|Jordan Axani and Elizabeth Gallagher make it to the top of the Eiffel Tower just minutes before its lights were turned off for the night.|
As café patios lay empty and the streets bare on a freezing Sunday evening in the City of Love, two Canadians hurried through the French capital’s back alleys on a mission.
It was almost 10:45 p.m., the Eiffel Tower was closing in 15 minutes, and the two, fresh off a plane from Prague, were intent on being atop the famed monument before its sparkling lights came on for the last time that night — even if it meant dodging cars to get there.
Toronto businessman Jordan Axani, 28, marched briskly ahead of companion Elizabeth “Quinn” Gallagher, 23, barely pausing for stoplights.
The two chance travellers, who have become household names since Axani reached out on social media last month for another Elizabeth Gallagher to join him on a trip around the world after breaking up with his girlfriend of the same name, made it to the base of the tower in the nick of time.
As they thundered up the lift, they told a Torstar News Service reporter tagging along how, eight days into their journey, they’ve become accustomed to barrelling through cities.
There was a lost iPhone in Milan, an “exploding” neck pillow in New York and a text Gallagher sent Axani in Vienna that read: “I got locked in the stairs, help.” A night or two later it happened again: she got stuck in a Prague bathroom, leading to more teasing.
But when you find yourself globetrotting with a stranger, they say, it’s hard not to pick up on each other’s habits.
Over a midnight dinner at Pizza Pino, a diner in the Champs-Élysées, Axani was quick to mention Gallagher usually makes a point of learning the servers’ names at restaurants so she can scrawl them a quick thank-you note on a napkin.
“Even if they can’t read it, there’s a happy face,” she said, chewing away at a margarita pizza, of which she saved half for breakfast. “You’re leaving something that gives them a little smile.”
As for Axani, Gallagher calls him “well-dressed” and a “workaholic” because he always wears dress shoes — even when contending with cobblestone streets — and often goes without sleep to answer emails about his recently launched travel charity, A Ticket Forward.
“We will be on a plane or a train and I’ll be sleeping, but he’s working. We will get to the hotel after a late night and I will be getting emails from him hours later because he hasn’t slept yet,” she said. He joked back that he will be sure to fire off a few that night for good measure.
The two are at ease with one another. Axani will tell Gallagher if the wind is blowing her hair into her face while getting her photo taken and tries to coax her to kiss a gory boar’s head at a local Christmas market for good luck. She teases him about who gets lost more often (Axani claims it’s a 50-50 split, but Gallagher isn’t so sure).
As Axani was buying them a set of tickets to go up the Eiffel Tower, he confessed he has a fear of heights and that during a visit to Paris in 2010 he was all atremble as he nervously climbed back down.
To those who speculate their relationship is a blossoming romance, an unflinching Axani replied, “I can say with 100 per cent confidence that this is a brother-sister dynamic.” Gallagher, a Dalhousie University student from Cole Harbour, N.S., with a long-term boyfriend, nodded.
She stays mum about that relationship, but admitted she and her boyfriend have unfollowed each other on social media so as to protect his identity from prying eyes, though they’ve been in touch throughout the trip.
On Christmas, she checked in with a steady stream of family members via Skype before going out for sightseeing. That was followed by dinner at a local sports bar and an exchange of gifts with Axani (she got a Viennese beer stein and gave him an East Coast Lifestyle T-shirt with maple leaves on it from Nova Scotia).
“I went for lunch alone at a restaurant that day and there were so many families who looked so sad for me, but I felt quite happy,” Gallagher said the morning after their Eiffel Tower jaunt as they sleepily strolled through the Champs-Élysées Christmas market towards the Louvre.
Local artisans proffered handcrafted pastries and delicately woven scarves, but it was the crêpe vendors that convinced Axani to open his wallet and purchase both apple compote and Nutella- and chocolate-flavoured delicacies.
Gallagher had her eye on a hotdog until Axani told her she could “probably do better than a hotdog.” She settled instead for a baguette stuffed with ham and cheese, which she ate as they dashed back to their Marriott hotel suites with balconies overlooking the Champs-Élysées.
The Marriott chain, which is putting them up on every leg of their journey, is known to leave fruit baskets and champagne in their rooms — they have separate suites — but the two are covering the rest of their costs themselves.
Excluding flights and hotels, they reckon those will hit “somewhere around $4,000.” That includes their €18 ($25.50) ferris wheel ride on Vienna’s famed Weiner Reisenrad and a Paris mug Axani bought for his growing cup collection.
He stuffed it into his lone suitcase before they jumped in a cab for Charles de Gaulle airport to catch a plane bound for Thailand. Following a few days in the Southeast Asian country, where Gallagher once lived for six months teaching English to children, they will visit the Indian capital of New Delhi and then fly back to Toronto on Jan 12.
Will they ever travel together again?
Both say they don’t know. “We will see how it goes,” says Gallagher.
“I would say we have to finish this trip first,” says Axani. “At this point, I would say yes, but things are going to get interesting in more exotic countries. The story is still unfolding”