When I was younger I was so against travelling. I was invited on holidays and turned them down as I could see better ways of spending my money. I finally did part with my money and I went on a coach trip to Paris and Disneyland with my first love Gemma. That was an interesting, but not the most spectacular, trip.
I am laughing as I think back, this trip involved the putrid toilet thing where the driver simply had too much pride to empty the coach toilets. So 5 days’ worth of human waste, boiled and thickened and concentrated by the intense heat of Paris during those 5 days, was allowed to grow mould (and its own species) in the toilet. Whenever someone went in to pee, the putrid, ‘putrid’, foul, chronic evil smell almost knocked us out before we could cover our noses and the brave soul who went in often came out, be it man or woman, half in tears. I could swear one person started speaking in tongues before entering the toilet. On the journey a 10 year old boy suddenly broke out in tears all of a sudden – when asked by his parents what the matter was he replied with the fear of god in his eyes ‘I need to pee’. I reckon that in order to clean that toilet holy water, mixed with bleach had to be used as that toilet would have needed exorcism as well as disinfection!
Okay back to the holiday. This holiday was courtesy of National Holidays when they used to operate in Southampton UK, where I was studying.
We began the journey from Gemma’s house in Basingstoke and I remember this because her mum was crying when it was time to depart. I think this trip was a sign for her mum that Gemma was growing up and for me it was a sign that I was accepted by her family and trusted. I cannot remember any details of the journey to Dover (Ferry port) but I do remember that it was windy, rainy and freezing cold once we got there, the kind of cold that would freeze a hot cup of tea on impact. We got off the coach and made a dash to the port cafe to stretch our feet while the driver went to sort out our ferry tickets. The driver told us that he would leave the door open so all we had to do was press the emergency unlock button to get back into the coach. So after we had done our business and stretched our bones and muscles back to life we decided it was best to rush back to the warmth and freshness of the coach (day 1). We ran for 30 seconds to the coach and then all of a sudden it started to pour and I am not talking about the standard light drizzle you may be used to; I’m talking about the kind of rain that could make an elephant run for cover. We pressed the door button on the coach and guess what, it would not open! So there we were – heavy rain pelting down on us in the freezing cold. We then ran back to the cafe and patiently waited for the driver to return. When he did return we ran out to meet him and he pushed the button and the doors opened as if by magic. I have no idea what happened there.
The rest of the journey was pretty much uneventful – I cannot even remember getting out of the coach during the journey on the ferry. We got to the hotel in the evening and we were briefed as to breakfast times and departure time for the following morning. We had the evening free and also the option to go and find food or have hotel food. Me and Gemma went exploring and found a Chinese restaurant that was relatively cheap. I had a chicken dish and I only remember this because the chicken was so soft it literally melted in my mouth. The chicken looked at me as if to say ‘you want me don’t you?’ I nodded my head fast saying ‘oh yes I want you’, The chicken replied ‘I want you to eat me slowly because I like it slow,’ I replied calmly ‘pfft forget that’ and I polished it off. Seriously though, that was the second best chicken dish I have ever had to date!! We finished and we walked back to the hotel. Gemma was wearing her white leggings because on the way back we got beeped at from behind and some French guys wolf whistled and I sure as hell hope they were not whistling at me! I can vaguely remember Gemma demanding that I give her back her 5 cent/franc coin as we walked back to the hotel. Anyway that was day one complete. The hotel was called Bleu something and our rooms had balconies facing the front of the hotel.
Day two, at the breakfast table I snapped at Gemma in the morning for a reason I cannot mention in this version of my blog entry, I think I said something along the words of ‘I don’t know’ in a harsh tone. Gemma then got up and walked away without eating anything, I didn’t follow her, after all I had the bedroom keys. Two minutes later she came back, she had wiped her tears away before returning. I made her smile by my futile attempt to cut open the stone that the hotel dared to call a bread roll. We said nothing throughout breakfast.
With breakfast complete we got on the coach to Disneyland. During the journey tears came down Gem’s eyes again and then she put her head on my shoulder. I responded by putting my head on her head. That was that… argument over. I explained my reason for being angry and she gave her reasons for the action that made her angry. I told her ‘next time just tell me’. We then joked about where she went when she got up from the breakfast table – she said ‘nowhere’ because she realised I had the key so she just walked up the hall like a ‘mong’ (some sort of new age slang from back in the days) then came back. The two-hour journey to Disneyland passed uneventfully.
At Disneyland we got our tickets and went through. In the coach earlier, the driver had told us to be at the coach stop ‘T24 by 11pm to leave’. In the theme park all the stars were there; Pluto, Mickey and Minnie etc etc. Due to my cool status and reputation I made sure I avoided any pictures with any weird person dressed up as an animal that talked. I only remember a little bit about Disneyland but I know it was pricey! I wanted good old normal chips from KFC but I had to buy a meal because they didn’t sell just chips. Ha-ha. 8 years ago and I still remember that .. I was a student after all. The rides were okay but the queues were so long that I only got to go on each ride once. I remember a huge dome with TV screens all around it showing a 360-degree flight of a bird. The screens at the front showed what the bird was seeing and the screens behind showed the scene behind the bird, I’m sure you get the picture. Rides in the park included a rock and roll roller coaster, which was unique because in took place in pitch darkness so you had no idea which way your neck was going to be jerked about, and another roller coaster which navigated the track backwards. There was a free showing of Lion King or Jungle Book on ice… I cannot remember which one. Anyway the day passed quickly and we watched the Disney night display with fireworks and other fancy light parades and before we knew it was 11.10pm!! Ten minutes past the deadline we were given by the coach driver. We sprinted back to the coach.
On the way to the coach we could see in the distance two females and their kids who were with us on our coach. We breathed a sigh of relief as we were happy that we were not the only ones late. They looked pleased to see us too and then they said to us the dreaded words ‘the coach has left without us’. We were in shock I said ‘no it can’t have’ and carried on walking in the direction of T24. The women said ‘trust us we have been looking for ten minutes’. I then stopped walking and turned back. They had their kids with them, who was I to doubt their story. It was past 11 and so no trains were available and we didn’t even know the name of the nearest tube/metro station to our Hotel (google maps right? Nope people still used the A-Z. In those days our phones couldn’t even take colour photos!). We enquired with a 6 seat taxi and he quoted 100. yeah 100! I can’t remember if it was 100 Francs or Euros. ‘Guess we have no choice’ I said. We talked in the taxi about the words we were going to use and letters we were going to write to the coach company for pure cruelty, especially as the two women had kids. We were confident we would get our money back from the coach driver; after all it was not our fault that we were 15 minutes late from the allocated pick up time. What kind of Disneyland experience ends before the firework display?! The journey back to the hotel took about an hour and 30 minutes.
We got back to the hotel and the first thing we noticed was that the coach was not parked in the drive. We presumed this was because we had taken the taxi and so we had over taken them. We went to bed angry but relieved we didn’t have to pay the 100 Francs or Euros between just the two of us.
Day 3, we woke up to go to breakfast in a better mood this time, we had in mind the piece of mind we were going to give to the coach driver. We entered the breakfast room and immediately we could feel everyone’s eyes on us. I felt my clothes start to get heavy; I saw one eye about to suck on Gemma’s cheek so I swatted it off. She looked at me, bemused. The eye fell to the ground and rolled back to its owner. I brushed myself off and all the eyes dropped off me and returned to their owners – the other people on our coach trip. They looked exhausted. One person asked us where we had been. I looked at my watch and said… ‘It’s 7am, its breakfast time, are we late?’. Another shouted ‘we waited for you all night!’. That was when it hit home, the coach had not left without us!!! We looked around for the two ladies who had told us that the coach had left, I found them were sitting at a breakfast table in tears with their kids crying with them. A scene for sore eyes, a scene to dampen any anger I could have held towards them. What do you do at that point…? My whole night’s anger suddenly became unjustified, I had become the bad guy. Was I supposed to shout at the women for their innocent but silly mistake? Why would the ladies lie and say that the coach had left, they had their kids with them? The smell from the coach toilet had not even started to awaken so they didn’t even have that excuse.
We found a vacant table to sit at and got some food from the breakfast buffet. The coach driver came and joined us at our breakfast table. He told us that they stayed at Disneyland until 5 am. If it was just me and Gemma they would have left at 12 because we were old enough to get back ourselves, but because there were kids in the party they waited and all the coach party searched for us. I apologised and said that we were late because we watched the fireworks. He said other people on the coach tour were late too so it was not a problem. He said that we didn’t need to explain or apologise as the ladies had told them what had happened and that we were not to blame. I had no intention of apologising to the other members of the coach trip as I had done nothing wrong, I thought to myself, but then again neither had the people who had waited and searched. I kicked myself for not checking the coach stop myself. The ladies had simply looked in the wrong place; the coach had not moved from T24. We ate our breakfast quickly in silence again before quickly striding up to our room in a hurry before the eyes could not attack us again. We were there for 5 minutes and then someone knocked on our door. I opened the door, the ladies were behind it (how did they know what room we were in??!) they were still in tears and had come to offer us 25 Francs or Euros back (despite the fact because of them we had wasted 50 Francs or Euros on a taxi! The cheek!). I refused the money however, (that’s the gentleman in me) and told them that everyone makes mistakes. Gemma was in shock that I didn’t take the money ha-ha (‘lol’ didn’t exist in those days). It was still quite a lucky thing for the people who had stayed in the coach, the toilet had not yet started to awaken. ha-ha. imagine that if it had.
Day 3 continued, the other people were not happy with us, but what could we do? Day 3 was Walt Disney Studio theme park, just opposite Disneyland. The driver asked that we returned by 11 and that we would be parked in the same coach bay. I could picture everyone picturing me when the driver said that, I could feel the eyes sending me radar signals. The studios were not great, I can only remember seeing a car and bike stunt show in this place and a bunch of obviously fake magic tricks. Gemma had a caricature done just outside the park. We returned on time to the coach and went back to our hotel. That was the end of day 3.
Day 4 was Paris sightseeing day. I wore my blue bandana. We came down for breakfast and began eating. Our new found 100 Francs or Euros taxi friends ‘the plonkers’, soon emerged from their rooms, we smiled at them. One of their kids was wearing a bandana too but granny style, he probably got it from the Peter Pan souvenir shop from the Disney Park. I saw his eyes shoot wide open when he saw me with mine on. I said to Gemma, ‘I bet you he will come to me to fix up his bandana for him’. We looked around to where they had chosen to sit and we could see that the kid had removed his bandana and his mum discreetly eyeing me while was trying to make his look like mine. Gemma and I watched for a bit and then we talked about what we may see today in Paris. Midway into our conversation, lo and behold, there was the bandana kid and his mum standing at our table; Gemma rolled her eyes at me. She asked politely if we could do his bandana for him as he was complaining that she made him look like a girl, which I agreed with. I proceeded to tie the bandana around his head, I looked around and a few of the other coach members were watching with interest. I folded one corner of the bandana until that corner was touching the middle of the bandana. I placed the folded corner over the boy’s forehead so that the three remaining corners of the bandana reached the back of the boy’s head so that they could be tied together. On mission completion his mother said, ‘aaahh so that’s how you do it, I kept folding it in half’. I heard a few oohs and ahhs around the breakfast tables from people who had just taken on board the new found skill, the kid was happy too.
We got on the coach; there was a slight stench; not over powering; it just did not seem as fresh as I remember it. Our journey to Paris took about an hour. Our driver pointed out places of interest along the way but forewarned us that once we got to Paris he would not be able to point them out anymore. In those days Paris had a law that banned all coach drivers from giving guided tours on the road. If we wanted to know more about the sites we saw, then drivers had to hire a French guide to give the information. The first stop was by the Eiffel tower where we had an hour and a half to see the sites. Me and Gem joined the queue for the lift and waited the 10 minutes for our turn. We went midway and saw the views then came back down again. Our logic was why pay good money to go up high only to pay more money to look at the ground through a telescope.
We walked towards the bridges and came across a small outdoor market where I bought some French pastries. We then walked across a few bridges and Gemma pointed out the monument they built to commemorate Princess Diana. We walked past a few artists who wanted to draw us and they were particularly interested in me as I had my bandana on with my braids leaking down the side. They asked for 20 francs or euros for each person. I smiled and carried on walking, ’15’ the artist said, I carried on walking unflinchingly. He caught up with us and said ‘okay final price 10 Francs or Euros per person’. I said ‘make it 10 Francs or Euros for the both of us and you have a deal’. Business must have been slow that day because he agreed to that price and we had our pictures drawn. The artist was no slouch, I watched him draw Gemma and he did it with amazing accuracy in less than 5 minutes. I sat down for my turn and all of a sudden this crowd of like 15 people appeared out of nowhere to watch him draw me. ‘Was this his plan all along’ I wondered, to use me as an example of his ability to get more business in. Regardless it worked. After he finished drawing me, capturing my braids under my bandana quite well, the queue for his work began. I paid him 10 Francs or Euros and we made our way back to the coach; I’m guessing he charged all the other people behind me 10 Francs or Euros per person. Ha-ha… either I was a natural born haggler or it was that 10 Francs or Euros was the most I could afford, after having hardly any more money left due to spending it all on that earlier taxi journey home. I wonder.
Our next stop was the Arc de Triumph or whatever it is called; we walked through there and then back towards the palace parks. This day must have been the most boring as I remember nothing much about it. We spent the day in Paris and returned to our hotel in the evening. The coach toilets were very bad at this stage; they were practically crying alongside any of the coach party that had been brave enough to use the toilet. This was the end of day 4.
Day 5 was our journey home; I was neither sad or nor relieved to be leaving. We ate breakfast then loaded our suitcases onto the coach and bade France a farewell. We stopped off at Calais where the driver parked and a few people got off to buy crates of wine and beer. I just got off to escape the toilet which was now screeching it’s never ending swan song , and at regular intervals, as people faced their fears to enter it.
From Calais, 4 or 5 hours later we were in back in Southampton. Gemma and I were the only people to get off in Southampton. There were no goodbyes or tears from the people in the coach; it had not been that kind of trip. As we got off the coach I looked around for the plonker family and their kids, I did not see them. We got off the coach and that was that. Paris and Disneyland my first trip without my parents and first with a partner of mine. Would I go back to Disneyland Paris? ‘No’. Would I recommend it ‘No’?