Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Nepal - Dubai - Paris

Our last week in Kathmandu was spent utilising the resources we had at hand in Nepal, namely, carbo-loading our bodies with as many cheap meals as humanly possible (as we knew our budget would only allow for 1-meal a day in Europe). We would each average 4 chana masala curries, 12  naan's, 8 masala teas and 2 plates of cheese momos, per day. We had a love-affair with the naan man from our local nepali restaurant (Western Tandoori). Each day we would sit transfixed, watching him rhythmically create naan after naan, whilst his wife scurried around delivering the rest of the food to tables and telling him to pick up his pace. I think he tried to help us cut back on the calorie intake by making the garlic naan too spicy for most tourists to handle...all this did was prompt us to order twice as many butter naan, so he just accepted that he was contributing to the obesity epidemic of the western world.

We tried to combat the sloth-like lethargy of food consumption by being coerced into taking up rock climbing by Quebec's national champion Dan I-defy-gravity Le Van. We were pretty rubbish to begin with, but by then end of the first lesson even Ellen was successfully ringing the bell at the top of the 60ft wall. Any pride we had in ourselves was quickly eliminated as Dan smashed out each run we'd spent 45mins completing, using only one hand, in less than a minute.

I finished my addition to the Alobar100 Gallery; a mural of Tashi & Om (the two guys who took us for a trek on our first day in Nepal, to glimpse the distant Himalayan range). However, when Tashi's brother saw it, he queried that perhaps I had forgotten one of the key Alobar owners? So the next day I added one of him. This resulted in every other worker at the hostel demanding I do everyone on staff! The owner of a Spa around the corner even propositioned me to decorate his establishment. Unfortunately, (or thankfully, rather) we had run out of time. Our visas were expiring and it was time to move on to our next destination.

The worst calendar timing meant Shivaratri (a Nepali festival dedicated to Shiva, where everyone just gets high and parties) and St Patrick's Day, landed on the day before we flew out! Although it was a great send-off from Nepal, the effects were definitely not enjoyed. Along with a hang over, I boarded the plane to Abu Dhabi with another stomach infection. A last minute kebab at the airport was probably not a wise decision either, only compounding the bowel discharge I experienced on the flight.

If ever there was a time I prayed for another Business up-grade, this was surely it. The aviation gods however, did not shine on me this day, instead laughing and mocking me as I squirmed in discomfort, having to constantly battle the lines to the only available economy toilet. Worse still was we were surorunded by a cabin of screaming Nepali kids who had never flown before. The only way for the air hostesses to control them was to spend 15 minutes with each of them, teaching them how to use the inflight entertainment. As none of the shows were offered in Nepali, and the 1980s graphics of the games pathetic (even in their third world eyes) the kids quickly grew restless and began wrestling in the aisels and throwing anything they could get theirs on at the heads of every surrounding person.

By the time we'd landed in Abu Dhabi my fever was scorching and bowels still leaking quite considerably. The toilets were located just on the otherside of passport control, however, due to the stringent security it was a 1.5hour wait to get through. By the time I was called up, I understood why the wait was so long. The guard scanned and studied my passport photo for at least 10 minutes, whilst I had to stand there staring into an infared camera, not allowed to blink. I'm assuming he was applying some form of digital-ageing effects to see if the person in the photo was actually what I looked like... back in 2010 when the passport was printed!!! Then came the truth interrogation. This consisted of him asking over-and-over "what are you doing in the UAE?" whilst death-staring you, hoping that after 10 or so false responses, the person would admit their true intentions. I was quite confused by this tactic initially, but it's effectiveness became apparent after a while. My first response was an arbitrary "tourism" response, eliminating any possibility for sub-categories like "site-seeing" etc for any of my other responses. As it was apparent I had to answer the question correctly before being allowed through I began rattling off a couple of other things I thought might be applicable. "learning to Ski in the Dubai mall, teaching english, sky scraper climbing" and  "falcon training" were all not sufficient enough and I was getting stuck for ideas. The only thing that was popping to mind was "drug-smuggling". However, my 8th response of "beginning my own carpet export business" convinced him that I was a legitimate tourist, and move onto his next question. "Where have you come from?"

This I thought was pretty straight forward. "Kathmandu" I replied. Apparently this officer had no knowledge of this being a real city. "Calcutta?" he replied. "No, Kathmandu. It's just north of India".
"Yes, Calcutta is in India" he stated.
"Yes, but I've come from Kathmandu" I retorted.
"Colombo? Sri Lanka?"
"No, Kathmandu!"
"No, Kat-man-du. It's in Nepal, just north of India". I showed him my boarding pass.
"Ah, India. ....Mumbai?"
I could see this being an endless cycle of naming Indian cities.
"Yeah, ok. Mumbai". He added it in the computer, stamped my passport and to the toilet I headed.

Thankfully customs declaration was much smoother sailing, so on to the next bus to Dubai we hopped. Staying with Ellen's cousin Mish, meant I could suffer in moderate comfort. After spending the night sweating like an Inuit in Florida and running to the bathroom every hour or so, by mid-afternoon the next day I felt refreshed to explore the city. We took a cruise around the Hummer, Ferrari and Range Rover-filled streets, checking out the sites with Mish and her 2 year-old son Rahul. Although without waves, Dubai's beaches were exactly what we wanted: Warm sand to lay in and lovely water to dip our feet in to.

 The Atlantis hotel was wickedly cool (though probably still not worth the $15,000 per night price tag).

The 30m aquarium inside Dubai's Mall fulfilled all of Ellen's childhood aquatic desires,

and the kick-ass musically-choreographed 100ft fountains outside the Mall were unlike anything we'd seen before. I could never have fathomed that water could dance! The architecture of the buildings were just incredible also. Everything in the city was fabricated to be the biggest, newest, most innovative designed-thing to date. The bus shelters were enclosed and AIR CONDITIONED! Hundreds of people were employed to maintain all the gardens and parks planted in every street. We would've loved to have spent more time in Dubai, however, Europe was calling and we needed continue onwards.

Arriving in Europe posed a climatic change that we did not enjoy. Exchanging the 35 degree tempteratures of Dubai for the 2 degrees that Paris offered, dampened our happy traveller moods. Thankfully France has an Ace up its sleeve: The Parisian Boulangerie. Several croissants/pain au chocolat's in the morning can brighten any foul spirit. Compounded with an entire aisel dedicated to goat's cheese at the local delicatessen, resulted in us quickly forgetting about the cold and focussing on all the good Paris offered. The city hadn't seemed to have changed much since we'd last been there. The Eiffel Tower was still under reconstruction (ruining any photo ops), the people were still grumpy and rude, and dog's continued to freely poo whereever they wished.

A day-trip to Sacre Coeur brought back fond memories: the intricately organised illegal sales of beer on the church steps, the muscular black soccer juggler getting swarmed by Spanish girls as he performs his semi-striptease whilst executing death-defying acrobatics on top the nearby street lamps,

the swarms of Nigerian scammers picking out vulnerable tourists to tie a piece of string onto the end of their finger-before quickly braiding a colourful bracelet and attaching it to the tourists wrist, then demanding 8 € from them! The aisels of struggling artists selling their souls to sketch caracatures of holidaying couples for 10€ a pop (my future existence flashed before my eyes...it was remarkably similar). The view of the city was incredible from up there and local musicans still provide an ambiant atmosphere.

On the way to the catacombs we stumbled upon a little piece of Aussie pride.

If we'd known the wait to get into the catacombs was going to take 2.5hours we would've gone inside and fuelled-up on some vegemite toasties and weak white tea, made from a re-used Bushell's teabag (authentic Aussie style). The wait actually worth it though. Along with the artistically arranged human bones & skulls, there is a chronological break-down of the geological history of Paris (well, it was interesting to us!) lol. At the end of the tour everyone receives a thorough frisking by the exit guards, as a large portion of the people who walk through the catacombs think it's a good idea to remove the 300 year-old decaying/plague infected bones and keep them as souvenirs! (Probably Dutch people).

The 5th District offers some of the greatest places to eat, especially felafel and crepes. Rue Mouffetard is jam-packed with fresh food stalls & caf├Ęs, over 25 of which sell crepes. We had to sample one from every cafe as the chefs were all extremely charismatic and seemed to make the crepe in an ever-so-slightly different way to the guy before (really there was no difference. Step 1: cook butter crepes. Step 2: add half a jar of nutella) But we were deluded to thinking each was unique so HAD to know which was the best...by the end of the street we could barely walk, lest to mention remember which was the tastiest. We made it over to the Pompidou centre & slumped down on the steps outside, drifting into a nutella/yeast coma.

We were meant to begin our 10 week trek along the Camino de Santiago after leaving Paris. However, the cold and rainy conditions of the extensive winter Europe was suffering from, seemed to affect even typically warm Spain. So we decided to buy some time and take a scenic side-trip via Bordeaux and Hossegor, hoping the weather would improve by the start of April.

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