We spent the long weekend with some friends in Leeds, and whilst we were there we started to share some travel horror stories. I haven’t actually had that many terrible experiences when travelling, though I have had some unexpected ones that I can laugh at now, so I wasn’t quite sure what to share. I started talking about my first experience on a budget airline (shout out goes to Ryanair), which happened to be with my sister on a trip to Paris, roughly about 3 months after I got to the UK. After I finished telling my story, my friend Ashton looked at me and said: ‘That would be a great travel story to tell people about on the blog!’. So I figured I’d give it a go as another Throwback Thursday (thanks Ashton!).
I’d not long been in the UK and my sister Megan decided she was going to make the trip over and visit me. We weren’t sure what we wanted to do and see, and as I had not yet been anywhere but England, someone suggested making our way to the continent as it can sometimes be done cheaper then staying in the UK. Being from Canada where flight prices are extortionate no matter where you go, I was curious to see how cheap was cheap, and thus began my love/hate relationship with budget airlines.
Not only was I surprised at just how low cost the flights can be, I was also surprised by the amount of choice you got – a seemly endless list of airports to fly out of, cities to fly into, and times to leave and arrive. With all that in mind, I decided that now was as good a time as any to take the plunge and start exploring the rest of Europe. It also helped that Megan was coming over a few weeks after her 21st birthday, and with flights being so cheap, I was just about able to afford to buy them as her birthday present – talk about bonus sister points. It only took me about 3 years to tell her that I spent a whole lot less on her present then originally thought!
We decided that we were going to fly to Venice and then take a train to Rome. From Rome we got a flight to Paris before flying back to the UK. Paris was top of Megan’s list to experience, so I had purposely left it for last for this reason, and everything was going smoothly by the time we were waiting to board our plane in Rome. Being our first Ryanair flight, we weren’t sure what to expect, but as all our other flights had been pretty similar to anything we’d get in Canada, we weren’t overly worried. We had our books and snacks and were waiting patiently to be told we could board along with everyone else on our flight.
Cue the boarding call.
In an apocalyptic-like wave every single person waiting for that plane, except for the two of us, were on their feet and running towards the gate, elbows out, ready to push anyone who got in their way. We were left behind amongst the half finished sandwiches, crumpled up wrappers, and the now forgotten (but essential at the time, I’m sure) duty free items, scratching our heads and wondering what we were missing.
You see, way back then budget airlines didn’t allocate seating to anyone. This meant that the people at the front of the line had pick of the best seats (usually the ones right at the front or rear of the plane within 2 rows of the exits), and people who were travelling together weren’t guaranteed they’d be seated together. This posed a problem for many people, as they either wanted to sit together or they wanted to be first off the plane to minimise time spent in any sort of customs line.
We hadn’t realised there wasn’t allocated seating, and the art of cuing was a pretty foreign concept to us at the time, so there we sat. When we eventually got on the plane (definitely last in line), it took a few looks around to try and spot the final 2 seats and make our way over. As any one else in that line could have predicted, both seats were middle seats, no where near each other, with zero space in the overhead bins for our carry ons. We were glared at from every which way as we proceeded to spend the next 10 minutes shuffling other peoples bags around to make enough room for ours. After a few whispered enquiries asking people to switch seats so we could sit together, we found out pretty quickly just how attached to their seats everyone when this was met with firm shakes of the head or outright silence. With sighs we finally took our seats, both of us crossing our fingers for a chance to catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower as we descended into Paris.
Perking up as the captain informed the plane we were 10 minutes from landing, we both had our eyes fixed out the windows – and all we could see were fields. Now, I know my geography isn’t the greatest, but I was fairly certain that we should be able to see, if not the Eiffel Tower, then at least some of the city surrounding it. Paris isn’t that small, right?
After meeting back up on our way out of the plane we both questioned this, but with the naivety of someone who clearly hasn’t travelled much, we had both assumed that we’d flown into Paris without flying over the city – thereby explaining why we couldn’t see it from the window. Confident in our assessment, we walked out out of the plane and into what can only be described as a very big shed. There was one booth (unmanned) with a sign stating it was Passport Control, which everyone promptly ignored on their way out.
We loitered beside it, waiting for someone to show up and man the Passport Control booth, but after a few minutes where no one showed up (as well as the fact that everyone else from the plane was gone), we carried on our way. We walked out of the “airport”, hoping that we’d be in Paris and could quickly find a bus/metro/taxi to take us to our hostel (and maybe see the Eiffel Tower on the way), but, much to our surprise, instead of a Paris street we walked out onto a farmers field. We had no idea where we were and Paris was nowhere in sight.
I’ll admit, I had a moment of slight panic that, where I feared in my smugness of cheap ticket booking, I hadn’t actually sent us to Paris, France. Had we gone to Paris, Denmark? Surely the flight wasn’t long enough for us to have ended up in Paris, Canada? We definitely hadn’t made it to Paris, Panama either. Nope, Paris France was written very clearly on both our tickets. We’d gotten on the right flight but had somehow managed to lose the city in transit.
Between the two of us, we can manage enough French to get by and from the closest francophone were able to make out that yes, this is an airport for Paris; No, it’s no where near the city; and thst at some point a bus would arrive to take us there. So for the second time that day we sat down to wait patiently.
Eventually the bus came, also without allocated seats; however room to spare for everyone’s luggage, and we were on our way to Paris. Of course our journey didn’t end there, and despite hoping our bus would drop us somewhere central where we could easily locate our hostel, thst wasn’t the case. We were dropped in an industrial estate on the edge of Paris, and begrudgingly told that there was a metro station about a 15 minute walk away. Shouldering our (by now very heavy) backpacks, we made our way over to it. Three trains, number of missed stops later, And a 2 minute taxi journey because we couldn’t understand the directions to our hostel, we finally made it!
Out went any plans we’d had for our first afternoon in Paris and instead we found the closest cafe and ate omelettes and drank wine. Lots of wine.
There were a few key thing I learnt on that first trip.
1. If there are no seat allocations get your elbows out and be ready to fight.
2. Budget airlines will stick a city name onto an airport almost 2 hours away just to keep costs down.
3. Sometimes the best travelling partner is a sister who is as clueless as you.