Usually I attribute these blunders to my idiocy. This time around I won’t. I’ll give myself a bit more credit. I’m a busy person, and in this case just got back from my trip around the world on Monday afternoon, and was off to Paris on Thursday morning. That means I had zero time to plan how to get from the airport to the city. Hell, I had to pull an all nighter on Wednesday to even get half of my work done.
I always like to take public transportation from the airport to the city, not just because it’s cheaper, but because it’s usually a nice way to already start sightseeing while on your way. A 30 minute train ride and 20 or so minute walk is usually perfectly pleasant, assuming I pack light and the weather is nice (both of those conditions were the case this weekend).
I landed at Charles de Gaulle at around 1PM. I headed for the train station with frequent nonstop service to the city. The extent of my planning included asking for advice on Twitter and trying to use Google Maps (“trying” being the key word, here). Based on Google Maps it appeared as if I could take the REB train and get off at the Challet Les Halles station, and then walk maybe 1.5 miles to the hotel. While I could have likely taken a subway connection, a 20 minute walk sounded like fun given the beautiful day, so that was the plan. Now, I didn’t know how exactly to get to the hotel from the station, other than having a general knowledge of where it is on a map, and knowing I’d need to follow the Seine for a while.
Anyway, what followed was a journey of over four hours from the airport to my hotel (which shall remain nameless for the time being since my security threat level is currently at level orange). 😉
After landing at Charles de Gaulle I followed the signs to the REB train. If there’s one thing to love about European airports — Paris, London, Frankfurt, etc. — it’s that they’re designed with your health in mind. By that I mean that they’ve done everything possible to maximize the amount of walking you’ll have to do to get anywhere.
After about a 20 minute walk to the airport train station I got to a machine to buy my 8 Euro train ticket. I entered my credit card and it wouldn’t read. Crap. I assumed it was because my card didn’t have some sort of a chip that most cards here have, since that was what the card in the display looked like. I asked someone at information to confirm, and he said I could buy a ticket with that credit card, though I would need to get in the line at the train ticket counter. The line for the train ticket counter was as long as an airline customer service desk during a blizzard, and I knew I wouldn’t have the patience. Sadly I didn’t have any cash on me, so I tried to find a currency conversion place, though there were none in the area.
Fortunately I had a great idea. I had seen a Super Shuttle billboard earlier, advertising transportation to anywhere in the city for 20 Euros. Great, I thought, I’ll do that. I’m sure they take credit cards too. I spent the next 20 minutes trying to find where Super Shuttle leaves from, only to realize they don’t sell tickets at the airport (why the hell are they advertising at the airport then?).
Okay, at that point indecisive Lucky headed back to the train station. I had the option of getting in the (now) even longer line at the ticket counter, or trying a different machine. I tried one more time, and surprisingly it took my credit card this time around. Winning.
My luck was turning around. I managed to hop on a train a minute before it was departing, and figured the worst was behind me. An old guy started playing an instrument and singing, and after one song went around with a cup giving each person an evil glare until they threw some change in there.
The next entertainment was when the conductors came to check tickets. At least four people in my cabin didn’t have tickets, so they each got fined, though each of them played dumb and put up a crazy argument.
Finally I made it to the station I was planning on getting off at and walking to the hotel from.
I looked for the “sortie” (see, my French is muy bien), though couldn’t find one. There were three signs leading in different directions, so I tried them one by one. I proceeded to spend over 30 minutes just trying to get the hell out of the train station, which was more like an underground shopping mall fortress. I saw at least a dozen emergency exits, though not a single “legitimate” exit. I asked several people where the exit was, and while they all pointed me in one direction or another, none lead anywhere. At that point I decided to get creepy and start following people. I figured that everyone was eventually going to leave, so following someone might just be the best way to get out.
Eventually it worked — I broke free and found the exit, which was up about 50 flights of stairs (always fun when carrying bags).
At this point it’s probably worth pointing out that I’m severely directionally challenged. I mean, I really, really suck with directions. Even towards the end of my four years in Gainesville, where I went to school, I still got lost on my way to Starbucks, which was half a mile from where I lived.
With that in mind, my plan was to try and find the Seine River, because then I’d know where I am, can walk along it, and eventually turn in the right direction. That was easy enough. By “easy enough” I mean it should have taken about 10 minutes, though “only” took me 30 minutes. I made it to the Seine and walked along it, bags in tow. After another 20 or so minutes I turned right towards the area I needed to go to. I knew I was maybe within half a kilometer of where I needed to be, though I couldn’t quite figure out the directions for that last half kilometer.
I stopped and looked at a map by the subway, though not before at least a dozen people tried the “ring scam” on me (and I was generous each time, and insisted they keep the ring and all the money, since they all seemed like such nice people). 😉
Unfortunately the map didn’t display the street I needed to be on, or at least I couldn’t find it. I asked a dozen people for directions, and no one had a clue where the street was. Actually, let me rephrase that. Just about everyone thought they knew where it was, but in each instance sent me the wrong way.
Anyway, this is dragging on long enough. I finally made it to the lobby of my hotel at around 5:30PM, well over four hours after landing. As I was asked by the check-in host my ride in was, I simply smiled and said “lovely.” I guess the fact that my 22″ rollaboard had more dirt on it than a Jeep Wrangler that just finished a swamp safari expedition wasn’t revealing enough. 😉
I checked in, went up to my room, and immediately asked where the closest convenience store was. I nearly drowned myself with Evian water (hey, if there’s a water I want to down myself with, it’s gotta be Evian).
So the moral of the story? Don’t show up in a foreign city without cash. Or a map. Or directions. Or a cell phone with GPS. Or without having any clue where the hell you’re going.