I hadn’t been booking my hostels much in advance, because I wanted to flexibility to change my plans (stay longer in one place, or add another city or town into my itinerary) but I found that I had a hard time trying to find a place in Paris. I wasn’t too concerned as I left London, because according to my guide book there was a Reservations Central that you could go to and they would help you find a room, for a small fee of course. Since I’d been unable to find a room prior to leaving London, I figured I would go there upon my arrival and that they would help me.
I arrived at the train station and quickly found out why the French have the reputation they do when it comes to friendliness. I was very confused trying to find my way and I couldn’t find a single sign in English. I remember looking around at all the other people with the exact same expressions are their faces and realizing I’d never seen so many lost people in my life. When I finally found someone who appeared to work at the train station, I asked “Parlez vous Anglais?” She glared at me and “Oui” in an irritated voice. I proceeded to ask, in English, for directions, and while she helped me, she made it seem like it was the most burdensome thing she’d ever been asked to do. I left feeling somewhat affronted and thinking that the next few days were going to be interesting if that the level of service I was going to receive everywhere I went.
I made my way to Reservations Central only to find that it was closed. Not the ‘be back in an hour’ kind of closed, but the ‘we are never opening our doors again’ type of closed. I was definitely not off to a good start for the day.
Since the place was closed, I decided to find the nearest cheap hotel in my guide book and walk there, which is exactly what I did. Upon arrival, the owner told me that he didn’t have any rooms available. I must’ve looked absolutely awful, because he picked up the phone and started making calls. After receiving the ‘nothing is available’ response a few times, he finally found a hotel that had a room. It was a bit of walk but he drew me a map on the back of a napkin and gave it to me, telling me in broken English that they were expecting me. I had no idea how much the room would cost, but at that point, I didn’t really care.
I followed his map, which was actually very well drawn, and after about 20 minutes I knew I had to be getting close. When I got to a street that I thought might be where I was supposed to turn, I slowed down and looked for a sign with the street name. Before I could even find it I heard, “Natalie! Natalie!” in a heavy French accent and looked up to see a middle aged man waving frantically from his front door. Figuring this had to be it, I made my way to the hotel. It became apparent as I checked in that the man who had called around to find me a room had told him to keep an eye out for me, so he’d spent the past 20 minutes standing out on the street waiting for some lone female backpacker to peer down the road looking lost. I have to say this above and beyond helpfulness did a lot to rectify my negative mentality after the rude lady at the train station.
Since it was a hotel, I would have a room to myself, but it was also more than I’d budgeted for, so when he gave the choice of a room with a toilet compared to a room with a toilet and shower, I quickly opted for the cheaper option. I figure any place where a shower isn’t standard in the bathroom, is used to people who smell a little. The communication about room options took about 30 minutes in and of itself, because he spoke little English and I spoke little French. I was having such a hard time understanding what he was trying to ask me that he finally took me upstairs to show the two bathrooms options so I could choose.
By the time I finally got checked in and got up to my room I was totally exhausted and realizing that I had definitely caught what my previous roommates had and I was getting sick. I took off my backpack, stripped naked in my 100 degree, non air-conditioned room, laid down on top of the bed and fell asleep.
The next day I felt even worse. There’s something about being sick, especially when you’re away from home, that just makes you want your mom. I spent much of the day lying in bed, with a fever and crying because I was so hot, miserable and depressed. I was so unhappy and lonely that I seriously contemplated ending my trip early and going home.
My second day I forced myself to snap out of it and decided that since I was in Paris, I at least had to see some of the major sights. I ‘bathed’ as well I could with my tiny sink, got dressed and then headed out. For those of you that are wondering how a traveler knows when you’ve committed some cultural faux pas overseas, I find that a good sign is when the owner of your hotel runs out the door and chases you down the street, hollering in French for you to come back. After living in New York for 4 years, I’d grown accustomed to blocking out shouting people, so I was halfway down the street before I realized the crazy person behind me was actually the owner of my hotel and that I was in fact, the person that he was yelling at.
I returned to the front desk of the hotel trying to figure what I could have possible done by simply walking out the door. He was gesturing wildly about something that I had to give him. I’d already paid for my room so it took a minute to dawn on me that this was one of those hotels where you have to give them your room key before you can leave. (As a side note, this is one thing that I’ve never understood. Maybe it’s an American control thing, but I find it very odd to have to check in and out every time I come and go from a hotel.) I gave him my key and then I lingered at the desk for another couple minutes, making sure that I wasn’t forgetting anything else and it was now acceptable for me to leave. Once he smiled and said, “Au revoir,” I figured I was in the clear and off I went.
Since I was still feeling horrible I decided to do some inside activities so I went to Notre Dame and the Louvre. The Louvre was having a special Da Vinci Code tour where they took you around all the different parts of the museum that were written about in the book. I was a big fan of the book so it sounded amazing…and long. I ended up paying my regular admission, looking at the map to see where the Mona Lisa was housed, which I walked directly to, stood in front of for about 30 seconds, mentally checking it off my bucket list, and then left the museum.
I finally started to feel a little better the next day, although still wasn’t feeling great. However, I had to go see the Eiffel Tower. There are a couple different options to get to the top: you can climb the 704 stairs or take an elevator to the 2nd floor. Whichever option you choose, you still need to take an additional elevator if you want to go to the top. The price for the elevator wasn’t that much more expensive, although the lines were really long. Normally I climb everything, to the top of church towers, the Great Wall, etc. but I was still sick and I was pretty sure if I attempted the 704 steps I would pass out and fall off the Eiffel Tower, so I opted to for the elevator instead. Once I got to the 2nd floor, I transferred to the additional elevator so that I could go to the top. The line was quite long for the transfer as well, but I couldn’t go to the Eiffel Tower and only go to the second floor and the views from the top were amazing. After I spend some time walking around the second floor, I descended (yes, via elevator) and made my way to Invalides.
Invalides was built by Louis XIV in 1671 as a home for soldiers who had fought in his wars. In 1674 the first veterans moved in. Napoleon’s Tomb is housed here in the Dome Church.
I spent my last day on a day trip to Versailles, which is worthy of its own post. I realized after I left Paris how lucky I actually was to have a room to myself while there. As miserable as I was while I was sick, I would have more uncomfortable and embarrassed to be surrounded by people when I was an emotional mess. It was a low period on my trip where I had experienced a lot of self doubt about my travels. I was really hopeful afterward that it would be the only depressing time I encountered. I also realized that while I did what I was able, I would really like to return to Paris when I’m feeling well, so that I can visit all the places that I may have missed while I was holed up in my hotel room.