For my first full day in Paris, I headed to Montmatre in the north of Paris to visit an old friend.
I decided to brave the Metro, but with three different trains to get there, it would have been almost as quick to walk. The last time I really used the Metro was about 15 years ago and it hasn’t changed at all: the same plastic seating, the same graffiti covered walls, and possibly even the same trains. The only thing that has changed is the automatic ticket machines. I was thankful for this as it meant I did not have to deal with a grumpy cashier who refused to understand my frightened request in bad French for a “carnet” (book of 10 tickets) – when the only two things she sold were single tickets and carnets. (This was a traumatic event from the Ghost of Paris Past that I have never quite gotten over.)
Two days before I arrived, I saw this video of rain cascading down some steps in Paris this past weekend.
It was almost something to rival our typhoons in the Philippines! “So much for a hot and sunny August in Paris,” I had thought at the time.
And so when I finally exited from the depths of the Metro, I looked around, blinking in the sunlight, and found I was standing in exactly the same spot as the person who shot the video! You could never have guessed at the torrential rain only three days before.
I had been to my friend’s apartment three years ago, but not from this direction. So of course I got horribly lost. The square she lives on was not marked on my map, and some of the streets I was wandering around were off the edge of the map which added to my confusion.
In my days as a scuba diving instructor I had taken to wearing a small compass on my watch strap (to help with underwater navigation), and it had always come in useful in finding my way around strange places on land. It once even got me out of a massive market in Bangkok. But my last compass strap had long since snapped, and as it was the middle of the day I couldn’t tell the direction from the position of the sun. A compass would have been very welcome today and would have stopped me going in the opposite direction for the first half an hour.
But I didn’t mind so much as was enjoying all this wandering. So I retraced my steps and after an eternity, I started to recognise landmarks and eventually found her apartment. But there was no doorbell! And there was me, so proud yesterday that I had managed to work out how to use my own doorbell! But with no entry code, I could not get in!
Next step would be to call her. But I have inexplicably lost my Philippines SIM card which I had been relying on for roaming for my first few days, and my new French SIM was not yet activated. So my only option left was lung power. Feeling like a prize idiot, I stood below her window and shouted her name, but she is on the 4th floor, and all I got for my efforts were strange stares from passing pedestrians.
Stumped again, I headed in the direction of the nearby Sacré-Cœur, where I knew there were some touristy restaurants, in the hope of finding a payphone. Not a payphone in sight of course, so I decided a time-out with a glass of wine was in order and perhaps I would be struck with some alcohol-induced genius solution.
The kindly elderly waitress did not know of public pay phones either. So I sipped on my wine and thought some more. Then an awkward English “bloke-y” tourist sat down at the table next to me and had an awful lot of trouble ordering a lager from said waitress. As I sat there feeling just a little superior (is that bad?) and also proud to have negotiated both the wine and the phone questions in French without any problems, my next brain wave hit. I would buy him another drink in exchange for the use of his phone!
But I am a shy girl at heart and really, really did not want to do this.
So I put my thinking cap back on again, and one last possibility came to mind. But this was just a tiny chance – an “It-probably-isn’t-going-to-work-but-give-it-a-go-anyway” idea. I had an old UK SIM card in my bag that had been donated by Trevor. It was probably expired and not roaming enabled. But I tried it in my phone. It let me check my credit – £2 still left on it! I tentatively dialled the number, and whaddaya know – click, click, click – and it connected!
So, it was a mission, but I finally got to see my friend. I had a lovely afternoon, and sadly, like all good Parisians, she is off on holiday for three weeks. I think it is the law that they all have to go away for August.
But this is not the end of the story. The way home was no picnic in the park either.
I stopped to eat, and I knew the restaurant was a bad choice as the menu was in English as well as French, but I was starving. This was my first restaurant visit on this trip and it was the Parisian restaurant experience I always dreaded. I was almost completely ignored and had to wait thirty minutes just for someone to take my order. Meanwhile all around me real French people were drinking and eating and smoking and chatting….
Oh well, I was chilled about it, but really wished I had had a stinky cigarette to use as a prop. Maybe I will get some for future use, so I can put my cigaretted elbow on the table, stick my nose in the air, and show them that I don’t care that I am being COMPLETELY IGNORED!
And – last mishap of the day – I got on the wrong bus and ended up on the outskirts of Paris.
But I eventually found my way home. It had been a 6 hour trip just to see my friend for 2 hours.
Maybe I’ll get a taxi next time….