Once upon a time I visited Paris rather spontaneously which was not at all in keeping with my obsessive planning nature. And while I don’t necessarily recommend this approach (unless it is the only way you can get there) it worked for me!
It happened like this.
We were planning our first trip to Europe where my husband would be attending a conference for a few days. We would be gone for two weeks, the first to be split between Reading and London. The second would remain open. Maybe we would spend more time in England. Perhaps travel to Scotland? Of course I really wanted to see Paris (doesn’t everyone?) but my husband wasn’t so sure.
Still I hoped. Near the end of our first week there I begin to use my persuasive reasoning skills in earnest on my defenseless husband. Paris is so close, I say. Shouldn’t we take advantage while we’re here? We may never come back. And there’s Normandy! We could visit the D-Day Beaches! How about that? (Yes, I pulled the world war two card on my history buff husband, as I figure it may be my only hope for getting across the channel.)
He’s concerned about the language. Don’t worry I say. I know a little French. (A long, long time ago I had taken two years to satisfy college entrance requirements. I still remember how to say such useful expressions as, ‘May I sharpen my pencil?”)
It was October, not peak travel season, so I assumed it would be fine. There was the Eurostar train under the English Channel direct to Paris in 2 hours. Although no hotel arrangements had been made, I did have a few leads from friends. And I read and carried portions of Rick Steves travel book on France. (All part of my secret planning. How hard could it be?)
The Normandy strategy worked. We would travel to Paris by train, spend a few days, then take the train to Caen, rent a car and explore the area.
We check out of our hotel and walk to the Waterloo Station to take the Eurostar to Paris. Walk up, buy tickets. Only Business Class is available. (“That will be one arm and one leg, please.”) Okaaaay. We are committed and pay the price. (I won’t tell you how much. It’s still embarrassing.)
We have a comfortable ride over and can smell the sea as we cross under the channel.
And we’re in France!
And then the strangest thing happened. We exit the train and proceed to street level and we are in a foreign country and they really do speak another language and we really do not have reservations and what on earth are we doing here? At least that’s what I sense emanating from my husband and I am right there with him. Except. It was my idea. I know the language, remember? So after a brief encounter with a con artist who would love to help us out at the cash machine (um, no thank you) we head to hotel referral #1 near the Louvre and inquire about the rates. 500 Euros is the answer. It was then I knew we were in trouble.
Hotel referral #2 is on the Left Bank and we take a cab and learn quickly that French cab drivers are not the most patient human beings in the world (at least this one wasn’t) and also have a predetermined amount they expect for their tip and we apparently don’t know what that is (who takes a cab in Seattle?) and well, it’s awkward and slightly unpleasant. Fortunately we don’t understand what he’s saying (well we got the general idea.)
Thankfully Hotel #2 is quaint and clean and lovely and better yet, only 100 Euros a night. And they have a room available!. Oh joy!
So we relax and settle in for the most amazing few days in the beautiful City of Lights.
“Parlez-vous Anglais?” I say over and over again and every time the kind response is in English. The red bus is our way around town and we see all the sights one must see in Paris, including this one. (Sorry about the picture quality but hey, it’s mine and proof I was really there.)
And now I can finally say, “we’ll always have Paris.”
And to think this was my ticket in.
Okay, that’s all I have time for. Thanks for following along!
Nice to do something spontaneous. I confess that I have done very little like that. I have been to Paris quite a few times, as well as Normandy, and many other parts of France too. If your husband likes history, I can recommend the WW1 battlefields and cemeteries in Belgium, the next time you are thinking of doing something spontaneous!
I come from the part of London not far from Waterloo Station, so obviously know that area very well. Shame about Reading though…You have to want to go there…
Best wishes, Pete.
Thanks for your comment as always Pete. I don’t remember that much about Reading since this was a few years ago. To me it was all new and different and wonderful. I’ve been to London twice now and enjoy everything about that big city! Wished I could have seen more of the countryside though. And maybe someday we will make it to Belgium. but I think I am done with spontaneity! 🙂
I will happily show you a lot of countryside, if you ever make it to Norfolk. here is a reminder of the joys of Reading. 🙂
Thanks! And I do remember the river flowing through the town and walking through the remains of the Abbey. I found it all interesting!
It is OK in the centre. Just a shame about the outskirts…
In 1981, I took my first Europe excursion–solo–and it was wonderful. I had a Eurail pass, and I made friends on the trains with women and couples, and many times was invited to stay the night at their homes. It was such a great time to be there, before terrorism became fashionable, and nearly everybody loved the Yanks.
It’s a bit amazing that you would post this today, because my husband and I were looking at our 1998 Sicily trip photos just last night, reminiscing about the colorful wooden dorys!
I remember back in the day it seems all the college students made excursions to Europe and backpacked everywhere safely and often alone. I missed all that. But it was so fun to finally get there!
Actually, my college and grad school days were behind me, but not far behind–I still had strength–and knees! 🙂
AS an obsessive planner, it was so much fun last summer to have Alex ask if we could have Eel for dinner our first night in Tokyo – tossed that curveball, we ended up at a terrific “eel only” place that had a conveyor belt style waiting area – as you pointed out, it’s sometimes more exciting to throw caution to the wind and explore!
Yes! Always fun to tell the story later. Maybe I’ll make it to Tokyo someday, if only on a well planned trip! Not sure about the eel though. 😉
I accidentally took Gosia to Paris once on our way to Poland, or did she mess with the satnav? At least I managed to tick it off the list 🙂
Jersey is a good place to visit for it’s history as an occupied Island during the second world war. About a 40 minute flight from London.
Paris is good no matter how you get there! I hadnt heard about Jersey. Maybe we will get back that way someday. So much to see and so little time! 🙂
Spontaneity is wonderful but we usually have to be prepared to pay the price. Your experience makes me glad our recent trip to England stayed in the UK because my son would not have done well with the language thing AT ALL. Just like you, though, I hope to visit someday!
I probably wouldn’t try the ‘spontaneous’ way to Paris again. But it all worked out and was such a fun trip!! ☺
If you didn’t do it spontaneously then all of your reservations about language and hotel prices and taxi drivers might have put you off going altogether had you looked that all up in advance. Sometimes spontaneous is the way to do it! Also, as someone from an English speaking country in Europe with only a little French, I just want to say you should never let language put you off visiting another European country! It’s always a good idea to learn some basic phrases and make an effort, but you’ll always get by, and many people speak English very well.
True! I’d hoped we’d make it to Paris on that trip but hadn’t convinced my husband yet, so we kept our options open. It was Normandy that convinced him to go and we both loved that as well as Paris! All in all it was a fabulous trip, but those first few hours were a bit scary. If I ever go again you can bet I’ll have the whole thing planned and hotel reservations made in advance. Thanks so much for your comment. 🙂
Love it! And that has to be the best blog post title ever!
Aw thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed it! 🙂
It does make sense you were so close to France it would’ve been silly not to nip over. You’re very brave though – I would’ve been booking a hotel on my phone I think hello lastminute.com as I would’ve panicked about getting somewhere to stay.
Rachael | https://rachaelstray.com/
This was a long time ago and we didn’t have smart phones then. Things are so much easier now with them! I wouldn’t go again without reservations but fortunately it all worked out and we had a wonderful time. 🙂
I know it’s hard to think of a time before smart phones really! It sounds like a great mini adventure though!
Yes, we depend on them so much today! I think we had mobile phones then but didn’t take them either due to the high cost of using them abroad.