Welcome to this week’s That One Time In – the feature where fellow travelers share their stories of travel, adventure and everything in between. If you would like to take part please get in touch – email@example.com or @WhereinWorldKP – I would love to hear from you!
This week’s That One Time In features Annemarie from Travel on the Brain on her disastrous weekend in Paris. This is her story:
Preparation Is Key – Too Bad I Had Misplaced It
Ah, la vie est belle. That’s what I thought when I headed for the express train to the capital of France. It was early spring and the air still crisp but my mood was soaring. For the first time would I visit the city which I seemed to know so well from films and books. This already screamed of disappointment and disappointment was already waiting for me at the train station holding up a sign with my name.
Nonetheless, Paris is a lovely city, full of delicious treats and beautiful architecture, picturesque parks and extravagant museums. Still, it somehow failed to envelope me with the feeling of grandeur and extravagance, which I always got from the movies. Well, that’s what you get for being a sucker.
The cobblestones were far from clean, the streets far from beautifully scented and les Pariesiennes not so tres chic. And I had specifically brought my best outfits with me accented by shoes that were meant to make me feel like a modern Audrey Hepburn. Needless to say, this failed miserably and made me feel like Forrest Gump instead. They were much too uncomfortable to walk around all day long for 3 days straight. Silly me had not a clue. I had after day one.
So there I was strutting my stuff in pain, trying to keep up the pace with my friends, who wanted to show me the best pubs the Asian part of town had to offer. It was hard to chime in the fun when you felt like all you wanted in that moment was an overdose of absynthe to stop the feeling and the pitiful stares by the sidelined array of umbrella waving prostitutes. Numbed by pain, I didn’t even have time to question where my friends had taken me.
Timing Is Everything – I Was Way Off
Apart from my silly Gossip-Girl-Wannabe attire, I had also chosen one of the worst times of the year to check out the main attractions. It turned out that during Easter everyone came up with the same idea. It might seem obvious, considering it was one of the big holidays, but did not occur to me at that time.
Standing in line for literally two hours for museums seemed like a walk in the park once I saw the crowd waiting to purchase a ticket for Versailles. If you have ever been to Versailles, you might remember the massive courtyard in front of the castle. It was meant to be massive to serve as a place for public announcements to the public. Now the public had once again ventured here but no fancy announcement came.
The entry ticket found a place in my hands after an hour and with eyes widened by shock did I get back in line to enter the castle grounds. It took another hour until I was able to walk among the perfectly cut greenery, maze-like mini retreats and bubbling statuesque fountains. I had to leave early, however, being aware of the time and annoyed by the Japanese family that seemed to take extended family photo sessions whenever I saw a chance of taking a people free picture opportunity. They must have used teleportation, I am sure, the way they suddenly appeared out of thin air.
So, I headed for the courtyard, praying for a decreased number of visitors. No such luck. So I went back to square one and had to meander my way, one inch every 5 minutes, hoping the gates wouldn’t close in on me. They nearly did and when the staff realised this, they suddenly opened the entrance doors wide and let in the masses.
The Crowds Go Wild – Not Good if You’re in the Epicentre
If you just take a minute to weigh the idea of letting in hundreds of people at one time into the halls of a place like Versaille, which might be big but not so big as to allow free walking space and ample time to peruse the galleries, especially if everyone is storming in at once in the fear of missing out.
Sandwiched between sweaty bodies and elbows raised for blindly shot photos, I magically made my way to the mirror corridor and all I saw were heads. Heads with hats. Heads with bald patches. Heads with blow dried dos that seemed to melt in the stale and humid air. And then I heard a loud plop. An agitated whisper went through the hall and feet began to shuffle. Panic set in.
More people began to fade here and there and no one was able to come through or even bend down to make sure they were alright (which they clearly weren’t). As a consequence, the building had to be evacuated and all I saw of the famous building were the photos I later went through. And the memories of heads in all shapes and sizes.
So there I was swallowed whole and spat out again by the giant whale that was Versailles, all flustered and not sure what had just happened. Confused, I made my way back to Paris, thinking that that was the worst that would happen on my short city trip. Again, I was wrong.
Worst Case Scenario – Of Graves and Hurry
After some more rather uneventful city exploring with lots more queues, me and my Parisian friend were headed to the famous Pere Lachaise cemetery to satisfy my Oscar Wilde fangirling dreams. I unquestioningly followed my friend into the metro where she suddenly got a phone call and answered her phone. When all the colour went out of her face and she started to shake, I knew something was seriously wrong.
Knowing she had to be with her family in such a tragic time as that of a family member’s death, I reassured her it was alright to go back home and leave me alone. Only when she raced off without a nod did I realise that I had no cue where I was and where I was headed. For all I knew I would have to change trams and could end in the middle of nowhere. Even worse, I had a train to catch and a huge suitcase and daybag with me.
I can manage, I told myself and after mentally giving my friend strength and myself more focus, I determinedly studied the metro plan and figured out the exact route and timing for the whole day. It was a close call since I wanted to visit Musee d’Orsay, eat a croque monsieur, see all of Pere Lachaise and make it in time to the train station to purchase my final dinner.
Having completely underestimated the crowds, the wait for the museum took longer than expected and it is unlikely that there ever was a person running faster through each exhibition with that amount of passion displayed at the marvellous creations of Picasso and Pissaro than my humble self. The croque monsieur I had to pass over after seeing the prices at 8 EUR per sandwich – as well as the queues.
The Final Rush – Passing Graves and Grumpy Ladies
All that was left was the cemetery (which felt super ironic on that day). Did you know that it is enormous and lined by uneven stairs and cobblestones? I had a wheeled suitcase with me. In my impossible shoes, an unreasonably heavy suitcase and through sheer determination I managed to locate Oscar Wilde as well as a couple of other deceased personalities I admired and hunted them down.
As seemed to be the motto of this trip, I was hugely disappointed. His grave didn’t do him justice and was besmudged by other fangirls with their lipstick mouths, which was why they had encased the gravestone in a huge glass fence. So unbecoming of this genius. At the sight of this, my original intention of laying down a sunflower head in reference to his favourite button hole eccentricity faded out of my mind. Next time, I told myself.
One more grave I craved to see and it was supposedly next to an exit. But for the life of me I could not locate Edith Piaf’s stone even though I had the outline of the area with labellings and locations. All I could find were soldiers’ graves. And asking a local just ended in him telling me all about his time serving in the army and sending me into panic mode because the exit was blocked, he never stopped talking and I was supposed to catch the metro in 5 minutes.
And I had everything planned so nicely. What I hadn’t calculated in was some emergency just-in-case time. With the mentioned baggage, a rising panic and no helpful advice, I ran like a madwoman and made it to the the exit, where a woman told me the wrong direction to the nearest metro station. Luckily I trusted my inner compass and went the opposite way, finding just about enough time to ask the woman at the metro ticket tesk which metro line I was supposed to take.
She rolled her eyes at me and turned away, with a French rant about English speakers on her lips. No help there. And I had always been a believer in disregarding stereotypes. Turns out, in this case it was true that French people hated speaking English and tended to be rude to those who tried. Who needed her anyway? Being in superwoman mode, the doors just closed after the split second I got inside the right metro train and I snatched a quick croissant for the train ride, that also immediately commenced upon my arrival. The long ride home seemed like the actual holiday.
I think I need to visit Paris again to actually experience it la vie est belle style and to get rid of the stereotypes. Benefit of the doubt, right? Has anyone had similar experiences and what did you think of Paris? What time do you think is the best to visit?
Author’s Bio: Annemarie is a full time traveller, serial blogger and chronic foodie on her way through the big wide world. With restless feet and an insatiable curiosity, she wants to take you along on a whirlwind romance with the world and inspire you to follow your dreams. After all, if a chaos magnet like her can do it, so can you! #feetfollowheart
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