December 17, 2017

Night Train to Paris

As I prepare for my trip to Europe, I wanted to share this guest post with you.  Jesse Langley will transport you with him as he takes a night train to Paris!

The sun hung hot in the late afternoon sky and my clothing clung to me with varying degrees of dampness. Even my linen pants were moist. I had escaped the cold gray drizzle of Amsterdam the month before. After a detour into Germany to visit some old university buddies for a week I had continued south through France until arriving in Montpellier. Three weeks of studying French had given me a case of verb conjugation confusion and a serious addiction to mussels covered in stinky cheese. Besides, I had played hooky long enough and had some serious academic work cut out for me in Edinburgh. But Edinburgh wasn’t going anywhere any time soon and Paris was sort of on the way. Besides, not stopping in Paris when I was this close would be a crime.

 St-Clément Aqueduct Montpellier France

Montpellier Aqueduct by jparise, on Flickr

As I walked past the old Roman aqueduct under the load of my heavy backpack I stopped long enough to wipe sweat out of my eyes and admire the aqueduct’s engineering. I looked at the sturdy Roman lines and the pristine condition of the aqueduct and briefly wondered why we still have problems building sturdy roads in the states. I limped into the train station determined to never load so much into a backpack. I guess that’ll require a smaller backpack. The gendarmerie was trying to inconspicuously scan for suspicious passengers from the balcony in the train station but the German Shepherds kind of blew their cover. The French police don’t do inconspicuous well, but at least they’re better than the Italians.

I waited for the one o’clock to Paris in the shade of the station. When it pulled in and was ready for boarding I was the first one in. I had learned the hard way on the stretch from Cologne to Montpellier that stragglers with enormous backpacks will always suffer if the luggage rack in the corner of the train car gets full. There is no humanly possible way to stuff seventy-five pounds of pack in an overhead bin. I got my backpack securely stowed, found my seat and plugged in my headphones. As the train left the station Bob Dylan was mumbling his way through Stuck in Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again and Montpellier began to recede into the distance.

Eiffel Tower Paris France at sunrise

Eiffel Tower by Tristan Nitot

I fell asleep and when I woke the sun was hanging just over the mountains to the west painting the peaks in brilliant shades of oranges and pinks. I made my way to the bar car for a drink and sat near the bar sipping a glass of wine and watching the sun through the bar car window as it slowly sank below the mountains until they were silhouettes. I finished my wine and made my way back to my seat. The train car was quiet except for the soft snoring of passengers so I worked for a while with my dissertation on Joyces’s Ulysses until my eyelids got heavy again. I opened my eyes as the train began to slow coming into the Paris Gare du Nord station.

I collected my backpack and hailed a cab. The taxi driver’s English was actually worse than my French, and I was pleased that he understood the hotel directions I gave him on the first try. We chatted as much as my horrible French would allow until we got to the hotel. Upon arrival I paid him an extra four Euros for putting up with my mangled conjugations. The interior of the hotel lobby was high-ceilinged and airy. I waited while the young woman behind the counter checked my name against the reservations before producing a gigantic old fashioned skeleton key. I thanked her and headed for my room. Inside the hotel room large windows were open outwards and a light breeze blew softly and rustled the pulled back linen curtains. Just visible in the distance the Arc de Triomphe glowed against the night sky lit from underneath with spotlights.

Arc Triomphe Paris France at night

Arc Triomphe by Benh LIEU SONG

I took a quick hot shower and wiped the steam off the mirror for a quick shave. I rooted around in the backpack until I found a pair of linen pants with the fewest wrinkles. I put on a clean white oxford and stepped into a pair of bright red espadrilles. After a quick look in the mirror I wiped a wisp of shaving cream off my ear and put the skeleton key in my left pants pocket where I noted with disapproval that it caused the pocket to sag under its weight. I walked out past the check-in counter and noticed that the young woman who had given me my key had a pixie haircut and looked like a young Audrey Hepburn like so many French women do. I had a hankering for a croissant and a good cup of coffee, so I continued out the lobby into the balmy Paris night to look for a late night café and a conversation.


Ah Paris, Tell us about a favorite memory you have of Paris!


Jesse Langley lives near Chicago. He divides his time among work, writing and family life. He is an advocate for online education and has a keen interest in blogging and social media.

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  3. Anji says:

    One thing I truly look forward to when I visit Paris is having a nice warm nutella and banana crepe!

  4. Loved Paris and sitting at the Cafes watching people. Loved their Metro it was so easy to navigate. I liked the Safeness of Paris compared to all the American Cities I had been to.
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  5. Oh Paris! how I wish I can visit you one day!

  6. hannamay says:

    This is one of my dreams, to visit this such a great places..Thanks for sharing this wonderful pictures..
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  7. Laurel says:

    I’ve been to France, but not Paris yet. I’m fortunate that from where I live it’s only a 3 hour train ride.
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  8. i only visited paris very briefly, and for one reason only. to see the final stage of the tour de france. i loved it. the passion the parisians had for the event made it such an incredible experience.
    apart from that, just walking around the city was amazing. probably the best city walks ive ever experienced. cant wait to go back and do it properly!
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  9. Love these photos.

  10. I have been very priviledged to have spent a lot of time living and visiting Paris. I remember my first trip here 35 years ago sitting on the banks of the Seine River in the evening overlooking Notre Dame Cathedral with a bread roll stuffed with “frites” (potato fries)(the cheapest meal I could find!) and a bottle of red wine and a friend. It was so moving it almost brought me to tears – I still feel like that every time I am there, but you’ll be pleased my food selection has improved!!
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    • Debbie Beardsley says:

      That is a great memory, John! Personally, I see nothing wrong with frites and red wine sitting along the Seine 🙂

  11. I took a trip to Paris for 5 days, and I absolutely loved it. My favorite memory is going to a birthday party at a wine shop in the Latin Quarter. My friend and I had wandered into the stop to get a bottle of wine earlier in the day. We started talking with the guy working there, and he invited us to come back later that night. We drank incredible boutique red wines and champagnes, ate delicious gourmet foods, and chatted with some of the most interesting people I have ever met.

    Only in Paris 🙂
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  12. Sophie says:

    One of many fave Paris memories: Berthillon ice cream at Ile St Louis 🙂
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  13. Pola says:

    My favorite memory would have to be enjoying the perfect cup of coffee the first time I visited Paris… I tried to find the same coffee shop again on the next trip, but didn’t succeed. If it wasn’t for the pictures, I would believe it never existed and was simply a mirage.

    Also, as an avid soccer fan, I had a great time at Paris Saint-Germain match.

    • Debbie Beardsley says:

      That reminds me of my very first cup of coffee in Paris! Being 22 I was trying to be so cool when they asked if I wanted milk and I said no. Then was appalled when they brought me a cup of coffee that was only 1/2 full and the milk! One taste let me know just how un-cool I really was 🙂 Good memories!

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