This week I have been crutching around Europe observing the journey from the perspective of a not-quite-healthy traveler. Even though little girls look suspiciously at me from their strollers as I crutch on by, I have had my optimistic faith that life is good and that most people are basically good confirmed on an international level.
While traveling has always been a favorite part of my job, I must confess that the older I get, the less sleep deprivation brings out the best in me! And traveling on crutches while sleep deprived, lugging luggage(I wonder where that word “luggage” came from!) makes smiling even more of a challenge.
In Copenhagen I got around my mobility issues by renting a bike. Riding was wonderful! – to go from barely getting around to cruising was heavenly. I cycled to most of the famous sights in the city, in only two days, with a day off in the middle to drive to some castles. My happiness quotient was increased when muscle pain was decreased with only a little “saddle soreness.”
Today however, was a particularly grueling travel day. There was a protest by the healthcare workers in Paris which shut down a few streets. My hotel happened to be on one of the closed streets, holding my luggage for me while I finished a business meeting. The street closing was too much for our taxi cab driver. “Impossible!” (same word as in English, just different pronunciation and hand gestures in French) he said and told us to get out and walk. The hotel was only a block away, so no problem to crutch it.
That was just the beginning of a harrowing journey to Gare du Nord where our train for London was leaving at 5:01 pm. The concierge gave us our luggage and advised that he could not get us a new taxi because the street was closed, and he apologized for this “extra French experience”. So we walked (read “crutched and dragged suitcases”) several blocks to find a new cab stand (it seems standing in the street and hailing a cab like we do in New York is just not done here) but there were no taxis where he sent us.
We tackled the Metro with 3 suitcases, 2 backpack briefcases and 1 pair of crutches. Apparently that was not challenging enough. We went up and down stairs, across bridges over tracks. We had to look for signs and routing. We had to change trains – but part of a line was closed so we had to climb down another flight of stairs. No elevators. In all that sweat –running, climbing and then squishing into trains, trying not to trip people with my crutches, I had people all over Paris asking me if I wanted help – in several languages. A woman just picked up my suitcase and carried it down a flight of stairs, with just a smile. A man retrieved it when it fell over in the turnstiles and helped me out of the closing doors. The man who almost pushed me over squeezing into a train got out at the same stop as me and carried my suitcase up 2 flights of stairs. A young woman who squeezed between me and Jess on an escalator where I was balancing removed the headphones of her ipod from her ears when we got to the top of the flight and asked me in French where I was going. She showed us the wider turnstile exit gate, squeezed us all in and used her pass to get us through. And she stayed with us! rolling one of my suitcases while walking us all the way through the confusing maze to the spot in the station where our train was. All the while she chatted and made friendly conversation (too bad it was hard for me to keep up in French) and then just kept on going. These were just the highlights: there were several more stories of assistance. This help is the only reason I actually got to the train with 4 minutes to spare instead of missing it.
Life is good. The smiles abound, the more you smile, the more smiling comes back to you. Sure Paris makes you sweat, but it also shows you how many helpful people there are in this world, keeping happiness and gratitude a part of the journey.