When I was sixteen I went to England to visit my sister who was spending a semester abroad. I hadn’t been to Europe since I was capable of pooping in a potty, and I was so excited, especially since my sister and I were going to spend a weekend in Paris.
Neither my sister nor I spoke any French, so my mother hired a Brit who had been one of our counselors at summer camp to be our chaperone. The morning arrived, and we waited in the London train station to take the Chunnel to Paris. I loved that we were taking the Chunnel. It just sounds so cool! Chunnel. But the train came and went with no chaperone in sight. Ms. Chaperone showed up a few minutes after the train had left hysterically crying about the subway not working properly and being so sorry. As we went to board the next train the chaperone realized she had forgotten her passport. She had to go back home. Now I was crying because I thought I would never get to Paris. She ran out and got a taxi home, but there was no way she could make it back in time for the next train. I would spend my first Paris day waiting for a train in London.
My sister used her phone card as neither of us had cell phones (yes, it was that long ago) and called my mother who was asleep back in New York. My sister explained everything to our mother whose only response was a mildly incoherent, “Go, just go,” before she fell back asleep. That was all my sister and I needed. The host mother was not very happy, but we ignored all reason and hopped on the train and took the Chunnel to Paris!
Not knowing any French in Paris is hard. We spent an hour looking for the Louvre. We were standing next to a huge stone building that stretched for blocks and blocks. The map said we should be at the Louvre, but we couldn’t find the glass pyramid anywhere. When we finally found the courage to ask someone how to find it, they pointed up to the building we had been pacing next to. The sign said “Louvre.” Apparently that means “You found the Louvre, idiots. Now walk the two blocks around to the entrance.” Oops. But at least I found someone from my dance studio back home who was ditching class that week in the Louvre ticket line. Crazy small world.
We couldn’t ask for help when I got violently ill from a fried cheese and tomato sandwich. To this day I cannot eat a grilled cheese with tomato.
We ran out of batteries and stood on the street saying as quietly and politely as we could, “would someone please help us find more of these?” An old woman who didn’t know any English dragged us into a drug store. In retrospect, blindly following a stranger you can’t speak to was probably not the best idea.
By the time our chaperone showed up the next day we were world travelers. Sure you had to sit sideways on the toilet in our hotel room since the bathroom was so small. And maybe showering flooded the bedroom, but we had done it by ourselves.
Other than “Huh-he-huh” we never spoke anything remotely resembling French, but we had a wonderful adventure.
I’m flying to Paris today and won’t have internet access for the next two weeks. But please comment and share so I have lots of messages when I get back to get me through the post trip slump!