A Sleepless Night in Paris
We stood on the bridge counting the seconds until it hit the hour of 10pm when the Eiffel Tower would begin to sparkle like a giant diamond. And when it came time it was beautiful! We sat and watched it for the full five minutes that it sparkled before returning to its normal night-time glow. We strolled along the Seine, and then down the Champs-Elysees where we grabbed a warm drink and a warm crepe to ease the chill of the night. I savoured my butter and sugared crepe, I loved the warmth. I probably could have been well to not eat the last bite for all the sugar had melted down and sat at the bottom, making for one mouth-popping sugary sweet bite.
We jumped on the underground, heading back to the train station where we hoped to grab a bench and catch a few winks before our early train back to London. We had known from the beginning of our European backpacking adventure that we would be in Paris without a place to stay at the end of our trip, but we thought why not just sleep at the train station, we had heard on our travels that many others had done it, how bad could it be?
By the time we arrived back at the station it was just after 11pm. The station looked pretty cleared out and with various “strangers” creeping about, and not a security guard in sight. He headed to the lockers to retrieve our bags. Oh, no!! The place closed at 11:15pm and it was now 11:25pm – CR#P! When did it open again? 6:15am. When was our train scheduled to leave? 6:22am. Oh, boy, not good!! Again we looked for a security guard or any staff, but to no avail. We checked when the Eurostar opened. 5:55am. That gave us 27 minutes to get our tickets, get our bags and get on the train! It was going to be a mad rush, like an episode of Amazing Race! So many questions and fears were invading our thoughts. Would we get our tickets in time? Will we be able to retrieve our bags in time for our train?
We went back up the escalator to find a bench. There seemed to be no real lounge, only these cold, silver, slippery benches that peaked in the center causing us to keep sliding off. But we tried to calm down and relax – this was where we were spending the night so we’d better get cozy. But with six hours to go we were not feeling too confident about our present situation – two, 20-something young women spending their first night in a train station.
Then we were approached by a burly man, strangely dressed in business attire, with no ID tags or pins to say he was working on behalf of the train station, or anyone else. He seemed nice enough at first, with at least some English. He asked us if we needed any help or a place to stay, we tried to tell him we were fine. He warned us that the train station wasn’t safe to stay in. The more he talked to us the more we wanted out. We got up to leave and he continued to follow us and “try” to help us with evasive answers and French shrugs. By this time we were extremely uncomfortable with his incessant chatter and curiosity. We made up our minds, this was not for us and we did not want to spend the night in the train station. We decided to pool our remaining Euros together to try and get a cheap bed in a hotel. But where? We headed for the doors and walked right into a long queue of people waiting for taxis. That wasn’t going to help. We had no idea of where to go and headed out onto the dark streets of Paris, by this time really on edge, nervous and either about to freak out or cry. We turned onto the main street and were surrounded by lit up signs for hotels everywhere. There has to be a bed somewhere! We tried many, some full and many too pricey for us. Then we came upon one with a room available and it fit our small budget. The lady asked how many beds, and in unison we spurted out “ONE”. We breathed a tight sigh of small relief, telling ourselves that we were away from the station, away from the creepy guy and we were going to be safe. It still seemed hard to believe.
We took the narrow, winding and creaky wood stairs up to the second floor and found our room 209. It was probably the most luxury we’d had since we started our European backing adventure where hostels were our homes, a simple single room and private bath with a wardrobe and mini chair. But we couldn’t enjoy it, we were too busy thinking of what to put in front of the door, or contemplating sleeping in the shower. We contemplated putting the chair in front of the door, that didn’t work. Should we put the wardrobe in front of the door? We crawled into our bed, we sat stressed, pressed together, beneath the cigarette marked sheets. The lights remained on and we looked at each other and tried to calm each other down. Somehow sleep found us.
At 5am our alarm awoke us to our dreaded morning. With nothing to grab but ourselves and our purses we headed back to the train station. It was 5:20am when we arrived and we headed straight for the lockers. No one was there. And still no staff anywhere in sight among the few straggling folks, sleepy-eyed, awaiting their trains. We decided that Stacey was going to wait in the ticket line (while people started to fill in) and I took to the stairs, then the escalator and on to the lockers to wait. At 5:50am a lady came, I tried to see if she would let me get our bags before she opened. She was firm and tough, and adamant that I wait for the security to get there. Then Stacey came with the tickets. We watched as the lady and the security casually took off their jackets and chatted. LOOK GUYS, TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE HERE!! our minds screamed.
Finally at 6:05am they let us in and we scrambled to retrieve our packs from our lockers and load up our stuff and race upstairs, threw ticket checking, passport control and down to the train. Ah! Sigh of relief. We were in our seats, with our stuff and on our way to London. It didn’t take me long to get settled in my seat and fall asleep from exhaustion.
**This was from our first trip overseas and a memory that we both cherish now for its obvious exaggerated stress induced nonsense that our minds made a relatively easy situation become something out of a horror movie (like perhaps Hostel which I made my friend watch before we left). Looking back we bend over with laughter at our craziness and we wouldn’t change a thing about that sleepless night in Paris.
Have you had a night like this? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!