Sleepless (and possibly roomless) in Paris

January 3, 2018

Sleepless (and possibly roomless) in Paris


   The French train trip began on a proletarian note. This was good, since Carolyn and I both knew flying as retirees would drop us down in priority on the standby list, and that our Business Class days were all probably behind us. I still got on the flight, and with an aisle seat, I retained unfettered access to the bathrooms. I also felt a greater sense of safety on this first trip without Carolyn: I watched as my seatmate carefully read the entire safety card tucked in the seatback, as we’d all been instructed to do, but that all except her had blissfully ignored doing. 

   I also decided to try something new this time and travel alcohol-free. I had a long day ahead after arrival in Paris, and lacking the capacity to sleep on a plane, I didn’t want drink to add to what was already promised as a brain-fogged arrival. I drank water and didn’t sleep a wink, so my first trip upon landing was yet another trip to the WC.

   The adrenalin from a mild panic attack washed away any jet lag effects, when the bus to the train station declined both my credit and debit cards. I had enough cash, fortunately, for the bus ticket, but the incident provided an hour and half of high anxiety over what was up with my bank, especially since I had messaged them before leaving that I’d be in France. While I had enough cash for food for the day (and a bellyfull of wine if the situation should turn dire), I didn’t have enough to pay the hotel room I’d found and reserved while waiting in line to clear customs. Instead of re-acquainting myself with the sights of the City of Light as a single traveler, I spent the bus ride noodling options in the inexplicable event my bank had locked my cards. All of those options concluded with me turning around the next day and coming home, with an eventual disturbing the peace misdemeanor charge at my bank’s branch office topping it all off.

Gavroche Thenardier from the movie Les Miserables 2012

   It all came down to that ATM visit when I got to the train station. If the machine rejected both cards as well, then walking the streets of Paris until the following morning would become a distinct possibility. For a moment, once at the station, the ATM became a slot machine as I inserted my card. I needed triple 7’s. I held my breath and waited for what seemed minutes instead of the second or two it actually took. Then, the mechanical clinking of a machine dispensing cash sounded to me as if a stopped heart had begun beating again. Then it was time for that (now) celebratory bellyfull of wine, before hiking off to a hotel room that could be paid in full!

Master of the House, Les Miserables 2012

   I don’t know what happened with the cards and the bus, but that was the only glitch in what was otherwise a smooth unfurling of this trip just as I’d drawn it up. Although my backpack felt as if one of my once-upon-a- time teenaged children had asked me to carry them on my back, it rested balanced, supportive and with a little coaxing held everything I needed for the next two weeks. I got my reservation for a high speed train to … Bordeaux, as it turned out. The hotel was only a few minutes from the station, and by four o’clock that afternoon, I began round one of my battle with jet lag. (I wrote this at 11:30pm that same night, for example.)

   With Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, and Ina Caro’s Traveling Through History in France to accompany me, I won’t be completely alone. In fact, something happened at the cafe where that bellyfull of wine had been acquired that leaves me convinced beyond all doubt that Carolyn is right next to me on this venture. (I’d say that business with the credit cards might even have been a prank, but I know that wouldn’t be her style.) 

   But what happened in that cafe is a story for another day. It’s an amazing one, too.


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