We got back from Paris on Sunday morning, exhausted. I have never been so tired in my whole life. We expected to come home tired, because in all seriousness, there was no way that we were going to do any sort of relaxing at all. After all, we were in Paris, and how often does that happen?
Prepare yourself for a pretty lengthy post. A lot happened and we were so busy that we had no time to update anything. Buckle up, it was an epic journey!
When we left Cape Town, we were super excited! My first trip solo. Well, not solo because if I were solo it would be an epic fail because. But, it was my first trip without my mom. What an experience it was, not just for me but for my sister, Erin, too. We learned so many things about ourselves and what we are capable of. I learned that I don't always need people to do so much for me and I can be more independent. And I think for Erin, it was very affirming of her abilities and her contribution as well.
Just getting to Paris was an interesting experience. Our first flight was from Cape Town to London and then from London to Paris. 16 hours or something in total. It was kind of weird travelling with my sister, not because I had any doubt of her abilities, because I didn't, but because my mom wasn't there and I'm used to travelling with her. It was all good. The one thing that we were stressing about was going to the bathroom on the plane. I'm sure that I am not the only disabled person who worries about toilets and things like that when travelling. It worked out well, though. My sister has bigger arm muscles than I thought. Impressive.
Our plane to Paris was delayed by an hour (we only found out about that when we were meant to be boarding). So, we had an extra hour to do....nothing. So much fun. And then, when we arrived in Paris, we went through almost the entire airport in one of the airport wheelchairs because we had to wait somewhere specific for my own wheelchair. This tends to stress a wheelchair user just a tiny bit.
We had to give them some time to get my wheelchair out of the plane and to where we were. So, we went to get our luggage from the carousel. It took forever. Then we had to wait for my wheelchair at a personnel lift. And we just waited, and waited, and waited. When my wheelchair did arrive, I got all excited and then we saw that my table was no longer attached to the wheelchair. Immediately, I started stressing because I use my table in everything that I do. After, communicating that it was missing and them understanding the situation, we waited again, for a while, and then the man came back up the lift, holding my table. Whew! I was just thinking about how I was going to do my speech without my table. It's not like I can just stand behind the podium...nobody would see me. I promise you, I nearly hugged the man!
We had a taxi from the airport to our hotel. Let's just say, our driver was really weird. Can't explain to you how weird. Can't.
It was strange in the neighbourhood where our hotel was because nobody was around and no shops were open at all. Then, we realised that it was a Sunday. And then it made sense. We did find the most amazing pizza place ever. It was so good.
My wheelchair decided to remind us that it is actually the boss of the relationship...again. We were not aware that a European adapter does not work everywhere in Europe. This makes little sense to me, but hey. We had to make a plan because my wheelchair needed to be charged. In the end, we had, I think, four different adapters on our original adapter. And then it didn't work. It was quite ridiculous. The next day, we got a single adapter that worked so that made life a lot easier.
Monday was a lot more alive. There were people around and we went to discover and explore Paris. We had so much fun. We did so many touristy things: We went to the louvre, arc de triomphe, notre dame, the eiffel tower, and of course, we went souvenir shopping for everybody back home. Nothing we went to see was a disappointment. Everything was as amazing as we had built it up to be in our minds.
We went to these tiny, amazing restaurants where we ate actual french fries and inside-out toasted sandwiches. Oh, that thing people say about baguettes being everywhere...no lies. Baguettes are everywhere! It's amazing.
On Tuesday, the conference started and it was time for business. The conference was really really interesting. There were some parts that were slightly out of my realm of understanding. But, it was an amazing learning experience. We met so many young people as well as ministers and others who are committed to making the youth an active participant in society and in education instead of simply being recipients all the time. Wednesday was my speech. I was really excited to present it because there were people there who were excited to hear what I have to say.
Throughout the conference, there were group sessions where we got an opportunity to share our views on certain issues relating to education and young people. It was very interesting to hear what other people think about things. Learn from their individual perspectives as well as the collective perspective they were representing.
One thing that proved very challenging at times, was getting around Paris. The taxi service was, at times, frustrating. We couldn't use the trains because the subways were pretty much entirely inaccessible. So, our only option was to use the bus. Let me tell you, it's really not a simple system. I guess, if you've grown up using them then it's much simpler to understand. But, if you are a tourist, and you don't speak french, it can be incredibly interesting. We learned that taking the wrong bus can add an extra hour to your journey. We took the wrong bus. It took forever.
On our last day we decided that we were going to go shopping. Our mission was to find an H&M. We found it. Eventually. After about four hours. We got SO lost. So lost.
We couldn't find the bus we needed to get on to get to the shopping part of Paris, so we decided to order a cab to get us there. It took 25 minutes to get to us but luckily it cost less than that and our driver was a really nice guy and he spoke english. bonus. We then tried to get our bearings but failed dismally because we walked - well, Erin walked, I wheeled but you catch my drift - for 20 minutes in the wrong direction and then had to walk 20 minutes back to our starting point. Every person that we spoke to told us a different thing and had very different ideas about how long 5 minutes are. Anyway, we got there and had so much fun. We also found a Mango. So good. Erin was suffering with her feet and walking so much. We had to get back to our hotel but we couldn't really find ourselves on our tourist map. We asked a cab driver to order us an accessible taxi because he spoke french. Very helpful in Paris where people don't really speak English. He gave us a card for a company and we were going to ask for the taxi to pick us up where we were. The problem was that we didn't exactly know where that was. While Erin was on the phone trying to get a taxi, I went to a friendly looking woman to ask where we were. She told us that it was easier to take the bus (as well as the fact that the taxi was going to take up to 40 minutes to get to us). The bus was defintely the faster option. We took the 35 bus for one stop, got off, and walked to a 21 bus stop and just had to make sure that the bus was going in the right direction. Simple. Not so much - but the woman was so helpful and offered to walk with us to the right bus stop. I think it was our looks of confusion and utter desperation for help that convinced her to help us. That worked out really well. We were so thankful to her for her kindness.
The journey back home was somewhat less exciting. We were excited to be going home but we were so tired. There's only so much fun a person can take in one week. Our flight was delayed, again, but it was our flight to London which was kind of a problem. We had a connecting flight back to Cape Town and there was only a two hour stopover between the two flights. There was an hour delay. You can imagine how enthralled we were with this news. The airport people told us that if we did miss our flight back, they would have paid for another flight or our hotel. The hotel would have been an impossibility because our visa does not permit us to leave the airport.
But, all this drama was avoided because our flight was only delayed by 30 minutes and we got to London with time to spare. It did cause a smidgen of hysteria for a brief period.
Some other interesting things that happened were getting stuck in a lift at the HardRock Cafe for 20 minutes or something. I was stressing. I'm not a fan of sharing very small spaces with three other people. The next night, we had just got back from supper and were on the phone to our mom and the electricity went out and an alarm went off. I'm a lot more dramatic than my sister, and I was picturing people attacking the hotel and stealing everything. Real James Bond situation in my mind. We couldn't see anything or talk to anybody because nobody spoke english. Turns out it was just a block-wide power failure. Much less intriguing, but still.
Paris was definitely an incredible life experience and I will never forget it!