the time everything went wrong

“Pardonnez-moi mademoiselle.” [Excuse me Miss]

I groggily opened my eyes to find a woman hardcore staring me down. This must be the pardonnez-moi culprit.

“Vous ne pouvez pas dormir ici mademoiselle.” [You can’t sleep here, Miss.]

I stood up, not altogether sure where I was. Then I saw my friend, Mary Sue, flipping through a brochure about Toulouse. That’s right, we were on a weekend trip to Toulouse. I’m not usually this disoriented. Then again, I’m not usually asleep in public.

Mary Sue and I went to the same university but never crossed paths until we studied abroad in Paris. Funny how life works. This is us about a week after meeting — we were fast friends.

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Upon waking up, I rallied. Mary Sue and I toured museums, art exhibits, parks, and churches. The weekend was wonderful, except for all the stuff that went wrong.

We stayed in a hostel located outside of Toulouse proper. The place was clean and the staff was superb – the latter stood out because we had come from Paris where the service industry is as unfriendly as it is in New York City. We were very happy with our hostel choice, except that because of its location, we had to take the bus in and out of Toulouse. Our first day there, we were at a museum when Mary Sue noticed she didn’t have our hotel key. Which, it should be noted, was an actual key, not a keycard. Uh oh.

We made the collective decision to wait to obsess over the missing key until we were on the bus back to our hostel. Neither of us could really stick to that, so our day was filled with queries like:

“What if we have to pay for a replacement since it’s a real key, not a keycard?”

“What if the reception desk is closed because we get back too late?”

When we got back to our hostel, the reception was still open. We started to explain our predicament to the receptionist but she stopped us. Someone had found the key near a field and drove all the way to the hostel to drop it off. Mary Sue and I were shocked and grateful. If this had been another city, the person who’d found the key probably would have come to the hostel and ransacked our room.

The next day, after more site-seeing, we boarded a bus back to our hostel. At this point, I’m not 100% clear on what happened, but I think we took the wrong bus. Or we had been on the right bus but got off too early. Either way, we had gotten off the bus and started walking when Mary Sue said that she didn’t recognize anything. I took a good look around and didn’t recognize anything either… and we didn’t have a cell phone … and there wasn’t a person in sight.

I suggested that we knock on someone’s door, explain that we were lost, and ask for help. Mary Sue was not keen on that idea. Who knew what kind of pyscho we might run into that way, she said. So we made that plan b.

We found a map in one of the tourist center brochures and tried to locate ourselves without much luck. At this point, we were especially concerned because the buses were about to stop running. Luckily Mary Sue had her Kindle. Long story short, she was able to get us back to the hostel. Then there was the question of how to get to the airport next morning… but that’s a story for another time.

Though our trip was fraught with complications, who can complain after a weekend in a city like this?

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it’s all in the details

Whenever I read old travel journals or emails sent while abroad, I’m stunned by the details I’ve forgotten. And it’s the details that really count. They’re what make a story juicy. Details transform stories. They can turn a one liner that no one cares about (e.g., “I got home late last night”) into the tagline of a story you can’t wait to hear (e.g., “I got home late last night because I couldn’t stop watching a prostitute harassing the cashier at Dairy Queen” – yeah, that happens).

I bring this up because I recently reread a journal entry I wrote when I was in Greece with my friend Kendall. I remember the trip being super fun, but I don’t recall anything too out of the ordinary happening. That’s not quite the case. The trip was great, but because we waited until the absolute last moment possible to reserve a room, there weren’t any two-person rooms left at the hostel we wanted. Instead, we booked a six-person room and hoped we would be the only ones to show up. We weren’t.

We arrived at our hostel in Athens to find that we really would be sharing our room with four other people. As luck would have it, one of our new roommates recognized Kendall. It turns out that she was a fellow Cornell student studying abroad. This instantly made us feel at ease about sharing a room with strangers. The Cornellian, Hannah, was traveling with two girls (Michelle and Ruby) and a guy (Stefan) from her abroad program. Anyway, how can you worry about stranger danger when you’re staying about five minutes from some of the world’s most beautiful ruins?

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The group was quite friendly and on our last night in Athens, the six of us went out together. My memory of that night is pretty hazy. If you asked me about it before rereading my journal, I would have said we had a nice time. My answer would have actually been that trite. Fortunately, my journal entry speaks for itself, so here’s what really happened:

We went to a bar where I made out with a guy named Kostos, which I thought was really Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants of me (I still think that, actually). Then we got a cab to go to another bar. Michelle thought our driver was hitting on her (he wasn’t), so she stopped him halfway to our destination, told us all to get out, and found us a new cab. At the second bar, I distracted a guy while Kendall stole a cigarette from him (somehow that seemed easier than bumming a cigarette). Hannah broke down in tears on our ride home and broke the handle of the room above ours trying to get in (she may have had too much to drink). Then we all went to bed, although I did see Stefan get into Ruby’s twin bed with her.

For a typical night out, I’d say that a drunk and crying girl, a drunk hook-up, and a drunk make-out are pretty standard. What I did find strange was that when I woke up at 5 AM, Stefan was suddenly in Michelle’s bed and there were a lot of clothes on the floor. You don’t have to be regular on Criminal Minds to figure out what went down there. But we all know that what happens in Athens, stays in Athens.

Lesson learned: booking a hostel at the last minute meant that you’d probably have to share a room with strangers and those strangers might have sex while you sleep in the next bed.

We decided not to wait until the last minute for our next destination, Santorini. However, by the time we made that decision, it was already “the last minute.” So we arrived on the shores of Santorini on a 1 AM ferry with absolutely nowhere to go. Clearly we didn’t mind fornicating roommates.

In probably our second sketchiest travel decision of the week, Kendall and I approached a man holding a sign that read “Hotels.” What choice did we really have? It was between talking to the hotel sign guy and sleeping on a cold and windy beach with no blankets. You would think that two Cornell students would know better, but you would be wrong.

April must be the off-season in Santorini because we ended up paying hostel prices for an actual hotel. I guess we made the right decision by not booking early. Or we were lucky AF. Either way, the moral of the story is that everyone should travel. Even people with poor planning skills.

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