Down and Out in Paris...(Angel #1)

Paris Travel Blog

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Paris, during my first trip off the North American continent, failed to live up to my expectations, regardless of the fact that I hold the blame for most of the hardship we encountered.  Our less than stellar experience started after two wonderful days and nights of touring, walking, eating, dancing, eating, photographing, laughing, crying (poignantly) eating, creeping, and eating in this wonderful city, as we prepared to go to the Loire Valley and Champagne. A pickpocket artist detoured our plans at the Gare du Nord, taking our travel pouch which held our airline tickets, Eurail passes, and 90% of our cash, though, luckily, we had our passports and 100Francs �" which do not go far �" in a separate bag.

That Saturday afternoon, our American Embassy derailed our trip when they said we had to produce a police report in order for them to help us, even as they knew we couldn't file the report until Monday. The embassy wouldn't even let us in the door on that rainy afternoon, let alone let us use their phone to call our families collect, then said that rather than return to the embassy the report, we should go to the Aid for American Travelers' office. In a panic, we walked away with not enough money to house and feed us until Monday, and running out of options when we encountered “no vacancy” signs at every Youth Hostel in the city. Bawling, I stumbled after an equally distressed Ed, both of us shivering in the early March rain and the shock of our situation, where, on Les Champs-Elysées, an Angel intercepted us and set our journey back on track.

She looked ordinary enough, her British accent soft and soothing, and normally when approached by a stranger, I would smile and act courteously while remaining a little wary, but for some reason, this woman felt safe.  Putting her arm around my shoulders and offering me a handkerchief which I have to this day, our Angel told us to the British embassy for the assistance we needed, even after wee told her we were Americans. Before she disappeared into the rain, she squeezed my shaking shoulders, insisting our nationality made no difference, and told us to go anyway, promising that they would help.

With no other option and night approaching, we walked to the British embassy, where the guard invited us in out of the cold rain, offering hot tea and biscuits, and a clerk listened to our story, making a couple of phone calls. He told us he had arranged a hotel room for two nights with a hot meal that evening, and surprised us by handing us 300Francs.  I promised him I would pay him back as soon as I could, but he said not to worry, just help someone else sometime (my first experience with the concept of 'pay-it-forward). I asked why the British would help us when our own country wouldn't, and he said it wasn't a 'practice' but that he took pity on us that day. He admitted he would probably catch heck from his superiors but he didn't care.

The lovely hotel in the Opera district had a Canadian expatriate manager, and he welcomed us so warmly we almost couldn't leave. The owner of the Greek restaurant that night invited us to come back when they closed, to listen to music played by all of the Greek musicians from restaurants all over the city , as they congregated at one of the restaurants nearly every Saturday to jam and party.

We managed to fix our own problems on Monday and Tuesday, without the help of our Embassy, though we did go to the Aid for American Travelers' office, where they gave us each a cup of instant coffee (Sanka) and pats on the shoulders - and that nothing else. When they wouldn't let us use the phones or faxes either, I stormed out, writing scathing letters in my head to my Senators and Congressmen, then found a pay phone and spent precious money from our British friends, and called home. I found the American Airlines ticket office in downtown Paris and used their system to contact my agency to reissue our tickets (thanks to Yves at the AA office!). Then I bullied my way into the office of the Director of Public Relations at SCNF (France's rail company), and she helped me contact the Eurail office in White Plains, NY, to reissue our passes.  Ed's folks agreed to wire us money to the Marseilles American Express office, as once we received our tickets and passes by FedEx on Tuesday, we wanted to escape from Paris and its expensive lodging and food.

We did manage to enjoy Paris, even in our desperation, mostly due to the kindness of the people we met at the hotel and later the Youth Hostel on Monday, where we met the most amazing people who introduced us to sights in the city we never would have seen on our own.  We were both so green to traveling that we made all of the common mistakes of the naïve, like avoiding using payphones after first failing to understand how to use them, or seeing the three or four basic sights like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, and Jim Morrison’s grave.  These other travelers showed us how to look behind the tourism glitz and see the truer nature of the city, and every place I have traveled since then I have tried to look behind the curtain.

If our Angel hadn’t approached us, I suppose we naïve travelers would have slept in the train stations until Monday, though we finally purchased the tent we would later use in southern France, using our precious British money, just in case.  In Spain in the mid-1990s, I came across a young couple from Australia, abandoned by their friends, so I paid for them a hotel room for two nights and a meal, and gave them some cash, then showed them how to use the phones, and even took them to the Prada with me.  There, we met up with others from my group, and soon, these poor kids had more money than they needed.  It felt good to be someone else’s angel!



cotton_foam says:
What a beautiful, heart-warming story!! I cried out of joy for you!!!
Posted on: Dec 12, 2014
emmllerg says:
Enjoy your next vacation to Paris
Posted on: Jun 02, 2013
sunsetrosebud says:
sorry you had such a bad experience. My daughter was pick pocketed in Italy and it turned out to be a major expense for her to recover her passport.
Posted on: Jul 08, 2007
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