It was February 2015. I had just quit my previous job to begin a new one and moved back to the Chicagoland area after months of trepidation (and months and months of therapy which precipitated the courage I gained to change my circumstances). I was feeling confident and spontaneous at the time as well as emboldened to take risks and let go of fear.
To many, a spontaneous vacation is not a cause for fear but know that my anxiety and neuroticism know no bounds.
This is the context of my life when my younger brother texted me asking if I wanted to go to France. It basically went like this:
David: Do you want to go to France with me in June?
David: I am studying abroad in Germany for a month and want to go to France, too, since I am already in the neighborhood. I don’t speak French though. Will you go there and speak French?
It’s one thing to travel in a foreign country with a tourist company…that’s fine. But my brother was a broke college student and I don’t see the point in paying other people money for something I could probably figure out myself. Plus, I had the advantage of having already gone to these places in high school (a trip I barely remember because of jet lag and likely the extreme shock of being a sheltered Midwestern suburban minor that had hardly left the Chicagoland area). I figured if I can manage the L, I can manage the métro. I set to work ordering my plane tickets, notifying my phone carrier of when I intended to leave the country, and securing an AirBnB.
In the following months, I worked out an itinerary that I kept in a binder that
I nearly left, along with my passport, at the ticket purchasing station at the airport I think might help someone else on their journey, too.
I flew out of O’Hare (ORD) to Charles de Gaulle (CDG) in Paris with a stopover at the Dublin Airport (DUB) via AerLingus airlines. I had a good experience with AerLingus especially since they had tasty airplane fare such as a traditional beef stew and some kind of curry. I also got a breakfast sandwich at some point. I don’t know; I’m pretty easy to please. I also ended up having a friendly seatmate who spoke no French whatsoever and wasn’t sure how he was even going to get to his rendezvous point so we buddied up once we got to customs. I still, to this day, don’t know if he got there (probably). I wish I would have gotten his contact information but I hadn’t slept in what was likely 30 hours so it didn’t occur to me.
I outline all of this so you know what you can expect.
Once you get off the plane, you will likely be in terminal 3 (arrivals). The thing is, you want to get to terminal 2 because this is where the train station is. You need to take a shuttle from terminal 3 to terminal 2. It is at this point that your jet lag will consume you and it will be hard to keep yourself from falling over on the shuttle. Persevere.
See that part on the map between terminal 2D and 2C that says RER and B, each surrounded by a circle? That is where you want to go: 2-TGV. For a better understanding of the layout of the gare, refer to this plan. You buy your ticket (they will ask to which station you plan to go) and then go underground to the tracks.
Above is the TGV station list. I conceptualized this as basically being like one of our Metra lines (that is to say that it is not exactly part of the métro from what I can tell). So I took the B3 line from terminal 2 to Gare du Nord. You can also see on the above map where, at Gare du Nord, the station also has separate connecting lines to various métro lines.
Now, unfortunately in my case, my brother’s high-speed rail coming in from Frankfurt was to arrive at Gare de l’Est. It isn’t difficult to get to whether by walking or by métro but it was just an additional step that could potentially go wrong.
By the way, did I mention already that my brother and I were certain that we would get lost and never meet and everything would go awry?
Looking back in my notes, I had written to take ligne 4 between the two train stations. I must have at some point laughed to think of spending 2 Euros when I could just walk for under 10 minutes to the train station because I found myself walking down an uneven sidewalk in a haze and trailing my luggage toward Gare de l’Est. I waited nervously for maybe an hour and a half. Thankfully, there is a Starbucks around every corner in Paris where they also refuse to spell your name correctly.
Fortunately, my brother and I were able to meet and hugged for probably the first and only time ever.
Stay tuned for the remainder of the saga and transportation tips for various destinations!