I fell into a long queue stretching into eternity. We were mostly foreigners waiting to buy metro tickets at Gare Du Nord. At least I could bask in the security of a common bond – we were largely non-native French speakers. Thing was, they all looked at ease. As if they knew the protocols – how to get tickets, navigate their way to their destinations and everything else. I suddenly felt at sea. Don’t play the fool, I told myself. Ask questions.
There were two girls standing at an information pitch at the side of the queue. They looked friendly, and looked like immigrants too. Bingo: I was nearly sure of a sympathetic ear and useful directions.
I managed a tight smile as I approached them. “Bonjour”.
“Bonjour”, they returned with a French lilt.
‘I need some directions, please.’ I said. I knew they could speak English. They were in an international station after all.
Their English was heavily accented and interspersed with many “uhs” but they were amazingly helpful. They briefly explained the workings of the metro to me then showed me the line I need to take to get to Saint Marcel (my hotel destination). They also showed me the travel pass options. I opted for a five-day travel pass.
There onwards my journey was hitch-free. I exited the train at Saint Marcel. Headed to the information booth for further directions, armed myself with a broad smile. Used the obligatory “Bonjour” with a smattering of English. The lady behind the window directed me in halting English mixed with French. “Merci beaucoup”, I smiled gratefully.
The same technique worked with the hotel receptionist. I greeted in French then reverted to English with a dash of French phrases. The very pleasant receptionist responded in French and English.
In my room, I looked out of my hotel window; the surroundings were distinctively foreign, so the feeling of being abroad was gradually sinking in at last. After a two hour siesta, I hit the streets all ready to perambulate.
Luckily for me, Saint Marcel was located in the heart of tourist attractions. A ten minute walk got me to Jardin des plantes, or the botanical garden. The botanical garden was huge – had a zoo, green house, museum (which was closed) and many other features, but what stood of for me was the long sandy path that stretched out like a roll of red carpet. On either side of the path, towering trees leaned over, creating a lovely shade. There was a vibrant background of green plants plus a bed of flowers bursting with red, yellow and orange colours.
I sat on one of the benches for a long while to cherish the serenity and lap up the atmosphere.
When I finally forced myself out of the park, I decided to visit one of Paris’ most famous landmarks – the Notre Dame Cathedral…Uh-oh, got to get to work…discussion continues…smiles.