A Love Story: Hookers, rats and Two Miles on Foot through Paris at Night.

December 24, 2018

Paris at night, danger, safety
Paris at night - no one there!

It's a quarter to three in the middle of the night when my alarm starts ringing. It's my phone's normal wake-up melody, but it feels like someone is screaming "LAST CHRISTMAS!" into my ears. I scrape a load of sand from my burning eyes and switch the bedside lamp in my Airbnb on.  For a few seconds I'm totally blinded. I'm in Paris. Alone. Not not much longer.


My hopefully-soon-boyfriend from the United States arrives at Charles de Gaulle Airport at 7 a.m. and I want to surprise him. I made a silly poster and had planned on taking the metro to the central station to take a train to the airport at about 5 o'clock.
"Holy shit, five o'clock!" I think the night before, in great mental pain. This is in the middle of the night! Then I check on the metro timetables and see that the first subway does not leave from my Airbnb until 6 o'clock. Far too late to get to the airport in time. A taxi costs $55. Much too expensive. I'm sending my brain cells to a transformer station. Then a few fuses blow and out comes a completely crazy and cinematic plan.

2 miles walking - not a big deal!

Sleepless in Paris, lonelyroadlover
I am awake. Somehow.
Instead of getting depressed with French wine and canceling the whole surprise, I ask Google Maps. The app spits and chokes a little and finally tells me that it is 2 miles on foot and just over an hour from the Airbnb to the central station, where I can take a train to the airport at half past five.
I'm setting my alarm for 4 a.m. Then I look at the live flight tracker and discover that my hopefully-soon-boyfriend will arrive half an hour earlier than expected. So I have to take an earlier train. After further research, I finally set the alarm to a quarter to 3. When I am nuts anyway then I can also be completely nuts. You only live once - so love, laugh and follow your heart. Even through the dark night of Paris.
When I look into the mirror of the bathroom the next morning, I imagine for a second that I have shown myself the finger. Then I pack my poster, a sticky piece of currant loaf, a water bottle, my phone, my coat and go. Somewhere a church bell is ringing. It's three o'clock.

Paris at night: A ghost town

Sacre Coer, cathedral Paris
Paris at daylight - a little nicer and more colorful

The streets are drenched in dirty yellow artificial light. All the colors of the day have disappeared. At night, all cats are gray. It's as quiet as if I were on a cemetery. No car on the road. And it's awfully warm for a night in December. I stare at my phone and at the route maps.me has calculated. I have no idea which neighborhoods or streets I'll be walking, and I honestly don't care.


Then I see two guys talking on a street corner. I get a little nervous for a moment and walk faster. But then I find back to my fearless travel routine and walk along the deserted main street where neon-white Christmas decorations dangle silently from bare trees. Even though I have enough time, I walk hastily. I'm panicking about not catching the train and fucking up the surprise. After half a mile I have a burning thirst and I start to rummage aimlessly in my backpack looking for the survival bottle. I decide to drink while walking to save time and pour the cold water straight into my coat. Then I curse and choke loudly. That seemes to be my way of shouting "Hello here, I am!" for potential killers.

French conversations and a rat

Eiffel Tower Paris, sightseeing Paris, places to go in Paris
The Eiffel Tower - does not look very Roman

Nobody's out but me. And I mean: literally nobody! It's crazy. It's Paris. One of the largest cities in Europe. 3:17 a.m. on a Thursday morning and no soul is awake! I hear birds twittering and leaves rustle. Maybe it's just garbage flying around. The area is anything but picturesque right now. I stop at a red traffic light for and tear the scarf from my neck. How can it be so hot? I'm glad I didn't put on any more clothes. Then I'd be on the verge of just throwing them away.


A few minutes later I see another guy walking down the street in front of me. Then he suddenly turns around and sees me. He starts to talk in French and it sounds nice. Unfortunately, it's all Greek to me because I'd chosen Latin in school and the guy doesn't seem to be Julius Caesar by chance. I'm grinning stupidly which encourages him to talk more. But at some point, he gives up and just walks away. I definitely was more afraid of French than I was of that guy.

Suddenly a cat runs across the street. "Ooooh!" I say spontaneously because I love cats. Before I recognize that it's a pretty fat rat. Afterwards maps.me leads me to a fully sprayed bridge, where it smells wonderfully like piss.

desert environment at night in Paris

Gare du Nord, Paris, public transport to Charles de Gaulle Airport
Gare du Nord in the middle of the night

After another 1.5 miles I tear my coat off. My backpack is stuffed with all the warm winter clothes I took off and looks like I'm on a polar expedition. I still walk extremely fast and sweat like a beaver. Because I walk so fast. Because I'm excited. I've never surprised anyone like that before. And I've never invented such a stupid story to surprise anyone like that before: I told my hopefully-soon-boyfriend that I can't come to pick him up because the metro isn't running that early (hey, that at least was true!) and therefore the owner of our Airbnb will do us a favor and come to pick him by car after he is done with his night shift.

I also lied that the Airbnb guy is only able to speak German and French, but unfortunately no English at all. So my hopefully-soon-boyfriend cannot ask him any questions. And that's why I would have to take care of all the communication and he didn't have to worry about anything. Finally, I sent him a picture of the ex-boyfriend of my best friend whose German name is Matthias. With the comment: "That's Mathieu - he'll pick you up!"

Smile and wave at the drug lord

Gare du Nord at night, trains in Paris at night
4 o'clock at Gare du Nord

I grin because of the silly ingenuity of this plan. Then the silhouettes of three lightly dressed women appear on the roadside. There's still no car. The closed shops, cafés and offices stare at me with dark eyes. Right on a crosswalk a guy is walking towards me. He is decorated with a golden necklace and a glowing joint. I greet him kindly and continue walking without any further incident. This is my only real secret when I travel alone and walk at strange times in strange places: don't panic, just keep smiling and waving and walking. This works for ten years of traveling now and helped me to survive solo and night walks in cities like New York, Chicago, Marseille, Tokyo and Naples without any problems so far.


I now approach the central station. A few centuries too earily, of course. Suddenly a bike shoots past me. No big deal, I guess. However, the guy reappears after a few minutes to disappear and reappear. I almost hope he would offer me marijuana (in vain) and disappear finally. I don't panic, but it's not really funny either.

Finally at the station with horror visions and Oscar Wilde

Gare du Nord, Thalys, traveling with Thalys, trains in Paris
At Gare du Nord (the afternoon before)

Finally I enter the brightly lit concourse. It's a little after 4 o'clock. Only a lonely sweeper drives along the empty tracks where the crowds are going bonkers during the day. Ghost town Paris. I can't believe it.

I sit down on an uncomfortable block of wood and squeeze my last sweater in my full backpack. Compared to Paris in December, the Mojave Desert was an ice hole. My eyes are burning, my pulse is racing, and I'm gonna try to calm down. Suddenly the cyclist comes through the hall. The rubber of the tyres squeaks on the bare floor. I strain to look away, to keep my positivity and try not to think of any morbid movies. Then I slowly get my currant loaf out of my backpack and pinch my finger right into a mushy raisin. Half a minute later, my hands are completely sticky. Besides, I'm not hungry for this shit at all and I'm starting to freeze because I have sweated so much. I send voice messages to my best friend and take a stupid video of me to diffuse myself and create some memories that I can look at 50 years from now.


After wasting time fpr 40 minutes, the first train finally leaves for the airport. The journey takes almost 50 minutes and costs $12 one-way. You have to descend into the basement of the central station Gare du Nord and take the RER B. Pay attention to the right direction - northbound or southbound - so that you don't go to nirvana. But everything is well signposted. Even for funny people who don't speak a word of French.

At the track I discover that the train is not supposed to leave for another hour. What the fuck? A guy who looks a bit like a mixture of Oscar Wilde and hipster is just as confused and annoyed as me. He needs to catch a flight. I need to catch my surprise. I see at one glance that my problem is the more important one. Then more travelers appear on the scene. They start to discuss and point to the display. Once again I smile and nod, because apart from the Oscar-Wild-Hipster nobody speaks English. 

Unexpected help from a cleaner

RER B train to Charles de Gaulle Airport
Excited as a squirrel on the train

Suddenly a cleaner shows up and waves at us. He explains something and out of the blue everyone runs towards the escalator. Oscar Wilde makes me understand that the train leaves somewhere else today. I answer with an optimistic "Eeehm?!" and follow the group without a clue, while I have the feeling that my hands still stick terribly because of this shitty bread.

In fact, the train is going from a different track today! I throw myself on an empty seat, put my headphones on and listen to songs that my hopefully-soon-boyfriend and I listened to on our road trips across the US. I really would love to hang upside down from the silver handles of the train and scream.

The train chugs through the night for 50 minutes. Until it stops at Terminal 1, where the international flights arrive. The train station at Charles de Gaulle Airport captivates with its beautiful 1970s concrete. I rush into the lobby and find only departures but no arrivals. Then I ask a French woman who, of course, is not able to understand me one bit. But with gestures and faces I can explain that I am looking for the arrivals. Only ten minutes later I am standing in front of the gates in a white hall and take a look at the monitor every two seconds to check what is going on with that aircraft from Washington DC. It is flying, of course. What else?

All eyes on: me and my sign

United at the Airport of Paris
Finally found each other at the Airport of Paris
But before the plane from Washington arrives, three more planes from Asia are landing. My body calls for sleep but my mind dances polka. I get out my self-made cardboard sign with lovingly ironic nonsense written all over it and place myself between two serious looking business men in suits who hold up much smaller and less spectacular signs of their hotels and taxi services. While the first people stream out of the gate and stare at me, I get the feeling that I am doing something really crazy. A stewardess looks up, sees the sign, laughs heartily and moves on. The same happens some more times. I'm smiling nervously.

After endless minutes, my hopefully-soon-boyfriend finally shows up. Later he tells me that he tried to find the bearded and fully tattooed but non-existent Mathieu first. Then, however, he sees me instead. His eyes light up, I almost drop the poster and we finally are back together.
While I'm still wondering if we are just going to hug or whaaaaat, he simply kisses me.
There goes the hopefully-soon-boyfriend.
Now obviously boyfriend.
In the city of love.
Oh, life.
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