I’ve have been pretty hush hush about my time in Europe. While I was there, I wasn’t very inspired to write. Maybe I was still processing the events going on before me. Or, maybe, I just hold the events so close to my heart that I wasn’t ready to share them. But, three months later, I’m ready to start talking.
The Lead Up
Before I set out backpacking through Europe, I spent about a month staying with my aunt and uncle in their home on the outskirts of Boudreaux.
There was a question that had been on everyone’s mind since I had arrived in Bordeaux. Why wasn’t I jumping at the opportunity to get out and see Europe. Instead, I was sitting holed up in my family’s house doing the same things I would have been doing at home.
To be honest, it came down to fear. Though, I define myself as fairly independent, always insisting on dressing myself since I was two, going to sleep away camp at twelve, living at boarding school at fourteen, calling to make my own doctors appointments and showing up alone since I was sixteen. Except, before this opportunity, I had never experienced true freedom. Freedom without structure or reason. No one to answer to; no one relying on me; no place I needed to be. I had especially never experienced this in a place where English would not be everyone’s first language. And this fear of unkown freedom stopped me dead in my tracks.
Was I Adventurous Enough to Pull This Off?
I had thought of myself as adventurous, but would someone with this characteristic have been so apprehensive to set out into the unknown? I was starting to wonder if maybe I wasn’t as eager to jump into new situations as I had convinced myself in these past few years. Looking back at my life, specifically to my instincts when I was young, I realized I was a timid girl. I clung to my mother’s side in unfamiliar environments when I was young. I rarely was the first person to say hi when faced with someone new. I didn’t eat many different types of food. When learning to play sports, I wouldn’t make friends on the team or even participate really. I was an anxious kid who played it safe.
On the other hand, I am extroverted. Nevertheless, I tread lightly. I started to see as I holed up in my family’s house in Boudreaux that maybe my adventurous spirit was something learned. A survival mechanism I had created to keep up with the constant environment changes going on around me. From boarding school, to moving houses in my parents’ divorce, to college. I had learned to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. But it didn’t necessarily mean I was adventurous.
But, here was my opportunity. And if I had learned to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations, then I could do this. Even if I’m not as up for new as I had thought, I would figure out how to make myself comfortable in this very uncomfortable situation. That I could be sure of.
So, finally after more than a month of putting it off, I ventured out into the bizarre culture of Europe. My first stop was Paris.
Arriving in Paris
I had with me a little rolling suitcase my aunt had let me borrow, my backpack, and a Tupperware filled with homemade biscotti. The essentials.
The tone of my trip was set by my experience in the Gare du Nord. the train ride there was scenic and peaceful; however, as soon as I stepped onto the platform, it was chaos.
I had no idea which direction was the exit. So, I let the crowd take me. Three trains were arriving just as we were. There was a mad dash to the door.
People were everywhere, and I was along for the ride in the flow of traffic. I got shoved and jostled around, instinctively clutching my backpack, and checking my wheelie suitcase was still, in fact, behind me every so often. You know, just in case someone had come with a knife, cut the extendable handle, and walked off with my bag.
When I finally pulled off to the side of the crowd to catch my bearings, I realized I had no idea where I was going or how I’d even get there. And to make matters worse, I had no cellular data. I couldn’t simply pull out google maps and figure it out. Luckily, I found out there was free public WiFi at the station (God bless), so I found my hostel’s address and the metro route that accompanied. This was a piece of cake, I thought…until I got down to the metro station.
The Biscotti Showdown
As I went to buy my ticket, I realized I had no idea what type I needed to actually buy. The vacation pass? How many zones should I pay for? Should I get the three day or the week long pass? After a few minutes of contemplation and some heavy French sighs coming from the line forming behind me, I threw out the idea of the pass and instead bought a pack of ten tickets I’d keep in my pocket for the remainder of my time in Paris. Alright, smooth sailing from here. Until I got to that little place where you put your ticket
I know what you’re thinking; Ellie we get it you struggled. Or even, how the fuck do you mess up the ticket thing. Oooooh boy, well, let me just tell you.
Once I figured out how to put the ticket in (not the extent of my issues as some of you may have tried to predict) two little automatic glass doors opened to grant me entrance into the metro. The thing is, with my suitcase, backpack, and biscotti, I couldn’t quite fit through. I, personally blame the biscotti. I finally managed to get to the other side, with lots of banging and fumbling, causing many commuters to turn their heads and look at me to my dismay. But, at last, I was through! Paris, I have arrived! You don’t even know what’s about to hit you with Ms. Ellie on the scene.
I started to wheel away, but was stopped short. My wheelie suitcase was not obliging. When I turned around, I saw it had gotten wedged between the sliding doors in my struggle. Correction, Paris, I have almost arrived. Just wait a sec while I free up my bag…and then you won’t know what hit you.
I gave it a half-hearted yank or two, but it didn’t budge. I was wearing my wool sweater and a turtleneck; needless to say, I was sweating, quite a bit. People were looking. I was sweating more. I was holding up the line. People were now tapping their foot. God, how can one person even sweat this much? The Parisians’ noses were in the air. I wanted to scream “I KNOW! I KNOW! JUST GIVE ME A MINUTE. SORRY I’M A FUCKING TOURIST. CAN’T YOU TELL THIS IS A STRESSFUL SITUATION FOR ME. I COULD REALLY USE YOUR SUPPORT RIGHT NOW. OR MAYBE A HAND?!” But forgot all of my French. Probably for the best, on top of being a clumsy American, I didn’t want to be labeled as a loud, obnoxious, clumsy American.
Alright, Ellie, time to put your big girl pants and get out of this uncomfortable situation. In a moment of sheer determination, I put my biscotti down, placed both hands on the handle of the bag, leveraged a foot up on the metal divider–it was quite a look, I must tell you–and threw all of my body weight into pulling the bag out. Reluctantly it slowly wiggled its way out. Before I could register the click of the doors fully shutting and the “fwoop” of my bag, it was too late. I was shot backwards by my own momentum, splayed out in the middle of the entrance to the metro station at the Gare du Nord.
A few kind maternal women came rushing over to me.
“Ça va? Ça va?” they all asked as they tried to help me up.
“Oui. Oui. Ça va.” I responded standing up on my own. I forced a smile on my face, even threw in a chuckle or two. If you can’t laugh at yourself…am I right?
Once the women were convinced I was alright they dispersed, and I stood their dumbfounded with myself for a while. I almost walked right out of the metro station, up to the ticket kiosk, bought a return ticket, and went back to the safety of my aunt and uncle’s house. But…I had already paid for my hostile. I swear to you, that was the only thing that kept me moving forward.
With a sigh, I picked up my biscotti and turned towards the platform, doing my best to shake off the sheer mortification I had just faced. This was my announcement into Europe. I guess, I didn’t know what was going to hit me.
I threw the stupid biscotti in a trash bin at the platform and headed on my way to the hostile. Eager to get away from anyone who had witnessed the incident. Not long after arriving at my hostile would I learn that the biscotti incident is pretty low on my list of worrisome thing that will happen to me during my travels through Europe.