At 4am and 37,000 feet above the earth, there is rarely a call to action.
That is until you’re awakened by a passenger clutching his heart and asking for help. As I sprang to assist, Yaskara, the girl next to him woke up startled as though she was in the midst of a bad dream. I informed her of what was happening and made my way to Business Class through the darkness of a silent plane in search of the purser (lead flight attendant). Alarmed, she scrambled for the medical kit as I made my way back to the incident and began searching his bag with the assistance of Yaskara for the medications he said he’d previously taken that day. With the help of two doctors onboard and the flight crew, we managed to move him to a lay flat seat in Business Class for the final hour descent into Paris while he recovered…all in all, a well executed upgrade to Business Class.
Thus started the adventure that has unfolded in Paris. My buddy Jamie and I are on day three of this jaunt through Europe with little more planned than the Tour de France finish down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees at the Arc de Triomphe. We’ve landed free lodging both nights and have managed to make friends along the way…it pays off to wheel a carry-on bag for miles and miles around “The City of Light” in pursuit of unknown lodging. As a means of journaling/blogging/sharing the adventure, I think it best to provide recaps of how the course of events has played out these first few days. As we meet travelers and are welcomed by hosts in different cities, I’ll stop to share their stories.
Saturday July 26th: The guy with heart issues lived to tell the tale of his connecting flight to Beirut in the story above. Jamie & I attempted to use my Delta Diamond status & his United Star Alliance club access to score free showers and breakfast when we landed at Charles de Gaulle airport. Due to security reasons, we were unable to access Terminal 2 and were thwarted in our resourceful plan. We paid 1o Euros ($13.50) for the local train (RER) into Paris…it’s currently the cheapest option into the city aside from hitchhiking. We set out from Notre Dame on an excursion to find wi-fi and options to store our bags. Within minutes, we picked up a new friend named Sean who had also just landed from Cincinnati and was willing to join our trusted duo of weary red-eyed travelers thus making us a terrific trio of Americans in Paris. We spent the morning trolling AirBnB in an effort to avoid homelessness that night and thanking Starbucks for their wi-fi. With miles spent on foot and the wheels wearing on our carry-ons, we met up with Yaskara, the girl who’d helped me with the distressed passenger enroute to Paris as she had discovered a free walking tour of Paris for the afternoon (http://www.neweuropetours.eu). The tour lasted 2.5 hours, covered all the key attractions, was a payment by choice donation, & we managed to be a hit with our carry-ons in tow the whole time. Through the power of social media and a request for lodging put out across multiple channels, I received a message that someone would meet us in a local park to pick us up for a room we could have that night…in the end, the person picked us up in his car and offered us shots of Absolute vodka while driving to go along with a selection of cigarettes and a recited knowledge of where we could find the best prostitutes in Paris. We managed to bail on the offer of lodging, get out of his car at a local metro stop, and as the sun began to set, it appeared we’d be homeless on night number one. After logging 12 miles on foot with bags in tow (come to find out later, you can store bags for 8-14 Euros at train stations across Paris), we made the executive decision to train 45 minutes back to the international airport and call home an airport bench. Upon arrival, we found a nice “bed” and as we settled in for zero star service, I received another message on Facebook via a connection from a friend in Nashville. This time, I was put in touch with Mathilde, a well-traveled Parisian who’s the essence of French hospitality. She offered up a couch (and in turn her bed when she saw we’re American sized) to us strangers, provided a beer after navigating public transportation mazes to her place, and set out with us at midnight to show us her neighborhood—the famous Montmartre. We strolled by Moulin Rouge, wandered by bar crowds spilling into streets, gazed at the Basilica Sacre-Coeur, and bought a bottle of cheap Bordeaux wine to share on the steps as locals listened to American Hip-Hop on a 90′s boombox. We talked world travel, laughed about the differences of America and France, thanked her for trusting us as strangers, and walked home to empty streets as we took over her bed at 5am. With little sleep on the red-eye flight over and a full day of exploring Paris complete, it was the perfect place to crash after just 4 hours of sleep in the 34 hour period since we’d left the USA.
Sunday July 27th: We awoke to the sun and sounds of kids playing in the street below. It was quintessential Paris as we looked out on classic Baroque architecture & set out for breakfast at the local cafe. Mathilde fueled up on croissants, Jamie settled for a double espresso, and I finished with the signature jambon/fromage baguette. We set out on rented bikes (1.70 Euros for 24 hours! A steal of a deal compared to other cities for hop-on-hop-off access) and conquered neighborhoods across a 4 mile stretch towards the day’s mission…watching the finish of the famed Le Tour de France bicycle race that is held annually in Europe. As the parade started, and people looked for vantage points from all angles, Jamie and I napped in a park nearby while trusting we’d find a unique spot to watch as the crowds pressed against barriers hours before riders were scheduled to arrive. We awoke to the masses and many nappers who followed suit with our energizing idea to sleep after a 5am night on Saturday. As we circled the Arc de Triomphe, I noticed a 7-story building that was covered with well concealed scaffolding and tall spiked fencing. As has become the custom when Jamie and I travel together, we decided this would be the best spot to witness the Tour finish and it was time to get climbing. We circled the block, saw that two Embassies were next door, and did our best to translate the signage on our building to ensure we weren’t about to scale an Embassy, and staked out a way to avoid the roving patrols of security officials and police who were managing the crowds. In the end, it was decided that I’d solo the building since I had the camera and Jamie would watch from below while mingling with the masses. I found a cornerstone that allowed me to essentially boulder my way 10 feet up the fence and onto the first level of scaffolding while darting behind the concealment that covered my climbing route. As I made my way up the scaffolding, it was apparent that no one had seen me climb and I was in the clear. Sitting 7 stories above the crowd, I was primed to have the best view of the course. It was unreal as I looked across rooftops, the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and the Arc de Triomphe looming before me. As I settled in and worked with my camera as racers neared, I was welcomed with a thundering fly over by 6 French Air Force jets roaring right over my head. The peleton neared and lapped the Avenue des Champs-Elysees time after time while I snapped photos from my perch, kept low to avoid wandering eyes, and took in the moment of cheering crowds and the world’s best cyclists. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that was made better by the fact my feet hit the ground without getting caught. As we walked the course towards the winner’s podium, I was witness to a pro-Palestinian kid who hopped the security barriers screaming freedom in the name of Palestine while getting promptly tackled and arrested by the French Gendarmerie. His bold move to capture the attention of the crowds and chants to remember the dying citizens that are embroiled in a bitter Middle East dispute made me pause to remember the struggles of others that don’t have the chance to peacefully sit and soak in a global sporting event. It was a poignant reminder of the world in which we live. Jamie and I met back up with Yaskara from the day before and the three of us continued our very own Tour de France as we biked Paris and weaved throughout traffic in search of wi-fi and another waning sunset without secured lodging for the night. At a local Starbucks where we searched for housing options, I was able to have some fun with the world’s most popular coffemakers by helping them assist a passed out drunkard on the street outside the store who couldn’t even sit upright in his stupor. He was ranting about France and sprawled across the sidewalk as tourists turned their kids attention away while passing. While those of us helping got a good laugh with his rambling, it was off to the drunk tank he went when the police/paramedics arrived…not amused. We were unsuccessful in securing budget lodging so we decided it’d all work out and we picked up a bottle of wine to take to the steps of the Grand Palais and overlook that last bit of light behind the Eiffel Tower. The steps were packed as darkness fell but we hopped some barriers onto a ledge alone as Yaskara joined our duo again for wine night and the sparkling Eiffel Tower. Rain settled in as we biked back to Montmartre for our bags and what appeared to be another homeless night. With another turn of luck at 11pm, Jamie landed us lodging through an old co-worker who now lives in Paris…night number two of free lodging! We climbed onto a roof around midnight for what we hoped would be spectacular views of Paris in the rain, but were met with a false summit at the top and decided to hangout on the top of the ladder and just look across the rising spires of church steeples in the opposite direction. As the rain fell, the streets emptied, and the cabs cruised the quiet streets, it felt as though I’d stepped into the scene of a number of Paris based movies…in this case, I’ll pretend it’s the Jason Bourne series. We rolled into the apartment at 3am and crashed after recapping the day at 430am. We need to address this pattern of not sleeping until almost 5ish in the morning.