13. Destination by Blindfold, Paris 1982
I graduated from High School in 1981. I had attended the last half of my Junior year and my entire Senior year at the Colegio Internacional de Caracas (CIC) in Venezuela. My parents had given me the option to attend College or University in the States or in Europe. With an enormous and still hungry appetite for exploration, I chose wisely. Europe it was. After a few months of research at the school library at CIC and applications mailed out, I was accepted to my first choice. The American College in Paris (ACP), France.
Studies should really have been my primary concern. But they were not. School was always difficult for me. I never had the good grades even after hours and hours of study. All I wanted to do was to travel.
Europe is very conducive to this type of lifestyle. After getting settled into my first year, I managed to learn that living in a smaller type of housing and getting a part time job would help my desire to move around and travel on the weekends. I had been living in a room I rented from a WWII widow in her beautiful spacious apartment. It was on Rue de l'Abbé Gillet in the 16th arrondissement. It was a 20 minute walk from Trocadero and the famous Eiffel Tower. From there another 10 minutes to my school at 31 Ave. Bosquet.
After finding out that I could save over half my rent budget on a smaller room, it all made sense to move. I was hardly ever at home any way. I found a great room on the top floor of an apartment building over in the 7th arrondissement on Rue Saint-Dominique. Now it was only a 4 minute walk to the main building of our school. These rooms were old maids rooms. It really didn't matter as the view I had after stepping out of my large window was amazing. The Eiffel Tower to my right and Invalides to my left. This was priceless. The best part was I found that on Sundays a local orchestra would play at the Cathedrale Saint Louis des Invalides. I would sit in the back pews and take in the sounds of Debussy, Bizet, Bach, Chopin, Wagner etc. To this day, the Wagner, Tannhauser Overture takes me back to those beautiful rich moments where the music fills ones soul and my memories of Paris are never forgotten.
I played it smart my second year. I arranged my class schedule so that I finished early on Friday and my first class on Monday didn't start till late in the afternoon. This allowed me plenty of time to leave Paris right after lunch and return on Sunday late or early Monday morning. I had a few friends that on occasion would tag along. Our plan was the following. We would meet at our school cafeteria and over lunch, we would discuss which train station we would meet at. The usual four choices were Gare de L'Est, Gare du Nord, Gare Montparnasse or Gare de Lyon, all in Paris and easy to get to. We would also decide on how long we would be gone for. Just a few hours, a day or 2 days. From there, we parted ways, went home and made our plans for packing if necessary and prepared for a new adventure.
Now came the fun part. The lesson we had learned during our first trip was that not all of us had a lot of money. Students and on a budget, we decided that we would have a limit on how much money we were willing to pay for a round trip ticket. The machines at the Train stations allowed that task to be a simple choice. Push a button with a destination and the screen would show the amount of the round trip ticket. Simple enough.
Now we decided to make this more challenging. For the rest of the year, we had a game we played. We would blind fold someone in the group and give them a spin or two. With their finger pointed towards the machine, they would walk towards it and blindly push a button. This would get repeated until the amount on the screen was equal to or less than our decided amount for the round trip ticket. We would then all purchase our own individual tickets and head towards the train track where our train would depart from. Most of the time we had no idea what direction we were headed to in France nor how long the trip would be. It was a mystery. With no maps on us, this made the mystery even more exciting. Following the ticket purchase to mystery city and getting on the train, we would enjoy the country side and little cities, towns or villages that we stopped at along the way.
Once at our destination, the known series of events would take place. Arriving into the town, city or village by train allowed us to see ahead of time what to expect. The window views gave a clear indication as we arrived based on rolling hills, buildings, size of train station and number of people getting off and on. We would walk around our mystery city, town or village together and enjoy what it had to offer. Our next task was preparing for lunch.
The menu never changed.
We each were tasked with finding our item. Our central location to rendezvous at with our lunch items was normally a park. Off we would all go in search of our item. Of course along the way, there were more sites and wonderful things to look at.
At our rendezvous point, we would lay a scarf on the grass, spread out our wonderful delicious food and enjoy our fabulous meal. With full bellies, we would continue our afternoon of exploring the city, town or village.
As the year went on, every weekend brought on new surprises. Cities and towns that were too big for just an afternoon were put on a list for a whole weekend stay. There were times as well where the village didn't have much to offer and we would hop on the train again to next mystery stop.
Our long weekends were planned in advance as we had to prepare for overnight lodging, additional meals and additional cost for train tickets. These trips allowed us travel to neighboring Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany in the northern part of France. Hostels were our normal lodging, and our meals were either supermarket visits or again our picnic treat of chicken, baguette, cheese, wine and pastries.
I have to say, those were some amazing fun times. Regardless of our tight budgets, we lived the life as students, exploring the area just an hour outside of Paris. The thrill of not knowing what or where we were going still lives in me. I cherish those experiences and am delighted that I spent my weekends going to the unknown and finding new treasures.