When I was 21 I decided to backpack Europe.
It would be my first time there. My whole life I’d had romantic ideas of France, Italy, and Spain, dreaming of the food, the sights, and the accents. I had everything planned to the last second, and all documents printed and meticulously folded in my Mimco travel wallet. I had given myself an hour between landing in Paris and catching my train to Lyon where I would meet my friend at her apartment. On the 32-hour flight I applauded myself on how bohemian I was, so cultured, so independent… Germaine Greer would be so proud!
When I stepped off the plane I was immediately struck with the fact I had no idea where I was going, so I followed the crowd. This wasn’t Melbourne airport that I knew in my sleep. The crowds successfully led me to the bag drop-off, nailed it, “but now what?” I asked myself. I couldn’t understand the signs, and when I approached strangers they shied away and ignored me; “did they think I was begging for money?” I thought. Perhaps Parisians don’t like strangers, not like Australians. I finally cornered someone in uniform, a lady, friendly enough, humouring me perhaps, who hardly spoke English. I was able to extract from her to go straight then left. No train. I tackled another and squeezed out directions: “straight ahead and left”. No train. I started to wonder if this was a generally accepted decoy used to get rid of tourists.
I went back to the bag drop and found the original woman and forced more directions out of her. At that point I was acutely aware of my train’s nearing departure and panic ensued. Uniformed lady gave me different directions this time, so I sternly asked for confirmation and she repeated herself, I trusted, I found the train, and leaped on before the doors closed, dripping with sweat and moaning with the effort.
I looked behind me to see a well dressed, middle-aged French woman, taking offense to my giant Osprey backpack, even though a step forward into the endless space in front of her would solve her problem. “Sorry” I panted, as I began to remove it from my drenched back. “Attention! Attention!” she cried again, still refusing to move. “Welcome to Paris” I thought.