Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On Paris.

Okay, I know I've been a bad blogger and I apologize for that.  It's just really difficult to blog when I'm moving to a different location every day.  Anyway, right now Anthony and I are in Ljubjana, Slovenia.  I will talk about this later; for now, I will recap the past few days.

As you might have seen from earlier posts, I'm spending my first week with visiting a few cities around Europe with my brother before I begin my volunteer program.  I landed in Brussels from Reykjavik in the early hours of Minnesota's morning, which was around lunch time in Belgium.  A few weeks earlier, I had booked a train ticket from Brussels to Paris but I was particularly nervous about this step since my train was not departing directly from the airport.  Thankfully, I found a woman from my flight who spoke English (an American expat, actually) and she helped me find the station.  After I bought my ticket at the counter, I asked her how long she expected Customs to take; as it turns out, we had walked through it already.  This surprised me since Customs is always cracked up to be a huge deal.  I guess I didn't really mind that my bag wasn't searched, but I did really want a stamp from Belgium in my passport.

It cost 50 cents to use the restroom at the Midi/Zuid station so I decided to get my money's worth by using the facility to change my outfit, brush my teeth, wash my face, and put on a little mascara.  Needless to say, after flying all night I felt like a total scrub so I didn't mind taking the time to freshen up.

I had a few hours to kill at the Midi/Zuid station so I went to an internet cafe and bought a yogurt and a chocolate chip waffle.  While I nibbled on the waffle and browsed online, I struck up a conversation with a guy from Cape Town who was waiting for a train to Amsterdam; this was enriching in part  because I don't think I had ever heard a South African accent before.
Bullet Train
I slept for most of the train ride, although I was awake long enough to marvel a little at the speed of the train.  The trip was only over an hour, and I arrived in the pouring rain at Paris Nord about half an hour before my brother was expecting me, without WiFi or a cell phone.  Seeing the size of the station, I realized that Anthony would have no way of running into me if I sat quietly on a bench somewhere, especially considering the foot traffic during rush hour.  I decided to take out my umbrella (which wasn't necessary under the shelter of the station) and hold it above me so he'd have a better chance of spotting me.  We found each other fairly quickly and went up into the city.
Now.  I should mention that we had no place to stay in Paris and had decided to sleep in the airport in order to make our early flight the next morning.  This, of course, meant that the entirety of our luggage had to be carried around a city with copious stairs and no elevators or escalators in its metro system. 

We stopped for pizza and ice cream in a little hole in the wall cafe.  I can't complain about the food.  I left Anthony with our luggage and explored a few shops on the block for a minute.  To be completely honest, I was so thrown off by the jet-lag that I'm not sure how much enthusiasm was possible, notwithstanding the heavy luggage and nasty weather.  I really just wanted to sleep somewhere but seeing as there was nowhere to go but the airport, we decided to go the the Eiffel Tower, first by train and then by foot.
As an overall enthusiast, the presence of these beauties in the fashion capitol of the world thrilled me
Admittedly, the Eiffel Tower is incredible.  It's much larger than I had expected, although the place was swamped with tourists.  Anthony and I took turns sitting on a bench with our luggage after we got there.  When I got close to the Tower, I wanted a picture with it.  Since my brother was with our stuff, I politely asked a nearby girl (that I had heard speaking in English) if she could take a picture of me with the Tower.  Immediately, she says "Niet" (in a very western accent) and then says "Sorry" in perfect English before scurrying away.  Okay?  What the heck?  This girl was clearly not Russian and I couldn't understand why she was so rude.  I mean, how hard is it to take a picture?  On the one hand, I understand playing that you don't understand/speak a language to avoid having to talk with some creep, but I don't think I was giving off the creep vibe to this girl.  Whatever.
It was getting dark and Anthony and I had to get to the airport, so we toted our heavy bags across the city (again!) and went back into the metro station to find our way to the airport.  By this time we were both exhausted and cranky and sore from carrying around so much weight.  According to the time table, we couldn't catch a train directly to the airport but a bus could take us there.  We ran into two girls from Mexico near the exit and discovered that we all had to catch the same bus to the airport for early morning flights.  Anthony and I tried to go through the exit line, but our tickets had apparently expired and we didn't want to dump any more money into the French economy, towards which we felt (feel) hearty disdain... (stupid train system, stupid stairs, stupid expiring tickets, stupid pay toilets, stupid rude people... Ugh).  We asked the girls if we could go through the treacherous sliding doors after them; Anthony was fine, but the sudden automatic doors slammed on my face and nearly snapped my glasses in half.  Now we had a problem: the three of them were on the other side of the doors, but I was stuck in the station with a ton of luggage and with no way to get out.  We tried prying the doors apart but it was no use.  One of our new friends suggested that I lift my luggage over and climb on top of the stand, crawl out above the doors, and jump down.  It was pretty nerve-wracking, but it worked.  The second I got out, we ran up the stairwell as fast as our luggage would allow to catch the bus.  However, the driver informed us that the buses to our airport had stopped running a few hours before.
...what?  By this time, it was around midnight and we were stuck in Paris with no knowledge of the language and no public transportation to where we needed to be.  (This experience had no semblance to Owen Wilson's adventure whatsoever.  Boo).
No Owen
To make a long story short:

We want a taxi.
None of us speak French.
None of us know which number to call.
We are tired.
A big French guy approaches the three girls while Anthony is trying to communicate with people getting into a taxi.
He says he is an off-duty taxi drive with a car who is willing to drive us to the airport.
We don't know if this is a scam.
We remember the movie Taken.
Anthony walks over and questions the so-called driver.
He offers to drive us for 40 Euro.
We all refuse and cross the street.
A helpful security guard (not all French people were mean to us) calls a cab for us.
We get to the airport.
We say goodbye to our Mexican friends.
We look around the airport for places to sleep.
It is eerily empty.
We set up stuff on chairs and a girl tells us that there are empty beds upstairs.
We find a room full of 100+ cots and many sleeping people.
We stake out two cots and stow our luggage underneath.
Sleep is my only wish.
I notice that the snoring sounds like lawnmowers.
It won't get any quieter.
Across the room, a French guy gets up and kicks a snorer's bed.
There is a pause.
The lawnmower revs up its engine.
I know I won't be doing much sleeping.
I wake up every 30 minutes to check if anyone has taken my luggage.
5:00 am comes too soon.

So. That's the Paris fiasco.  In retrospect, Anthony and I didn't get the worst deal; we did get a free (if miserable) night in the airport and we made it to our destination (Rome), which was a glorious adventure.  Also, Paris only ever factored into our overall plans except as a rendezvous (hey look! French!) point, so it's not like we really missed out.  I do have friends who love Paris and have had enriching and romantic experiences, so I shouldn't completely dis the city.  It was just quite disappointing to see the setting of Les Mis fall so short, but I suppose these things happen.  Italy and Slovenia have been so much better that I won't complain anymore.  Plus, I'm really really tired and need to get sleep.  More soon, I promise.



  1. To be fair, all of Europe is full of tons of steps and barely any escalators/elevators in the metros, and of course all the bathrooms cost money. Funny enough the only free one I ever found that wasn't from a restaurant was outside the Eiffel tower.

    Funny enough we were actually stuck in Rome at night only to find the metro wasn't running to get us back to our campground, and had to take a cab.

    - Maria

  2. Paying for bathrooms. The reason coins exist in Europe. that and street venders... and yes, the Paris Metro is AWFUL. But Paris itself is glorious if you have time to properly enjoy it... hopefully someday you'll be able to return and explore it more leisurely. But thank you for sharing your whole story... reminded me of some of the negative bits about Paris that I ought to work into my novel!

  3. Maria, I guess my perception of metros is skewed because Rome had escalators in nearly all the stations and that's the one we rode the most (plus it was immediately after Paris).

    Elizabeth, yes, it was a combination of jet-lag, heavy luggage, bad weather, and rude people that really turned us off, but I know plenty of people who have loved Paris and hated Rome, which was great for us.

    I have a really long train ride to Budapest tomorrow so I'll hopefully be able to catch up on entries then!

  4. Next time stow your luggage in a big locker at a train station or the airport. I remember running through Paris to catch a train, we realized we were at the wrong station and had to quickly get across town...not easy.

    So glad to read about your adventures. We know you're busy taking it all in. No pressure to blog dear girl.