It was 6:30 in the morning and we had a train to catch. My group piled onto the bus outside of our hotel in London and we took our last looks at our first city abroad. We were dropped off at one of London’s cornerstones: Kings Cross Station. It was enormous. It was exactly like an airport but flat, which was unexpected. This would be the first train ride I’d ever taken.
We had about three hours to kill once we’d gotten to the station and past security. Dounia and I explored all the shops and went up and down and around the station while we killed time. I exchanged my pounds into euros, not caring about the exchange rate. I didn’t want to run around in our first non-English-speaking country with no money.
Our train arrived and I boarded, towing my suitcase, my new copy of The Hobbit, and my travel journal. My heart was beating and I kept poking Dounia, telling her how excited I was for my first train ride. She rolled her eyes at me but grinned. She reminded me that we’d be underground for a majority of the time. I didn’t care. An underground train?????? How could this get any cooler?!
A Trip Underground
We settled into our seats. There were four of them facing one another, with a table in the middle. I gave Dounia the window seat because she’s a lot shorter than I am and I could easily peer over her shoulder. The conductor called “All aboard,” And we were off!
The train quickly dove its way underneath the English Channel, and the windows showed nothing but black. I still thought it was cool that we were underground, but it was a little dull to do nothing but stare into a blank window for the hours-long train ride we had before us. I spent a good portion of it reading and writing about the rest of my London adventures in my travel journal.
Behind us was the bar cart. As the train ride went on, more and more people collected in it. By the time we emerged from underneath the Channel, there was a regular party happening behind us! Bill passed by me with a can of olives and a slice of a baguette. I raised my eyebrows and asked. He pointed at the amassing French party behind us.
I slipped back and grabbed my olives. I tried to listen in on the French conversations that surrounded me, but my two college classes of French left me ill-prepared. I was a little disappointed but happily returned to my seat to snack.
Arriving in Paris
After watching rolling hills dotted with sheep, we finally arrived in Paris. Nikos told us that the railroad workers were striking and that traffic was blocked all around the station. We were going to have to walk a few blocks to our bus.
Once we shuffled on, our Parisian tour guide introduced herself as we drove around the city. She apologized for the strike, telling us that striking was Parisian’s favorite pastime. We quickly stopped at the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. We finished our tour at a popular city garden. Afterward, we got back onto our bus and we were driven to the northern part of Paris to our first hostel of the trip.
One Key, One Bathroom, Six Girls
Our hostel was three floors with one elevator (the tiniest I’ve ever seen). Nikos explained to us that the hostel only had one key per room, so if we all left, we should leave the key in the lobby. Dounia and I were assigned to a room on the third floor with four other girls. There was a pigeon plucking its way across our open window when we arrived.
There were three bunk beds in our mid-sized room. Fortunately, each bunk space had an outlet so each visitor could conveniently charge their devices. I still didn’t know many of our group members, and I don’t remember specifically who I shared the room with. I do remember that we were all starving and cranky. We immediately left to go find a place to eat.
After wandering around the streets of suburban northern Paris, we finally settled on a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop. Everyone attempted ordering through gesturing and pointing. I went last, and I got to try ordering in French for the first time! I think the shopkeeper seemed relieved, but I could just be inflating my own ego!
We quickly ran back to the hotel to prepare for the evening’s activities, which I’ll talk about in my next post!