Paris has always been a minefield for me in one way or another. Strange things consistently happen to me there. It was where it finally occurred to me that I had to get a divorce many years ago, and where I got some very bad news about a second romance not that much later. It was where I first fell in love with Europe at the tender age of 13, and where I decided I should learn French. I’ve had planes misconnect there, I’ve lost my luggage and broken my heart there – the place is a crucible. I return to the City of Light every few years and I try to keep my fingers crossed the whole time, at least figuratively. I had decided to brave it again, because sometimes good things happen there too, but it was a risk. To make matters a little more comfortable, I splurged. This time, nice hotels, nice food, and a short stay were on the agenda. I was only there one day and one night; I’m bold but I wasn’t going to tempt fate any further than that!
I went to the Zurich Hauptbahnhof and caught the SBB high-speed train to Paris. In a matter of three or four hours speeding across the perfect Swiss countryside and then through France past Dijon, the train arrived in the Gare de Lyon, Paris. In my kitchen French, I asked the driver to take me to one of the best places in town. He took me to a funky hotel that was definitely not what I was expecting. Upon inquiry, he said there were two hotels by the name I gave him and apologized. I nodded and asked him if really, I was in need of better shoes for him to get me to the proper destination. He laughed and assured me that my little canvas shoes were just fine. Normally I wouldn’t be wearing Keds in a tony spot in Paris, but I’ve been reduced to wearing arch support inserts. After months of painting my house on a ladder barefoot, my arch fell, and now I have to repair it. What a time to be touring Italy & France (land of fashion and beautiful shoes). Thankfully my arches can be repaired, and they were okay for high heels in limited amounts.
I thought to go to the Musee D’Orsay that afternoon, but by the time I got into Paris, I was tired. I was still getting over my cold and I wanted to take my time. The hotel was, as one expects, gorgeous, impeccably appointed and a perfect place to take high tea. So instead of the museum, I had tea in the beautiful restaurant and went upstairs to rest for a little bit. Only a few minutes had passed before I realized the bathroom smelled pretty bad. Like, something died in the pipes bad. Yes, I think I actually smelled a rat. Oh dear – not here! How can this be? Well, that’s what happens in old cities. As a homeowner, I know sometimes there’s no helping it. To make matters worse, someone had poured all kinds of scented something all over the bathroom to try to cover the odor. No sumptuous evening in the tub for me, apparently. I’d be lucky if I could stand next to the sink and hold my breath long enough to put on my makeup. Maintenance was called and informed that they had 2-3 hours to remove whatever it was in the pipes (and they did). I held my nose, put on my jewelry, and slipped into my new dress and my old Parisian shoes. Time to make the best of things – and the restaurant made that very easy indeed.
I had planned a beautiful dinner for the evening at a veritable French dining institution, holder of two Michelin stars and a great reputation. There I was served a lovely seven course meal, including a cheese assortment, two desserts and a half-bottle of wine. The food was truly delicious and I felt every inch a lady. What a treat. I am sure there is hell to pay for such high living, but I enjoyed it anyway. I slipped between the expensive sheets and worried just what my price would be this time in Paris. I’d been waiting for something to go wrong all day, but it hadn’t. Pretty much everything had gone right, including my halting comprehension of the French language. I felt uneasy.
The next day, I packed, left my bags at the hotel, and got ready to leave Paris. My plan was to walk around Paris for just a short while, see what I could of the Musee D’Orsay in an hour or so, and then get a cab to the Gare du Nord for my train to Amsterdam in the afternoon. Everything went swimmingly until I had to get that cab back from the Musee D’Orsay. The Eiffel tower, the boulevards, the postcards and the museum presented no problems and were most enjoyable. I had 15 minutes to get a cab back to my hotel which should have been enough. But there were no cabs to be found. The cabless taxi stand had a line of 15 people and so I ended up walking toward the hotel for 35 minutes before I found a free cab. Then it was 10 minutes more to the hotel and another 23 minutes to the train station. Uh oh. The train was due to leave at 3:25 and I got to the track, panting, at 3:23. They were pulling a tape across the track to indicate that the doors were closing and I was not allowed. I begged, I showed my first class ticket, I cajoled, I pleaded. But all to no avail. French trains leave on time, period, and that includes leaving enough time to get going. It was bound to happen sometime I guess. I have never missed a plane or a train or a bus – at least not because of anything I did. Until now.
On the up side, I found out that if you get to the exchange window within five minutes of missing your train, the reschedule of your ticket is free. The next train was leaving at 5:35. There were no reservations available since the train was oversold, which meant I might be standing between cars, but at least I would be on it. I mean, it’s not like I was going anywhere else at this point! I went over to the post office across the street, bought stamps, wrote my postcards and mailed them. I had a chocolate croissant at the station cafe and just let it all go. What else can you do? If a missed train and a dead rodent were the worst things that happened, it was fine with me. I’ll take it. A couple hours later, I ended up with a seat after all and had a quiet trip, relieved to put Paris safely behind me.