I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to go to France twice in my life already. The first time was on a school trip when I was in grade 12, which was amazing and my first introduction to the wonder that is Europe, and the second time was a couple of years later, in 2013, for work. As I’ve mentioned before I was working as an English Language Assistant, starting in October of that year. I had an amazing time while I was away, but it was a bit of a disaster getting over there in the first place.
Well, disaster might be a bit of an exaggeration, but for someone who had never travelled alone before and who was terrified of the idea of travelling alone to a foreign country I feel like I dealt with my fare share of bumps along the way.
I wasn’t nervous about the idea of leaving home. In fact I was thrilled about it. I could finally get some space to myself – this was my chance to get away from a job I disliked, a break from the drudgeries of school, a chance to start myself anew. Cheesy, I know, but I was dealing with a lot of stuff and frankly I was not very happy with the way my life was going so a fresh start sounded good to me.
Going through airport security, I could barely breathe. There were a million thoughts fighting each other in my mind – what if I missed my connection, what if I got on the wrong train once I got there, what if they lost my luggage, what if the person picking me up never showed, what if I’m simply not the type of person who can do anything alone and I die of a panic attack right now in front of all these people and then die of embarrassment from that? It was not one of my greatest moments, but I reminded myself it was also not my worst and that I needed to buck up and do this. So I got on the plane.
I didn’t miss my plane connection like I feared, although they did change the terminal on me. I managed to find the new terminal without any trouble and then I was finally on my way back to France. Excitement was mounting. But there was still a long ways to go.
I flew into Paris and from there I had to catch a train. My final destination was supposed to be Amboise, where my teacher correspondent was to meet me. But wouldn’t you know it, of course there wasn’t a train directly to Amboise, oh no, of course not, that would be too easy. I had to catch the train from Paris to a small intermediary train station and then catch another train from there to Amboise. With a ginormous heavy suitcase, a duffel, a smaller wheely suitcase, and a purse. Not the smartest traveller, but hey, I was going to be away for 8 months and this was cheaper than shipping or buying things later. On top of that, I also had to print out the train tickets using the code I had been emailed because apparently emailing train tickets is absurd and why would anyone want that convenience when you have the option of dealing with a finicky computer program at the train station?
So there I was trying to print out my train tickets and it was not working. I typed in my name, I typed in the code and nothing came up. There was no record of my tickets. I must have tried at least ten times and it never worked. Cue the building of my panic. I went to the ticket window and attempted to explain my problem, which was not easy seeing as how a calm me isn’t the best at explaining things to strangers let alone a panicky me. By some miracle the ticket lady managed to find my tickets and she printed them out for me. Phew. And I still had a few hours to spare before my train left.
I don’t know how many of you are familiar with how trains work, but they do not announce which platform your train will be at until about ten minutes before it arrives. I did not know this. And even though I had my tickets now I was still in full panic mode because there was still so much left to my journey and so much more that could go wrong, so even though I had probably two hours to kill before my train was set to arrive, and I was starving and overheated and I had to pee, I sat frozen on my suitcase staring at the platform board waiting until my train appeared and I knew which platform I was supposed to go to, which meant I was waiting for a very long time in frozen discomfort. When the platform number finally did appear, ten minutes before the train was meant to leave, I booked it into action, terrified I wouldn’t be able to find the platform in time. Dragging my suitcases down several flights of stairs, zigzagging past people I managed to find the platform and struggled myself and my bags onto the train.
I couldn’t relax though because I still had one more transfer to go, and this is where my nightmare really began. I arrived at the intermediary train station, of which name I have completely erased from my mind, and struggled off the train. Now this was a tiny little train station, two tracks with one long concrete platform inbetween them. Seems simple enough to maneuver, right? Wrong. If anyone could mess something like that up, it would be me and I knew it. There were four different potential spots for trains to stop along this platform, depending on where the train was going and I had no idea which area my train was supposed to arrive. You’re probably thinking, well why don’t you just look at the board and see – well yeah, tried that, there was no board, at least not one that seemed to be giving actual platform information. The only boards I could see were listing off a bunch of trains followed by strings of numbers. The platforms were labelled by letters. Oh, and did I mention I only had ten minutes to make this transfer? Yup, panicking had commenced. As far as I could tell there were two trains arriving when mine was supposed to, both going in opposite directions, so one of them had to be mine, but which one? Before I had even had time to think about what I was going to do to figure this out, the first train came whooshing into the station. My hopes that the train would have some indication of its destination were soon dashed as nothing on the train showed this. I quickly grabbed a man’s arm who was about to board and asked him where this train was going, hoping he would understand me (my French is not good in the best of times). He said something about Paris. I figured, seeing as how I had just left Paris, I probably didn’t want to head back in that direction. The other train came whooshing in. Unsure still of whether or not this was the right train I struggled my way into to it with all my bags, which, typical, got stuck in the doorway and several people had to help me with them. Great. The train took off. Please let this be the right train, please let this be the right train, sitting on the edge of my seat, this was all I could think.
Low and behold, it was and I made it to Amboise in one piece, sweaty, exhausted, starving, but utterly relieved that I had finally made it.
Hello, France, my dear friend, we meet again – can’t wait to see what you’ll throw at me next.