Knickers down by the River Seine: My funniest travel story from a solo trip to Paris
Back in March 2018, I decided to take my first, fully solo trip. I found a cheap overnight bus to Paris; knowing I had some very basic school-learnt French knocking around my brain somewhere, I figured this would be the perfect place to visit! My parents thought I was crazy for planning a 36 hour trip to Paris. Early on, I believed they were right because the trip seemed to be cursed with disaster… a disastrous adventure that has become my greatest travel story. Or at least the funniest.
Before I begin, let it be said that I will never use a Parisian public toilet ever again.
Well, read on for a laugh and some wariness of using these things:
The journey began well enough; I arrived to London Victoria Coach Station with plenty of time. I boarded the bus and there was some mention of arrival time to Paris being about 4am. That didn’t sound quite right to me, because my itinerary said that the arrival time would be 6am. I heard murmurs of the driver saying to the lady in front, “don’t tell him though”, as he motioned to a man in front of her, and then he gave me a cheeky wink, knowing that I had heard. I didn’t get what the ‘joke’ was but decided I had probably misheard everything, so I forgot about it. You, the reader, probably won’t forget about it… clearly I have made a mountain out of a molehill for a reason.
I boarded the bus and luckily there were so few people that we were told we would each get a row to ourselves; a traveller’s dream!
The bus departed London and I was still awake when we arrived at the euro tunnel. This was my first journey on the euro tunnel and it wasn’t what I expected. In my imagination, the euro tunnel was a road under the sea that cars would drive through, much like a tunnel under a mountain. It made sense to me. 22 year old me, I might add. But no, it is a train that the cars/buses board and in about half an hour you are across the channel. Amazing!
It was at this point when I started dozing off, only to be woken up at about 3:45am (according to the bus clock) to say that we weren’t far from Paris. I had to check and double check my phone. Maybe it’s the time difference? But I checked and my clever, smart phone had updated itself to Parisian time…
We had actually arrived two hours early (I should’ve taken more notice of the bus driver when we were boarding). Normally you would praise a bus for arriving early, but not this time. So long for my 8 hour opportunity for sleep, I think managed a rough 2 hours… but that wasn’t the worst part.
As we pulled into Bercy Seine, which my diligently labeled map depicted as being on the edge of Paris, there were figures lurking all around the bus station. I started to feel uneasy and a little worried.
As the bus came to a stop, everyone rushed to grab their things and I was swept into that mindset too. As I departed, I asked the driver, “Is there somewhere that I can go nearby?”
He replied that everything was closed in Paris until 6am.
It was 4am.
I started panicking, “So there’s nowhere I can go and nothing I can do?”
“You’ll just have to wait here”, he replied and then he turned to a fellow French person to have a care-free conversation in French.
At this point I decided this trip was probably a very bad idea; I was a solo female in a sketchy bus station on the edge of Paris at 4am. What the hell was I thinking booking this trip?!
Luckily, I was not the only one who had no idea what to do at this time. A lovely mother and son, from America (originally Albania), also had nowhere to go and no idea what to do. We ended up helping each other out; they gave me company and I used my mobile data (thank you, ‘roam like you’re at home’) to find a nearby café that opened at 5:30am. After over an hour of chatting and getting to know each other, we headed to the café. We enjoyed the warmth, the croissants and the coffee. It was safety and marked an end to that adventure (or ordeal, depending on how you look at it). They then invited me to join them on the hour-long walk into the centre of Paris to Notre Damn Cathedral, and when we arrived we parted ways to go on our individual adventures…
I made a beeline for the Eiffel tower. That was my first major landmark to check out. But on the way I had that little niggle of a feeling that I would need to use the toilet soon.
Ahhh ha! I had seen somewhere that Paris has these free public toilets all over the city — kind of like a portaloo, but cleaner and less smelly. On my walk along the Seine, I came across one so decided to relieve myself. What’s the worst that can happen?!
After entering and shutting the door, I couldn’t tell if the toilet was locked from the inside, so I pulled a red lever, thinking that it would lock the door. Instead this action opened the door so I figured it must’ve been locked when I entered.
So, I started weeing in the toilet.
At this point some French was spoken over a speaker within the toilet. Now, I did study GCSE French at A level. I even got an A grade (just shy of the top mark of an A*). I went to a language college, darling… yet, I can only say, “parlez-vous anglais?” and “Thé au lait” (which I made sure to remember with my parents in mind because I didn’t like tea at the time). Hence, I had no idea what was being spoken.
Halfway into my wee, the toilet moved back into the wall. I stood there, still in my squat position (obviously stopping the flow), wondering what was going on… and what to do next.
All of a sudden a wave of water erupted from the edge of the public toilet. A WAVE. OF WATER. Shit you not.
This wave was pretty strong because my backpack, which had been at the edge of the door, had been forced forward, closer to me.
I stood in shock, and I was wet from my knees downwards.
I didn’t have time to collect my thoughts before another wave erupted from the edge of the cubicle.
“I’M OUTTA HERE”, I thought.
This time I knew I had to employ my fight or flight response. And flight was the only way.
I grabbed my bag and leapt for that red lever, swinging the door wide open. And then, I realized…
My pants were still down.
Now, I shall pause just to define the sight exactly, because I am aware that there is a difference in the definition of “pants” between the Brits and the Americans.
I was stood in the open doorway of this toilet cubicle, the river Seine to my left. My leggings were still down below my knees and so were my knickers…
Luckily, I was holding my backpack in such a way that it covered my front, and I had a hoodie tied around my waist, covering the decency of my bum. It was also a random Tuesday on an unusually sunny day in March, away from the tourist hotspots, so luckily no-one was around.
I swiftly grabbed my leggings with my left hand and pulled them upwards, leading to my knickers being pulled up too, by default.
My initial reaction? This Paris trip has gone to shit. Very much, pun intended.
It was my first ‘proper’ solo trip, where I had no one to meet up with and no group of strangers to be my ‘automatic’ friends. I felt alone. No-one was there to even laugh with me. Just imagine your friend rushing out of a toilet with their pants down and a shocked look on their face… you never would let them live it down!
I felt sorry for myself for a few minutes, whilst I attempted to mop myself up with a tissue or two.
…And then, I started to laugh. I let it out as a chuckle and I let it grow... What the hell just happened?!?
In the space of one morning I had been very blessed to meet and spend some quality time with two beautiful souls, and I had just stumbled upon the funniest travel story that I will probably ever be able to tell!
And to think that if I had made different choices in my life, things could’ve been totally different. On this Tuesday morning in March, rather than having unfortunate adventures with a toilet in Paris, I could’ve been sat in an office cubicle… life could’ve been way worse.
I learnt an important lesson that day; to find the positivity even when everything seems to be going wrong. Being able to do that for myself, to pick up my spirits and twist the bad into the funny, has helped no bounds in my life ever since.
You’ll be glad to know that I made it to the Eiffel Tower after this incident, and the remainder of the trip went off without a hitch. Although, the bus arrived back into London hellishly early again, at the crazy time of 2:45am (instead of 5am). This is the first time I have praised Starbucks for their 24 hour coffee shop.
I hope that you enjoyed this piece! I actually forgot about this story until recently. It’s a gem that I will keep on telling when the dinner conversation turns to, “what’s your most embarrassing story?”, which happened a couple months ago in Albania, when I was hanging out with some awesome Americans (who made me laugh so much that my cheeks hurt, as they told their own embarrassing stories).
Loo-king forward to writing soon (that was tenuous, I know),