From London-St. Pancras International Station, we took a Eurostar train to Paris Gare du Nord. Eurostar is a quick and most convenient way of shuttling between London and Paris. Travel time is about 2 hours, but we got to avoid the inconveniences of going through airport procedures and, more importantly, we got off in the heart of the city and not in an airport miles and miles away. We checked in about 15 minutes before our scheduled trip and going through baggage check and immigration was fast and hassle-free. The train fares are quite steep, but advance purchases can get a little discount. Our return tickets cost £293 (or roughly P21,880) for one adult and one child on a regular coach.
The moment we stepped out of the train, my little girl already noted the glaring differences between London and Paris. The temperature was milder but the people were definitely colder. Whereas the English are generally polite, the French are very unfriendly and rude. It’s quite hard to put it in words but you will definitely feel it when you visit Paris. It’s my second time in what is known as the most romantic city in the world. I first visited it in 2001 and I was hoping that my first impression of it will be completely changed on this trip. But it’s pretty much the same as I remember it 13 years ago: it’s unwelcoming, filthy and, in many parts, it reeked of urine.
I can sum up our 4-night stay in Paris in one word: LOST. We took the Metro (subway train) from Gare du Nord to our base for our first 3 nights, Republique. When we asked for help regarding the location of our hotel, each person pointed us to a different direction. So after asking about 8 different persons, all the while lugging around our heavy luggage, we decided to just take a cab to the hotel. Turns out, the hotel was just right there all along. The driver just went around the street and charged us 10 euros for the very short trip. Aaarggh.
My daughter Bea couldn’t conceal her disappointment in our hotel called Grand Hotel de L’Avenue on Rue Rampon. There was nothing grand about it; it’s the most affordable hotel I could find when I was searching online (and by “most affordable” I mean P5,000 per night). Our room was alright for me — it was very basic but it was clean. There was no airconditioner, no mini-refrigerator, no hair-dryer but at least there was an electronic safe (this is a bit important as I will narrate later) in the closet. There was also no light in the corridor so we had to grope in the dark to reach our room. And as for the service, well, don’t expect to get any from the front desk. The most that we got from the guy at the front desk was a shrug.
On our second day in Paris, I decided to take Bea to Disneyland to get her all excited and happy. We learned that Disneyland is located in Marne-la-Vallée, a town about 20 miles away from Paris. We left our hotel at around 9:00 a.m., had breakfast while on-the-go, bought our train tickets to Marne-la-Vallée and back (total of 30 euros) and proceeded to ride the train all the way to Disneyland with just one transfer. We reached our destination at around 10:30 a.m. and as I was about to buy our park tickets, I realized that my wallet was gone. LOST. This is where my horror story really began. The last time I held my wallet was at the Republique train station where I bought our two-way tickets. Somewhere along the trip, a pickpocket found his way in my bag and got what he wanted/needed. My wallet contained a large amount of cash (enough for the rest of our stay in Paris), all my credit cards, ATM cards, membership cards and even our train tickets for going back to Paris. Needless to say, I was devastated. Bea was heartbroken as well, her tears flowed out like rain. We didn’t know what to do, being in a strange land with a language that’s alien to us. LOST. We didn’t have any money for food nor for a train ride back to our hotel. It was very traumatic. Even now it hurts to write about it. We walked all the way to the nearest police station, which, of course, was quite a distance. My intention was just to ask for help to transport us back to Paris. But the police officers couldn’t even converse in English; they kept addressing us in French, which I know zilch about. Finally, they called someone who can understand English and all she could come up with was to call a taxi that can take us back to Paris and that I can just pay the driver when we get there. But I argued that it’s a long trip and it might cost me hundreds of euros. So the police weren’t able to help us at all. We left the police station and I decided to go to the train station. With tears in my eyes, I mustered the courage to beg the train personnel to let us ride for free given our situation, and she was kind enough to give us 2 train tickets.
Back in our hotel room, I still praised and thanked God that my husband gave me more than enough pocket money for our entire trip and that I left a substantial portion of it along with our passports in the electronic safe. Bea and I were traumatized so we didn’t want to go out anymore, but then we had to eat for we were starving. It was already 3:00 p.m. and we hadn’t eaten lunch yet. Not only did we lose a lot of money but we also lost one day in Paris. LOST. I was terrified of breaking the sad news to my husband but I knew I had to because I couldn’t contact the banks/credit card companies from where I was. My husband is such as huge blessing because when he learned about the unfortunate incident, he simply told me not to think about it anymore so it won’t ruin our entire vacation. He immediately called up the banks to block my accounts and took care of requesting the replacement cards for me.
That same day, I told some of my friends about the tragic loss of my wallet and all its contents. My friends from different corners of the world readily commiserated with me and offered words of comfort and even financial help to tide us over. I would like to give a special shout-out to my grade school friends Olive (from Manchester, UK) and Mildred (from Boston, Massachusetts); my high school batchmate Rhoda (from Zurich, Switzerland); and my online buddy Gizelle (from Vienna, Austria) whom I just met up with in London. I was deeply touched by their concern and their willingness to help. All four of them made me realize that, while there are so many evil creatures in the world, there are still many good people around. I thank God for all of you.
I would also like to thank a beautiful and kind lady from Crowne Plaza Hotel in Paris who let me use the hotel’s business center — even though I was not a hotel guest — so I can get in touch with my husband and so that he can report the incident to the banks. My heartfelt thanks to Sarah at the front desk. I will never forget you and the kindness you extended to me.
But most of all, I thank God for my husband Caloy. He never blamed me for what happened because, really, it’s never the fault of the victim. Caloy never said anything to hurt my feelings; all he said was that we should keep our mind off it and try to move on. He only wanted us to enjoy the rest of our trip.
And so we heeded his advice. The next day, October 31, Bea and I attempted to go to Disneyland again. I was more mindful of my belongings to the point of being paranoid (I checked my money pouch every 5 minutes). I would have to admit that we had way too much fun in Disneyland Paris; it’s almost like nothing bad happened the day before. It was a bright and sunny day, but the temperature was comfortably cool.
On our 4th and last day in Paris, we moved to an apart-hotel in Montparnasse. The Citadines Didot Montparnasse is managed by the Ascott group of serviced residences and is therefore a more pleasant accommodation for us. Though its rate is a bit higher (at almost P7,000 for one night), you actually get your money’s worth. The studio unit is so spacious and comfortable, with all the conveniences of a small home: there’s a small kitchen with all the basic kitchen appliances and utensils; there’s a separate toilet and bath; and yes, a hair-dryer!
However, we were out most of the day to take in all the breathtaking sights of Paris. No doubt, the city is awe-inspiring but I’m not sure if I’d ever want to go back. Lost on the streets. Lost in translation. Lost big money. Lost one day. How can I ever say Paris is love?The unfortunate incident last October 30 was the only thing that marred our ten-day trip to London and Paris. I’m still grateful because Bea and I got back home safe and okay. We shared a lot of fun moments together despite a bump on our journey. I’ve learned a valuable lesson the hard way and I know I’m a better person because of it.