“You look super Zen.”
I peel my eyes away from the million dollar view and smile at the Dutch guy beside me. We’re on the steps of the Sacre Coeur, surrounded by fellow tourists and typical European ‘scammers’ throwing cheap light-up toys in the air in an effort to attract attention and make some quick cash. The stone is cold beneath my jeans but I can’t be bothered to move. The view is worth a little discomfort.
“Yeah” I smile, gesturing at the skyline of Paris in front of me; picture perfect against a backdrop of a snowy December sky, disturbed only by the occasional flashing neon toys. “It’s kind of amazing”. He smiles back at me in agreement and we return to our comfortable silence, watching as Paris comes alive at night.
Despite the scammers, tourists taking ‘selfies’, and African men below yelling “Hakuna Matata” while trying to tie string bracelets around unsuspecting visitor’s wrists, my new Dutch friend is right. I am feeling pretty ‘zen’. Which is honestly a huge surprise considering the state I was in only a few hours ago.
Several Hours Earlier
“Hey quick question” I ask the guy behind the reception desk at my hostel in the Montmartre neighbourhood, “What’s the easiest way to get to the airport?”
“Which one?” is his reply.
That’s when I know I’m in a world of trouble. It never even occurred to me that there would be more than one airport in Paris. Why would a city need more than one airport?
“Errr…” I look at the departure airport on my printed Ryanair ticket, noticing for the first time that it is not Orly airport as I assumed, but rather one called Beauvais.
The guy behind the counter glances down at my ticket and then asks the all- important question, “When is your flight?”
“Two thirty?” I ask it as a question, not because I’m unsure of when it departs but because I have this awful feeling in my stomach that I’m not going to make it.
“You’re not going to make it.”
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t swear.
Noting my distress the receptionist calls his manager, and moments later the owner is on the phone with Ryanair trying to see if I can switch my ticket for tomorrow. No luck; I didn’t take out any insurance so I lose everything. I’ll need to buy a new ticket for tomorrow, and it will cost me about 4 times the price I paid for the original. Praying that, after three months of travel, I still have room on my credit card I pass over my Visa. Within a few minutes I have my new flight booked, and clear instructions of what time I need to leave the hostel and where to catch the airport bus.
After booking a bed for the night I put my bag back into luggage storage and step outside onto the streets. Wandering blindly past the tourist shops and cafes I chastise myself for being such an idiot; I only have a week before I go home but money is tight, and I can’t afford stupid mistakes like missed planes. I stop for a moment, forking out a couple precious euro for a Nutella crepe, and grab a seat on a nearby wooden bench. I’m definitely upset, even angry at myself, but I need to suck it up and get over it. After all, there are way worse places to spend an extra day than Paris.
I spend the remainder of my day ticking off the cheaper of the incomplete boxes on my Paris to-do list. I descend into what seems to be the underworld to hang out with the ghosts in the Catacombs, walk along the frigid Seine, wander through a market, and roam the cobblestone alleys and artisan shops of Rue Des Abbesses. I even get drawn in to some sort of happy jig by an elderly music-loving gentleman after stopping to listen to some enthusiastic buskers. It’s not long before my cloudy mood fades away, and despite still feeling like a complete idiot, I can’t help but smile at everything around me.
As the sun sets, and the crowds thin out I find myself in front of a café across from the Moulin Rouge, signing up for a night tour of the infamous Montmartre area.
“Hey! I thought you were going home today?” the guide says as I hand him some euros. It’s the same guy I had for the free tour a couple of days ago. I smile sheepishly and admit to my stupid mistake. He laughs, along with a couple other bystanders, but assures me he will make sure I have a good evening. “There are worse places to be stuck than Paris!”
Over the next couple of hours I learn about the supposed ‘pink light district’ of Paris. Behind the Moulin Rouge and sketchy sex shops are decades of history. From the sites of the movie Amelie, to the favourite hang outs of famous artists. We take goofy photos of each other holding statue’s hands and, in one case, rubbing one’s breasts for good luck. And after winding our way up the hill to the stunning Sacre Coeur we watch the Eiffel Tower light up like a disco ball before relaxing against the steps to take in the panoramic view.
It’s here that, after three months of backpacking around Europe, I realize how insanely incredible this is. I’ve just had the best few months of my life; exploring new cultures, seeing new things, and of course meeting amazing people along the way. So what if I screwed up and missed a flight; I’m living the dream right now.
“Ok guys!” Our guide shouts above the noise, “who’s ready to hit the bar?” With one last look at the skyline I join the others as we head down the steps and back into the city centre. I can’t help but think that even though it cost me an extra couple hundred euro, my day here in Paris sure beat an afternoon of busses and planes; and I’d take a glass of French wine over 3 euro bottle of airport water any day.