Surviving Paris: A Trip Into The Gutter

Welcome back for the 3rd installment of the “Surviving Paris” saga. If my disasterous adventures in Paris are new to you, click here for part 1 and here for part 2 to read how I narrowly escaped death twice in the City of Light. This time, even my Mom couldn’t save me from the perils of Paris.

We’d had a great time exploring, wandering and eating our way through France’s capital city and, after a big day, decided to hit up the Hard Rock Cafe on Boulevard Montmartre for some diner. Two luscious salads (a break from the baguettes we’d been scarfing) and a couple of Cokes later (a rest from all the wine we’d been consuming), Mom and I were out on the Boulevard trying to figure out a way back to our hotel.

After a couple minutes of deliberation, we decided that a taxi, after our long day of using the heel-toe express, was our best option. Alors, back into the Hard Rock and towards the hostesss I went to ask about calling a cab.

“There is a taxi stand right across the road, madame. That is the best way to get a taxi around here.”

“Excellent. Merci!” Mom and I steered ourselves in the direction the girl pointed and were happy to find that there was indeed a taxi stand just down the road from the restaurant.

Malheureusement, there was nary a taxi to be seen.

We waited. Cars zoomed past.

And waited. Horns honked. Not at us, unfortunately.

And we waited some more. Parisians raised their eyebrows as they passed us on the sidewalk.

In most cities, you wouldn’t think that hailing a cab on a Wednesday evening in October would be very difficult. It wasn’t raining, and  it wasn’t terribly cold (yet), but not one taxi pulled into the stand.

Now, any one who knows me knows that I’m a take-charge kind of girl. And I’m terribly, painfully, frustratingly impatient. At this point, Paris had exhausted my patience, and I decided to take matters into my own hands.

“Mom, I will hail us a cab,” I declared, distancing myself from the stand. “Don’t you worry!” Like I’m some sort of cab-hailing superhero, right?

So I set off down the road to what I had decided would be a more advantageous spot from which to snag a cab. It’s not that there weren’t any cabs on the street. Au contraire! There were a ton of cabs, but they were all filled with people whose cab catching skills were obviously superior to my own.

I raised my arm and waved. I motioned for cabs to come my way. I tried to make eye contact with passing cabbies. I promenaded slowly up and down the sidewalk, each passing cab representing a dashed hope in my now chilly and very frustrated little traveller’s heart. As my frustration mounted, so did Mom’s amusement with the whole situation. From her post at the taxi stand, she watched me walk back and forth, forwards and backwards along the edge of the sidewalk for probably 15 minutes before catastrophe struck.

Finally, a vacant taxi turned the corner onto the Boulevard and started to drive slowly in our direction. Naturally, I started to wave and walk backwards towards my Mom, never taking my eyes off of the long-awaited cab.

The cabbie looks up and sees me. My heart flutters. Finalement!

I launch into one final flurry of exaggerated waving. Mom applauds my success. The cab drives towards us.

I continue to walk backwards (not a good idea) towards Mom, the whole upper half of me positively shaking with the force of my—Oof!!!

And there I am, mesdames and messieurs, yours truly,  sprawled on my back in a Parisian gutter after having lost my balance and fallen un-elegantly and very ungracefully off the curb. It was the flurry of exaggerated waving that propelled me over the edge, I’ll bet.


“Unh…” I lay in the gutter, thinking about how ridiculous I must look with my arms and legs and hair all akimbo, my scarf covering half my face. I send up a silent grievance to the Travel Gods.

Why me? Why this? Always me! Always something!

“What are you doing down there!? How did you do that!?” I can hear the laughter threatening to break through her voice at any moment.

I shrug, as nonchalantly as I can manage. Then I start laughing too.

Just before I make a move to get up, (still laughing, by the way) a little old man on a bicycle pedals towards the edge the sidewalk and peers over onto the road, curious to see what Mom’s looking at. When he sees me, his caterpillar-like eyebrows shoot up so fast I fear they might lift right off of his wrinkly little forehead. He shakes his head at the ridiculous scene and pedals on.

Paris 3. Sarah 0. 

Surviving Paris: The Metro (…And How It Nearly Killed Me)

Like I said in my first post about Surviving Paris: The Arc de Triomphe, Paris is a city that somehow makes me lose all good sense (and any good luck) that I have.

This is me in Paris:


[Please note the beautiful, oversize red purse in both pictures.]

[Please note how happy I look before Sarah’s Parisian Disaster #2.]

The red purse, now affectionately named the purse that almost did me in had been a recent purchase of mine at the weekly market in the charming city of Tours, where I was studying at the time. It was very large, and I thought it very practical for travelling. It stored food, guidebooks, sweaters, water bottles – you name it, the red purse could hold it. Naturally, I brought it on my 3-day trip to Paris.

So, my friend and I, counting our lucky stars after managing not to die during our traffic dodging session at the Arc de Triomphe, had decided that the Metro (subway) was probably a safer mode of transportation for the rest of our sojourn in the city of lights.

Minds made up, we bought weekend Metro passes, and continued to buzz around the city making use of our unlimited rides. I can’t recall exactly where we were or where we were going (the traumatic events that followed surely blurred my memory of the day) but I do remember that we were rushing to catch the next departing Metro to somewhere.

Being the prepared traveller that I am, my nose was in the Rick Steves’ France guidebook, double checking the name of the stop we needed to get off at. Now, please let me advise you that running anywhere while trying to read a book is not a good idea. Running down stairs into a crowded metro station while trying to read a book is even less of a good idea. Running down stairs, nez-in-livreas I was, into a crowded metro station then leaping like a gazelle into the train, is just about at the bottom of the good idea list. Vous comprenez? 

Being a bit more athletic than yours truly, my amie had made it into the packed Metro car without incident. My gazelle-like leap certainly landed my feet into the car, but not much else. Now, let it be known that in 2008 when this happened, the doors on Parisian Metro cars closed very, very forcefully. I would actually watch them as they noisily banged closed, bounced off each other and settled more gently into a closed position just as the car was set into motion. Someone could really get hurt in those doors! I remember thinking to myself. Little did I know, that someone was going to be me…

So, I landed with both feet in the car, but somehow half of my body got stuck in the angry doors. I tried to extract myself from between the doors, but to no avail. Why? Why wouldn’t my skinny little chicken arm slide through the doors and join me safely in the car? Beacause the incredibly large mass that was the purse that almost did me in was hanging off my shoulder and had also got caught in the door, thus preventing me from going anywhere.

It was at this point that my friend started to panic. She grabbed me and started pulling, frantic, mouth agape, eyes wide, stammering, stuttering and shouting some mess of Frenglish gobbledeygook, trying to help me.

All I, on the other hand, could muster, was a stunned (but loud) “This is me, stuck in a door!” (An excellent quote, I must say, had they been my last words).

Just then, the car started to slowly pull away from the platform and I realized that we were slowly but surely headed for a tunnel. The car I was in would soon come within inches of the tunnel wall, at which point one of my limbs and my beautiful red purse (both of which were very dear to me) would probably be ripped clean off of my body. Quelle horreur!!!

I frantically flailed around, struggling to get free, imagining a new, limbless version of myself that somewhat resembled the black knight from Monty Python (“Tis but a scratch! It’s only a flesh wound!”). Finally, seeing my distress and maybe even understanding my friend’s cries for help, a man stepped forward and with his brute strength, managed to pry the doors open wide enough for me to pull my arm and my purse to safety.

Horrified, shocked, stunned, scared as I was, I believe I was able to stammer a merci to the Incredible Hulk man, and spent the rest of the ride convusling with hysterical laughter and getting some extremely strange looks from the Parisians.

So what did I do with the purse that almost did me in? I kept it, of course, as a souvenir of another near-death experience in Paris.

 Paris: 2, Sarah: 0

Surviving Paris: The Arc de Triomphe

Warning: Paris is a city that undoes me like no other. Terrible things happen (or almost happen) to me in Paris. Paris turns my slightly disasterous self into a very disasterous self. Read on and you’ll know what I’m talking about…

Before embarking on my study abroad trip to France, I had to endure the “use good judgment while you’re in a foreign country” lecture from my folks. I felt I didn’t really need to hear it, especially in the check-in line at the airport.

“Mom. Dad. Seriously. For 20 years I’ve made good decisions. What makes you think I’m going to start making bad ones now? Just because I’ll be in another country? Please!” I rolled my eyes and hoped the subject would be closed.

After a couple more parental reminders and some very tight hugs, I was checking my bags and on my way to France for five weeks of living la belle vie! I mean… studying French.

Fast-forward three weeks. Delighted to have a long weekend to spend in Paris, my friend and I were intent on cramming as many experiences as we could into our 72-hour sojourn. Climbing the Arc de Triomphe was one of them. So there we were, strolling happily along the Champs-Élysées towards the Arc, dressed in our spiffiest French duds, wearing our spiffiest French heels. Normally I would not totter around a foreign city in heels, but looking the part was essential to fully experiencing the French lifestyle. Obviously.

As we approached Place de l’Étoile, I could see why the square that housed the Arc was referred to as the “Square of the Star”. 12 lanes of frenetic traffic swirled around the Arc which stood like an island in the middle of a very fast-moving stream. The sun was beginning to set, and we were hurrying in order to get a twilight glimpse of Paris from above.

“So, do you see a crosswalk anywhere?” I asked my friend as we approached the Place.

Non!” She replied in her most zealous French accent. “I don’t see a crosswalk or a stoplight or anything. Rien!”

“Hmm.” That was just a little concerning. I surveyed the Place and indeed did not see any indication as to how we should cross to the Arc. No signage, no little French man waving his arms, nothing.  “Do we just…cross? Wait for traffic to slow then make a break for it?”

“I guess.” She replied hesitantly. “It just doesn’t seem very safe, you know? I mean in Canada they’d probably have an official, well-marked way to cross. Safety first!”

“You’re right.  But, this is France, ma cherie! They do things differently here. Maybe traffic dodging is a skill they’d like everyone to have.” That was a decent rationalization, right? The French did do things differently. And, when in France…

Time was ticking and daylight was fading. With a mutual shrug, we toed up to the curb and waited for the flow of traffic to lessen.

“Ok. One, two, three…Allez!” And we were off, clip clopping across the massive expanse of road as fast as our heels would allow. About halfway across, a look to our left told us that we had not crossed in time, and that cars were turning into the Place and proceeding in our direction.

Naturally, we started to scream.

Just then, we heard the not-so-distant wail of sirens as a police car careened towards us and skidded to a halt in the middle of the road. We stopped, traffic honking and speeding all around us and braced ourselves for the fine or the arrest that was sure to come.

Mesdames! What are you doing? You could be killed! Turn around maintenant and use the underpass to the Arc. It is located over there!” cried the exasperated gendarme.  He pointed to the half-hidden entrance to the underpass, muttered something about touristes and promptly sped back into the fray.

Chastened and feeling foolish, we waited for traffic to lighten up as we made a run for the very welcoming, traffic-free sidewalk. We managed to make it up the Arc without further incident.

Looking down on the Place from above, we surveyed the very large amount of road we had tried to run across, took stock of the very high volume of cars that flooded onto the road each second, and realized that we could have very easily been mowed down by a speeding French driver…

Place de l’Etoile – As seen from the Arc de Triomphe

I guess I could have used that “good judgement” talk after all, but I prefer to blame Paris. Why? Because the city has it out for me! Literally. Just wait until I post about the time I was nearly dismemembered by a Parisian metro (subway) or the time I nearly died hailing un taxi…