I haven’t traveled in ages, and I’ve never traveled by myself. To be honest, since I live alone, traveling alone has never held much interest for me – what’s the advantage of being alone, but just in a different part of the world? Where I don’t know a soul. Where my phone doesn’t work, where I don’t speak the language and can’t even communicate to a taxi driver (if I can find one), where I’ll never run into a friend on the street… But since the death of my mother, a great lover of life (and an intrepid traveler), it’s occurred to me that if I don’t do it now I will never do it. The perfect traveling companion may one day appear but meanwhile, time is passing. So what are my choices?
Lucky for me I have a great friend, Deborah Lesser*, who is also a travel agent (wow, what are the odds?)! I decide to put myself in her capable hands and she books: a group biking tour with Back Roads through the Loire Valley, a 5-day stop-over on London (I have friends there), and - something I have dreamed about for 10 years at least - 5 days at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (a total unknown).
Deborah has the good sense to suggest I arrive in France a day early to give myself a day to adjust. A fine idea, but it doesn't address my bigger concerns: what if I miss my connections? What if my luggage gets lost? What if I leave my passport somewhere? What if…I may be traveling in Europe, but I’m a New Yorker at heart. Anxiety is part of our DNA.
As it turns out, some of my anxieties have merit. Getting to Newark is a nightmare. The Airporter at the Port Authority is stuck in Friday traffic, and the line stands there helpless while the stoplights change but the traffic doesn't, the clock ticking away precious minutes from our the security check. At the last minute, another passenger and I decide to make a run for the train to the plane from Penn Station. Hauling our luggage against an oncoming tide of rush-hour crowds, we flail our way to 34th St. From the train, we can see the NJ highway at a total stand-still; we made the right choice. One mono-rail ride later, I make it to the terminal just in time.
The flight is bumpy, the landing perfect. My first task after arrival at DeGaulle Airport: find my way to the TGV bullet train to take me out to St. Pierre des Corps. “Don’t worry,” Deborah assures me, “Everybody speaks English.”
But knowing I can't go back now, this simple task fills me with such anxiety, I actually have vertigo upon arrival - even the jetway seems to be moving under my feet!
DeGaulle Airport is not a good place to have vertigo:
From there, I navigate a French ticketing machine for a ticket on the TGV Bullet Train and, disoriented and somewhat sleep-deprived (sleeping on a plane? Fugeddaboudit), follow signs to the monorail, which lands me in the TGV station. It is hot and humid, but the station is beautiful.
When I get up my nerve to ask a passerby (in my best FrEnglish) where the taxis are, I am pointed to a taxi stand right under my nose. I give the driver my address and map, and he points out that my map is from the Tours station, not St. Pierre des Corps (you may have spotted this). This is not Deborah's fault. I'm the one who downloaded this map; but I see the mix-up - St. Pierre des Corps is where I’m to meet the Back Roads group tomorrow. No wonder I couldn’t find those streets! But Tours is not far away, and he drives me there.
I finally arrive at my hotel, Hotel L’Adresse (that’s the name of the owner) right in the middle of the older part of the city, very picturesque and sweet.
My room is not quite ready, and the hotelier has given me a map, so I go for a walk, navigating through the twisted and beautiful streets of Tours and see:
And even in a city this size, the public transportation is good. Check out this tram – it’s brand new.
On the City streets, I'm encouraged to see The International Sign for Bike Lane:
I get back to my little attic room in which not a molecule is stirring (heat rises), and now cannot get the AC to work. The hotel says it is open until 10pm, but by 9:30 they have closed up shop. I panic. I know there is no way I can sleep in this hot and confined room and picture my first day with Back Roads too exhausted to ride and getting sick. I open the window. Nothing. Not knowing how to contact management, I frantically text Deborah in the US (I’ve configured my phone to be able to do this, and hope it will work). She picks right up.
And here’s where having a travel agent makes all the difference. She finds the hotelier, tells him the problem, and he shows up 10 minutes later with apologies. He can’t get the AC to work either, but scours every hotel in Tours for a fan. Twenty minutes later, he returns with more apologies and a greasy but gloriously effective kitchen fan. It’s making all the difference. I will sleep and be rested for my first leg of biking tomorrow. Hooray, Deborah saves the day!!
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*Deborah S.K. Lesser
1525 Hamilton Ave
Waterbury, CT 06706
SKYPE: Deborah S.K. Lesser