Last weekend I visited Paris (read: Paree)! 🙂
Let’s admit it. We’ve all had dreams of sailing along the Seine, stealing kisses atop the Eiffel Tower (okay, this might just be me… and it might or might not be on my bucket list) or getting cultured at the Louvre Museum.
I still remember Humphrey Bogart’s whisper to his soon to be departed lover in Casablanca, “We’ll always have Paris.” I remember it so well that I’d planned to hug my friend tightly at the end of our three day trip and say these words as seriously as I could, despite knowing that we’d dissolve into fits of laughter.
Well, then, life happened. Circumstances beyond our control resulted in me standing in the Eurostar line at St Pancras International headed to City of Lights alone, and with two of everything. Was I nervous? Nope, not at all. I hope you haven’t seen through that bald faced lie. Considering how directionally challenged I am and how much French I don’t speak, I was worried that this trip was a disaster waiting to happen. It didn’t help that there were rumours flying around internet chat boards that the French were notoriously unhelpful and rude to tourists. Despite this, and my mother’s increasing reservations about me going off into the big bad world alone, I clutched at my overnight bag with Drake lamenting about never being satisfied in my ear as I waited to pick up my tickets.
I ended up in conversation with the young woman standing next to me as we waited in the line. She was escaping London for the day to tour Paris with the company through which my friend had booked the weekend escape. Taking a group tour seemed like an infinitely smarter way to travel to an unknown country, even to someone as fond of their own company as I am. I made a mental check to consider this for the next solo trip I intended to take.
One brief hold up at immigration later courtesy of the immigration officer not understanding why I’d show up without a visa in my passport (Antiguans and Barbudans do not need one for the Schengen countries), I found myself sitting in the train with the empty seat, meant to be my friend’s, next to me. It was bittersweet but I was terribly excited. I’ve been knocking off those Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen destination movies one country at a time! 🙂
Less than two and a half hours and one breakfast sandwich not worth the cost later, we arrived at Gare du Nord. During the trip I’d made a rough sketch of how I planned to tackle my three days. I planned to get a unlimited three day Metro pass to help me shuffle around and then to go wherever the wind took me. I won’t lie, I was a bit anxious about my decision to tackle the Paris Metro system unaided. Feel free to refer to my insane talent of getting lost (above), even in countries where I speak the language! Nevertheless, once I make up my mind about something I’m pretty stubborn even if I end up regretting it in the end. So after taking my bags to the hotel and having them set aside as it wasn’t check in time yet, I headed back to Gare du Nord to purchase my Metro pass. Here, I committed my first rookie, shame-on-my-legal-education mistake and didn’t collect a receipt. Because what could go wrong, right? Five paragraphs down if you wish to skip to that. But in the mean time, lovely and blissfully unaware of the chaos to follow, I had Paris in the palm of my hand and I just needed to decide where I wanted to go. It was an easy decision for me. The Eiffel Tour.
The choice was easy to make. Getting there, not so much. I hopped on the wrong train (predictable, although I was sure I had it figured out) but a really nice young woman helped me to find the right train even though it took her out of her way. I was meant to take the B (blue line) and then the C (yellow line). Once on the C train I was able to take in the differences between the Paris system and the London underground. Paris seemed a bit more reminiscent of the New York Subway. Well, until the train pulled up. The trains reminded me of London double-decker buses [the train version], though admittedly a lot less swanky (and that says something). I sat in the upper section and was also very surprised to see that they housed a restroom. I couldn’t imagine it being very clean but I can’t say for sure as I didn’t check. However, like every true cell-phone-razzi, I took a photo.
In about fifteen minutes we arrived at Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel and excitement bubbled inside me though I tried to be nonchalant about it. I took the steps two at a time until I was above ground. After a little bit of a walk, I saw it. It’s weird seeing something in the flesh (or, in this case, the metal) after seeing so many images of it for years. After a couple seconds of gazing, the first pit fall of solo travelling became clear. Who was going to take the photos? This was the era of the selfie but selfies were not going to cut it with the Eiffel tower. I tried several times to make sure that the perfect selfie wasn’t attainable and once I was certain that it was not, I did the only thing a tourist intent on proper documentation could do. I started asking people to take photos of me. I found a few persons alone and we were able to make photo swaps. Mission accomplished!
After wandering around for a bit, I bought myself a coconut sorbet, sat and ate it while gazing off at the tower and the tons and tons of tourists wandering around in the distance. There was also a toddler having a birthday party in the small park nearby, three friends sitting next to me trying to take a “three-fie” and a couple doing extensive dental work off to the right. All in all, I decided that the Eiffel Tower was a good first choice to delve into Paris although I didn’t actually climb the tower. My justification is that when I do climb the Eiffel tower, I will have that kiss which may or may not be on my bucket list! If I were to be very honest, I would admit that I was lazy and too impatient to wait in the line for the elevator. However, let’s stick with the romantic option.
When I got my fill of the Eiffel Tower, I spent several hours just milling around directionless (which is my best part about travelling – well so as long as you can eventually find your way back). I poked into grocers, coffee shops and restaurants. Here, far away from the hordes of tourists I was able to explore in more detail the rhythm of Paris. I liked what I saw.
Having walked until my feet were sore, I made my way back to the tube station. And that, my friends, is where the trouble started. My metro pass wouldn’t work. Later I was told that I put it next to my phone and that affected it. This is something I wouldn’t have thought about because, let’s face it, you can put your Oyster card anywhere. Hell, my Oyster card lives with my phone. I fought the increasing annoyance (read: panic) when the machine refused to read my card and decided to look for the station worker who had to be present to explain my quandary. I realised quite swiftly that I wasn’t in London anymore. Not only was there no worker milling around the turnstile to help with situations just like this one – all the ticket offices were closed. It was about three-o-clock on a Saturday, I was very confused. So, I had a non-working pass and no way to buy a ticket. I did the only thing a girl in my position could do… I jumped the turnstile (sorry mummy) and was promptly caught by security. He spoke little English. I spoke no French. However, between us I managed to explain what happened and he assured me that once I got to Gare du Nord, I could find an open ticket office and they would fix it. Except, they didn’t. Well… the surly, bald, goblin-like ticket officer refused to even speak English to me although it was very apparent that he could speak English. This was not just noticed by me but the helpful French woman who tried to get him to see reason. In that instance, the indignation weighed so heavy on my soul I had one of two options. I was either going to scream at him or cry. I chose the tears. They were dignified tears I might add. But they were enough to get the attention of other persons in the line, a couple American tourists and a security guard who (quite annoyed at the ticketing officer) took it on himself to ensure that my metro pass was replaced. Thank you kind security guard. They say all is well that ends well but I was still an annoyed mess as I made my way to the hotel. I retrieved my bag and started to check in when I was told there were no reservations in my name or my friend’s. It took ten minutes of me learning the lengths of my patience before another worker pointed out to the the woman attempting to check me in that I was meant to be at another hotel further up the road. This was not purely a result of me being dumb – the hotel was switched by the company (which I knew full well they could do). Thus, the hotel on my itinerary was not the same one I was directed to in my welcome letter (yes, I know another shame-on-my-legal-education mistake). I awaited another twist in my very own Comedy of Errors as I made my way to the new hotel but there was none (in fact, I think it might have been a better hotel).
In less than fifteen minutes I was sprawled out in my comfy hotel room watching Pride and Prejudice (the BBC mini-series – my favourite!) in French and understanding every single thing that was taking place because I’ve watched the mini-series and read the books so many times.
Somewhere in the middle of it, knackered, I fell asleep thinking that despite the eventful start that it might be an amazing weekend after all. And, it was.