Sunday, October 10, 2010


It was a dark and stormy night. No, really, it was. I had left beautiful, warm, sunny Beirut at 2pm for cold, dreary Paris. Oh, it was tough, maybe not as tough as it was the last time I left Beirut, if only because it had been so easy to return, but it was tough all the same and I fought tears in the airport again. I was leaving ten days of 100% contentment - Paris was my buffer between that and the winter of Washington.

I was to stay in a small town outside of Paris called Clamart. I wanted a bit of Europe rather than big city but didn't want to stray too far from the airport, so I settled for Clamart, a town close to Versailles. I had directions, which stated:
From Airport Charles de Gaulle: You can take a taxi to the hotel or you can take the RER B (blue) train and change trains at 'St-Michel Notre-Dame'. Change to the RER C train direction 'Versailles-Rive Guache'/'Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines' and get off at train stop 'Issy'. The hotel is at 25 minutes walking distance from the train station but of course it is better to take taxi from here to the hotel.
Seems simple enough, right? So I got on the train at CDG and got off at Issy (8 euro instead of the 50 a taxi would cost). It was raining.

I descended the stairway to the train station expecting a taxi or two to be waiting in front of it like you would expect taxis to do, but there were none, so I went into the station, where a helpful attendant gave me a phone number to call one. Easy enough, right? Except no one would answer the phone. I walked to the corner of the intersection to try to hail one on the street, but there were few who passed by and none who stopped. I called the hotel to tell them I was having trouble finding a cab (at this point it was nearly 10pm, the time I told them I'd be arriving), thinking they would call one for me, but the guy must have thought I was just calling to tell them I'd be late and he hung up on me. (I don't know how much AT&T charges for international roaming calls, and I'd already made two, so I didn't want to call again.) Did I mention it was raining?

My other option was to walk the "25 minutes" to the hotel. That would have been fine, except I had no idea in which direction it was, so I went to a nearby bus stop to see if there was a map. Nope. There were no people on the streets and nothing was open, so even asking someone was out of the question. I probably stood on that corner for twenty minutes trying to figure out what to do, and I was getting frustrated (and wet), so I just started to walk. I knew the town was Clamart, and there were road signs that pointed towards Clamart, so logically I followed them through the darkened suburbs of Paris on whose roads I had never roamed.

Despite not knowing where I was, I enjoyed the first minutes of my walk. I felt like I was in Europe for the first time on the trip. Paris is wonderful, but it is an international city, and my Europe days were spent in many small towns. I just wanted a taste of that once again, and I got it. But I was pulling a suitcase behind me, and I had a laptop and some books on my back, and after about 20 minutes of walking, I was getting tired and was unsure if I was going in the right direction. I came upon another bus stop. This one had a map, but my destination was not on it. Suddenly, a taxi came by! The driver slowed when I hailed him, and I thought I might be saved. Alas! He had a passenger, but he sympathized with me walking in the rain, pulling a suitcase behind me. He wanted to pick me up, but that passenger said no. %$#@!

So there I was, standing in the rain, wondering what on earth I was going to do. I had no choice but to walk on, so walk I did, walked like I hadn't been on a plane for four hours, walked like I hadn't left my heart behind, walked like I knew where I was going. I got to a curve and I just had to stop. I felt like breaking down right there, but then I turned around.

The whole city of Paris was out there, Eiffel Tower and all.

It was one of those moments when you just feel like you were supposed to be there, one of those times when something sucks all the bad from your soul and you feel like the most blessed person on earth for just being permitted to breathe. And on I walked, no longer doubting my decision to come to Clamart.

I walked another twenty minutes or so until I came to a circle, and behold! A town map! Turns out, I should have gone left a mile back, but it was ok, because I could take one of the streets from the circle to get to the street my hotel was on.

And so, an hour after I had arrived at the Issy train station, I found the Victor Hugo Hotel, where a warm shower and a lengthy sleep awaited me.

To be continued...

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