What images come to your head when you think of Paris?
The lights, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe? The adult shops, the sirens, the questionable “items” on the ground? Well, let me tell you a story ….
I found out I was going to London with my drama club. My brother had gone a few years before and had taken a side excursion to the city of love and lights. He came home with nothing but good things to say, and it got me more and more excited to take this journey myself.
Before I knew it, I had arrived in London. On my second day, I woke at the crack of dawn, shoved a croissant down my throat (that sounds much more snobby than it actually was, I promise), and headed to the Eurostar. I sat at the station and took an exotic sip from my four-pound Starbucks coffee (pound as in monetary unit; the coffee was rather light), and looked around at this so-called café. The walls were covered in posters depicting French “culture,” like the famous Tournee du Chat Noir, and were cluttered with Parisian bric-a-brac. This was the vision of Paris I had always had.
I boarded the train and slept. Not important.
I arrived in the Gare du Nord station around 11 a.m. – that’s important.
I looked at the high ceilings and windows and sank into my shoes a bit. It was gorgeous. It was as if I had just stepped into a scene from the movie “Hugo.”
Upon leaving the station, we were confronted as soon as we hit the pavement by this huge “melting house” sculpture (don’t be fooled, it literally is a melting house) and the smell of urine. Uh … where are the cute eateries with the petite furniture and little forks and spoons? Nonexistent, in my sight at least.
We walked toward our hotel and were confronted by painted faces on the bricks, the hustle and bustle of the Parisians, quite an abundance of “adults only” shops (which really didn’t catch my eye until I nearly collided with a headless mannequin wearing almost nothing), and a stench. Is this Paris?
As I looked around, I could hear my mother, my friend’s mother, and her two kids talking. They either: a) had no clue where the hotel was. Or, b) thought they did and led us in the wrong direction.
Well, it was a search. There just happened to be about three other hotels with the same name. As we spun in (extremely unnecessary) circles around sketchy-town, the fear of being mugged raced through my brain. We eventually asked for directions from a woman seemingly on her way to work. She told us what obscurely named French street to go on, and there we went. We arrived at a rickety old bridge that we were pretty sure was a troll’s estate. Not good.
After crossing the bridge leading to what looked like the depths of hell, we were confronted by a nice, gray building with a sign that clearly read: Hotel. Now the only thing between us and sanctuary was the crosswalk. Mind you, about four large traffic cones were blocking us from entering, as well as cars roaring past every six seconds.
After our third taste of death for the day, we were at the door. The guy behind the reception desk (the only person in sight) looked at us peculiarly, and my mother asked, “Uh … you have security 24 hours a day, right?”
I noticed a small paper sign on the reception desk that read: Free Wi-Fi. I nearly cried. Now please understand, trying to find wireless Internet service in Europe is like playing a game of Where’s Waldo at age six – frustrating, and the goal is seemingly nonexistent. I inquired about the passcode for this free Wi-Fi, and my mom and the gang signed on perfectly. All was well.
Except for me. Mine was the only phone that rejected the code. I mean whatever, just a glitch, right? No.
While putting up a bit of a fuss in my Wi-Fi-less state, I walked to the sad excuse for an elevator. Now I was no longer part of “Hugo,” and rather stepping into the Wonka-vator. It was not nearly as spectacular as the one in the book, but I called it that due to the high probability of its crashing through the ceiling. I walked to my room through a dimly lit and narrow hall with an oaky color and the stench of stale cigarettes.
There she was. A bed. A television (small, of course). A window curtain that looked like one from a doctor’s clinic, and, of course, the true star of the day – a big, beautiful brown stain on the left side of the bed sheet. Welcome my friends, to the city of love, lights, and beauty.
My mom quickly flipped the blanket down over the sheet, and we checked out the balcony. This “balcony” extended out about a foot, had a lovely view of the hell bridge, the people on it, a dumpster, and incoming cars. And we can’t forget, the clear plastic cup of smoldering cigarette butts. Lovely, divine, luxurious Paris.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.