(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.)
It happens … sort of.
By the time I figure out how to navigate the métro and make my way over, I realize there’s no way I’m going to make it up the tower and back down in time for the tour.
After inhaling a (not-so) cheap hotdog, I find folks with the Paris branch of Fat Tire Tours who, when they’ve gathered enough interested tourists, take us to their office (which are NOT, as you might think, located at the Eiffel Tower, but a short distance away).
While waiting in line to pay and pick a bike, I start chatting with a few people … and discover that there are a group of Canadians on the same tour as me.
There’s one couple who live in the west-end of Toronto. A pair of sisters from Kincardine, Ontario. A Torontonian who’s now living in New York.
To run into this many strangers at once, from my own country – while on a random tour, no less – fills my heart with a little bit of happiness and pride.
The tour starts at the far end of the Champ de Mars, in front of the École Militaire, and winds its way around, passing by such points of interest as the Dôme des Invalides, the Rodin Museum and Place de la Concorde.
Our guide offers choice facts from history as well as pop culture, and even provides a tip or two we may want to use for our sightseeing strategies.
We stop partway through the tour for a drink at the restaurant in the Tuileries Garden; I have a refreshing glass of white wine and a delicious crêpe. And we’re off again, passing by the Louvre on our way back.
The tour’s done by 7:30 p.m. By this time, I’ve bonded a bit with the sisters from Kincardine, Mary and Leah. I’m planning on going back to my flat to take a breather, but they’re leaving almost immediately for the night tour, which has a different route.
We want to meet up and explore after they’ve finished, which won’t be until about 11:30 p.m. Mary has a cell phone, but it’s dead. So we take a chance and plan to meet at 11:30 under the Eiffel Tower, near the spot where the tour company was collecting tourists earlier.
The sisters take off; I stay behind at the Fat Bike centre, to make a list of the places we’d passed on the tour, that I want to visit on foot.
What I don’t realize is that Paris’ métro system slows down considerably in the evening – especially on a Sunday.
By the time I return, it’s 11:45 p.m., with no sight of Mary or Leah.
I hang around for an extra half-hour, in hopes that perhaps they’re late in returning, or maybe they’re wandering around nearby.
But I never see Mary and Leah. I won’t see them ever again. I suppose my gift of randomly running into people has either waned with time … or it just doesn’t work in Paris.
I head back to the métro, where I’m faced with another problem.
The station is closed.
I try to get my weary synapses to fire. Looking at my map, I take a chance and walk until I come across the next station that’s open and will get me “home”.
I find a station I’m able to access. But the métro line I need ride to get “home” isn’t working.
I consult my smudged, repeatedly-folded pocket transit map and opt to try another line. I hop on the next train and ride it to one of the major interchange stations.
The thing about those interchange stations? They’re huge. Even if you know where you’re going, it takes forever to get from point A to point B. Especially in Paris.
I’m working with the added disadvantage of being new to the system, and – coupled with being directionally challenged – heightens my sense of panic at trying to get to the other line as fast as I can. But it’s all in vain.
Cursing under my breath, I return the way I’ve come, hoping to ride the line in the opposite direction. But that, too, has also now stopped running.
In any case, I’m tired and screwed.
I eventually surface at street level, directly facing the Arc de Triomphe.
Since I have to accept the fact it’s going to be a long trip, I do the only thing I feel I can do at 1:30 a.m.:
I pull out my camera and snap a photo.
I take a couple of resigned breaths, look at my detailed map of Paris, and start walking.
I walk along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, past the expensive shops and the late-night stragglers grabbing their last drinks for the night, until I hit Place de la Concorde.
It only takes an hour, which is better than I expect.
It is said that everything happens for a reason. Perhaps I was meant to get lost. Did I just see what I was meant to see – Paris at night? Or was there something more?
One thing’s for certain: my walk that first day – along with the bike tour – has come in extremely handy.