Luckily our room was ready soon after we arrived in Paris after our miserable overnight train from Milan (details from the ordeal are below) for a much needed shower. The hotel was everything I’d dreamed of a Parisan hotel being complete with windows that opened onto the most charming neighborhood. If you go to Paris, I can’t recommend the Hotel Relais St. Germain. The staff were all amazing, the restaurant is run by a celebrity chef who creates a new cutting edge menu every night, and it is in the most beautiful neighborhood (in my opinion) in Paris. This isn’t sponsored, it just really is that perfect!
Sometimes you win at travel, sometimes its a fail. Most of our travels are wins, but every now and then you have to share a horror story, right? From Milan, we took an overnight train into Paris. Sounds like a great idea doesn’t it? Save money on a hotel & wake up at our destination! The Milan train station was simply gorgeous. We enjoyed a dinner of a super fresh pasta (as in we saw them making the pasta and picking fresh basil leaves for the sauce) while we waited optimistically for our midnight train. All of the trains lined up in the station were clean, gleaming, beautiful trains, but ours was coming from Venice. The first sign of trouble came as it screeched its way into the station. I went to Europe with my mom & traveled by train 18 years ago. I’m pretty sure this was the same train just with double the number of beds stuffed into the same space. It was covered in graffiti, dirty, & filled to the brim with sweaty people hanging out of the windows. We had a hard time finding our car & our room because the graffiti covered almost every inch of the train. The clientele on the train matched the train & I found myself wondering if it was an option to just get off the train.
Unfortunately, once we’d gotten on we were pinned inside with no way of moving. We eventually figured out where to go only to discover our bunk locked & after much pounding answered by a family wearing nothing but underwear. They moved their belongings off the bottom bunk & motioned for us to crawl in. The distance between my face and the bunk above me was less than four inches. I was feeling insanely claustrophobic & uncomfortable touching anything. Bay Area friends, to offer a comparison, I’d be more comfortable laying down on a Bart bench and touching it with my face. That’s right…I said it! The family we were sharing with dead bolted the door behind us as soon as we got in & closed the curtains quickly. I wasn’t sure whether I should be relieved because they were being cautious or concerned at their level of unease with the train as well. The whole situation was compounded by the fact that despite the chilly air outside, it was over 100 degrees inside our car. Everyone was literally dripping with sweat.
I popped a couple of Tylenol pm’s just to help calm my anxiety, propped by head on my airline pillow (which I left in its case), & tried my best to not think about the dirty bunk right in my face as the train lurched away from the station. I calmed down a little bit as the train chugged along and the cool air trickled in from the tiny window….until we stopped. It was pitch black outside & we were in Switzerland! An armed guard came around, shone a flashlight in each persons face with one hand on his gun until each of us handed over our passports. Without a word, he disappeared. We were stopped for hours & the air was stifling. The mother of the French family & I staggered out into the little walkway and hung halfway out of the windows just breathing in the cool air. In the dark, you could just barely see the outline of the Alps looming right next to us. Armed guards roamed the deserted platform to make sure no one got off. I got the distinct impression that there were some people whose passport did not pass inspection. We were all relieved when the train started rolling again & a conductor returned out passports. When we reached our hotel in Paris, I threw the socks I’d been wearing on the train immediately into the trash, stuffed my clothes into a tightly tied plastic bag, and jumped in the shower. They didn’t get worn again and several rounds in the washing machine at home! We booked an extra night in Paris & an 5am flight back rather than getting on the train again. SO worth it!
Wandering the Streets of Paris
First order of business was to flex my high school French skills at lunch at the famous Les Duex Magots, where Sartre, Picasso, and Hemingway used to spend hours. We then wandered the St. Germain district looking at the shops until we stumbled up the famous Pierre Herme bakery. We bought as many macarons as possible & took them to the nearby Luxembourg Gardens to savor in the sunshine. Sitting beside the reflection pool in the Luxembourg Garden while savoring some of the best macarons in the world was probably one of my favorite moments in Paris.
Do you have a travel horror story? I’d love to hear about it!