For my travel dollar, it doesn’t get much better than a trip to Paris in the fall. The weather is cool and the locals are out in droves to enjoy the final days of the pleasant weather. The cafes are vibrant and the mood is celebratory. A casual stroll along the Seine from the Bastille to the Eiffel Tower will plunge you into a world where paintings come to life.
That is, of course, unless you are deathly ill and all alone as I had the misfortune of being last September.
Caught in the unrelenting grip of a raging head-cold, I found enjoyment to be quite elusive. Not surprisingly, the Mona Lisa is just a bit less enchanting when your head is throbbing like it’s locked in a vice and people are staring at you in disgust as you sniffle your way through an otherwise awe-inspiring venue.
I really did give it the old college try, visiting as many of the sites as I could. However, contrary to the haughty proclamations of nearly every Parisian that I encountered, drinking copious amounts of red wine hadn’t conquered my illness. Who would have thought!?!
My next stop was Rome where I had high hopes that the invigorating heat would shake off the shackles of my sickness. My train couldn’t arrive at the station soon enough.
I boarded the train, but I had made a seriously rookie mistake. I opted for the cheaper, unreserved train seat. It was an overnight trip on a Tuesday. How crowded could it possibly be, right? Oh, how wrong I was. Have you ever seen a picture of train travel in India where the trains are so densely packed that a large contingent of travelers actually ride whilst hanging off the side? Well, my train was like that, except nobody was allowed to hang off the side, they were all forced inside. Lovely!
As I was herded by the crowd to my final destination in a hallway between the luxurious sleeper cars, I looked with horror at the only available “seat”; a one by one foot piece of plastic that folded down from the wall at a “comfortable” 90 degree angle. At least I could work on my posture! My legs ached immediately upon sitting. It was as if I was being folded into some sort of Satanic Yoga position. I remember thinking, “well, at least I only have 16 more hours until I arrive in Rome”…ugh.
Eight hours into my agonizing journey of tears, I experienced a miracle. A familiar face was walking toward my seat of horror. One of my best girl friends from college! I can’t be sure if it was real or a side-effect of a massive Sudafed overdose, but I’m fairly certain there was a halo hovering just above her angelic head.
She said, “What are you doing out here? You look terrible. Are you dying? We have an extra bed in our sleeping car that nobody’s using. Do you want it?”
I almost cried. No, actually I did cry. I shambled after her, blubbering incoherent statements of gratitude. As soon as we entered her sleeping car, I collapsed onto the nearest open bed.
As I drifted into blissful sleep, I couldn’t help but think. “If only I had known she was here eight hours ago!”