Revolution and Napoleon, all of which I remember from Modern History in high school and all the Horrible Histories I devoured in primary school. The fields of France fly past the windows of the coach.
Since Europe and Topdeck are very strict on limiting driving hours, the coach stops at a rest station.
Happy to find Sprite and mini baguettes, I head to the counter. Time to put my French to the test. I studied it for years, and I remember all the basic words/phrases. This shouldn’t be a problem.
Unfortunately, I haven’t counted on my head being fuzzy from the cold and flu tablets I’ve been shovelling down my throat. I go to say merci boucoup, or ‘thankyou very much’ and what comes out is merci si vou plais, or ‘thankyou if you please’. A second later, I realise my mistake. But it’s too late. The cashier is already rolling her eyes at me. I’m off to a great start. Already managed to annoy the French and I’m feeling sicker than ever at this point.
Next on the agenda is a speed dating of sorts, where we have to spend three minutes with everyone on the bus. I last as long as I can, but I’m getting dizzy and the pressure to actually be interesting isn’t helping. Eventually I have to stop and thankfully everyone is understanding.
The outskirts of Paris aren’t exactly what I was expecting. It reminds me uncomfortably of Los Angeles, with the heavy graffiti, trash lining the streets and signs of squalor. As for the hostel room, it can only be described as a jail cell. The giant cages serving as lockers, the tiny space, the ladders out to the side resembling bars…even Mum comments on it when we video chat.
Dinner that night is in the hostel restaurant. There’s really delicious French cheese and herbs, an abundance of bread and….snails. Even the vegetarians in the group are brave enough to have a few. But I just can’t bring myself to eat them.
After dinner, it’s time to see the City of Light on a driving tour. And it does not disappoint. Paris is lit up like a Christmas tree. To be fair, there’s probably a few extra lights due to the holiday season, but regardless, it is beautiful.
The coach drives up the Champs Elysses, past the Eiffel Tower in all it’s glory, the Louvre (which would take 2000 hours to see everything), Napoleon’s tomb, a military building used by the Nazis still covered with bullet holes, the River Seine, Notre Dame, the Paris Opera….
People either seem to love Paris or hate it. You can count me among those who love it. If only I wasn’t sick….
FUN FACT: In World War 2, the French Resistance cut the cables to the Eiffel Tower elevator so Hitler would have to take the stairs. If you can’t get rid of Nazis, at least inconvenience the hell out of them.
Day 5: December 29th. Paris, or Stop the World, I want to get better.
There is absolutely no way I can leave the hostel today. I know it and anybody who glances in my direction knows it too. My head is spinning like the Rotor at Luna Park, I’m weaker than a kitten and I can barely string a sentence together.
It’s times like this I’m grateful for WiFi. I spend the day in bed, nibbling Cadbury chocolate, drinking water and bingeing on YouTube. I only leave the room to get lunch downstairs and bring it back up.
This is definitely not how I planned to spend my time in France. But there isn’t much choice for me though. It’s either miss this one day and get better, or force myself out in the freezing wind and rain of Paris and be sick for the rest of the trip.
Besides, I have an extra week in London after the tour. And Paris is only a train ride away…
Day 6: December 30th, Paris to Swiss Alps
Even though I missed out on Paris, I know I did the right thing. One day in bed was all I needed. I’m so much better and will actually be able to enjoy the trip now.
After a nice French breakfast, it’s time to get on the coach to Switzerland. Today will be a long drive, but with 8 months of touring in 2016 under my belt, I don’t bat an eyelid.
To help pass the time, Morgan has each of us come up to the microphone and give the whole “who am I” spiel. Turns out there’s a lot of teachers on this trip and I’m not the only one from Western Sydney. Nearly everyone is most excited to see snow. For many Australians on the Winter Spirit, it will be their first time.
When it’s my turn, I say that I’m an actress/singer and predictably, everyone immediately shouts for me to sing. I really hate being put on the spot like this, but you only live once, so I sing an excerpt of Satisfied from Hamilton. Nobody seems to mind that I am white as Wonder Bread and therefore can’t rap like Reneé Elise Goldsberry. Before this trip is out, we will be playing Hamilton on this coach.
It’s dark when we finally arrive at Lauterbrunnen (“many waterfalls”) in Switzerland. Morgan promises this is the most beautiful place and just wait til we see it in the morning.
For now, it is FREEZING. The cabins are tiny, there’s only one key per room, one Swiss power adapter per room and the bathrooms are a cold, slippery walk away.
You have to pay for the showers too. And WiFi, if you want to use it for two hours.
I heard Switzerland was expensive but…wow.
Day 7: December 31st, Swiss Alps, Switzerland
Morgan wasn’t kidding. Once the light hits Lauterbrunnen everyone is absolutely blown away by the natural beauty of this place. There’s waterfalls tumbling down the gigantic cliff faces, and snow everywhere. I haven’t seen snow since the school camp to Canberra when I was twelve and definitely not this much. The buildings remind me of gingerbread houses covered in icing sugar.
Today, New Year’s Eve, we have the option of either skydiving or going up the Jungfrau railway.
I chose the train.
Jungfrau is Europe’s highest train station. It’s a scenic route that takes about 90 minutes, changing at the town of Grindelwald (yes, really!) to get to the top. Us Topdeckers have a reserved train just for us.
Jungfrau is so high, we’re warned about altitude sickness. And at the top, I can definitely feel it. Once I get some water and Lindt into me though, I feel better. There’s also some good WiFi up here, so I call a few people at home. Everyone is staying up in Sydney.
We spend the day snapping pictures everywhere, despite the freezing sub zero temperatures. The mountains are more beautiful than anything I’ve ever seen. It seems cheesy, but their size makes me realise what a small place I occupy in this world.
We walk through a gigantic ice cave filled with sculptures. It’s a miracle nobody slips on the ice floor. We visit the highest Lindt shop in the world to stock up on Lindoor balls. At lunch time, one of the American girls discovers the joy of chicken salt. I sprinkle it on my chips too. It’s nice. It tastes of home.
It’s hours before we’re ready to stamp our special passports and head back down the mountain. Sorry to everyone who entered, but no New Year’s Eve will ever top this one.
It’s a ten minute walk back to the hostel, and we stop at a tiny store to look at Swiss Army knives and Pandora charms.
Before the night’s festivities begin, there’s something I have been itching to do and I don’t care how lame it is.
I fill up my water bottle at the stream and take a sip. It is the cleanest water I’ve ever tasted and I love it.
At dinner, those who went skydiving are raving about their adrenaline inducing experience while the Jungfrau crowd compare Instagram pictures.
But what the crowd really wants is to get wasted for the New Year. I can see that the alcohol levels are rising fast and frankly it makes me nervous. Even in high school and uni, I was never a party animal. I’m out of place here.
By about 8pm, everyone has headed to the coach for a party like none before. And I really don’t want to be part of it. It’s just not me.
So I ring in the New Year on my own in the cabin, with Lindt chocolate. There’s a final few tears over the horrors of my life in 2017. I honestly can’t believe I’ve survived everything the year threw at me. But I have.
2018, watch out because I am coming for you.
NEXT TIME: Part 3/11 Florence and Rome