It’s sometime in the darkest part of the early morning, and I’m in a vehicle with a stranger driving through the forest in a part of France that I don’t know. We don’t speak the same language. I’ve got a steak knife hidden in my hand in case he tries to pull anything funny, I’m exhausted, and I’m feeling just a little bit crazy.
This weekend C and I decided we’d check out Geneva and Lausanne in Switzerland. Geneva was a short train ride from our “home” town, Chambery, so getting there by train wasn’t difficult. I had two requirements for the trip: that we stop at a Victorinox store and that I get to visit the UN offices in Geneva (the Palais des Nations). We threw in an official UN tour for good measure, I convinced C to join me in a sobering tour of the International Museum of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and I even bought some chocolate. We wandered over to Bern to visit the bear pits (Bärengraben) and check out the Klötzli Messerschmiede so that I could buy a new set of steak knives as a gift for my parents.
We returned to the train station to discover that, SURPRISE!, we’d missed the last train back to Chambery. A ticket agent advised us to buy tickets that would at least get us back over the border into France, any city. We had to wait a few hours before we could finally board the night train that would take us to Charles de Gaulle station in Paris, and when we did we collapsed into our seats breathing a sigh of relief that we might be able to get a bit of sleep.
The train slingshotted us back from Paris into the southeastern part of France again, ironically close to our initial starting point and inconveniently into the small town of Bellegarde, where the trains stop running after a certain hour. We were ushered from the train and out into the train station, where a station attendant promptly ushered–really, shooed–us further as he closed the gates to the station itself. This wasn’t something we’d planned for, as neither C nor I had to this point realized 1. that this train dead-ended without another one to follow and 2. that train stations aren’t open all hours of the day and night.
Unceremoniously dumped out on the pavement outside the train station, we started walking to try to find a hotel. Here begins our next lesson, in what happens when either the locals are wary of outsiders or they truly don’t have any hotel vacancies, as we were turned away a few times. I admitted defeat and figured we should return to the fairly well-lit train station to sit awake the rest of the night until they would reopen the gates. We were in a city we didn’t know, it was the middle of the night, we were stranded, and the group of men gathered on the sidewalk opposite the train station thought there was something very interesting about us.
Here concludes the tale of How We Ended Up Stranded Outside a Train Station In A Foreign Town In The Middle of The Night.
As the men across the street continued to point and stare at us, my “I’m tough; I can take care of myself” resolve quickly melted into “As it turns out I’m a bit naive about how the world works” fear. I reached into my backpack and unwrapped one of the steak knives as one of the men finally broke from the group to cross the street toward us.
His French was broken and thickly (Arabic?) accented, so it took us some time to figure out that he wanted to know where we were going. C told him we needed to get back to Chambery and he clicked his tongue, exclaiming at the distance. She offered that we had a friend living in Aix-Les-Bains and he told us he would be willing to drive that distance to get us there.
We eventually agreed, and I gently nudged C toward the front seat of the vehicle so I could climb in the backseat opposite the driver. I slid my hand into my backpack again to grip the steak knife I’d unwrapped earlier. I don’t really remember much of the trip, except looking out the car window to see nothing but a thick tree line in the darkness on my side of the road. I tightened my grip on the knife each time I imagined our driver stopping somewhere in the forest and trying to overpower us. He remained silent for most of the trip.
When we arrived in Aix-Les-Bains and pointed out the address where our friend Seb lived, the driver quietly pulled his car up to the curb. I dug through my wallet for all of the cash I still had with me, urging C to do the same. He stepped out of the vehicle with us, clutching a rosary I hadn’t seen before, and approached us to grasp our hands. I had to press him a bit to get him to accept our money, and he launched into a short story in broken French. He told us about his immigration to France and his two children, a son who was studying to become a doctor and a daughter who was studying to become a lawyer. With tears in his eyes, he told us that when he had seen us standing there outside the train station he had been reminded of his daughter.
Here concludes the tale of How I Was Afraid I Might Have to Pull a Knife on a Stranger But He Turned Out to Be a Kindhearted Samaritan.
My faith in the human race restored, C and I located Seb’s flat expecting that he’d let us crash there for a couple hours before we tried to catch the first morning train into Chambery. When we realized no one was going to answer the door I had no issues with the idea of huddling on his covered front porch for a while just to be out of sight for a while. His porch was on the side of the building, set back from the road enough that we could rest there until he returned home from his new job at one of the discotheques in the city.
In that region at this time of year the daytime highs in the 90s would turn to nighttime lows in the 60s or the 50s. Since C and I had only packed a single extra change of daytime clothing we were quickly pretty chilled, even after we layered up with our second outfits and snuggled up together against a corner of the porch. But lo and behold, by some strange coincidence that night there happened to be a GIANT ROLL OF BUBBLE WRAP sitting on Seb’s porch.
I was exhausted, my feet were blistered, I was cold, and I didn’t give a damn if Seb laughed at me when he returned home to find me wrapped in bubble wrap. (C declined my offer to share since she had a crush on him that kept her from wanting to be seen in such an embarrassing situation.) I unrolled some of the bubble wrap and then carefully rolled my legs, then my torso, up in it. Mmmm sweet warmth. The layer of plastic helped just enough to trap my body heat so that I could fall asleep for an hour or two, and that was good enough for me.
Here concludes the tale of That Night I Slept On a Front Porch In The Rhône-Alpes Region of France, Wrapped Inside a Giant Roll of Bubble Wrap.