Bike leaning on wall, Travel Delay in Paris

Making the Most of a Travel Delay in Paris

Sometimes travel delays can be the highlights of your trip. Exhibit A: Our whirlwind morning in Paris on a trip home from Spain.

I was a single mom trying to live on a freelance income in Chicago when I took my 11-year-old daughter to Malaga

That “solo trip with a kid” was a magnificent adventure, and I’ve never regretted a penny spent on that first overseas journey with my daughter. (Though there weren’t many pennies to regret — we traveled on a budget tighter than a new pair of shoes two sizes too small.)

But we enjoyed a surprise side trip on our way home from Spain — a travel delay. Snow had delayed our departure (again traveling in the off-season to save money), so we missed our connection in Paris. That, as it turns out, was the only flight to Chicago that day, so we were handed toothbrushes and vouchers for a hotel near the airport and put on a bus. 

Mia and I made the best of missing luggage and a cloudy afternoon by walking around a nearby neighborhood where we saw nary a soul. We passed the rainy, dark evening playing hangman in the lobby and chit-chatting with another fellow who also was stranded. I couldn’t help but feel frustrated, however. Paris was *right out there somewhere,* and I couldn’t even see it. 

So I asked the concierge: Can we get to Paris in the morning? Fast? Before our flight leaves? 

He explained how to take the bus back to Charles de Gaulle airport. How to go to the lower level and buy a train ticket (vaguely). And he recommended we see the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, a bite-sized stop right off of the commuter line that we’d be taking. 

Mia and I washed up as best we could without our toiletries or clean clothes and went to bed early. 

Watch the Clock and the Map During Your Travel Delay

The next morning, dark and rainy, we managed to follow those steps. I somehow communicated what tickets I wanted at the counter. We got on the train and sped through the countryside toward the city with the quiet, weary-looking commuters making their way to work. 

At the appropriate stop, we made our way up to ground level. When we emerged, we found ourselves in a tremendous downpour, so we raced across the plaza to the cathedral without looking back. 

Of course it was magnificent. We were awestruck. What more can you say if you’ve seen Notre Dame before the fire? It was warm and dim, filled with incense. But Good Friday Mass was starting soon, so we had to leave. 

Poor Mia was desperate for a potty, so we stopped and had some crepes in a nearby restaurant. She was enchanted when they arrived with sparklers and took pictures of me and the crepes, little-girl photos still dear to my heart. When we finished, we walked out to discover a weak April sun had lit the spring flowers around the plaza. But our travel delay was coming to an end, and it was time to hustle back to the airport to catch our flight.

And I realized that, as the solo adult on this trip, I failed to look at where we’d popped out of the concrete. 

We found some stairs in the ground and followed them down to a train platform. But it was one of five, and time was ticking. I was beginning to panic and asked several passersby which way to the airport train. But my French is a fail, so I could only get closer and closer. 

At last, luck shone on us like that April sun. When I thought we’d reached the right platform, I asked a fellow passenger if we were headed to the airport. Lo and behold, he spoke English. He said he was going the same way. And during that long ride he chatted with me about maverick French biodynamic winemaker Nicolas Joly while encouraging Mia to consider university in Europe since she loved our trip so much. We never exchanged names, but this solo momma was so grateful for the kindness of strangers.

Our travel delay could have been a disappointment; instead, it was an extra bit of magic. Mia and I managed to catch our flight to Chicago, memories of both Malaga and a little bonus stop in Paris fueling our walk from the L train through the deep snow to our apartment. 

Although we strive to provide the most current information, bars, restaurants and attractions mentioned may close at any time, operate with a limited menu or reduced hours, or have takeout options only. We recommend checking individual websites for operating hours, updates, and social distancing measures before visiting.

The views expressed on this website represent the opinions of the authors; we encourage you to form your own opinions and confirm any facts.

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