Well, I have an answer for you all. Although most of you already know what it is, I’ll start at the beginning anyway.
With all of the strikes that have recently been going on France, I was a little worried. My mom and her best friend Natalie would be in Barcelona for a weekend before setting out on their week-long Mediterranean cruise, and I had round-trip train tickets to Barcelona for that very weekend to see them. My night-train to Spain was scheduled to leave on Thursday night from Paris, and then I would arrive just around the same time as them in Barcelona on Friday morning. When I got to the train station in Caen (which I once again had to walk to from my dorm due to manifestations going on downtown), trains were still going to Paris, so I figured I was in the clear. I hopped on the train to Paris and arrived without a problem around 4pm on Thursday. I easily took the metro from the Saint Lazare station over to the Austerlitz station, where my Spain train was supposed to be waiting for me. As soon as I arrived at the station, I was bombarded by a huge white sign in the middle of the station with a specific revised list of trains that were departing that day. I didn’t see Barcelona anywhere.
Slightly anxious, I walked over to the help desk and asked in my very best French, “Are you freaking serious that there are no trains to Spain today?! Who does France think they’re kidding?” (It probably went more like, “Excuse me ma’am, I have these tickets to Spain for tonight. Is the train really canceled?”) The employee told me clearly that there were absolutely no trains going out of the country tonight, but if I came back tomorrow morning, I could check and see if there would be a train leaving around 10am. Okay. Okay. Okay. Very frustrated, and definitely overwhelmed, I wasn’t sure what to do. I needed internet, I needed to get in touch with my mom, but that sounded next to impossible at this point. I used what little credit was left on my phone to call one of the contacts I have who lives in Paris to see if I could stop by and use his computer. We weren’t on the best of terms, but he was really my only chance. We met up, and I quickly did all that I needed to do on his computer. I called my mom, and after some frustrated and disappointed tears were shed, we agreed that I should stay in Paris for the night in order to see what would happen with the trains the next day. We also talked about how I had forgotten the pin number to my parent’s debit card, which I was supposed to be using throughout this weekend trip. We fixed the situation by putting some money into my account. After that I booked a hostel (for the wrong night, which my contact called and fixed for me), and left.
Once I got off the metro at the correct stop, I started looking for my hostel. I had written down directions but somehow they weren’t matching up with the street signs. Of course. I would be walking alone in the suburbs of Paris at 9pm with no cash on me. Great! After stopping to ask for directions twice, I finally found the place and checked in. I used the last of my coins to pay way too much for two hours of wifi but it was necessary. I skyped with my dad my friend Michel and felt much better. My mom was already on her way to Europe. I decided that although it was dark and sketchy outside, I absolutely needed more cash on me. Who knows what would be happening in the next few days! I asked for directions at the front desk to the nearest ATM, made my way over there, got some cash, and also took a kebab to go while I was at it. I hadn’t eaten since 11am, I figured I deserved it! After devouring my food, I went to bed and tossed and turned until the next morning.
I woke up early enough to enjoy some free (/included) breakfast and headed to the metro, which I took back to the Austerlitz station. Once again, I scan the signs and see that there are no trains scheduled for Barcelona. I asked at the help desk and this time, I was told, “Maybe there will be trains Saturday night… Maybe Sunday… we’re not really sure.”
AGAIN?! I had been so excited to see my mom and go back to Barcelona, and France was stealing everything from me. I understand that this country is striking right now, but how is it that that affects the public transportation system? If I had television and internet access in my life, maybe I would be better informed of the events going on in France but all I have to go on is what I see in Caen and hear about.
So, I waited. First I called my dad (and brutally woke him up as I had forgotten the time difference in my moment of utter exasperation) and told him what was happening. Then, I waited some more. My mom was supposed to call my cell phone when she arrived at her hotel, but once 3 hours had passed after she was supposed to get there, I called her hotel to see if she had checked in: negative. So, I continued to wait. Throughout the day I had been keeping in touch with Michel, and we had been going over different options for what I could do this weekend… return to Caen? stay in Paris? visit Michel in Lille? He called me while I was eating lunch to tell me that he found someone who was driving from Paris to Lille, wanting fifteen Euro for gas, and leaving in 30 minutes. Check please! I took the chance and as I was waiting at the meeting point for my ride, my mom finally called. She had arrived safely, and I filled her in on everything that happened. A few more tears were shed with good reason, I wished her a good weekend, and I took the car to Lille.
I couldn’t believe that my day had gone like this. It was probably one of the more stressful situations that I’ve been in since I’ve been away from the US, but I’m glad that I handled it the way I did. I’m also super thankful that Jed and I traveled for so long before arriving in France because from those weeks, I learned a lot of things: how not to get mugged, how to get out of being lost, how to get by when you have absolutely no cash on you, etc. Very useful. So although the past 24 hours were quite terrible, the next 72 were a million times better. And although they were spent in Lille with Michel rather than Barcelona with my mom, I couldn’t be more thankful to have people both at home and here in France that care about me and help me so incredibly much.