Quand on a peur, on doit travail.

In The Art of Travel Spring 2017, 11. Travails, Paris by ZoyaLeave a Comment

As someone who is frequently absent minded and possesses a hopelessly poor sense of direction, one can imagine how often I find myself in unfortunate situations. There’s been many times where I’ve lost my way down a seemingly simple and straightforward path. There’s been many times where I’ve taken the train going the opposite direction, realizing my mistake only after we’ve already stopped twice. I’ve left my pens, my books, my umbrellas, my phone in multiple various places around my own apartment or outside in public to where I eventually will return frantically searching for said objects. This has happened probably too often both in New York and in Paris. Most of the time thankfully, I am able to put checks on myself in order to prevent these faults from getting me into real trouble. Especially since I am abroad, I have been extra careful to not allow these things to get the better of my already vulnerable situation of being in a foreign city that speaks a foreign language. I try to place my wallet in the same spot in my apartment so that I know it would most likely be there if I ever have trouble re-locating it. I make sure to keep a list of  the things I’ve brought on a trip and triple check whenever I leave a location that I have no belongings left behind. To navigate, I look at maps very thoroughly once before leaving, and another while I am in transit so I can really understand whether it’s a left here or a right there. I also make sure to keep my valuables on the inside pocket of my coats or my purses under my jacket. That way, even if I am extra inattentive, pickpockets have a more difficult time simply pulling things out of my pocket. I anticipate my mistakes and prepare for them in the event that they appear. “Travail” is funnily enough, also a French word. It’s a conjugated form of “travailler” meaning simply both “to work” in the verb and noun sense. It makes that I would have to “travail” extra in order to prevent myself from finding myself in an unfortunate situation.

My biggest blunder by far, however, was actually a product of mostly deliberate planning, unlike my previous trials which were created from the pitfalls of my natural absent-mindedness. For spring break, I had planned to visit Amsterdam, Berlin and then Geneva. I traveled up to Amsterdam on a bus with three friends, where I spent the four days with them before we all traveled to Berlin together. After my time in Berlin, I would go on my own on to take train ride to Geneva. The train would be an unfortunate 14 hours of travel time from 6:00M to 7AM with 3 transfers. But I knew this beforehand. Why I did not realize what a poor idea this was at the time I booked it is beyond me. The only reasonable rationale was that it was slightly cheaper than a flight, and that airports stressed me out in general. What I didn’t anticipate was how taking a 14 hour train ride that had 3 transfers dead in the middle of the night, through empty train stations, in a country where I knew none of its language, would be significantly more stressful. Brilliant move on my part. The worst part of the journey was when I accidentally got off at the wrong station, hopping off at “Basel BBF” instead of “Basel SBB.” I realized my mistake too late, my train had already peeled off, and there I was stuck in a ghost town train station. It was large, but not populated with food chains and convenience stores like Penn Station, the only people besides me in the station were a few homeless people, one of whom began yelling at me. I looked at the train arrival schedule, but it was empty for the rest of night. My cell phone couldn’t reach reception. I felt like I was stuck in a nightmare I had as a child, I was stuck in a creepy dimly lit train station absolutely alone. I wanted to break down and panic, I could feel the fear coldly rising from my stomach to my throat. But I kept my head, moved away from the yelling man to consolidate a plan of asking two passersby.  Luckily, they were also passengers from the same train I had gotten off at, and informed me of my mistake in English. The station I was supposed to be at wasn’t very far, and I ended up taking a taxi to it to wait out my next transfer. In the end, it was certainly a scary situation, and please don’t book the same trip as I did, but managing to keep myself from panicking allowed me to figure the situation out faster than one thinks.

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