I stepped off the plane and walked into the airport terminal when
it hit me. I was here – finally – after all these years of dreaming about it. The airport
was bustling with people going in every direction. Apparently everyone knew where they
were going except me. I looked around at the different signs – ”Guichet”…
“Douane”…. I went up to the counter where the sign said, “Renseignements”.
Using the French I had been practicing for the past few months, I asked the woman behind
the Information counter where I could find the Hôtel Ibis Cambronne. |
woman told me to go to platform eight and take the RER to St. Michel Notre-Dame. From
there I would have to take a taxi or the métro – which was the subway. Sounded easy
enough. I gave the driver my suitcases, showed him my ticket and sat down to enjoy the
ride. This was my first look at Paris – the city I had dreamed of going to since I was a
Paris was a very busy city. There were cars coming from
every direction. Some of the streets were cobblestone and weren’t divided into lanes, so
cars and buses just drove wherever they wanted. Sometimes there were two cars side by
side, forming two lanes; other times there were three cars fighting over an area that was
only big enough for two. Parisians didn’t seem to have any patience, whether they were in
their cars fighting over lanes, or fighting to be the first one on the bus. They didn’t
believe in doing anything in a single file.
Despite the traffic, the city
was the most beautiful city in the world to me. There were all sorts of buildings,
decorated with gold, that were built four, and even five or six hundred years ago. The
bridges going over the Seine River each had its own individual style. One had a gold
angelic figure on the face of it. With the early morning sun coming up just behind it, it
looked like I was entering heaven.
As I was looking out the window of the
bus, it suddenly dawned on me that I had no idea where my stop was. I got out my “Useful
French Phrases” book and looked up “Transportation”. I went to great lengths trying to
memorize the phrase, “Can you tell me when my stop is?” I finally gave up trying to
memorize it, figuring I would come out with the wrong words anyway. There was no sense
trying to disguise myself as a true Parisian when I was just a tourist. So I took the
book with me to the front of the bus and held it open in front of me, and asked, “Vous
pouvez me dire que quand mon arrêt est?”
“Second stop,” the driver
responded in perfect English. That would be one thing I would remember for the rest of my
journey: Most French people, especially those catering to tourists, could speak my
language better than I could speak theirs.
So I got off the bus at the
second stop. The driver unloaded my bags and I stared around in dismay.
"Pour que cherchez-vous?" asked a man who just got off the same bus.
Cherchez, that meant searching, but I couldn't figure out what he was
"What are you searching for?" he repeated in English. A woman
–probably his wife – was standing beside him staring at me inquisitively.
"Oh, I need to get to l’Hôtel Ibis Cambronne. It's at the Cambronne
"You can take a taxi – there is one over there – but the
taxi is cher – expensive. You should take the métro." His wife nodded in agreement.
Thinking of my inexperience with the subway system in Toronto, I thought
I should just spend the money and take the taxi. I walked across the park to where the
man had pointed and asked the taxi driver to take me to l’Hôtel Ibis Cambronne.
After a minute of being in the taxi, I realized this was a mistake. If
the drivers in Paris had their own rules, taxi drivers were the ones to break them. I
looked out the window, trying to get my bearings as the driver weaved in and out of
traffic, fighting over lanes as if I was in labour and he was trying to prevent me from
delivering the baby in his cab.
We drove passed the Eiffel Tower, which
was the symbol of Paris for most tourists. Its size was overwhelming. As the driver drove
down one street, then turned onto another, I was able to get different views of it. There
were people lined up at each corner of the Tower. They looked like ants lined up around a
tree, taking turns going up the tree in small groups to see what the view was like at the
After we passed the Tower, I felt sick to my stomach from all of the
weaving and swerving. I spotted a métro sign and thought maybe the metro might be a
better idea after all. I asked the driver to pull over. “Excuse-moi, monsieur.
Arrêtez-vous ici, s’il vous plait?”
“Ici?” The driver looked at me
incredulously, swerved across two lanes of traffic, while a car in the lane that we
swerved into slammed on its brakes and yelled something in French. The driver took my
bags out of the trunk. I attempted to pay him the fare plus tip, but I guess the tip was
not enough because he took another ten francs out of my hand, showed me what he took, and
then said, “Merci.”
I pulled my bags into the métro station, walked up to
the man in the booth and asked, “Parlez-vous anglais?” I figured I might as well ask if
he spoke English before I made him suffer through my French, only to get a response in
French that I wouldn’t understand anyway.
“Yes,” he responded.
“How do I get to the Cambronne métro stop?”
number six. Go toward Charles de Gaulle – Étoile. Cambronne is the third stop.”
It took some effort to get my bags through the turnstile, and no one
bothered to help when I ended up on the other side of the turnstile and couldn’t get my
bag to follow me. After that I learned the art of pushing the bag through first.
While in the métro, I sat close to the door. I noticed the doors didn’t
open automatically as they did in the Toronto subway system. I watched to see what other
passengers were doing in order to open the doors, but I couldn’t get a close enough look;
the area was always crowded. In true Parisian-style, the passengers were in a hurry to
get on and off the train and continue their lives.
Finally it was my
turn. As I stood in front of the door, I noticed there was a handle and a green circle
with an arrow on it. I tried pressing the green circle and pulling at the handle
desperately, realizing that I only had about 30 seconds to open the door and pull my bags
out before the metro would continue on its journey.
Frenchman dressed in a business suit and carrying a briefcase pushed his way passed me,
muttering something in French. The experienced subway rider was able to pull up the
handle and miraculously open the door. I followed him out and some other people pushed
their way passed me, frustrated with my ignorance of subway doors that didn’t open
I walked into the station and got directions from yet
another person. I pulled my bags down two flights of stairs and out onto the street. I
could smell the roses as I walked by a beautiful public garden that I promised myself I
would come back to later. The air in Paris smelled fresher. The trees and grass seemed
As I walked to the street my hotel was on, I noticed there was a
café on one corner and a fruit stand on the other. I could smell the strawberries they
were selling and decided that would make a good breakfast. After I made my purchase, I
continued to my hotel and checked in.
The Ibis Cambronne was a big,
modern hotel – in complete contrast to the other buildings I had passed earlier that were
centuries old. A popular American song was playing in the elevator. It was unusual to
hear English music when everyone around me was speaking French. I wondered if they
understood the lyrics.
My room had a single bed, no dresser and no
closet. But I had my own bathroom and a few hooks on the wall with hangers for hanging up
I left my bags in my room and walked across the street to the
café on the corner. While drinking a café au lait, I took it all in. I had finally made
my journey into Paris.