At first, Paris Cassanova‘d me.
I was lured from the second I departed the train. Paris is twinkling lights, beautiful architecture, sexy language, gorgeous art…I was in love.
Paris trains are impossible. They are overcrowded, expensive, confusing, and complicated.
In all of the cities I have been thus far, Paris is the only rail network that leaves me scratching my head in front of a map, trying to figure out how to travel a distance of one inch without four train changes, an ox drawn cart and a coronary bypass.
I boarded wrong trains, missed stops and wound up in the opposite direction to where I had to be. Frequently.
I boarded a train to Champs de élysées. I wound up in the second sector of the rail map, roughly 4km from my desired destination. My ticket didn’t work in the gates. I prowled the station like a wild animal before deciding that I was trapped. I didn’t want to jump the barrier.
Really, I didn’t.
But it was that or scale a six foot fence and drop onto train tracks, possibly electrocuting myself or spraining an ankle in the process. I don’t think my travel insurance covers ‘acts of moron’.
I looked at the barrier, it could be done. I’d seen Parisians do it. Sure they were usually stopped and fined by stern police officers but…to hell with it. I threw my bag, clumsily mounted the ticket machine, and climbed over.
A deafening alarm sounds.
I grab my bag and sprint around the corner, out of breath from the ten Marlboro lights I had smoked that day. As I’m descending the stairs I see a police car slowly approaching the station, the officers looking through the window for something. Or someone. Eep.
The mother of all self talk is occurring: Okay, CC, odds are they aren’t here for you. You won’t be arrested in Paris. It’s fine. Just slow down and don’t look terrified.
When I eventually made it to the Champs de élysées I was underwhelmed. It’s a strange place, the schism between classes is apparent and depressing. Rich Americans and impossibly groomed Parisian women swan in and out of designer boutiques while homeless clutch crumpled McDonald’s cups begging for change. Not my scene. And after ten trains and a hailstorm I was looking and feeling bedraggled. Back to the hostel for CC.
I couldn’t handle any more trains. So I walked.
Now, with a map, it’s 5.7km. Without one I can only assume that it was….76.4. Despite getting berated in French by a cop for walking in front of Élysée Palace , it was still better than the Metro.
I had booked my ticket to Bern, blithely hanging around Gard du Nord for the 11.58 train. I transfer my Euros to Swiss francs, then read Essays in Love to pass the time.
I board the train with an odd feeling that something is incorrect. I pull my ticket out, 11.58? Check. SNCF train? Check. Destination Lausanne. I squint at the screen. Yeah…that word looks like it could be French for Lausanne. Hmm, must be residual Paris train apprehension. I take a seat and pull out my book.
I check the ticket again. CC, you’re worrying about nothing. Stop it.
As the train doors shut a sick feeling hits the pit of my stomach. I study the ticket again and my jaw drops.
My train was departing from Gare de Lyon.
Not Gare du Nord.
I’m on the wrong train.
I look for wifi- because every problem can be magically fixed by the Internet. No wifi.
Son of a bitch.
The fat women across from me eating biscuits studies me as I alternate between cursing under my breath, biting my nails, and studying Google maps to follow the line of the train. It’s heading North. The complete wrong direction.
I depart at the next stop and look around. The station is tiny. Two platforms. No station staff. No people anywhere. The next train to Gare du Nord is in 90 minutes. I have no euros. I can’t find a bank to get money. There are no cabs. No buses. Nothing. And, I am dying to wee.
And, here is where I venture dangerously close to too-much-information-land.
Don’t judge me! If I were a guy, flopping it out would be no problem. It’s only because girls have to undo pants…and squat…and, stuff. I know that it sounds wrong. And unladylike. And…um, yeah. I don’t know. Not my proudest Parisian moment.
But, look, you have to pay for toilets in Europe, I had no money, nor could I find la toilette or even a shop that was open. I was busting. Busting. Busting.
I ducked behind a building and popped the ol’squat. As the steam rose I couldn’t help but think that this was not type of steamy experience in Paris that I had hoped for.
I saw the security camera when I stood up. Innocently attached to the side of the building, directly where I had just marked my territory. When someone eventually came to the office and reviewed the tapes they would see a girl, wheeling luggage back and forth on the platform, smoking frantically. This girl would periodically stop and jiggle as she looked around, legs crossed tightly. She squats awkwardly, then straightens up to look directly at the camera.
Slowly, the relief on her face turns to horror.
I considered my options, imagining how I would look.
I gave the palms up “what else could I do?” gesture, paused, then gave the thumbs up.
Man, I would love to see that footage.