To be perfectly honest I had a very specific plan for Paris which didn’t involve anything out of the ordinary, was totally vanilla and included only one night of moderate drinking with friends in a very safe setting and absolutely no surprises whatsoever. And I almost succeeded. Almost.
If you followed my adventures the last time I left the States in 2013 you’ll know I slowed down towards the end of my 10 week “vacation.” On heading back to Paris, I was feeling the same exhaustion I’d felt back then, almost exactly 10 weeks after leaving the States. It didn’t worry me– I knew the sense of adventure would come back. But my previous experiences in Paris (having everything stolen, having police officers make fun of me and not being able to afford anything) kept me from really enjoying myself and made it that much harder to consider even leaving the apartment at all. Still, I bought a pack of 10 metro tickets and resolved to see at least a few things I hadn’t before, and attend karaoke like I had the first time at The Labo with Marlène, a woman I’d met there almost two years prior.
Camille was at work still when I arrived, so I met her at work and we went to a bar down the street where her coworkers were celebrating.
“One of the employees here was fired,” she explained.
“And you’re throwing a party?”
“It’s very rare someone here gets fired, and we all like him a lot. Today was his last day at work, so we are throwing him a party.”
We were situated in a glass room on the side of the bar, designated for people who smoked. As such, it was me, Camille, and twelve other people with the majority of them sucking on cigarettes and laughing loudly, the beer splashing playfully on the sides of the glasses as I tried desperately to introduce myself to five people in French at the same time.
The French are a funny group compared to my own culture in terms of social interaction. In the majority of my interspactions with strangers in Paris, I’ve been received by reluctant, short sentences and faces that make it obvious I’m not someone they want to talk to. I’ve heard this from a lot of people that have traveled to France, and not just Americans.
“People in Paris are cold.”
“Don’t go to Paris, people hate you there.”
“If you don’t speak French, don’t go to Paris because they will make you want to cry.”
And always my response has been, “You must not have been very polite. You must have been doing something stupid.” Turns out I was too quick to judge. I can say that almost without fail, those who live in the city and don’t know you have been taught not to be one with strangers, and even when they have established you pose no harm to them, they’re difficult to become friends with.
This group was totally different, because I had an in: someone I already knew who could vouch for me. We had a ton of fun, but I feel bad for anyone planning to move to Paris if they don’t already know people.
Camille’s brother walked in to pick us up after a bit and the strangest thing happened. We went to exactly the same apartment with half of the same people under more or less the same circumstances as I had a year and a half ago.
Incidentally I learned that even when I can’t speak properly, if I say the words, “I’m going to Thailand for two months,” people will start talking to me and the rest becomes history. #winning
Camille headed out for vacation to Nice the next day, so I was left home alone for a couple days before leaving finally by Blablacar to the Paris Beauvais airport. (More on that soon)
Other highlights of my trip include seeing Marlène again, (although we didn’t make it to karaoke, we’ll fix that I the future):
Seeing a ton of things I’d visited the first time I came to Paris:
…and visiting the Père Lachaise cemetery, which is home to the graves of Georges Rodenbach, Chopin, Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, and Édith Piaff.
Exploring the cemetery, I couldn’t help but think of how many stories have gone untold because there wasn’t enough time for someone to tell them. It’s quite sad.
If you think about it, tourism is kind of sick. We walk on the ruin and death of centuries past and are filled with awe and a giddy kind of happiness that inspires us to invade even more sacred places.
IMPORTANT THINGS FOLLOW:
If you’re going to fly out of Paris, do not be fooled by the name of the “Paris Beauvais” airport. By car, depending on where you are, it can take an hour to get there by car and there are no cheap public transport options to get there. As such, it’s really stressful. Additionally, when you’re on a tiny budget and you really can’t afford the €25 charge for a bus, Blablacar seems like a great option until your ride doesn’t show up at your meeting time.
I was waiting on the rendezvous point nearly an hour before we were scheduled to meet just to give myself some time to explore the area and get my bearings in case I needed to get moving. We were supposed to meet at the Porte de Vincennes metro stop at 4 PM. My flight was at 8:15, so I figured that would be plenty of time, even with potential delays and Parisian traffic, to get to the airport with time to spare.
I was wrong.
Four o’clock hit, ten minutes passed and I sent a message.
“We’re having some delays. I’ll call you when we are there.”
Okay, no problem. I sat around. For an hour.
“We are still on our way! There is road blockage,” they assured me.
Another hour passed, and I started getting sweaty. It was grey and raining outside, reflecting my mood. At this point I looked into buses going from Paris to Beauvais and came up with almost nothing, and the buses I found were on the other side of the city and wouldn’t get to the airport in time anyway. This was my only hope.
Another 45 minutes and I was ready to give up hope, but then my phone vibrated.
“We can see you! We are across the street!”
I zoomed to the other side of the multi-lane highway despite the red light in the shape of a stressed out man and threw myself into the car.
Alissa, the driver, was really nice and apologized a lot for being late.
“There was so much traffic and construction of the road, I’m sorry it took us so long to get here.”
“That’s okay. Do you think we will make it to the airport before 8? My flight leaves then.”
“Oh yes, we should make it around 7:30.”
“Great!” I said, looking down at my ticket, which was printed with the all-important words GATE CLOSES: 19:50.”
The second we’d stopped at the airport (it was 7:35, leaving me 15 minutes) I was flying towards terminal 1 to get my visa stamp, because Ryanair flights require a stamp on your ticket (which you have to print at home) before you can go through security and board.
The online reviews of the airport, which I had time to check out on the ride there, said it was small enough and quiet enough that security is generally a breeze and boarding is quick. Once again, I got something I didn’t expect. Lines and lines and lines and queues built off the lines before I could even look at the security gate.
I ran up to the entrance of the security section, getting in front of nearly everyone. I was not about to miss my flight to Spain. Fortunately, no one even blinked. Oh, Ryanair. I love you.
And then, because I was too preoccupied with other things, I realized I had 1.5 liters of water sitting in my bottle and I wasn’t going to be able to get it through security, so I started downing it. Cutting the line didn’t garner any response from the crowd, but this made heads turn. An elderly couple next to me was laughing at me. I just looked at them and rolled my eyes as the last few drops filled out what little space was left in my stomach.
I made it through to my gate with two minutes to spare.