20 Hours in France – Missed Flights & Homeless Nights

It’s spring break – my last spring break ever – and a few friends and I decided to spend the 10 days in Italy. But… Life had other plans.

It was all planned perfectly. One friend was flying directly into Rome from DC, by way of a 5 hour layover in Morocco, one friend was flying into London a day early to stay with her uncle and would meet me at the airport to fly to Rome together, and the last friend, who is in the CTLS program with me, was just going to trek along with me for all of the travel plans. Our Airbnbs had been booked a month in advance, 5 nights in Rome and 5 nights in Venice. It should have been easy peasy lemon squeezy… but it was difficult difficult lemon difficult.

Issue #1: Our airline, EasyJet, sent us a notification that our flight had been delayed 45 minutes. Accordingly, we adjusted our departure time to arrive for the delayed flight. The flight left on time.

Issue #2: En route to the airport, I realized I forgot my passport. Whoops.

Issue #3: The next available EasyJet flight to Rome left four days later.

Issue #4: The next flight to Rome on any airline cost over $800 per person.

Thus, we decided that our best option was just to get to any part of Continental Europe, and then from there, figure out how to struggle our way to Rome. We bought last minute, super cheap tickets to Paris, arriving at 12am. Below, please find an hour-by-hour break down of our struggle through Paris, after we courageously (ridiculously?) decided to forgo a hotel room since we believed we could catch a 6am train to Italy.

12AM: We head to the Information desk in the CDG airport in Paris to figure out the best/cheapest way to get from Paris to Rome. The woman behind the desk provided us with a map, and then sat in silence for a moment, contemplating the best answer to our query. “Okay,” she finally said in broken English, “I’m not sure of the best way exactly, but, oh! You know what you could do??”

We all leaned forward in anticipation…

“When you get to your hotel, or wherever you’re going, get on the WiFi, and then go onto Google, and type in Paris to Rome.” Ah. Thanks.

Long story short, we spend the next hour and a half sitting in the airport, trying to figure out how to get to our Airbnb in Rome. The train tickets were $500 each and renting a car was out of the question since we did not have international licenses nor time to go to the embassy to get our licenses translated. We tried flying into a cheaper city, like Milan or Turin (which, by the way, the flights and trains into both of those Italian cities are measurably cheaper than any other Italian city), and then taking another train into Rome, but even that added up. Our goal was to get there as early as possible. Options and funds lacking, we finally settled on a 10pm direct flight Paris to Rome the following night. Now, what to do?

1AM: At 1:30AM, we realized that the Parisian metro stopped running at 2AM, and the CDG stop was a 15 minute walk from where we were. So, determined to at least get into central Paris (where we had googled were quite a few restaurants/bars open until 6AM that we could settle in for the night), we booked it over to the train station, dragging our luggage behind us.

We arrived at the doors of the train station, only to find the entire station under construction and shut down until June. Trying to quell the panic bubbling up inside, I did a slow turn, trying to figure out what to do. Ubers were over 85 euros to get into central Paris. I spotted a bus depot right down the street, with a lone bus sitting in it, parked and running. We headed towards it hesitantly. Where was the bus going? How much did it cost? How did we get a ticket?

I paused outside of the closed bus doors and waved tentatively at the driver. He slowly opened the door, and the conductor poked his head out.

“So..” I giggled slightly, as I typically do when nervous, “How do we get a bus ticket?”

The conductor chuckled at us. “Well, that depends on where you want to go.”

The three of us glanced at each other, nodded imperceptibly in unison and then I said “Um… Paris?”

The conductor laughed at us, again. “Yes, but, where in Paris?”

“Anywhere.” My friend chimed in, the desperation clear in her voice. The conductor raised an eyebrow. “Where is your hotel?”

“We don’t have a hotel!” My voice squeaked. “We literally just decided to come to Paris three hours ago!”

The conductor shook his head at us, disapproval evident, “Alright ladies, you can take this bus to last stop, which will drop you in central Paris.”

I hesitated again. “But, like, where do we get tickets?”

“It’s 8 euros each.” He said, “You pay in cash here.”

We glanced around at each other. We had pounds…? One of my friends whipped a ziplock bag full of coins from her purse, “I got these in Spain 10 years ago and have been saving them!” She started counting out coins painfully slow, looking at each one to figure out its worth. After about twenty seconds of watching her, the conductor interrupted,

“Actually, don’t worry about it. Just get on the bus.”

Being abjectly pathetic in France has its benefits.

3AM: The bus dropped us off in the 10th Arrondissement, near the Gare du Nord train station, aka the hood of Paris. At least, this was my take, based on the influx of homeless people, the graffiti, and the dirt. The conductor bid us farewell, suggesting we find a restaurant to sit in until 6AM, when the train station opened and we could pay 6 euros to put our luggage in a locker and explore the city until our flight. He also demanded we be super wary of pickpockets, adjusting all of our purses on our bodies to demonstrate how to stay safe.

The bus pulled away and the three of us stood there, clutching our carryon bags and twitching suspiciously whenever a homeless person walked by, acutely aware of how out of place and touristy we looked.

We skirted around the streets for a bit, until we came across a restaurant with lights still on and made a beeline for it. Chez Aldo Cafe was closing, but the manager saw us, and again, our abject pathetic-ness worked in our advantage, as we stood there, suitcases in hand, peering wistfully through the window.

This nice man kept the kitchen open, gave us drinks, and let us sit there for another hour and a half while we collected ourselves and re-upped our energy. I ordered escargot and he didn’t even bat an eye. He even volunteered one of his door guys to escort me to the ATM, which was surrounded by homeless people.

On the way back to the restaurant after I had collected sufficient euros, he asked me a question in extremely broken English that I could not understand, and then blushed and said “I am sorry… my English is not – em- my English is very… expensive.”

Haha… okay sure.

4AM: We googled a club called Le Bonnie & Clyde that was open until 6:30AM and, after profusely thanking the Chez Aldo Cafe manager, trekked the 25 minutes to get there.

We arrived and, after snooty doorman took notice of our American accents, tried to charge us 20 euros a piece to enter. Highly affronted, we declined his less-than-generous proposal and continued walking up the street, hoping desperately to find another late night establishment. We turned the corner and found ourselves in the middle of Paris’ red light district, meters away from Moulin Rouge.

We froze. Eek.

A portly, slightly stumbling, British man rolled up on us. “Excuse me ladies, but are you American?”

We exchanged glances. Have you seen Taken? Yeah… not today, please. He continued, disregarding our lack of response. “Well I could tell from your accents. You want to be careful around here. Lots of creeps. Prostitution.”

Yeah? Well, then that explains why you’re here. 

Before we could say anything, a black car pulled up on the side of the street near us, and the driver got out, speaking rapidly in French. We stood there, blankly, one eye keeping careful watch on the British guy, and the other on the sketchy car. The British guy said something in French to the driver, who got back in his car and drove off.

“See?” He said to us, “Imagine what would have happened if I hadn’t been here! He wanted to take you away.”

We stood there in a silence for a second longer, and then two more French guys came from around the corner. They exchanged words we could not understand with the British guy, and then started spitting at him.

Then one of the chunkier fellas turned his baseball cap around backwards, and started squaring up with the British guy, who calls to us that he’s protecting us from these creeps. The British guy tosses his jacket on a pole nearby and the two of them start going at it, doing the whole macho-dude-fight-thing where no one actually hits anyone, but there’s a lot of them pressing their foreheads against each other, shoving each other with their chests, etc.

As soon as everyone’s backs were turned, we promptly collected our luggage and escaped around the corner. We literally kept running until we had crossed two other streets. 110% that was some sort of weird set-up. They tryna take us. Not today.

5AM: We ended spending the remaining hour before the train station opened huddled on the steps of a church, true homeless-style. We had to “investigate the facilities” (if you will) outdoors, also true-homeless style.

6AM: We arrived at the train station, only to learn the bag-drop did not open until 7AM. We settled on some cushioned chairs, found a piano for random playing, and avoided two French homeless men who took a liking to us and refused to leave us alone.

7AM: As we were preparing to head to the bag drop, raised voices to our left caught our attention. As we watched in horror, a twenty-something Frenchman, who looked like he may have some sort of drug problem, was manhandling his twenty-something girlfriend, eventually punching her in the face and breaking her nose.

Noting that no one else in the train station seemed inclined to do anything, my 4’9 friend and my 5’3 self started shouting and running towards them. Luckily for us, at that, two other men came over to assist. While we checked on the girl, the men dragged the guy away, yelling at him in French. The girl tried to tell us he hadn’t hit her, despite her clearly crooked nose and eye swollen shut.

My friend went around the corner to find a police officer or security guard, and the French guy started getting rough with one of the men who had come over to assist. This man grabbed the Frenchman by the throat and threw him onto the ground, at which point the girl started shouting and trying to protect the Frenchman.

Once my friend came back with a security guard,we decided we had done all we could and, thoroughly disappointed with the entire scenario, headed to the bag drop.

Oh, I should also mention that we washed ourselves in the public restroom. Literally true homeless-style.

8AM – 11AM:  We got Zone 1 day passes for the Metro, which enabled us to train anywhere within Zone 1 for a flat fare of 8 euros each. First stop, Eiffel tower, which, unfortunately, was under construction when we got there. We still ended up getting some nice photos. We stopped in cafes along the way to intermittently charge our phones and try to nap sitting up straight.

Our exhausted conversations vacillated from hysterical laughing, to complete silence, to drawn out sentences with lots of pauses as we tried to remember our points.

11AM – 3PM: One of my friends got food poisoning during this time, right after we finished taking pictures at the Louvre. Legitimate food poisoning, like needing to run into bathrooms to throw up. At least it happened after she got her picture of her touching the tip of the triangle. #Priorities

4PM – 10PM: In lieu of this, plus our complete exhaustion, we decided to forgo more sight-seeing, and head to the airport early. We took the train from the 10th Arr. to Orly airport; only 12 euros each, and arrived in time to sit at the airport for 5 hours.

10PM: Luckily, by the time we boarded, my friend’s food poisoning had subsided, and we finally arrived in Rome at midnight!

Only 30 hours later and $900 less money than we were originally supposed to…

Not to mention… calluses on our hands from dragging our luggage over the cobblestone streets for hours and hours… and hours.

Overall 4/10 to return

 

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