Oh yeah… I had fished my bike ride through the Cotswold’s and was about to take a car to St Pancras Railway Station in London. From there, I rode the Eurostar under the English Channel to glorious Paris, France. Paris was, in every way, shape, and form, magical to me. I am, by no means, a city girl, but I fell head over heels in love with that city!
OK, so here’s what happened…
Before I left for my trip, I was walking with one of my closest friends in my hometown of Santa Barbara, and we were discussing my upcoming, twenty-one day, English adventure. I was planning on being in London for more than a week and, from there, you can take a train to any number of fascinating destinations, so why not hop the Eurostar to Paris??? I mean, I’m there, so why the heck wouldn’t I, right?? My friend agreed that it was, indeed, a total no brainer. She then asked me if, perhaps, I would like a Parisian tour guide, because, if so… she knew a guy... Someone who had grown up in Paris, had lived and worked in the US for years, spoke fluent English, and happened to be back in Paris at that time.
Hmmm… based solely on my abysmal performance in 9th grade French class, I thought having a native French interpreter wouldn’t be the worst idea. So, once we clearly established that he was not some sort of axe murderer* but, in fact, a really nice guy, and I would be completely safe in his charge, I agreed to have her put us in touch. And so, she did.
I would now like to interject with the fact that my dear friend had a secret ulterior motive... it was a set up! Unbeknownst to either of us, she though the "tour guide" and I would make a great match.
OK, soooo... let's just say that for the past two years I've no longer been traveling solo, and leave it at that, shall we??
OK!! Great!! Moving along!
Paris was a whirlwind!! I as given the tour of a lifetime by a local!! Notre Dame, the carousel, The Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay, the Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower!! It was Springtime in Paris and it was perfect!! We had dinner at the Restaurant Ciel de Paris on the 56th floor of the Tour Montparnasse, a skyscraper with a view of the Eiffel Tower and all of Paris, and with a dinner cruise down the Seine. It was, literally, breathtaking. Like being on "The Bachelor", but without all those other pesky broads vying for my fella.
I also had the opportunity to do some solo exploration! Armed with a map to “Le Marais”, the historic district, with it’s incredible architecture and shops, and with a few essential phrases, “en français”, that every girl needs when she’s out shopping: “Merci, je regarde seulement” or “Thank you, I’m only looking” and “Je voudrais une crêpe Nutella, s'il vous plaît” which means: “I would like a Nutella crepe, please”, and off I went alone into the heart of Paris!! Although “Je regardais seulement” I managed to come back with a dress, a jacket, a purse, 6 bars of soap, the most ridiculously rich and fluffy body cream I’ve ever experienced in my life (made, I think, from the clouds on which angels lay down their sleepy haloed heads to dream, and lavender), oh, and a box of 6 assorted eclairs. Not bad for a girl who speaks no French!! I imagine that, once I learn the language I could do some real damage!!
Alas, soon it was time to leave Paris. I went back to Gare du Nord to catch the Eurostar back to London. This is where I learned about a little something called "Proof of Onward Travel". Oh, boy...
The big, uniformed, British man behind the glass asked me for my passport, ticket, and “proof of onward travel from England.” I handed him my train ticket and passport and said “Excuse me, Sir, my onward what??" “Proof of Onward Travel, Miss. I can’t let you into England if you can’t prove you have the means to leave." (to which I eloquently responded with a blank stare.) "Do you think they’d let me into America without proof that I was going to leave?" he asked... and then answered for himself: "They would not.” “Well I have a ticket." I said. "I’m flying out of Heathrow, back to the US in 3 days on Air New Zealand.” “Good. Let me see it.” “Well I don’t have my boarding pass, it’s too soon.” “Well what am I to do”, he asked, “take your word for it?” “Sir, I have a receipt for the purchased ticket but it’s in my email and I don’t have internet right now.” “You know I can detain you right now.” he said. To this I had no response... a rare moment when I was stuck completely silent.
“MISS!! Do you have proof of onward travel or not?” “Sir”, I said, “I didn’t know I needed it. This is my first trip and I’ve never heard of that before. I know that’s no excuse, but I’m sorry, it’s the truth. If you can get me internet I can show you the proof of purchase from the airline.” He said “If I take you back there and they detain you, you’ll have internet but, I assure you, you won’t make your train.” If his intention was to be really intimidating, he was a rip-roaring success! We stared at each other. He took my passport, slammed the stamp in it and said “Go.” I said “Thank you!” and he said “Word to the wise, Miss; next time take a screen shot of your ticket.” “Yes, Sir. Thank you.” And I bolted toward the train. In a few days, I was back in Santa Barbara…
Since then, I've been to the South of France seven (7!!) times, and I have been to Ireland with my best friend!! I’ll give you more details about those fabulous places in upcoming posts but… we’re about to leave on another trip to a brand new (for me) destination and I’ll write about that first!!
So, seriously, all I did was get a passport and send out a message to the Universe that I was ready to travel the world!! The rest, as they say, is history!!
*Yes, gentleman, ascertaining that you are not a(n) “axe murderer/rapist/serial killer”, etc. is standard operating procedure among women when compiling the verbal dossier/background check on all men, platonic or otherwise, prior to introduction. Now you know.
HERE'S WHAT I'VE LEARNED:
1) If you can find a local to give you a tour (provided, of course, that you've established, beyond a reasonable doubt, the he/she is not some sort of axe murderer), do it!!
2) Even if you're traveling with someone else, make time to do some solo exploration (just be sure your safe)... it helps to push you outside of your comfort zone! You can do it!!
3) There are REALLY fabulous apps for navigating the subways and trains. Use them!!
4) If you're someplace where you don't speak the language, make the effort to learn a few key phrases. Your effort will usually be noticed and appreciated.
5) Generally speaking, its not Americans people have a problem with... it's rudeness. You're visiting so be polite!
6) Always have proof of onward travel... and a wise man once told me to take a screen shot of said proof... you know, in case you don't have internet. ;)
QUOTE FOR THE DAY:
“FOLLOW YOUR BLISS AND THE UNIVERSE WILL OPEN DOORS FOR YOU WHERE THERE WERE ONLY WALLS.”