A Train Ride to Paris

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Jul 24, 2010

"It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive."
Robert Louis Stevenson

More than 20 years have gone by since our first visit to Paris. But one of the most memorable experiences of our most recent visit to Paris was during a several day layover on our way to India. 

The challenge came on our excursion from the airport to our hotel in downtown Paris. After researching transportation options on the internet before we left home, we knew we could take a taxi, a shuttle or the train. Because it was less expensive and would not be complicated by traffic, we chose the train. 

As soon as we went through customs and got our luggage, we bought two train tickets into town. As we started walking to the train station we began wondering if we had made the right decision. Americans are known for taking more luggage than we need and both Evie and I are definitely Americans. We walked and walked and walked and as we did our luggage got heavier and heavier. Up escalators. Down escalators. Up elevators. Down elevators. And we were still in the airport. 

The signs seemed confusing. The courteous information hostess pointed me toward tracks 11, 12. As we approached the tracks we had to place our ticket in the machine so the narrow doors would open. The doors were made for thin people without luggage. With all of our creativity and strength and humor, we huffed and puffed and just got through. 

We had to go down one more escalator to track 11 where we quickly picked up everything one more time and loaded it on the train before the doors would close leaving one of us on the track and the other on the train. 

We finally made it. If you had been there you would have joined our fellow passengers who must have been thinking as they watched us, "You must be crazy." We looked at each other and laughingly agreed with them. We should have taken a taxi. We knew we would not return to the airport by train. And we didn't. 

Once we got our breath back, we enjoyed the ride. We were serenaded by two different musicians (accordion; guitar) as we scanned the countryside and talked some more about our decision to ride the train with all of our luggage. 

Thirty minutes later we started all over again. At our stop we grabbed our luggage and hurried off the train before it left with one of us still on the train. Up escalators. Through narrow turnstiles - again. Up steps. Up elevators. By that time I actually considered throwing away at least one suitcase but I knew Evie wouldn't let me. During our final flight of steps some French women even helped us lift our luggage to the top. 

At last we stood at street level. The day was gorgeous. People and traffic were walking and driving by. We had one final concern - which way should we go to get to our hotel? The looks we got made us want to go back into the subway. We couldn't hail a cab. They wouldn't stop. Our map was not detailed enough. Traffic and people hurried past us. We knew we would laugh at this later - just not right then. 

Finally I found three uniformed women who told us we were only four blocks from the hotel. Slowly (very slowly) we started walking in the right direction and in about ten minutes we saw the street name and shortly thereafter, the hotel. 

Since our room was not yet ready, we stored our luggage and went outside for a light lunch at a sidewalk caf%E9. We sat there and laughed and laughed at the train ride we will never forget. 

And though we once again left Paris (by taxi to the airport), we can say now more than ever, Paris has not left us. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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