Two lost days in Paris and why it’s still my favorite city in the world

The last two times I’ve been to Paris, there has been a snafu that has forced me to “miss” a day. That is, circumstances beyond my control derailed my itinerary and knocked out my intention to do whatever I’d planned that day. However, I feel that dealing with these crises and being flexible to shift my plans has actually brought me and the city closer together.

Paris Street.jpg

June 2012

Doug and I arrived in Paris on a Monday, and we had a nice day to sight-see and visit the famous flea market. The following day, we were to be joined first thing in the morning by my BFF who’d just finished an au pair stint in Germany. She was arriving by train and we were going to meet her at the station and explore the city together. Perfect, right? Well, this was back when we didn’t have phones that worked internationally. We were depending on Facebook messenger to communicate, which only worked on wifi. After waiting at the train station for a full hour or two, we searched the city high and low for wifi and finally found it at McDo. We actually used several different McDonald’s locations for wifi during that day trying to track her down—we started calling it “The U.S. Embassy.”

It’s all fuzzy to me now, but we somehow connected and found out that her night train had been delayed. Instead of meeting her at Gare de Lyon, we changed our plans to meet at Sacré-Cœur at 2 or 3 pm… but failed to specify if we were meeting at the top of bottom of the steps. So, Doug zipped to the top as I waited at the bottom, searching for a familiar face through crowds of tourists, and fending off the infamous Sacré-Cœur bracelet guys. Finally, the three of us were reunited in a movie-worthy slow-motion race toward each other. We shared a great afternoon and the following day together, but I still often think about that comedy of errors that resulted in a missed half-day.


https://www.flickr.com/photos/victortsu/5458913287
Photo by victortsu on Flickr.

Last year, we booked everything for our London-Paris-Madrid trip ahead of time and haughtily thought that our trip would be on cruise control. I was so confident that we’d set everything just so, that I decided to go for a cuter and cheaper airbnb in Paris instead of one that had wifi. Again, we didn’t have international calling or data on our phones this time either. Are you sensing a theme?

June 2016

Our second day in Paris (of two), I decided to go online and see if we needed to check in to our flight online and download our e-boarding passes. Public wifi is still weirdly hard to find in Paris, so we headed to the Champs-Élysées where we knew (from 2012) that McDo would hook us up. We saw a wifi sticker on the window of a basic tourist cafe. While eating the worst, driest croissant in the world, I got an email from Air France stating that their pilots were on strike and that our flight was cancelled.

Immediately I googled the location of Air France’s office. Finding it was at Invalides, right across the Seine, we walked quickly in pouring rain to the office. Of course, it was closed since it was Sunday. We considered getting a rental car, but it was too expensive and the drive would have taken too long. I wrote several frantic emails and tweets to Air France’s customer service and then we tried to push the dilemma from our minds (as much as possible). We were determined not to lose the whole day. We went to the Louvre, an excellent place to stay dry during bad weather. In the basement of the Louvre there is a small shopping area, including an Apple store. I camped out using the free wi-fi to send more pleas to Air France until a security guard forced me to move along.

Paris Crisis Photo
We couldn’t believe the situation we were in

After the Louvre, after dinner, and with still no solution to how we’d get to Spain the next morning, we walked up and down Rue Beaubourg searching for open public wifi. We stopped into a bar filled with bizarre characters only to find out that their public wifi didn’t work, despite their window advertisement. Wandering around slowly with our phones out, honestly, we would have been primo mugging victims.

We finally found public wifi outside a shady payday-loan type of place next to Centre Pompidou. I used Facebook messenger’s call function (did you even know that was a thing?) to call my mom and get some advice. On her recommendation, we just booked the next, cheapest flight we could, and decided to sort out the refund dispute later. It was basically midnight, mind you. We stole a few hours of sleep and made it to Charles De Gaulle airport the next morning by 6am. All in all, two unexpected plane tickets plus a 65€ taxi ride made us very thankful we have a credit card for emergencies.


Lesson Learned

What did I learn last summer? Well, the internet has, love it or hate it, become an essential part of daily life. Now every time I go overseas I will either spring for the international cell phone data plan or make certain my lodging accommodations will have fast, reliable wifi. In fact, last December in Mexico City I covered both bases! Verizon charged me about $30 for a week of international data, but it was well worth the peace of mind. The price probably changes depending on the duration of trip and country destination, but it’s worth calling them and getting the quote.

Takeaway

The thing about these two incidents is, no matter how stressed I was at the time, I look back and am proud of my resilience and problem solving skills, not to mention my ability to navigate the city without getting lost—Once I saw that Air France’s office was at Invalides, I basically bolted from the cafe we were at and beelined straight there by memory. There is something about dealing with a crisis that brings people closer together, and I think that goes for me and Paris, too. It helps that there’s nothing that could make me turn my back on Paris. Oh, and Owen Wilson’s obsession with “Paris in the rain” from Midnight in Paris? I so get it now!!

Lastly 

I did get my refund from Air France, but by the time it was processed, it was the week after Brexit and the euros they refunded me had lost a lot of value. So we got like half our money back. I guess this is where travel insurance would have helped!

Two Traveling Texans
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21 thoughts on “Two lost days in Paris and why it’s still my favorite city in the world

  1. Man! I love hearing these stories. I fear that I would feel so lost and helpless. But, I mean, what are you going to do? Just live in Paris? Hahaha! Good on you guys for finding solutions, and excellent tips.

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  2. Wifi in Paris is so frustrating – when I was there last August I beelined for Starbucks to use the Wifi (and bathroom!).
    What you can also do if you are mostly traveling in one country is to get a SIM card. They can usually be found in airports and all you do is swap out the one currently in your phone to the French one which will give you a French phone number and data service while you are there. When I go to England, I always swap my SIM and then pay for whatever I think I’ll need during that time (usually 2G of data for 10 days or so – which comes out to $20ish).

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    1. Excellent recommendation, Nicole. As a Verizon user for the past 10 years I never even think about SIM cards as an option. Maybe I should get an inexpensive travel phone that is SIM compatible. Thanks for the idea!

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      1. The new verizon smartphones, well the Samsung ones are now unlocked per California law. Having sim cards in Mexico last summer and Chile this past January was a total game changer. Couldn’t use data much but could at least text and call for emergencies.

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  3. I remember more details! After we had a “missed connection” at the train station you and Doug left a scribbled note for me on a scrap piece of paper at my hostel. You knew which hostel I was staying at because you had stayed there when you had studied abroad and recommended it to me as a cheap place to stay!
    Hahaha oh man, I remember finally seeing you in person after the whole ordeal!
    ~Angela

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  4. We just went through something similar when our flight to San Francisco was canceled a few hours before it was to leave. We were rebooked after a LONG phone call, then that flight was cancelled too. I learned to hop on the phone and persevere. The third flight we rebooked worked. Makes for funny memories but it can be so nerve-wracking at the time!

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  5. I remember having a hard time finding decent wifi in Paris too and I used the wifi from that Apple store by the Louvre. Glad you are able to look back on things with a smile! Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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  6. Oh, how unfortunate to come across a pilot strike! And rain, on top of it. Well, aside from these mishaps that you encountered, Paris is not my favorite city in the world either. It became way too crowded and unfortunately its popularity kind of ruined its old charm. #TheWeeklyPostcard

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  7. Things will happen no matter what. I had planned a day in Munich and I thought we were leaving to Frankfurt at 4:00 p.m. Turns out the train left at 4:00 a.m when we were still sleeping (do not ask me why I booked the train so early, it was a bad mistake). We were stuck all day in a bus since we had international flights the next day. All our plans for the day were gone. And, similar things have happened on other cities.

    I do not buy data plans when I travel and relay on wifi. I am thinking it on getting it on future trips. #TheWeeklyPostcard

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  8. Ugh. I recall visiting Paris with my parents in 2005 before internet on the phone was even a thing, and of course we also had no functioning cell phones. We would use pay phones and an AT&T calling card (remember those?) to call each other’s cell phones – which were turned off and at home in the US – to leave and retrieve messages. It worked pretty well then, but I can’t imagine doing the same thing now!

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    1. I so remember calling cards!! I used them to call my family the first time I went to France, also in 2005! In regards to handling a crisis, nowadays calling any customer support results in such a long time on hold, I bet the calling card would be used up in one call. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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  9. Finding free internet is one of those necessary evils when traveling! I am actually not on a data plan even when I’m at home (I live the WiFi life!) so I’m somewhat used to not having internet all the time, but finding it abroad can be an adventure!

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  10. We hate hearing those travel horror stories, but they often are the moments we remember with a laugh years later. Every traveler has them – in fact, we consider it a badge of honor that separates travelers from tourists. 😉 BTW: There’s a “high end” McDonald’s in the Carrousel du Louvre now, with Wi-Fi. Seriously, it’s one of the nicest Mickey D’s we’ve seen! You can get a cappuccino, settle into the lounge seating, and surf away. #lushlife Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyTraveler!

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