“Home Sweet Home.” For the longest time, I never had any appreciation for that reoccurring phrase. It was just a term I would use as a joke. But, that all changed the day I left France. One thing I’ve learned from past experiences is that when one thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong; and that day was to be the epitome of one of those incidents.
For me, it all started the moment my sister invited us to tag along with her and her classmates on a ‘side field trip’ to a remote town known as Arle. We would have said no, but she insisted, confessing, “I would love if you could join us ‘cuz I feel kinda bad ditching you after you flew all the way out here.” Credits to her for having the guts to invite her family to a ‘friends field trip.’ But, it’s safe to say that had my mother and I not taken her offer, we would have never had an issue getting home, meaning this story wouldn’t exist. Clearly, that wasn’t the case as here we are.
Spring Break of 2016 was highly anticipated, for my mother and I were flying to France to visit my older sister who was studying abroad for a semester. In short, the plan was to arrive in Paris, spend 5 nights there, then take a train to Grenoble where her apartment was and finally take a train back to Paris and depart from France. And that plan would’ve spanned out perfectly, if we hadn’t got roped into joining her classmates on their side field trip. Thence, a whole new journey began.
For 5 months, my sister had lived in Grenoble, France. Therefore, it seemed only logical that my mother and I would have a chance to see where she’s been living, instead of only exploring the generic tourist sites. However, during the first day in Grenoble, we soon learned that her class was taking a field trip to a little town known as Arle, and that our time with her would be cut short. That is, unless we tagged along with her fellow classmates. Of course, my mother and I didn’t want our time with her to be limited considering the fact that she was in another country halfway around the world, so we graciously agreed. The only problem was we had originally scheduled two tickets on an overnight train from Grenoble to Paris, so that we would be in Paris the morning of our flight without having to either miss a day by sleeping in a hotel or waking up ridiculously early. But, now that we were joining her and her classmates in Arle, we had to adjust our return arrangements so that we could still make it to Paris in time for our flight. However, ‘adjust’ was to be the understatement of the century.
Long story short, my mother and I would indeed spend the day in Arle. Towards midevening, we would take a taxi from the hotel and drive to their local train station. From there, the train would take us to a “middle” city known as Marseille, we would have a layover, and finally the train would bring us to our long-awaited airport in Paris. That was the plan, but just like all plans, they never go the way they were initially intended. And boy, did it not go our way.
In a somewhat orderly fashion, my mother and I made it to Arle with my sister and her classmates. That was the first step. Thankfully, we ended up having an extremely enjoyable time with everyone. In fact, our minds were so at ease that I had almost forgotten about our changed plans. However, it all rushed back, along with anxiety, the moment the sun had set.
Just like we had planned, my mother and I took a taxi to the Arle train station around ten pm. However, what we hadn’t anticipated when we arrived was a desolate, barren, wasteland. The instant we had stepped out of the cab, it was completely and utterly silent. We managed to lug our suitcases up the several sets of staircases and to the platform, all whilst being able to hear the sound of our own breathing.
And, it wasn’t any better on the train. There were only a few other people aboard. So much so that my mother and I took the liberty of sitting in the first class car, which was empty as well. But, fortunately the ride to Marseille was only an hour long, and I fell asleep the moment my head hit the backrest. If only I had been asleep for the rest of the journey back home.
It was around 11pm when we arrived in Marseille. Judging from the condition of the train station and the people mumbling about, spending our “layover time” in the station was not an option. That is, unless we wanted to be harassed by drunk men yelling “Hey ladies!” at three in the morning. Luckily, my mother was already aware of this predicament and she and my sister had previously booked us a hostel to stay the night. Because, unannounced to be, the layover was to be six hours long.
Now, even though my mother had made arrangements for us to stay in a local hostel, that didn’t mean she actually knew how to get there. Google Maps told us that the hostel was just across the street, but walking out of the station turned any navigation skills we had to mush. We attempted to follow the directions as best we could, but we soon found ourselves going in circles, probably looking like a pair of lost puppies.
Clearly we stuck out, as a man that just happened to be strolling past, stopped to ask if we needed help. “Excuse me. You…you all need help? You need help finding place? I can help if you lost,” he stuttered. Generously accepting his aid, he then attempted to find our hostel whilst simultaneously trying his best to communicate with us “American-folk.” It took 30 minutes or so after walking back and forth, but he finally hunted down our hostel and took the liberty of leaving us only once we were in the building. We then took it upon ourselves to sleep for five hours until we would be forced out of bed in anticipation of catching our train to Paris.
Marseille’s train station at night was one thing, but in the morning, it was something else entirely. After having woken up from what felt like a mere hour of sleep, we rushed out and back to the train station. As soon as we made it through the automatic doors, we were submerged in a sea of people walking every which way; people of all sizes and shapes shouting, “What time is it?” or “What number platform is that?” across the whole of the station. We were two of those hundreds of people, but whilst the others around us seemed to know where they were going, we ended up being more confused than ever.
“I so sorry. This not valid ticket. You need new tickets,” the conductor spit out in her broken English. Our hearts sank. The night before, we had overlooked our train ticket receipt, confident that even though we didn’t hold the physical tickets, it would be enough to enter the train. Clearly, that confidence was crushed the moment we handed them over to conductor. And, not only were we told that our receipt was not valid, but we found out that the actual tickets we had purchased had to be picked up in Belgium. Obviously, that wasn’t going to happen.
So, in what felt like a split second, my mother was forced to race to the kiosk, buy two new tickets, and race back to the platform before the train left. It probably didn’t help that she was bawling her eyes out, as I was too. But who could blame us as we were both stressed beyond belief about making it to Paris. Thank the lord, my mother made it back in time with the two tickets, and we boarded the train, huffing and puffing our way down the aisle.
We were in Paris, but the quest wasn’t over. Not even in the slightest. The train ride was approximately four hours long, meaning we arrived in Paris around ten am. That is, after my mother and I had accidently gotten off the train at the stop before ours. Regardless, we were in the airport, and after sitting in a confined train seat, we now had to sit around for two and a half more hours until our flight. Go figure. Unfortunately, we had overestimated the amount of time we had to lay around, which lead to our next mistake on our ongoing quest for home.
Hunger. It’s a necessity, but it always tends to sneak up on you during the most inconvenient times. This was one of those times. Once my mother and I were through security and had checked our bags, we soon came to the realization that we hadn’t eaten anything since the granola bars we had at six am in the hotel. Of course, by the time we realized we were in desperate need of food, we only had five or so minutes before our flight was scheduled to leave. What was even worse though was the fact that there were no restaurants in the entirety of the Paris airport. Whether or not it was due to the time of day or the idea that Parisians simply didn’t need food when traveling, we couldn’t find anything to eat for lunch. Eventually, we settled on some dried, age-old salads and some chocolate bars for dessert, but only because we were willing to eat anything at that moment; and, of course the fact that the plane was boarding its last passengers. If only we had known that the plane would be serving us a heated meal of curry and rice once we took off. I guess irony was on our backs that day.
After a five-hour plane ride, we were finally in our home country, but that didn’t mean we were home yet. From the aforementioned events that had occurred that day, it was no surprise that the only flight we could get would be one that had a two hour layover in Washington. But, after everything else, I was just relieved to be in an airport with food and the English language. And, being that the only thing we had eaten that day were granola bars, old salads, and airplane food, we gladly took advantage of our opportunity for an actual meal. And, it just so happened that there was a Spanish restaurant right by our gate. Albeit not the healthiest option, we both decided on a bowl of chili and a plate of French fries to share. As you can imagine, we devoured our four pm meal, and were soon on the flight back to Newark.
The rest of the trip back home was a blur. But, considering everything that had happened before that, it would be understandable that I was completely exhausted. The moment my head hit the back of the airplane seat, I was fast asleep. I vaguely remember being dragged into the car, hauling our luggage along with us, and drowsily walking into the house 45 minutes later.
At last, I was home. With no hesitation, I flopped onto my bed and laid there for hours to come. Of course, I immediately gravitated towards my phone and scrolled through my social media all throughout the evening, just appreciating that I was no longer on a moving vehicle. And, when night eventually crept in, my mind slowly drifted into a dreamless sleep, as I was too distracted thinking to myself At last, Home Sweet Home.