Warning: lots of very excruiciating detail in this one, and precious few photos. Don't say you haven't been warned.
It's Groundhog Day in the world of darrenf. On 12th March last year I was whisked off by Eurostar on a day trip to Paris, a destination kept secret right up until the morning of the day, and an accidentally fabulous day was had. As with my New York experience in August 2014, I only went and bloody enjoyed myself in a city I claim to hate, didn't I? So being March 12th the following year, here we are heading to Paris. What could possibly go wrong?
I arranged the transport this time. There were no (deliberate) surprises in store; this date was chosen specifically because my brother's missus is up in this hemisphere with family and friends on a midlife crisis jaunt around Europe. As they're not hopping across the channel, it fell to us to do that and pop into Paris while they're about. I, of course, made us fly.
In my defence, by the time we came to arrange everything, having known the date, prices on Eurostar were very high while seats on a plane were cheap, since I paid with miles. What's more, we would have much more time on the ground than last year because I'd got us on the second flight out and last flight back: 1115 landing, 2030 take off.
OK, that's obviously not 9 proper hours, because there's transit from Paris Charles De Gaulle (henceforth CDG) into the city and back plus, um, well, y'see, there's this lounge at the airport I really have heard great things about and have needed an excuse to visit for quite some time...
But even so. We should have a decent chunk of time in the city to do fun stuff. And before I finish all this intro nonsense and start detailing things properly let me just say: we did have a great time in Paris today. But not all of today was fun.
It's an early start. Last weekend I'd flown up to Manchester and when I ordered the cab, my excellent favourite local cab firm Mogule Cars gave me some backchat on the blower. "Heathrow again? One day you'll go somewhere else!" But this time round, no such humour. Nonetheless, as usual they sent us a driver who arrived 10 minutes before the scheduled pick-up time, 0645.
We'd been up a while. Helen hopefully won't mind me revealing that she normally a) wakes up later than me b) needs a good 15 minutes or so to start functioning properly. So it was to my great surprise this morning that at 0515 she was able to enunciate "morning darling!" so clearly. I mean, what? Meanwhile I was stuck in a short-lived hangover and desire to play some Microsoft Solitaire before the 0530 alarm went off. The cat got grumpy that the humans had woken up without the aid of his paws and fucked off to eat a plant and instantly throw it up. This is how everyone's Sundays start, I presume.
With a fresh French brand notepad in one pocket and some leftover RER tickets from 12/03/2016 in another, we zoomed a little concerningly to terminal 5, a destination our chauffeur deemed necessary to confirm a good 4 or 5 times en route. Perhaps this was a portent to come, because after a quick vape Helen and I went to the fast track security lanes; I had all our boarding passes loaded on my phone, so after I went through I flicked sideways and handed her the handset. She held it over the scanner and up came the error: wrong airport.
Oops. Apparently I'd handed her a phone showing the evening's return boarding pass. Ha. But even with that fail, we were through security very quickly indeed. None of my stuff nor person was considered suspicious but Helen had to go through the seconday metal detector thing plus get a frisk down. Even my often-troublesome phone holster thing escaped their attention though.
Unfortunately the fast track bit is at the opposite end of the terminal to the first class lounge, but thankfully I'd got us the cab early enough so we could make good use of it, even if we would be departing from a satelliite. I'm keen to make good use of the investment I made in earning a BA gold card, an experience which was in no way tons and tons of ace fun requiring not much reward.
The first class lounge is great. This was Helen's debut visit so I took her on what amounts to a small tour. First, we went to the food area and eschewed the table service menu in lieu of the self-serve full English buffet, complete with black pudding. We were both bloody starving and scoffed our plates down in no time.
Then, via some soft drinks, we grabbed some chairs in the main lounge with power sockets, and I went to fetch champagne. Helen wrapped a present we had with us - it's Sally's birthday and we had a gift, but I'd suggested perhaps not trying to get something through security that's already wrapped up because security folk probably don't take kindly to "no, I can't show you what's in that because it's a present for someone". Hmm.
Then pastry goods and a bucks fizz for Helen, which she unfortunately couldn't finish because boarding was announced. We weren't at the satellite, but we were leaving from the completely opposite end of the terminal. Bloody hell. I seem to regularly have good luck with gates on arrival but not on departure. Meh.
Our seats had been reassigned, strangely, a few days before departure. I'd shunted us forwards to the first row of economy, row 6, only for the app to say nope, you're in row 7. This is known in some circles as playing "curtain roulette" - because short haul business class is a variable size cabin with adjustable seating, sometimes they make it bigger and if you were previouly in the front row you could be placed anywhere. Thankfully, for us this just meant we remained in the first row of economy, so still in prime place to suffer a bit of curtain envy.
Actually we weren't that envious. After an early "I want a hot towel!" faux tantrum (and not from me) we really didn't care. There was a spare seat next to me so we could spready out a bit, legroom was OK, and anyway it's only 35 minutes flying time. There's not a huge amount of point, or perhaps any at all, in being up front with all the extra cost for such a short journey.
Helen did buy something from the M&S onboard menu though, much to my disgust. Turns out that since those excellent and only moderately terrifying Sansa flights internally in Costa Rica she's been a bit anxious about planes, and needed a gin and hipster bitter lemon mixer to calm her down. It worked a bloody treat mind.