It’s six PM, our last evening in Paris. We’ve loved it all, but are museumed out, for this trip anyway. We’ve seen pretty much everything that we’d hoped to see in these four days, and a lot more. We loved Paris, of course––who doesn’t? The Louvre––a building so beautiful that it would be worth seeing even if it didn’t contain one piece of art––and d’Orsay, and Rodin, and streets filled with wonderful architecture. The whole city left us in awe.
Along with our museum pass we purchased a “hop on-hop off“ type bus pass, thinking we could use it to go quickly from one attraction to another. That was a mistake we now know––we’d walked everywhere. But still, we’re holding this L’Open Tour pass, and we might as well use it. We’re standing at a “combo” stop that serves both the blue and the yellow lines. We haven’t seen the yellow route yet, so if a bus comes, we’ll get on.
We wait and wait. No bus.
Irv passes the time by looking at cheap knick-knacks in a nearby souvenir shop. He comes out carrying a bag, and unwraps a big mug with a picture of Mona Lisa on the side. He explains that he had to buy it because when he turned it over to look at the price, an unattached spoon that went with the mug fell and broke.
“It’s ugly,” I say, “and besides it’s getting late. Let’s just go.” We start walking back to our hotel, which is convenient to everything. Then, when we are a half block away, the yellow bus comes. We run back and jump on. We’ll ride one last loop and look out at the city.
The bus stops at the Eiffel Tower, where the driver tells us to get off. It is the end of his day; he assures us that another bus will be along shortly.
We wait again. Before too long another bus appears, and everyone crowds on. We never do see the rest of the route because this driver steers the over-filled L’Open bus directly to the company’s main office. Those of us wearing headsets hear the tape repeat several times, “The tour is ending. There will not be another bus. The tour is ending.” Could this be? Yes, they had told us that the tours end at 7PM but if we are already on the bus, can’t we get back to where we started?
At the main stop, which happens to be at the farthest point from our hotel, we all file off. The driver takes off, in a hurry to avoid any complaints. We go into the office, where a few ticket sellers remain. “No, the tours are done for the day. There will be no more buses.” One woman plans to wait there to file an official complaint, says that the drivers should have given an indication. I agree with that. A group of Germans are irate, exclaiming in words that need no translation. All of us former passengers are upset, but I see no employee willing to write down a complaint.
Finally I approach the desk and ask a young woman, “How do we get back to Notre Dame?”
“Walk to the corner. The 27 bus takes you right there. Two Euros a person.”
We wait at the corner with Parisians on their way home from work. Finally a 27 bus comes around the corner, heads toward the stop but doesn’t stop. It keeps going. One young man runs after it, and we run after him. At the stoplight he manages a few words with the driver, then comes back and says something in French. In response to our blank looks, he offers, haltingly, “Another one will come. Soon.” We wait some more.
Irv and l look at our change––we have one 2-Euro coin, and a handful of small coins that equal 2 Euros. We wish we had bought a set of tickets for the bus and subway system, but maybe our coins will work. When the next 27 bus comes, the locals board at the back door and Irv and I get on at the front. I place my 2-Euro coin in a little tray next to the Chinese driver. He shakes his head and acts like it’s not real. His expression says, “What is this?”
True, the coin isn’t clean and new, but I know it is a 2-Euro coin. It’s not good enough. “I think he wants paper money,” I say to Irv, who is on the steps behind me. Then to the driver, “Do you go to Notre Dame?” I try to say it correctly, not like the University, but like “Noh-treh Dah-m”. Maybe the driver likes the way I say it because he nods and steps on the gas. The bus moves forward. Fast.
Irv balances precariously against a front rail, searches for money, and then inserts a bill where the driver points, enough to pay for both of us. I lurch into a seat, and Irv grabs another open one. The locals watch us, expressionless except for a kind-looking lady across the aisle from me––she smiles. Irv and I can only giggle. We don’t know why our coins were unacceptable, but, oh well, we’re on.
In twenty minutes or so, the driver calls out something in French. Another woman sitting a row in front turns to me, “He says the next stop is yours.” The two women then point to the red button that we will need to push to open the back doors. As we exit, and walk toward the hotel, the driver honks and points straight ahead––toward the cathedral. I run back and tell him through the opened door, “Thanks! Our hotel is this way.” He smiles and nods. I wave good-bye to the smiling lady.
We decide to eat at the café where we ate last night, so we can have the other evening special. We hear the bartender call out Bon Soir to everyone who enters. Other days, we’d eaten earlier, and it had always been Bon Jour. That’s when I realize my mistake––I hadn’t greeted the bus driver. If I had said Bon Soir or Bon Jour to the French-speaking Chinese guy, he wouldn’t have refused my coin. Maybe.
Back in our hotel room and finally packing to go home, we look out at 10 PM to see if the Eiffel Tower will be all lit up like diamonds again tonight. Then––surprise!––we see it has more than the diamond look. The Tower also sports a pink glow, and shows off a rotating beacon from the top, alternating the three displays. What a treat Paris hands us!
Departure: The next morning, we’re in the hotel lobby before 6:30. We don’t want to miss our shuttle to Charles de Gaulle airport. A young woman sitting next to her luggage says she is also flying to San Francisco, maybe we are on the same shuttle. But when the van finally comes, the driver shakes his head no. His list does not include her name, and he takes only Irv and me. We grab two seats in the middle row of almost-full vehicle––there is one seat left in the front, next to the driver. The young woman stands alone at the hotel and, as we drive off, I see her check her watch. Time is short. I wonder if she holds a reservation similar to ours, which states one must call the evening before to confirm pick-up. The hotel receptionist had done that for us, reluctantly, after we pointed out that we had no phone access for France. I didn’t think to ask the young woman as we waited together.
The driver stops near another hotel; delivery trucks that are being unloaded fill the roadway. Our driver must walk up a half-block to the hotel. Soon enough, he is walking back to the van; two women follow him. He opens the front door, then looks dismayed. “Oh, we have a problem,” he says in English but sounding very French and with a facial expression stereotypical of a hapless Frenchman.
There is only one seat left. Some vans have two seats next to the driver, he says, but not this one. He offers to call for another van.
“How long will that be,” one of the last two women ask. Time is getting even shorter and they are worried that they will miss their flight. We all are. The driver shrugs. Not reassuring. The women say that an earlier van came with plenty of space, then left without picking them up, and I remember the forlorn look on the single girl’s face. I wonder to myself if we are in some sort of a candid camera skit.
I offer to give up my seat belt, and one of the last two sits in front while the other one squeezes in next to the three of us in the middle row. She and I are both uncomfortable. We pass the time by talking about a river cruise that they took to Normandy, which Irv and I are scheduled to take next May, and joke that the airline seats will feel real roomy after this van ride.
“Our last twelve hours were the most eventful,” I say to Irv as we head toward the Air France desk.
Now the “if you break it, you buy it” mug sits as the back of my cupboard reminding me of those adventuresome hours.
The cup is ugly, but the memories are priceless.
Date of travel: October 2014