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Stranded in Paris

Elizabeth and Michael at "The First Stop."

My husband and I visited Paris together for the first time in the early 2000s. It was his first time in the city. I had lived in France when I was younger, but it had been a while since I’d been there. He loves to plan trips and always does a great job researching the best places to stay and eat and the must-see attractions. Since he does such a good job, I usually let him work his magic.

He decided we would be much more comfortable in an apartment rather than a hotel and he worked with a company based in New York City who specialized in Paris short-term rentals. Because who doesn’t want to live like a local in Paris?

Sounds fun, huh? Well…even though it sounds romantic, I’d always stayed in hotels (this was in the days before Airbnb and VRBO). Ever the skeptic, I worried and wondered what we were getting ourselves into. Would we show up at the address and find an abandoned building? In Paris, where real estate is at a premium, it wasn’t likely, but what if we showed up at the apartment only to discover it was a scam and the owners knew nothing about our “rental”? See how a writer’s mind works?

Still, we were going to Paris…I checked my doubts with our luggage. We

arrived in the City of Love at 7 a.m. and made our way to the address the rental agent had provided. The apartment was located on Rue de l'Ancienne-Comédie, which translates to “street of old comedy.”

I hoped the joke wasn't on us.

When we knocked on the door an older woman answered. Looking confused, she regarded us and our suitcases. Obviously, she was not expecting us. We tried to explain who we were, but she didn’t speak English and our attempted French was terrible. She shut the door and left us standing in the hallway. I was certain my rental scam nightmare was coming true, but at this point, I had been awake for about thirty hours (pre-travel excitement and airplane insomnia). I was too exhausted for I-told-you-so’s. A moment later, a middle-aged man came to the door. When we explained who we were. He nicely informed us we were early – a month early, to be exact. My husband showed him the rental agreement with the May 6 (5/6) reservation. He claimed he had it on his calendar for June 5… (5/6 is the American way to write May 6 – with the month first and day second- but many Europeans put the day first, which made 5/6 translate to 5 June). He begged our pardon, admitting the mistake was all his. He had written it on the calendar wrong. If we would give him three hours, he and his mother, who lived with him, would call in a cleaning service, pack their bags, head down to their place in Provence.

However, there was one more slight problem. We had arrived on a Wednesday expecting to stay a full week. He had rented the apartment to someone else for the weekend (not through the rental agency). We were welcome to stay Wednesday – Saturday morning, but we would have to leave in time for the cleaning service to ready the place for the new arrivals that afternoon.

Our host invited us to leave our bags at the apartment, get some breakfast, and explore the neighborhood while they readied the place for us. My husband was delighted to park our luggage and head out, but given the suspect reservation and my foggy brain, I was just sure we’d return three hours later and the apartment would be locked up tight with no trace of the man and his mother or our belongings.

Taking a leap of faith, I surrendered my suitcase and we ventured out into the Paris morning. We found a little café (which we named the “First Stop,” and we go there first thing on every trip we’ve taken since then). Fortified with coffee and croissant, we went to the Musée Picasso and spent a couple of hours. I was so tired, Picasso’s paintings actually made sense.

As we made our way back to the apartment on the “street of old comedy,” I was holding my breath and hoping the joke wasn’t on us. To my delight, our host greeted us at the door. He turned over the key and said we were welcome to use his phone to call the New York rental company to find accommodations for the rest of our stay.

Not only did we enjoy the Rue de l'Ancienne-Comédie apartment, but we were also able to secure another lovely place in a different part of Paris for the later part of the trip. The experience taught me to make the most of the unexpected and embrace an adventure…and it never hurts to make a call to confirm the details of a trip. But, hey, at least I left Paris with the souvenir of a good story, right?

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