Nearly six years ago I took a week to explore the city of Paris with three other awesome travelers. After the flight from hell with Lieutenant Dan, the No-Armed Man, I should have known this holiday was doomed from the start. But let me back up even more.
Throughout February and March of 2006, my SuperFriend Dawn and I set about planning our epic adventure. Rather than bunking at an over-priced, potentially shabby hostel, or an impersonal hotel, we decided to rent a flat for the week. We pored over maps, Lonely Planet guides, and websites comparing Parisian arrondissements, finally deciding (arbitrarily, I'm sure) on the 10th. We picked a flat, emailed the proprietor for price, and with a small deposit, secured a two-bedroom apartment for the week. We were invincible. At this point, Dawn was preparing for graduation, so I took the helm.
I mapped our route from Charles De Gaulle to Place de la République. I knew how to buy metro tickets, where to catch the train, and how to find our flat in the maze of Parisian alleys. And in a stroke of geniosity, I offered to take everyone's cash payment for the flat. This was a coup for me, as it was a means to make my monthly credit card payment, figuring I'd just use said credit card to pay the remainder when we arrived. Smart, right?!
The universe was quietly conspiring against me in oh so many ways.
In 2006 I was very self-involved and as such will use that as an excuse for why I had no clue THIS was going on. "Loi pour l'égalité des chances" or The Equal Opportunity Law was introduced in France and was immediately met with much opposition, especially from twenty-somethings for whom it was a gigantic threat to job security. And so they took to the streets in protest as only the French can. Protests were held once in February. Then a few more in early March. By mid-March, things were really heating up with events taking place on the 16th, 18th, 21st, and 23rd. By this time the world began to take notice. By the world I mean ME.
I heard rumblings of a "Fourth Official Day of Protest", but in true youthful fashion adopted an "It does not affect me" attitude and brushed off any concerns. Fast forward through the Flight from Hell with Lieutenant Dan, the No-Armed Man. Upon landing at Charles de Gaulle I saw this:
Innocuous baggage claim sign. Except the one I saw had MY name on it, specifically asking ME to see a baggage claim rep. Fantastic. (I actually took a picture of it before I realized what it really meant: my luggage was doomed. Must have purged the pic in a fit of rage.) No worries. After an hour of waiting somewhat patiently, my luggage was found in the belly of the plane. On to the metro.
The girls and I schlepped through the *mostly* barren airport, down to the platform, in search of the train station. We found it empty. Empty of people, empty of trains, empty. FUCK. So we searched for a bus station. And a cab stand. Basically any form of transportation that would take us the hour trip from the airport to Republique. At this point we'd been in the airport for close to three hours. We were jet-lagged, frustrated, and physically exhausted from dragging luggage to and fro. And then someone mentioned that whole protest thang. Suddenly the puzzle pieces fell into place -- the "official day of action" was today. And it called for a strike among all transportation unions. Fantastic.
Once again we waited patiently. I have no idea how long. Forever, maybe. Eventually a train did show up. Thankful for any form of transportation into the city, we took it. And because it was the only train running we were packed like sardines (excellent prep for Asia). It was slow. Each stop lasted five to ten minutes. More and more people crammed in each time the doors slid open, but eventually we reached our stop: Gare du Nord. By this time we'd been in the country for close to five hours. We were exhausted, but not yet defeated.
Upon exiting the metro we were confronted with this:
Police in riot gear, bottle-tossing protesters, tear gas. You know, general mayhem. The streets were clogged with ambulances and police cars, protesters and newsmen. Businesses and storefronts were shuttered against the action. The inaugural baguette was apparently out of the question. Battered and exhausted but still not defeated, we trudged on. It was at this point, however, that Dawn decided she'd rather be part of the protest than go hunting for our flat. She handed off her luggage to Vivi and vowed to meet us back here in an hour.
I. COULD. HAVE. KILLED. HER.
Cold, tired, lost, scared shitless, and lacking even a modicum of French, I handed the reigns to Anji. Find our flat, I told her, and fast. Fast turned into another hour as we were forced to navigate around barricades erected to contain protesters. And then we found it:
Getting in was a whole other issue, as was dragging luggage up a five floor walk-up. Our landlord had planned to meet us with a key, but seeing as how it had taken us nearly six hours to arrive, she took off. I rang her up and within minutes she was there, ready for a cash payment. WHAT?!?
If you've made it this far, congratulations. You're probably thinking, "Mindy, you are an idiot. Do not plan anything again. Ever." And you would be right, because what happened next made me shake my fists at the sky -- I was ROBBED.
Kidding. Kind of.
After repeated attempts to elicit cash from the ATM using both my debit and credit cards, I called Chase who proudly informed me that my accounts had been frozen due to "irregular activity." They would, of course, be happy to reinstate all accounts -- tomorrow. My head hung in shame, I told the ladies if they wanted to sleep in a bed (as opposed to the streets of Paris) they'd have to pony up their spending money. Among the three of us (remember, Dawn was in French solidarity mode), we managed to pay for the flat, but not before I endured much shame and humiliation at my stupidity.
Thankfully we managed to find Dawn amid the chaos, and even found that inaugural baguette I'd been craving.
Every March, I get an email from one of these ladies proclaiming, "We should have a reunion in France!" They must be out of their minds.