The last day in Paris brought liberation for my little traveling band – liberation from the Texans, who went to Disneyland Paris, of all things to do (!), and from the very nice other groups, one of which had to leave early; the other chose to go to the beaches of Normandy. So much to do, so little time!
That’s one of the things that lead to Kim and I having a very wild night of our own. En masse, we’d taken a guided bus tour of the city and gone to Versailles; we spent the summer solstice at Montmartre and the Eiffel Tower, and ended that evening with a lovely boat ride down the Seine, followed by the runaway incident.
So having a day all to ourselves, with darling Kathy, our tour guide, was heaven. We took a leisurely morning stroll in the heart of the city, had leisurely cafes while people-watching and visited Notre Dame, all before lunch.
Place de la Hôtel de Ville, in the 4th arrondissement, is the city hall of Paris. We took lots of photos of the mammoth beauty.
Kitty and I had a salads and white wine for sisters-in-law near Notre Dame while Kim and Kathy took the kiddos to shop and eat fast food.
Kathy and Kitty chat outside Le Quasimodo, where Kitty and I had an adult lunch, while Kathy and Kim took the kids elsewhere in the vicinity.
Then it was off to the Louvre, where we must have set a record for speed – I could have spent days. That might have been the night we had some of the best pizza ever – Kathy made sure the vegetarian options were flying, so it was the best meal of the trip for me.
I’d be lying if I said I remember every detail (this was 2009), but this I know: Kitty and the kids were tired and Kim and I didn’t want Paris to end. We might have gotten all the way back to our hotel on the outskirts of town, the Mercure Fontenay Sous Bois, but we may have broken off from the group before getting all the way back to the boonies.
Kim? Do you remember?
What I do remember is the worried look that flitted across Kathy’s face when we assured her that of course we could find our way back from Notre Dame, where we’d decided to return to buy some art prints we didn’t get earlier (a semi-flimsy excuse for roaming Paris at dusk). After all, we were big girls (who spoke no French to speak of and understood very little), and we had our slips of paper with the hotel name and address on them in case of emergency.
Anyway, we returned to this gloriously beautiful metro station
Our illusive station (whose name escapes me) – outstanding but much harder to find in the dark.
and hoofed it, hurrying, yet stopping to take photos and take in the early evening beauty along the way.
Place de la Hôtel de Ville by night is breathtaking – and served as a marker that we were on the correct route.
Summer days are deceptively long in Paris, so we really didn’t realize how late it was getting. But when we got near Notre Dame, all the little shops were closed. Oh, well. We were having fun.
Then, with the flip of an astronomical switch, it was dark.
Night arrives with a thud of brightly lit darkness in the center of Paris.
Dark. But beautiful, if a bit confusing.
One of the lovely things we saw as we circled and circled our metro station. Couldn’t say what it’s called.
OK, a lot confusing. Before long, we realized we were going in circles, so we started stopping to ask for directions. Which was a bit of a joke, since Kim and I both tend to glaze over at directions in English, much less French, and both have trouble remembering right from left, especially under pressure.
We managed to keep laughing, though part of my laughing was caused by sweet, sweet Kim’s cursing every time we realized we were passing something we’d already seen. We’re both grandmothers, so I’ll spare you the word (but it was the grandaddy of swear words, used like a champ over and over and over).
Then, of course, there it was, our station. We flew down the escalators and to a ticket window where we showed our slips of paper and a woman traded us tickets for euros. But we couldn’t understand a word she said about which train to take, so once again we had to ask for directions.
The station was still very crowded and people seemed to be hurrying more than usual, but I spotted a man I just knew spoke English.
“That guy,” I told Kim, “is Swiss. Maybe German, but he speaks English. I can tell.”
He was talking to another man when we approached them, and the Swiss man (yes, he was), who turned out to be Dominick, looked less than pleased and didn’t say anything at first when I asked him if he spoke English.
Then he took a deep breath and asked how he could help us. We showed him our handy slips of paper. “That’s my train,” he told us.”I’d be pleased to accompany you.”
We had the nicest visit on our ride – turns out Dominick worked for Otis Elevator’s international division – Otis Elevator, which has a division in Little Rock – and he told us our husbands were lucky men.
He got off a few stops before we did but made sure we knew which stop to listen for, and when we reached it, we got off. It was after midnight by then, and, though we didn’t recognize anything, we were sure we were just at a different end of the station, so we left it and turned in the direction we thought was toward our hotel.
Nothing looked familiar and we soon realized that was because we were in a residential neighborhood. Kim’s cursing took on a new vengeance. We turned back toward the station, passing a late-night construction crew who, after looking at us incredulously, managed to convey that they didn’t consider us safe and suggested we hurry.
We made it back to the station where we finally found someone who worked there – no commuters or tourists were in sight – who could understand us. He talked to someone else and they finally decided the best thing for us to do was to go outside, sit on a bench and wait on a bus, which might come by sometime in the next couple of hours. Taking the train back would be too complicated for us, he said, plus the trains stop running around 1 a.m.
WHAT?! Now we were scared. We went and sat on the forsaken little bench for what seemed like an eternity, holding our breath every time a car slowly passed us by. Finally we decided to take our chances on a train before it was too late to catch one at all and were running to the turnstile when we heard someone politely yelling, “Ladies. Ladies!”
But we didn’t stop until the voice thundered, “LAURA!”
What the … we quickly turned around to see lovely, bald Dominick running toward us. He told us he realized our addresses were wrong – seems the hotel had printed south instead of north or east instead of west – whatever – so he knew we hadn’t gotten to our hotel and was worried about us.
When he got home, he grabbed his car, a white Volvo station wagon, and came to retrieve us, if he could manage to find us.
If we would be so kind as to allow him, he told us, he would like to drive us back to our hotel to make sure we got there safely.
We accepted, dubbing him St. Dominick.
The only photo we have of our hero is this one Kim took from the back seat.
When we pulled up in front of the hotel lobby it was nearly 2 a.m.; all the kids from the greater tour group were hanging out for the last night, and Kathy sat in a chair looking weary.
They looked shocked to see us and doubly shocked when we both hugged our saint and Kim kissed him on the cheek. We didn’t even get his last name.
When we came through the doors, Kim’s daughter, Allison, looked shocked.
“Mom! Why did you kiss that cab driver?!”
We gave an abbreviated explanation and apologized to Kathy, who’d been very worried and was waiting up on us.
The next morning, we left for home. We’ve never tracked down Dominick to thank him properly, though I did try, even calling Otis Worldwide. But somewhere out there is a Swiss angel in a white Volvo.
Thank you, thank you, St. Dominick.
Kim and I were tired but happy to be back with the group for breakfast on our last day.