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Paris, le rêve?

31st January 2006. First day in Paris. Got a taxi from CDG airport to what was going to be my new (temporary) digs in the 20th. Or so I thought. In a sleep-deprived jetlagged haze, I asked to be taken to 43, Menilmontant, Paris, 20th. When we arrived, I unloaded my huge suitcases, paid the driver, and took a deep breath, staring up at the 3rd story windows at what would be my new home in Paris. I had seen interior shots of the flat from the Craig’s list posting, and couldn’t wait to see the real thing. How exciting!

The postman was just arriving and greeted me as he walked through the front door. I quickly followed him in, using the first of my oversized bags as a door stopper. I then lugged the rest of my worldly possessions into the foyer.

At this point I thought about calling Catherine, the apartment manager, who was waiting inside the flat to greet me and show me around, but decided it would be best to haul my luggage upstairs first.

By the time I had managed to get each of my 3 heavy bags up 3 flights flights of stairs, one at a time, I was already cursing myself for overpacking. However, the hard part was over. I was almost in my new home. I wondering which door would behold my snazzy new Paris apartment.

I called Catherine. Though the phone, I heard her march across the parquet as she approached the door, turn the handle, and open the door. I expected to see her, but it remained silent in the hallway, and no Catherine appeared. I tried not to panic but my heart raced as I considered each of the following:

1. I’m the victim of an internet scam.
2. Only an hour in Paris and I’m already a disaster.
3. I’m totally screwed!

“But I don’t see you,” she said. “Are you sure you are at 43 rue Menilmontant? There is not only a rue but also a boulevard Menilmontant.”

Zut! What luck! Suddenly, I remembered something in the Craig’s list ad about a Casino grocery right across the street from the building. Yet we were across from the Père LaChaise cemetary – my first clue that I was in the wrong place. Also, having snuck in behind the postman, I didn’t need the door code that Catherine had provided, which would have stopped me from getting into the building and would have been a most obvious indication that I was in the wrong place.

“Don’t worry,” Catherine told me, “you are very close, it’s just up the street.” Frustrated, I went back down the steps, one giant suitcase at a time.

Back outside, the cold January air felt good. I was red-faced and dripping with sweat. A little old lady and her tiny dog walked by, both looking up at me curiously. “Bonjour, Madame, ou est la Rue Menilmontant?” I asked, and she signalled down the street. My back was nearly broken, but my spirits weren’t. (This would be the first of a zillion address challenges I would face in Paris! It was also a valuable lessoned learned about calling first to verify addresses.)

I weighed my options. If the rue was close, I wasn’t up for a journey on foot with such cumbersome bags. Public transport options seemed just as unlikely with no bus stops in sight. I would have to get another taxi. But how? Unlike in London or New York or Bombay, where taxis abound, in Paris taxis are hailed from official taxi stands. Taxi stands are found near most metro stops and at some major intersections, yet there were none of those in sight either. So I started making my way awkwardly up the boulevard Menilmontant toward the rue of the same name, praying that some generous taxi driver would take pity on me. And one did.

Number 43 rue Menilmontant was a no more than 5 minutes away by car. But it was a straight shot uphill and would have been impossible to negotiate with all of my luggage on foot. Thank goodness for the second taxi driver.

Catherine was kind enough to came down to greet me. She also helped me carry the bags upstairs. The flat was more lovely than in the photos. Shiny hardwoods, a fireplace, a remodeled “American” kitchen all the amenities, a charming bathroom, and bedroom facing a quiet courtyard. Finally, I was home!

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