My other half was doing a conference and I decided to go along for the ride, figuring it would be fun to be a tourist while he was in congress.
What I hadn’t banked on was the conference hotel being so far away from the main tourist drag. And since what I most love about city travel is the whole walking around piece, that felt like a major barrier.
In fact, on Saturday I let it be one. The rain was sleeting down, and so I hung around the hotel, using the gym in the morning and spending the afternoon catching up on reading and sleeping.
But on Sunday the sun was splitting the sky and I just had to go try do what I’d imagined I would.
The day turned out to be one of the best I’ve had for a long time, and I want to share with you what I learned along the way.
1. Have an ambition
I admit looking back that it felt a bit random and uncertain. But, heading out, I had the idea that I wanted to “do” the Eiffel Tower. I’d been to the tower before, but never gone up it. That emerged as my ambition.
I didn’t, however, make it a goal. Not in the sense that I’d go all out to achieve it. It was just what occurred to me as something that would be fun to do, and that would give a sense of purpose to my day out.
2. Be in action
On the Saturday, although I’d told myself I was resting, in fact that stagnancy made me feel a little bleuch.
Just getting in the hotel lift on the Sunday started to make me feel more energized.
I do think, when I asked her for directions to the tower, the lady concierge in the hotel was a little surprised when I said I wanted to walk, not take the Metro.
“But no-one walks,” she exclaimed.
“Well, I do,” I said.
It turned out that she herself loved walking everywhere and we got into a lovely engaged conversation about what was great to see around Paris on foot.
“So, I’m guessing you want a more scenic route,” she said.
“Yes please,” I said.
And the whole thing had just become an adventure.
3. Give yourself choices
Setting out, I took sufficient cash with me for what I imagined would be two cab rides. I wanted to walk. But I told myself I didn’t have to. And at any time, if I got tired or bored, or if it started raining again, I could just jump a taxi.
Knowing that at any point I had this safety next paradoxically made me less inclined to want to use it.
4. Risk looking like a fool
I think one of the things – other than the rain – that had stopped me the day before was this crazy fear I had of having to go communicate with people in French. Now, I did French to first year university level, but I can’t remember a word. Or so I told myself.
But by the Sunday, I’d reminded myself that, as we’re all connected, all I had to do was show up and trust the connection.
So, I spent the day talking in what my brother calls Franglais. It was clumsy, for sure. But no-one batted an eye-lid. And I managed to get what I want and navigate my way perfectly.
5. The map is never the territory
The concierge had highlighted which of the main roads I needed to walk along to move in the right direction for the tower.
After about half an hour of walking, I came to Montparnasse, where she had told me I’d need to pay attention to where I headed. At one point I was lost in trying to make my map correspond to the street signs, only to raise my head and have something luminous catch my eye.
I stood right where I was for a moment and just took it in.
6. Have the patience to wait
Patience was a huge theme last Sunday.
I had walked for at least an hour and a half and, traversing the Rue Saint-Germaine-des-Prés, I still couldn’t see the tower.
The map said it couldn’t be far off, but I couldn’t see it. I’d glimpsed it in the distance earlier when I’d walked through the Gardens of Luxembourg, but it seemed to be illusive.
I could have given up then, but I decided to take a break and see what I felt like afterwards. So I found a fabulous little street cafe to sit down at and have a coffee and a pastry.
When I got to the tower, after two hours of walking, the queues were horrendous and I almost decided that just getting there would be enough.
Again, I pulled on patience and got in line.
The whole tower experience took three further hours from beginning to end, with long waits for tickets, cable cars, and the ride to the summit. The wind was blowing a gale on the second floor, where I stood 45 minutes and wondered at times if I was losing my marbles. But, once I got to the top, the views of Paris on such a clear, clear day, were spectacular.
7. Not all “wrong turnings” are bad
Back on the ground, at around 4.30pm, I’m so elated with my day so far that I decide I’m going to walk back to the hotel. And, since I’m freezing and hungry, find a bar enroute. I fancy a beer.
But I take a wrong turn, and find myself wandering along a side street back towards Les Invalides. Where I spot a little bar that’s selling Vin Chaud, or mulled wine. That, not the beer, becomes the perfect thing.
I take a seat under one of the heaters and order. I’m in heaven.
8. Life’s a game. Play it.
Given that I’d gone a little off piste of my planned homeward route, I asked myself how hard it could be to figure out how to get a Metro back. I’d inferred from the conversation with the concierge that there was a station near the hotel.
But which one was it?
Right then something compelled me to turn my map over, where I found a metro map, with the station nearest the hotel circled in pen. The concierge had obviously marked it out when, in automatic pilot, she’d started to give me non-walking directions.
So, I found the nearest station to where I was at Les Invalides and asked for directions, again in best Franglais. The journey back required a train change, and of course I could get it wrong, but I was playing and I figured that if I got it wrong, I’d just start again.
As it turns out, it was fine.
I reflect how, so often, we can want things we do in life to be perfect. For our sense of direction to be sure. To have everything and all the skills in place.
On Sunday, I had none of that.
I had a bit of an idea, got started, and that snowballed into what became a real game.
Me against myself most of the time. But fun, nevertheless.
Sure, I fucked up a few times. Sure I got bored and impatient at others. Sure, I stumbled over my French.
Tell the truth, I might even have been a bit reluctant setting out.
But in the end, I just got such a kick out of the day!
Don’t you think life could be altogether so much fun if we treated it more in this kind of way?