The roughly 4-hour trip to Paris from Aix-les-Bains started with a misadventure, which still left me with good memories. I was supposed to travel with my friend from Myanmar who will be visiting her sister who lives there. But her plans changed after her longtime friend in The Netherlands told her that she would pick her up. They will be traveling to Barcelona together from there. So I ended up traveling to Paris alone.
While I was initially anxious about going to Paris on my own, I was mostly confident since I felt that I have prepared well for it. I already booked train tickets online and researched the route going to my friends’ place once I get there. I also know where the train station in Aix-les-Bains was located. It was the first thing I checked soon after I arrived.
I checked out from the hotel early and walked to the train station on my last day in Aix-les-Bains. This gave me plenty of time to get the tickets I booked online from the train station’s service center. I had my first trickle of concern when I had trouble conversing with the person behind the ticket counter. But I soon forgot about it after I got what I came for.
It was the first time I would be traveling on a European train alone. Someone took care of my previous train trips while I was in The Netherlands several years ago. So I was a bit worried about my journey to Paris. It did not help that there were several platforms and the signage for each was a bit confusing for me. I asked someone how to get to the correct platform. She pointed to the opposite side of the tracks. We both took the stairs going down to transfer to the other side.
I did not hesitate in boarding the train that stopped in front of me thinking that I was on the right platform. It was only when it was moving that I realized that I may have made a mistake. I asked a young man where the train was headed and it was then that I found out that I took the wrong train. I went into full-blown panic mode for about a minute. Curiously, this was quickly followed by a numb feeling. It was like my brain took over completely and drowned out the fear. It turned out that the platform for the TGV train going to Paris was on the other side. I was at the right place the first time.
A train conductor approached. I explained that I got on the wrong train then asked him how I can get to my original destination. I think that it was during this point that I felt like everything will turn out well in the end. The train worker started checking his mobile device for routes. He then wrote down detailed directions on how and where I can catch the train to Paris-Gare de Lyon. He also made a note on that piece of paper for the ticket inspector. He told me that I should get off at Culoz and get on the train to Bellegard (heading to Geneva). I only had 10 minutes to catch the train at Bellegard so I had to make sure that I would not be left behind.
The young man told me that he was disembarking at Culoz and that we will just go together. He also promised to assist me so I can continue with my journey to Bellegard. We arrived in Culoz in a few minutes.
I was alarmed when I saw that the ticket booth was deserted. The young man told me not to worry and offered to purchase a ticket to Bellegard from the machine. There were only a handful of people waiting inside the station among which was a couple who kindly volunteered to help me when the helpful teen left. The wife then told me to buy my ticket to Paris from there. She said I will not have much time to do that when I get to Bellegard. She also made sure that everything was ready and we waited a bit for the train to arrive.
As the train slowed down to stop at Bellegard, the woman stood up and went with me to the door. She then pointed to where the platform for the TGV train was located, which was in a building several meters away. I was so grateful beyond words for the kindness she and her husband showed me. I felt like I could not thank them enough.
With less than 10 minutes to spare, I ran as fast as I could with my luggage in tow. I had to carry the same luggage down a flight of stairs then walk-run again for a few minutes. I climb to the elevated platform and got on the train which was ready to leave. I was still walking in one of the many coaches I had to pass through to get to my seat when the train started moving. Even as I was already settled in my seat, a part of my brain was still thinking if I was on the right train. But despite the niggling doubt, I was able to enjoy the fleeting scenery outside my window. I then received a call a few minutes before the train from Aix-les-Bains was due to arrive in Gare de Lyon. My friend told me that his husband along with a common friend were already at the station waiting for me. I told my friend that I will be arriving after 40 minutes and quickly explained what happened.
I felt a surge of intense relief when we finally arrived in Gare de Lyon. I loved it at first sight. There was something memorable about all those trains emptying a tide of people coming from different places. It made me wonder about their stories. I also liked the atmosphere. It felt like there was a sense of purpose in all that busyness. It was beautiful and organized chaos.
I was surprised to see not just my friend’s husband but also their daughters and our common friend waiting for me at the station. It has been several years since I last saw them. And it was the first time I met the kids. I was happy to see their faces and also because I finally arrived after all I went through to get there. We took the metro to get to their place. My friend was already there and we spent some time catching up. After a few hours, we left to have dinner at a Chinese buffet place a few metro stations away from their home. Dinner was scrumptious and was quite memorable as my first meal in Paris.
It was already dark when we left the restaurant to go sightseeing. Our first stop was at Champ de Mars to see the Eiffel Tower. From there we moved on to the Louvre then called it a night. The next day, we went to Sacré-Cœur and Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. We spent most of our time hanging out near Place Charles de Gaulle.
My friends and their kids were all off to work and school early morning of Monday. I planned to spend the day at their home. I wanted to review the rule book to prepare for my upcoming umpiring assignment in Belgium. But I just had to see Oscar Wilde’s tomb so I braved the metro on my own for the first time.
I love Paris metro for being tourist-friendly. It was easy to navigate even for someone as spatially-challenged as me. I looked for the best route to Cimetière du Père-Lachaise using Google maps.
I was not sure what I expected, but whatever it was could not compare to the impressive sights I saw. I enjoyed a solitary walk along the massive park-cemetery. I took a picture of the map near the entrance then started looking for Oscar Wilde’s tomb. I thought it was just going to be a quick trip to see the tomb. But I ended up spending a few hours just walking around and marveling at the many tombs inside. It was like being in that cemetery unconsciously makes you slow down and be mindful of every moment.
The next day, my friends accompanied me to Gare du Nord where I had to catch the the Thalys train to Brussels.
(September 5-8, 2015)