I consider myself an experienced traveller.
For the past 20+ years, we’ve travelled through 20-some countries managing the variety of both pleasures and challenges that come from navigating foreign languages, customs, food, and everything in-between.
I’m not however particularly good at any part that involves chaotic streets. My family can attest to the fact that traffic and crowds can and will fluster me.
You know where this is going, don’t you?
For the last day of our vacation, we decided to head back to Paris a day early. Gilles, bless his heart, knows I love Paris and it had been 12 years since our last visit. A leisurely day reacquainting ourselves with my favourite city was on the agenda.
From our hotel near the airport, we headed downtown on the train. It was surprisingly easy considering that on every other trip we’ve ever made to Paris, the subway system always confounded us. On our very first trip in 1997, it took our then 9-year-old son to figure out the subway and get us around the city.
This time we were on our own and we had a lovely day … until we didn’t.
It wasn’t the weather that was a challenge – a turbulent day of dark moody clouds, picture-perfect blue skies, stunning sunshine, torrential rain, blissful calm, and umbrella-turning winds.
It would be the crowded streets and absent subway.
If you don’t know Paris, this is a city of exquisite details and I was in hyper-mode to capture as many of them as possible. Who knows if and when I might ever be back here again, and I wanted to get the most out of this impromptu visit.
Our day started at Notre-Dame Cathedral which had been badly damaged in a fire twelve days earlier.
We gradually made our way to the Eiffel Tower – after a few stops to get out of the pouring rain.
The iconic tower is now surrounded by a bullet-proof fence as an anti-terrorism measure and we discovered the crowds were significantly denser than we remembered on previous trips.
If it was this busy on a weather-weird day in April, what was it going to be like at the height of tourist season?!
We picked our way through the slow-moving throngs of people and eventually found ourselves at the Arc de Triomphe.
Let me establish at this point that we knew the subway station we needed to get back to our hotel was just beside the Eiffel Tower … about a 15 minute walk from where we were now standing at the Arc de Triomphe.
We had been warned about potential subway closures around the Arc since it has been a popular location for the recent ‘yellow vest’ protests over the past several months.
These protests have often become violent and the evidence of heavy damage to stores along the Champs-Élysées attested to the rioting that had occurred.
Access to the Arc de Triomphe was closed and there was a significant police presence all along the Champs-Élysées … even though there were no protests in progress.
It was now late in the afternoon and I suggested we walk back the way we had come to pick up our subway station to the hotel. Sometimes, however, I’m convinced that if there is a hard way to do something, Gilles will find it.
He thought it would be ‘easier’ and ‘faster’ to catch one of the many subway stops along the Champs-Élysées.
It was neither.
As we walked, and walked, and walked, it was becoming frighteningly clear that MANY subway stations had been closed by the police as a preventative measure.
As I became more and more agitated, our original 15 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe degenerated into a two-and-half hour trek – along with hundreds of other people – on a mission to find an open subway station.
Hailing a taxi or calling an Uber wasn’t even a choice on the heavily congested roads, as everyone was seeking a way out.
At one point in this odyssey, Gilles actually commented that I “looked stressed”. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!
We finally dragged our sorry selves into our hotel room around 9 pm – 4 hours after our initial decision to head back. We were tired, hungry, barely speaking to each other, and we still had to pack for our flight home the following morning.
Paris, I do love you, that hasn’t changed … but I now feel like I need a do-over.