“Suitcasing” it in France and sitting like luggage on the TGV

© Sebastian Terfloth; Wikimedia Commons

There’s a reason college students and budget travelers go “backpacking” and not “suitcasing.” Big suitcases without wheels are awkward…very awkward —especially when you are running through the Paris metro trying, ultimately, to get to Gare de Lyon to make it to France’s fastest train, the TGV.

Eventually, my friend Debbie and I made it to the TGV while lugging our suitcases at full speed through several metro stops. The train was practically leaving as we jumped on a random car. Just happy to be on the train after grossly underestimating how long it would take to get from our pension in Paris to the train station, we stopped to take a breath.

Underestimating travel time and overestimating the versatility of suitcases were just two of the misjudgments we made on this trip. I was a freshman in college and Deb had just graduated from high school; it was the first time both of us had traveled without parents.

Montmartre and the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur in the distance.
© Debbie Bacharach

One of our biggest misjudgments was visiting Montmartre, a district in north Paris, at night. Of course, every guidebook lists the Basilica of the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre as a must-see. And it’s magnificient. However, ironically, near this beautiful sacred, white basilica is a raging red light district. After all, this area was the birthplace of Moulin Rouge. Clueless about all this, Deb and I happened to be wandering through it like a two-for-one deal at happy hour just when the regulars and lurkers came out thirsty for a special. We began to notice there were no other women in the vicinity.

As a woman traveler, I’ve never really felt threatened while traveling — except this time. Men were approaching us and reaching out to touch us. We saw one other woman, who had a child, and she practically tackled a cab to get out of the area. Although I didn’t understand French, I could pretty much guess what these lechers were saying. Deb spoke fluent French, but she didn’t want to give details of the lurid comments.

We finally hailed a taxi in the midst of a huge throng of men. After that night, we always returned to our pension before dusk.

Still a bit frazzled from that experience and running late, we arrived on our last day in Paris at the metro station to get tickets to Gare de Lyon to catch the TGV. Meanwhile, a drunk, scraggly guy, who could barely stand, lurched over to Debbie and held out a crumpled brochure that he put in her face. All the frustration from the other night came out, and I turned toward this man, who was really probably quite harmless, and screamed, “Get away from here, you, dumb f#$k!” That’s when I knew I was a little bit stressed out.

So, needless to say, when we finally got on the random car of the TGV to leave Paris, Deb and I were more than relieved. Then the conductor came over and looked at our tickets. He furrowed his brows and shook his head. Pointing forward, he indicated that the next compartment or perhaps even further down was the car where we were supposed to be.

He shook his head again. It was too late. We couldn’t get through to our train car, so we would have to ride in the random one until we arrived in Lyon. We looked around and all the seats were taken. The conductor shrugged his shoulders and moved on to check more tickets.

© Stephanie Glaser and Debbie Bacharach

Clearly, sitting in the aisle was not appropriate, so we went to the back of the compartment. The only open area was the luggage rack, which ironically was empty. It was really our only option, so Deb and I settled in on the metal slabs.

Deb was upset. The course of events over the past few days had taken a toll. To add to the frustration, we had first class tickets. We were missing out on a little bit of luxury. After a year of saving to go to Europe and working every lifeguarding shift available, I was not going to let this ruin our trip. I broke out my camera and turned to Deb.

“Seriously, Deb, it sucks right now, but in a few years, we are going to laugh about this.” And actually, it didn’t take a few years. After a few minutes, Deb agreed about the comical nature of the situation and we both laughed — hard.

In the end, I was glad people traveled with suitcases since I’m not sure where we would have sat if there had only been hooks for backpacks.

Debbie and I at ease in the South of France.

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