This is a story of my first night and the pilgrimage to our hostel from my weekend in Paris.
It sounds glamorous— I know, but this is one of those "it's funny now, but in the moment I thought I was going to die" stories.
This one time … during my semester abroad,the opportunity arose for Carly, Adam, and I to go to Paris for a weekend. We caught the last flight into the city, and we had to catch a bus into the city. To catch a train to get to our hostel. This trip to Paris was my first time in a major foreign city so imagine my concern when the bus driver starts driving like a bat out of hell.
Then after 20 minutes of the journey he pulls over on an empty side street LEAVES THE BUS AND WALKS AWAY!
The keys are in the ignition and the bus is still running. Did this man just quit his job? There are other people looking around just as confused as me.
Probably a minute later a completely different man gets on the bus makes eye contact with NO ONE. Then he drives us away. I mean, he could be a good samaritan who took mercy on us stranded travelers or he could be the bus driver for the next shift. It was never explained so we may never know.
Eventually we get dropped of near the city center. Once there we had to take a train to get closer to our hostel. Adam was the only one with international data which he used for GPS to lead us to the hostel that he booked. We stood near a transit map on the wall trying to figure out which train we need to be on (because the sign is of course in French, a language none of us knows).
It's important to note that before this trip everyone warned us that Parisians are not helpful and won't speak English so be prepared. So imagine my skepticism when a very handsome French man stopped to asked us in English if we were lost.
My grandmother’s warnings about getting ‘Taken’ rang in my head. Wasn’t that set in Paris?
Not wanting to be taken, I say 'no' at the same time, Adam says yes. Proceeds to give the address of our Hostel to this STRANGER.
Stranger Man tells us that we were in the wrong train station. The one we were in lead out of Paris. We needed to go to another train station. Stranger man then leads us OUT of the train station and directs us to head down a dark and suspicious street the turn a corner to get to our correct train station.
Thankfully one of two things happened.
1) The Handsome Stranger Man was a saint; or
2) the van that was supposed to kidnap us once we turned the corner got stuck in traffic behind an unmanned bus.
After finding our train we had to walk with our luggage through dark (and kinda dirty) Parisian streets. As we walked, the streets got sketchier and sketchier. The GPS was staggered so we were a little lost.
Adam was carrying a very good quality (and presumably expensive) DSLR camera around his neck…in Paris…at night…in a sketchy area…with two girls. I asked him to put it away, as I thought it and our luggage already made us targets to get mugged. He declined, his reason: It was his weapon. If we are attacked, he would flash them with the camera so that we could run.
My external response
My internal response
In my mind… this is how all the horror movies start. As a black girl not named Brandy, my odds aren’t looking too good. As it gets sketchier and sketchier we start to see groups standing around and I can no longer contain my inner stress. I’m not going out like this.
Just then a young man walked in the opposite direction from us and I stopped him. From thin air I pulled all the vocabulary that I retained from 1 semester of French when I was 11 years old. The spirit of Muzzy was with me as I said:
“Excusez-moi parlez-vous anglais? Non? Merci beaucoup. Au revoir.”
Now, this may not seem amazing… but when I tell you that I had not spoken, heard, looked at, thought about French since that class ended. It is true. I didn’t review the phrases to know when traveling in foreign countries and if I do say so myself, my pronunciation was on point!
To this day I don’t know where the hell that came from because if I weren’t on the street in Paris in the middle of the night afraid of being mugged… I’m damn sure that I wouldn’t have been able to say anything other than “c’est la vie” or “laissez-faire”. In what situation would those phrases even come up?!
But I digress…
When I turned back I saw Adam still had his phone as he tried to navigate and Carly… Carly had a face that said, “I’m with two lunatics.”
In hindsight, I totally get it. Adam was going to protect us with his camera flash and there I was approaching strangers at night pulling French from who knows where.
Lost in the dark, it set in that we were all relative strangers. We’d only known each other less than two months and here we were in an extra foreign country dependent on each other for survival. Before things got ‘too real’ the GPS decided to act right.
We found our hostel. And I for those of you who haven’t stayed at a hostel, your mind probably goes to the Movie Hostel … in this case you aren't far off!
The hostel had scaffolding along the front as there were repairing the face of the building. There didn't seem be any lights on. The spidey senses started tingling again. This was DEFINITELY the setting of a horror movie. The taciturn middle aged man at check-in who gestured more than he spoke led us up narrow stairs. Adam was dropped off on the second floor as me and Carly were led up to the third floor to our shared room. So now me and Carly are alone with the nonverbal stranger.
The best thing about this room was that it was well lit. But the flip side of that, we could see in awesome lighting the threadbare sheets, the ensuite bathroom that had a hanging hose, cracked tiles...
You know what... I can show you better than I can tell you...
The hotel room was so sketchy but thankfully it was only one night. It was FREEZING, and as with most older European buildings AC and Heating was not built into the building. All we had was the blanket on the bed but neither me nor Carly trusted that so we slept in our clothes and coats. We lined our suitcases along the door because we didn’t trust the lock on the door.
Rationally, I know there is little that the two carry-on sized suit cases could have done. But listen, when you are in it… you do what ever it takes to give yourself that extra peace of mind. The next day we woke up happened to look out the window. We realized two things:
1) Daylight did not make this area any less sketchy;
2)The scaffolding on the building also acted as a ladder for anyone who would have wanted to sneak in our window.
If Carly and I had realized that the night before I doubt we would have been able to sleep. Thank God for small graces. Matilde arrived early to take us on our first day of Paris, we switched to a BUSINESS HOTEL and the rest of the trip was as magical as you’d expect a trip to Paris to be.
There are several things to take away from this story, but my biggest take away is: Pay attention in French class.
Just kidding! This was definitely an exercise in perseverance. This was our first night in Paris and it was not what any of us had imagined. We stayed calm, we didn’t turn on each other (aloud), and the next day was literally great. We could have easily have let the rough beginning ruin our weekend in Paris.
Until Next Time,