Sometimes I can’t believe I have a job that allows me to travel abroad. I love traveling and soaking in new and different cultures. And getting paid to do so is obviously the ideal situation. So, last week I was in London. It’s the second time I’ve been to London for work, and I fell even more in love with the city as I was before.
The last time I was there, I wrote about every day — what we did, where we explored, ate, drank, saw. This trip was a bit different. It was amazing to spend so much time with the London team, learn of all the nuances of the European market, and bond with a team that we don’t generally see very often. We were very focused on working, and as for social events, I wanted to get a more “local” flavor of London.
Boy did we get a sense of the “local” aspects of London. And let me just say, the British can drink. It’s not a stereotype. And it’s certainly not a myth. We had a great time — visiting the pubs, eating a variety of ethnic foods, seeing a few sites, early morning shopping, and more. I love London.
It’s hard going all the way to London (11 hour plane ride) and being teased by 2 hour train rides to Paris, $100 plane trips to Spain. The entire continent is at your fingertips. This trip, I wanted to visit someplace I’ve always wanted to go: Paris. To be honest, I never thought I’d actually go to Paris. I never thought I’d actually ever see the Eiffel Tower. It always seemed so far away. The tower was always just an etching in a piece of stationery or a charm on a bracelet. It never seemed attainable.
So I did it. I purchased the touristy of tourist tours from London to Paris. It was a day trip provided by Premium Tours (“Luxury escorted Paris Day Trip with two course lunch on the Eiffel Tower” to be exact). I didn’t care that it involved a tour guide and a trip around the city in a bus with 50 other tourists and their cameras. I was going to Paris.
Early Saturday morning, I caught the Eurostar train to Paris. The train was incredible. It’s so fast — making it nearly impossible to walk around because of all the tilting on the tracks. It only took about two and a half hours to arrive in Paris.
Upon our arrival, we met with the tour guide — aptly (and Frenchly) named Sophie. She led us to the tour bus where we began our day of sightseeing. We drove around to see the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the Opera House, the Louvre, Champs Elysees and more.
The highlight of the trip: lunch in the Eiffel Tower. The tower is magnificent. Words can’t even describe how I felt walking up to this intricate creation — a creation that wasn’t ever supposed to be. The engineer, Gustave Eiffel, designed and built the tower as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair. The French wanted it taken down, but it stayed, and has now become the most prominent symbol of both Paris and France. And it’s magical.
After lunch, we took a river boat tour on the Sienne. The river is just gorgeous and I loved floating by the Parisians sunning on the banks.
I decided to ditch the tour after the river boat as I wanted to explore a recommended neighborhood: Le Marais. Le Marais is part of the aristocratic district of Paris and it was littered with small boutiques, cafes and churches. The cobblestone streets are narrow and the sidewalks are full of people dining, smoking French cigarettes and speaking the beautiful language of French. It was perfect.
I drifted in and out of boutiques purchasing little treasures of lace and pearls (so French!). I, of course, found a Fromagerie and a Patisserie and devoured French cheese spread on a freshly baked baguette. It was heaven.
And that is when disaster struck.
The Eurostar back to London was leaving from the Gare du Nord at 7:13pm French time. They stop checking passengers in 30 minutes before the departure time — 6:43. It was about 6pm and I began looking for a taxi to take me to the station. According to my map, I was about a 10 minute drive away, but I wanted to play it safe.
At 6pm, the entire ambiance of Le Marais changed. I was near the Town Hall (which I later was told) and the city broke out into protest. Thousands of people flooded the streets. Police officers were everywhere. Roads were blocked off with metal fences. It was a nightmare.
Obviously, I couldn’t catch a taxi. Even the ones that were empty, that I was flailing helplessly in front of, passed me by. I approached a police officer who spoke broken English and asked him where I could catch a taxi. He pointed and said, “Taxi stand. One block.” I walked one block down to find no taxi stand, but another police officer. He said, “Taxi stand. One block.” Exasperated, I ventured yet another block to find nothing but chaos.
It was 6:20pm. I was talking to people in their cars who very clearly didn’t speak English: “Me. Train Station. Gare du Nord. ALL MY EUROS TAKE ME THERE.” Nothing.
6:37. I’m in pure panic mode. I didn’t even know what direction the station was in let alone how I was going to get there (it wasn’t walkable). One of the nicer Frenchmen that I spoke with tried to describe how to take the Metro. It’s all in French. I don’t speak French.
6:45. I’ve accepted the fact that I’m not going to make this train. Just get me to the station and I’ll pay whatever it costs to get back to London tonight.
6:47. A girl emerges from the crowd. I must have looked like a maniac talking to strangers, offering Euros to take me to the train.
She says, “Come with me.”
“Really?” I burst into tears. Someone was actually willing to help me.
This girl, who had to be 21-22 years old, was my angel. She took me on the Metro and when I didn’t even know where to start when it came to buying a Metro ticket, smuggled me in behind her using her pass. She spoke English pretty well. I offered every single one of my Euros (about 20 which equals about $30) and she wouldn’t take a cent. She said she was on holiday and didn’t have anything else to do. That she remembers her first time in Paris and how lost she got. How she had wished someone would have been kind enough to help her.
She led me through two Metro transfers and ran through the stations with me, trying to get me to the Gare du Nord by my train departure. She led me all the way to my check-in gate at the Eurostar train station. And I made my train.
I asked her name, but in the chaos of 20 minutes I spent with her, I didn’t catch it. I will never see her or speak to her again, but she saved me. She helped me when no one else would. She changed my final perception of Paris which turned from being an incredible day to a disaster. Someone was looking down on me that day — she was my angel.
So, to the stranger that saved me in Paris, thank you. And you better believe I’ll pay it forward.
Stay tuned for more pictures!