It's a quarter to three in the middle of the night when my phone starts to ring. It's my normal wake-up melody, but it feels like someone is screaming "LAST CHRISTMAS!" right
next to my ear. I scrape a load of gravel from my burning eyes and switch on the bedside lamp in the Airbnb, which blinds me briefly. I'm in Paris. Alone. So
far. My friend from the States will arrive at Charles de Gaulle Airport at 7 a.m. and I will surprise him there. I made a crazy poster and was planning on taking the metro to the
main station and then the train to the airport at about 5 o'clock.
"Holy moly, five o'clock!" I think the night before, in great mental pain. 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. Much too late. A taxi costs $55. Much too unresonably 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.
The streets are bathed in dirty yellow light. All the colors of the day have disappeared. At night, all cats are gray. It's quiet like on a cemetery. No car on the road. And it's awfully warm for a night in December. I stare into my phone and at the route maps.me has calculated for me. I have no idea which neighborhoods I'm walking through, and I don't care. Cause I have no idea who I am or what I'm doing right now.
Two guys talk on a street corner. I get a little restless 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 dishwater 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.
Nobody's on the road but me. And I mean: literally nobody! It's crazy. It's Paris. One of the largest capitals in Europe. 3:17 a.m. on a Thursday morning and no ass is awake! I hear birds twittering and leaves rustle. Maybe it's just garbage flying around. Because the area is anything but picturesque right now. I stop at a red traffic light 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.
Some minutes later I see a guy walking down the street a few feet 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 what 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.
After another 1,5 miles I also tear my coat off and my backpack looks like I was on a polar expedition. I still walk extremely fast and sweat like a beaver. Because I walk so fast. And because I'm excited. I've never surprised anyone like that at an airport before. And I've never invented such a stupid story to surprise anyone before: I told my friend 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 the Airbnb will come to pick him by car.
I also lied that the Airbnb guy is only able to speak German and French, but unfortunately no English at all. And that's why I would have to take care of everything and my friend doesn't have to worry about anything. Finally, I sent him a picture of an ex-boyfriend of a friend whose German name is Matthias. With the comment: "That's Mathieu - he'll pick you up!"
I grin because of the evil 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. He probably is the boss of the women's group. I greet him kindly and continue walking without any further incident. This usually is my only secret when I travel alone and walk at strange times in strange places: smiling and waving. Already works since ten years and helped me to survive 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 I enter the brightly lit concourse. It's a little bit after 4 o'clock. Only a lonely sweeper drives along the empty tracks where the crowds are going mad during the day.
Ghost town Paris. I can't believe it.
I sit down on an uncomfortable block of wood and throw my last sweater away. Compared to Paris in December, the Mojave Desert was an ice hole. My eyes are burning, my pulse is chasing, 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 strained look away and try not to think about morbid movies. Then I slowly get my currant loaf out of my backpack and grab right into a slippery 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. I send voice messages to my best friend and take a stupid video of me to diffuse myself.
After freezing my ass off for 40 minutes in my sweaty clothes, the first regional 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 first 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 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.
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 the shitty bread.
In fact, the train is on a different track today! I throw myself on an empty seat, put my headphones on and listen to songs that my friend 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 monumental 70s 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?