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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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!