Since I have been told lately people thoroughly enjoy the more ‘personal’ posts I put up here, I thought I would tell you all a story. Mainly, a story that continues to cause amusement between me and Ana to this day, after a year has gone by.
Our ~*~most wonderful day~*~ in Paris.
(It gets really long but it’s worth reading, trust me. I don’t know why I haven’t had this published or at least produced as a sitcom episode yet.)
So amidst a lot of excitement and attachment attempts from uninvited third parties, Ana and I finally managed to book a three-day weekend trip to Paris on occasion of her birthday on June 23rd. It’s pretty far up the month, we thought, so the weather will be lovely yet not too hot, and three days is enough to visit the Eiffel Tower, go to Versailles, have some macaroons and see about 5% of the Louvre and all the tourist-y things you can fit into 72h.
The nice things are fairly memorable, enough to leave a visual image. We did the things all PrettyRichGirlFashionStudents™ do when in Paris, like go around the legendary birthplace boutiques (Lanvin, Chanel, Vionnet, etc) and gawk and cry hopelessly at the windows and grasp at air. We saw the Hermès rooftop garden from afar and ooooh’d and aaaah’d at it before moving on to stuff our faces with four gigantic macaroons and iced tea at Ladurée and instantaneously regretting it and silently crying ‘my diet’ to ourselves. We somehow managed to go around the Petit Palais from behind before finding the door even though I’d been there already and was very sure of how to get to the entrance. But while that’s all very nice and dandy, it’s not what you’re here for. You’re here for the action.
Mainly, that day we went to Versailles. Which I am pretty sure sealed the deal on the whole ‘Best Friends’ thing because honestly if we survived that together without one of us violently murdering the other with a kitchen knife, we’re meant to be.
We woke up early, had breakfast, and made our mental plans to try and visit every corner that we could, considering we’d planned to spend the whole day there anyway so I could finally see the gardens. I was very stubborn about seeing the gardens and the Petit Trianon because I’d been to Paris and Versailles literally two weeks before and my parents had been content with the palace and refused to go see the pretty landscaping, while I moaned about Marie Antoinette in the cab back. So I put on my brand new super expensive silk blend sweater and my equally brand new Givenchy bag and we get ourselves in a cab to Versailles. It took a while, we managed to squeeze out enough cash to pay for it when we arrived, but we got there. That’s about where the decent, normal part ends.
First, we queued for tickets. It’s a pretty long queue for tickets. For starters, Ana had a freak out because I completely vanished on her without warning her that I was going to check how long the queue was. After I got back, I realized I had my Portuguese ID with me, which said I was European and under 25, as well as my student card, so even though I had to queue I didn’t have to pay. Ana had to pay, so she went to find the automatic machines. I got my ticket while she struggled with the machines and then we couldn’t find each other for about 15 minutes and were trying to call each other from, literally, across a room, until I physically ran into her.
Then we queued (outside) with our tickets to go into the palace. It started raining. We thought it would stop while we were visiting the palace so we could still go to the gardens, which would be great. I mean it couldn’t rain that much in late June, right? It was fairly warm anyway. So we went in, saw the palace (again) and, when I started getting excited, Ana finally agreed to go out and go buy the ticket for the gardens. So we elbowed past a multitude of school tours, our faces bright with hope and expectation, walked outside and were met with a tiny courtyard filled with gloomy-looking tourists.
It was, literally, the closest thing to a full-blown hurricane I’ve ever seen in my life.
It was so bad no one was even daring to step outside (and you know there are some pretty badass tourists out there). We looked at each other and our fancy clothes and our lack of an umbrella and thought we’d go and have a meal at the little cafeteria place, wait it out, maybe the rain would subside. So we run, in the rain, to the closest food-bearing location we could find and somehow dive into the densest sea of people I have ever found myself in – this coming from someone who is front row at every summer music festival since her 16th birthday.
As I queued to pay for a pre-packaged sandwich, after being pushed into a refrigerator full of cans of coke that all fell on me like an aluminium waterfall (it hurt, by the way, and if I ever publish this that stupid woman who elbowed me will pay), I lost Ana again. Luckily I found my soulmate, while trying to figure out where exactly the line was, considering there were three cashiers for about 15 people yelling and throwing their money around at the same time. We waved and screamed at each other, I paid for her food and we ran out of that hellish pit as fast as we could in order to find a table.
There was no table.
We sat on the floor of the hallway leading to the women’s washroom, eating (decent) gas station sandwiches and watching other people come in, look for tables, give up and leave. We were happy with a carpet, and listening in to Mexican pre-teens discussing whatever they were discussing (Ana got it; I didn’t). At some point we thought “let’s try and do the garden thing again”.
We looked outside, hurricane had turned into The Day After Tomorrow.
The day was already half gone, we knew the gardens were enormous and we probably wouldn’t get a chance to see them again and I was hell bent on going out there and damn right no rain would stop me from seeing the Petit Trianon. It was my third time at Versailles, god damn it, I wasn’t going to back out now. So we got out our meek little ladylike umbrellas – you know, the ones that fit in your bag – and walked triumphantly out into the storm, crossing the courtyard and buying our tickets to hop on the next green train to the Trianon. Except my french is horrible and I had no idea when or where the train stopped so I just nodded and smiled and thought “I’ll manage this thing somehow”.
It was when we arrived on the large, gravel-covered plane overlooking the immensity of the gardens that I lost Ana again. I was doing that thing where you try to hold your umbrella with your elbow while trying to take a picture with a fairly large DSLR camera and when I turned around she was gone. All I could see was an infinite blanket of dark grey (in Photoshop terms, black at around 65% opacity) covering everything as far as the eye could see. No Ana, no Trianon, just rain that only looked like it was going to get worse. She found me, I yelled at her, she yelled at me, we realized we were both idiots and we walked down the stairs.
Meanwhile, rain continued to get worse. And this is where things really start to get funny (except for eating on the floor next to the bathroom, that was one of the highlights).
I stopped at the first fountain to take a picture, but as usual there was a group of unusually cutely-dressed Asian girls taking fifty different pictures in the same pose and I had to stare at them like I was going to set them on fire if they didn’t move. When they did finally move, another wave of Asians was starting to approach so I very quickly did the elbow-umbrella-camera-hand thing, while striking a very elegant flamingo pose to keep everything in place – I had an estimated thirty seconds to take a picture before my lens got soaked and the Asians found their way into the frame. I took two clicks and suddenly I’m grabbed from the side and screamed at through incoherent laughter.
“I DID IT.” Ana yelled at me, while trying to breathe. “I DID THE THING. I FELL INTO THE PUDDLE.”
She was soaked up to her knees. Her umbrella wasn’t even inside-out – it was completely shattered. It looked like a piece of paper you’d half-crumpled and then forgotten to throw into the trash. It was, without a doubt, beyond repair, and she wouldn’t stop laughing about having fallen into a puddle while I yelled at her that she probably ruined my only chance at getting a photograph of a fountain without any Japanese people in front of it.
The best part is, she actually managed to film the process of falling into a puddle. If I get my hands on the video, I’ll post it one day.
( Oh, by the way, I don’t remember exactly how but at that point I had about three umbrellas on me, two of which also irreparably broken and the other one painfully bought for 50€ at the souvenir shop. )
At that point we were both already probably borderline insane, so we started laughing and decided the gardens were definitely not a thing that was going to happen. We started walking back up the stairs, defeated but amused, and when a child ran past us screaming, we decided to do the same and just run all the way up the stairs while screaming at the top of our lungs and scaring a couple of geriatric tourists. We trekked all the way back to the Palace and out of the gates, deciding we’d just get in a cab back to Paris because the rain had turned into what seemed like the Biblical Flood pt 2 and the thought of a dry, warm car seat was more comforting than anything else. That’s when it gets so bad, it’s almost ridiculous and sitcom worthy.
There were no cabs.
And I don’t mean it in the sense that they just weren’t common. I mean it in the sense that they did not exist. They were extinct. There was a line of people across the road from the palace grounds apparently waiting for taxis, while the “TAXI” sign was… quite far away from them. We couldn’t decide whether the people were stupid, we were stupid, or the sign was stupid. Honestly, we were so wet and exhausted everything was stupid at that point and that was a decision we were not equipped to make. So we did the smartest thing we thought we could do – run back and forth between places.
While we were waiting with the people, two taxis went into the pick-up area and people got to them before us.
When we moved to the taxi point, random taxis started passing by the place where we were before and the tourists got every single one of them.
We got desperate enough to walk down the road to try and hail a random cab, now umbrella-less and looking more like cats who’d fallen into a pool than glamorous young PrettyRichGirlFashionStudents™. We walked for about half an hour, in the pouring rain, not talking to each other except for random giggling because I’m pretty sure the rain had gotten through our scalp and our brains were just merrily playing water polo inside our water-filled skulls.
We didn’t get anywhere, just lost. No cabs. Also, no buses. Honestly, how do people get from Versailles, it’s still a mystery to me. We found what seemed like a train station and assumed it would have a taxi point. It didn’t. We were desperate enough to check inside for public transportation to Paris, but found nothing but puddles of mud and screaming children in wellies and hundreds of tourists just as wet, sad and desperate as us.
So we left, preferring to be wet, sad and desperate outside, and sans annoying families covered in matching plastic ponchos. We walked another half hour back to the taxi point, where we waited. Endlessly. A fairly nice-looking old couple eventually joined us, smiled at us and stood under their neat little umbrella next to us at the taxi point. Harmless-looking dressed-up nice little old people, we thought. Oh we were wrong. We were so wrong.
After what had, by then, been an odyssey spanning over six hours in the rain, a faint glimmer of hope came in the form of a white car with a lit-up “TAXI” sign on top. Ana and I looked at each other like we had seen the face of God, like we’d been rescued from certain death by a ridiculously attractive fireman. We held each other and cried of happiness because oh my god we had survived hell and WE WERE FINALLY GOING HOME, TOTO.
And then the old man stretched out his arm and got into the cab and drove off.
To this day, I want to murder that couple. They were dry. They were happy. They had an umbrella. They probably hadn’t been stuck under the rain walking nonstop for about three hours. And they took our cab. OldCouple™, I am coming for you, after I murder you with a combination of acid and a blender I hope no one shows up for any of your funerals because what you did is unacceptable. I hope people at church shake their heads at you as you walk in every Sunday. I don’t know if you’re Catholic but that was definitely not something Jesus would smile upon.
At this point, Ana and I were past borderline insane and were already in that psychological stage I assume you get into once you’ve been stranded in the Australian desert for days on end with no food or water. Mind you, we are PrettyRichGirlFashionStudents™, we’re not built for this, and saying we didn’t even have enough energy to yell insults at the old people who’d taken our cab or even whine about our situation is saying a lot.
But just as death by drowning on suburban Paris cobblestone was starting to look like an appealing exit and I was mentally writing down my goodbye note to my parents, a taxi came.
And we got on it.
And life was beautiful again until we realized the drive back to Paris was twice the price as the drive to Versailles and none of us had enough money, so we had to ask the cabbie to stop at the closest ATM machine to get money out. Which is when Ana’s stupid Mexican credit card decided to not work and she had to yell at me to get out of the cab and go take out money myself, just as I was starting to get dry.
Ana, I love you, but in that moment I hated your credit card almost as much as I hated OldCouple™.
After a couple of hours, too much money spent on things that shouldn’t have happened and me hopelessly crying over a two-week old Givenchy bag and silk-blend sweater being ruined for life, we got back to our hotel. We both had a very hot shower (in turns, not together, mind you), hung our stuff by the heater and Ana made herself into a human burrito with the bed covers, at which I laughed for a long time, not because it was that funny but because I had nothing left of human in me except the laughing reflex.
Which is when I had the brightest, soon to be stupidest idea of my life:
“Let’s salvage this day and go to the Eiffel Tower at night.”
Genius, wonderful idea, right? It had been a horrible day, horrible to the point of being painfully hilarious (though at that time still more on the ‘painful’), so seeing the beautiful sights of the city of Paris at night from the top of the Eiffel Tower could be the only thing magical enough to save what was left of one of the worst days of my life. So we rested, we thought we’d get a late dinner after we’d gotten on the elevator and headed straight there. Now filled with a renewed, if not increased sense of enthusiasm, we walked happily down to the (short) queue for the tickets and then to the (long) queue to go into the elevator. We stood there for about half an hour, hoping to get on the very last elevator ride before they closed. They let in group after group after group, until they let in the very last people in front of us and closed the gate. I looked at Ana, she looked at me and we smiled at each other out of pure excitement. Finally, something was going right, we were going to be the first people on the elevator! We were right at the front of the queue, smiling at the lady who had just sent up the last batch of people and I was trying not to jump up and down in my place in the queue while eagerly clutching my ticket.
And then it happened.
Security started telling people to go away, disperse, that they wouldn’t sell any more tickets. The men and women in uniforms in charge of the ride were running around in every direction, whispering suspiciously into walkie-talkies and disassembling everything. The woman managing the elevator entrances disappeared and we saw the queue behind us start to dissipate and voices rising in a scramble of accents and foreign languages that all seemed to be expressing the same thing we were feeling.
Blind, absolute confusion.
We were told by one of the ladies in charge that we couldn’t go up, that we could save the ticket for tomorrow if we wanted, but we didn’t bloody want to go tomorrow, we wanted to go today god damn it. So she sighed and told us maybe they’d reopen, maybe they wouldn’t, we would have to wait around and they’d let us know.
So we sat on the only little free corner of a stone bench, feeling very desolate and confused, wondering why everything happened so much and no one ever told us anything, clinging to that little Eiffel Tower ticket like a baby clinging to its pacifier. We didn’t know what was going on and no one seemed to want to tell us, until a group of American teenagers walked by whispering things and my ears perked up. I ran up to them and asked them if they had any idea why they weren’t sending people up anymore and they all answered at the same time in a very excited manner, as if something tremendously newsworthy was happening and I had been missing out.
Turns out, not only were they not sending people up, they were sending everyone back down.
Because some dude had decided to climb all the way up to the top through the outside beams just to kill himself.
Now, to the American teenagers, this was frightening but energizing because ‘oh my god, did you see him climbing, he looked like Spiderman’. To Ana and I, it was… well, I’ve been sitting here trying to find the words but it’s actually impossible to describe. There is no word in the English vocabulary to express how absolutely bewildered, desperate and angry we felt, and no expression that doesn’t involve intense R-rated swearing (and I try to keep my blog PG-13). We still had that ticket, we wouldn’t give up that hope, so we pretty much threw the idea of getting a proper gourmet late-night dinner out the window and bought some sandwiches off the food booth. Which were, literally, the worst sandwiches we’ve ever had. To this day I swear that was a block of frozen styrofoam painted over to look like bread and I’m not even sure if the salad inside was made of real vegetables. To be honest I’m pretty certain everything around and within that sandwich was at least 70% plastic, so I took two bites and threw it into the bin.
First, Versailles, then the cab, then some suicidal guy at the Eiffel Tower, and on top of that I had to force myself to swallow a terrible excuse for a sandwich at 11PM. And still, no one was telling us anything.
After crying and wailing loudly and hopelessly, hiccups and snot included, into a very delicious and moist brownie, Ana and I decided to actually ask about whether they were going to let more people in or not, only to be told, quite bluntly, that they’d decided not to over an hour ago and we should have asked before.
Well, thank you very much.
So we walked away from the Eiffel Tower and across a very long park. That walk across the park was sort of like a psychological and allegorical analysis of our day. We were tired, cranky, hungry, angry at the rain and Paris and the suicidal man and the horrible sandwiches and the broken umbrellas. We yelled at each other, then laughed at each other, then took pictures of each other, then yelled at each other again and continued walking in silence. We reached the end of the park, realized we didn’t know what we were looking at, and turned around to go back, only to start yelling at each other again. It had, so far, been pretty much the worst day any of us had ever had in any trip, and at that point, nearing midnight, we were just blaming it all on each other probably because we were exhausted and that was the only thing we could do. But then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it, and I yelled at Ana to look at it, and she yelled back at me and I yanked her hair and forced her to look at it.
We smiled, we breathed in, and we stood there thinking everything had been suddenly fixed by the cheesiest, most ridiculous touristy thing ever – the sight of the Eiffel Tower sparkling at night. It gave us peace again and for some stupid, baseless reason, we thought everything had meaning again and we could still enjoy our trip because, hell, if we’d managed to laugh through all of that, we could laugh through anything.
It suffices to say, we slept like babies, ate like pigs the next morning (I reiterate, I’m pretty sure those sandwiches are what Satan personally serves people in the 9th circle of Hell) and had a lovely day afterwards.
FOR THOSE WHO MADE IT UNTIL THE END, THE FINAL SCORE COUNT IS AS SUCH:
Ines: -10 -5 (ruined sweater) = -15
Paris: 10000000000000 x n
In the end, no matter how horrible your day is, no matter how awfully awry things might go, it’s always worth it with the right person by your side. If you’re soaked, hungry, tired and hopeless, for six hours trying to get out of the middle of nowhere, it can be funny as long as you can both find humour in it (and given your friend makes herself into a blanket-mummy and wiggles around on her bed for five minutes once you’re dry).