I have never been much of a traveler, due to my unadultered hate for plannng and logistics. I typically only travel out of military necessity, and I avoid that at all costs.
However, in the late summer of 2005, while I was stationed in Germany, my dear friend Veronica convinced (forced) me to join her on a trip to Paris that she had arranged for a large group of personnel in her unit. The bus was to depart on a Friday afternoon, and return Monday night. We boarded the bus and left headed north on the autobahn for about six hours.
When one thinks of Paris, ideas of romance, stunning architecture, sidewalk cafes and haute couture fashion come to mind. While I’m sure that the most romantic city in the world is home to all of these ideas, the only thing I saw for myself was the architecture, and I had to work to see that.
The bus dropped us off in Euro Disney, where we were essentially on our own. Veronica provided us with maps and a text message that had the address to our hotel, located in Esbly, a small village on the outskirts of Paris.
I found myself paired up with a gentleman from Veronica’s unit named Jesse. He seemed nice, and didn’t want to be in Euro Disney any more than I did. Like me, he wanted to be in Paris. We rode a few rides and I picked up some Disney toys to bring back to my son, Jayden, then we set out to see the city. We wanted to see the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, visit the Hard Rock Cafe, change clothes and attend a show at the Moulin Rouge.
This of course, is not exactly how things turned out. We rode the bus into the city, and got off at the stop Veronica told us would be the Eiffel Tower. We saw the tower on the horizon and figured we had some walking to do, perhaps two or three blocks. What I think many people don’t realize, myself and Jesse included, is just how big the Eiffel Tower is. It appeared much closer to us than it really was. We spent several hours asking locals how to get there. Every one of them told us it was about one kilometer away. One kilometer is not a difficult distance for the average soldier to cover on foot, but when that one turns to two, then three, then four, then into losing count of how much ground you’ve covered, it gets tiring. We encountered a number of road blocks and construction sites that put us off of our path. It reminded me of a scene in Black Hawk Down, though much less violent and desperate than the movie.
At some point during our trek, we became hungry. None of the trendy sidewalk cafes we expected were in sight. We settled for a sandwhich stand, sort of a “grab and go” type of establishment and continued on. While wandering lost in the residential areas of Paris, I learned that any rumor of Paris being dirty is absolutely true. The buildings are goregous, but the ground is disgusting. We encountered many areas that had human feces in the streets, and there was trash everywhere. Additionally, none of the locals were dressed in what one would consider high fashion. In fact, it seemed as though the French embraced Gothicism more than Louis Vuitton or Hermes. Perhaps the haute couture and avant garde fashions were meant for runway shows only, not so much every day wear.
About an hour later, Jesse decided he was tired of looking for the tower, and wanted to go to the Hard Rock Cafe. I wasn’t ready to admit defeat, so we parted ways.
I gave up walking and got back on the bus. The very next stop the bus made was literally twenty feet from the Eiffel Tower. I got off the bus and bought a plastic replica of the tower from a street vendor. I could have chosen a less cliche souvenir, but after my endless search for the tower, I felt my purchase was fitting.
I took a picture of the tower in full length, and one from underneath. I decided against taking the elevator to the top because I needed to get to the hotel and change before going to the Moulin Rouge.
I hurried to the train staton, boarded a train, and ended up riding it to the end of the line, five stops past Esbly. The high point of this ride was that I passed the Arc de Triomphe and I was able to get a clear, although distant picture of it. At least now I could say that I had seen it. However, I was still lost. I referenced my text message from Veronica, and showed it to some passengers on the train, all while praying my battery didn’t die en route. Somehow, through my broken French, and the locals’ broken English, I was able to figure out where my stop was.
Once in Esbly, I was still lost. I had no idea how to get to my hotel from the train station. Nightime had fallen, and I was beginning to panic. I stopped a French gentleman and showed him my text message. He was kind enough to walk me to my hotel and make sure I arrived safely. I was lucky in that the man wasn’t dangerous. Unfortunately though, he was trite enough to ask me for a French kiss before he departed. I politely declined, but conceded to a hug. He did after all, deserve some show of appreciation. So much for romance.
I retrieved my luggage from the bus and rushed to my room to change for the Moulin Rouge. I threw on a cocktail dress and some sparkly shoes and headed downstairs to meet with some other members of the group. We walked back to the train station in an attempt to get back into Paris for the show. I was beyond tired, and none of us seemed to be able to figure out what train we needed to board. In fact, I believe most of the trains had stopped running by this time. We came to the conclusion that we’d have just as much fun going back to the hotel and drinking into the night.
After several drinks, I could not longer stay awake and I retreated to my room, where I fell into a deep sleep. My sleep lasted until the middle of the next day. By the time I was up, it was too late to do anything in the city, so I went back to sleep until almost dinner time.
The following day was Monday, time to head back to Germany. I was tired, but glad I made the journey. If I could do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing, other than maybe gettng lost. While my trip may have been far from typical, it was memorable and I hold good memories dear to my heart.
I hope to someday return to Paris, spend several weeks there, and create more memories.