Sometimes unexpected delays, translation-related gaffes, or going right when you meant to go left lead to the best stories when you’re on the road.
The first installation in the Serendipity & Slip-Ups Series is the story of how failing to research current events can lead to a near miss with the French police, some good old fashioned impromptu urban parkour, and the closest I’ll ever come to participating in the Tour de France.
It was a bright, cool morning in Paris.
My best friend Kirsten and I had been in the City of Light for about two weeks. Every day, we’d choose something to see and something to eat. That day we had chosen a leisurely-sounding Seine canal boat trip and a stop at Bertillon ice cream. A day full of sunshine and sweetness – what could go wrong?
It was early summer, teetering on the precipice of peak tourist season in Paris. We would be passing through the gorgeous Tuileries Gardens on the way to the river and we wanted to take some photos when there weren’t hordes of fellow Francophiles standing around gawking at the same things we were, so we left the AirBnB early to frolic in the gardens and do a little poking around.
Once we tired of chasing each other with our smartphone cameras, we tried to navigate out of the gardens and onto the riverbank to meet up with our boat. This is where things started to go a bit pear shaped.
There are several entrances to the Tuileries, but a 10-foot metal fence encloses the rest of the perimeter. We first tried to get back out of the gate we had initially entered through, but we found it had been closed. Undaunted, we tried the next gate. Also closed.
Confronting the cold, unyielding metal of the second closed gate, I felt my blood pressure rising a little. I’m kind of a stickler for punctuality – I was raised on the east coast of the United States and am therefore 100% Type A – and we were cutting it fine to catch our boat at that point.
At the third gate we came to, a guard strolled back and forth, twirling his baton. When I asked him in my (poorly accented) French how to get out of the garden, he pointed us back the way we’d come. We looked at him incredulously.
I was done asking for directions and wandering around aimlessly. After a brief huddle, Kirsten and I decided we were going to head in the general direction of the river and find our own way out. I completely failed to anticipate that path would lead us straight to the top of a 10-foot wall, at the bottom of which was a four-lane road.
During the entirety of this farcical process, I hadn’t thought to ask why the gates were closed in the first place since the Tuileries are public gardens.
The Tour de France was due to ride by them that afternoon, and the French authorities wanted to keep pedestrians and spectators along the sides of the course, not above it in the gardens. We were now staring down onto the road where the bikes would ride by, complete with metal fence barriers and banners galore.
We were also looking at a French police car about 100 yards up the road. The police officer to whom it belonged to seemed to be giving directions to some lost-looking tourists – luckily with his back to us.
Kirsten was wearing a dress and flats. I was in jeans and sandals. Based on my collective 2 months of indoor rock climbing experience, these were not exactly the best climbing clothes. We looked at each other, our palms pressed into the cool stone of the parapet.
I made a decision.
“Let’s go, now while he’s not looking. I’ll hop over first and help you down.”
I love my best friend for many reasons, but chief among them is that she’s always up for an adventure. She nodded gamely.
I swung one leg over the wall, keeping an eye on the cop in my peripheral vision while trying not to think about the drop. (10 feet doesn’t sound like much until it’s below you and you remember how soft and pillow-like concrete isn’t.)
Luckily the stones of the wall were large: there were two-inch gaps between them where the cement had been laid. Using these gaps as toeholds, I scrambled down the wall and dropped onto the sidewalk below. At that point I recommenced breathing.
Kirsten came next, carefully placing her feet and miraculously not scraping her knees. As soon as her feet touched the ground, I wordlessly grabbed her hand and we dodged around the metal barrier between the sidewalk and the street.
We were running full out across the course and had almost made it to the other side before the policeman noticed us. He shouted something I couldn’t hear or understand, but we were so close to freedom that we just ignored him and kept running. We bolted toward the stone steps leading from the road down to the riverbank.
That policeman must have been busy (or he figured two girls weren’t worth the trouble and/or paperwork), because he didn’t follow us. Winded, we slowed our pace to scout the water for our boat. Luckily, it had the name of the tour company painted grandly down the side in peeling red letters.
Still holding hands, we dashed onto the gently swaying deck just as the captain came out to unmoor the boat from the railing. We smiled at him sheepishly (a smile that he did not return – hey, we tried to be on time!) and took our seats, high-fiving each other.
The moral of this story is three-fold: Build in more time than you think you need to get places in foreign cities; keep abreast of any current events that involve barriers; and always wear sturdy shoes, even if the ones you actually want to wear are way prettier with your outfit. You never know when you’ll need the traction.
Did you enjoy this story? What about you – do you have a crazy travel-related tale to tell? Let me know in the comments!
Travel | Re-Pack | Repeat