So, there I was, stranded at the airport in New York, having missed the flight to Frankfurt. (See last episode.)
It was a Friday afternoon, and I was supposed to be home by Sunday, so I could prepare for the coming week. At that time, I was still working as a busy lawyer, which limited my spontaneity for long-distance travel tremendously. (A year and another missed return flight later, I would therefore terminate this self-exploitation, but that’s another story.)
The woman from United Airlines who had foiled my plans promptly made up for it: “The next flight to Frankfurt doesn’t leave until tomorrow. If we find an open seat on another flight to Europe today, would that be of any help to you?”
“Oh yes!”, I replied, delighted about the idea. Once in Europe, I would be able to get home or to the office from any place by train, a much more flexible means of transport, going once every hour.
She typed a bit into her computer (those were already widely used at the time) and read out the results of the research.
“So, tonight we still have seats available to Barcelona, London and Paris.”
Barcelona I already knew.
London I knew even better.
Paris I had never been to.
“Then I’ll fly to Paris,” I decided, barely able to conceal my joy at this unexpected turn of events.
I had to pay a $100 rebooking fee, and the next morning I was in Paris. Without a guidebook, without a map, without a hotel, without much French. (An attempt to brush up on it had once failed miserably.)
If fate took me to Paris, I might as well stay for a day, I thought to myself. So I took the metro to somewhere that looked like the city center on the metro map, got off, looked around, and decided it was fine. I went to the first hotel and asked if they had a room for one night. “Oui, monsieur.” They had a map of the city, too.
That’s how people used to travel, without internet or GPS. Somehow, it was more fun.
I was ambulating aimlessly until I came to a river. It was the Seine. That was a good sign. I walked along the right bank until I came to a bridge. Then I crossed the bridge and continued on the left bank. Until the next bridge. And so on.
There were many bridges. And from each one, the view was great.
The tourists were not as annoying back then as they are today. People took less pictures, because there was no Instagraph and such. One simply enjoyed oneself. I did the same.
In the gardens of Trocadéro, I could finally tell where I was by looking at the city map. Because on the other side of the river, there was the Eiffel Tower.
I walked a bit further, to the Arc de Triomphe, but really looking for a baguette, and then back to the Eiffel Tower. The queue for climbing the rickety steel scaffolding was long, so I forewent the fear of heights. Instead, I laid down in the warm summer meadow on Mars Field, enjoying a baguette and a book.
From French class, which had always been a France class too, came memories of sights I could visit: Montmartre, Louvre, Notre-Dame, DGSE, Dôme des Invalides, Centre Pompidou.
But I treat places with respect, just as I treat people. And respect demands that one brings the necessary time for a visit. I didn’t have that. Paris is a city where you need two or three weeks. For an initial overview. So I didn’t even start to scratch the surface, but rather remained on Mars Field all day, gazing at the sun, at the tower, and into the sky.