Viva L'Afrique!

To Africa and Back

The Train that Never Came from Drancy

By the time I was at the RER station to head back to the airport, I had been awake for something like 28 hours. I was exhausted both physically and mentally, and I was ready to get back to the airport and just relax until my flight was boarding. If only . . .

I boarded the train back to St. Michel, the station where I would need to change trains. It was a short ride, then I hopped off and bought a new ticket. When I went to board the train, all that exhaustion finally caught up with me. Despite having (somewhat) figuring out the train system, I couldn’t quite figure out where to go. I went back to the ticket station and asked how to get to Charles de Gaulle.

To the left. Perfect. It was only a few minutes wait before my train came. I looked at the final destination and hopped on board. While I sat waiting for the twenty to thirty minute ride back, there was an announcement over the PA. Something in French, and then, “This train’s final destination has changed to . . . ”

Gobbly gook. That’s what I heard. Destinationchanged and a whole lot of static over the PA. Looking at the train’s “map,” I could tell there were two trains on this line that split off at the halfway point. One went to Charles de Gaulle and the other . . . who knows. Not the airport, though. I decided I would wait and see if my train would head towards the first stop on the other line; if so, I would simply hop off, go back a stop, and get on the proper train.

As soon as we arrived at the first stop on the other line, I hopped off and took a train back. I planned on getting off at the very first stop back, but we sped right past. And then past another one. Apparently, I had gotten on an express train that only stopped at the busiest stops. I wasted about 20-25 minutes going all the way back to a stop not far from where I had originally boarded the train.

As I waited for another train to take me to Charles de Gaulle, I began to notice that there were stairs leading to the different tracks going in opposite directions. I looked up at the monitors – do I need to go to another track for my train? I clearly remembered getting off of the train headed back towards Paris in one direction, but I was tired and my thoughts were fuzzy. The train track I got off on couldn’t possibly run trains going in the opposite direction. Right?

But the monitor I was reading showed a train marked Charles de Gaulle. Maybe I was confused. I got on the train.

And quickly realized I was heading closer to France. Off at the next stop. And I waited.

I walked back and forth looking for a train in the right direction heading to Charles de Gaulle. I stood by the tracks that had the train on the same line that split off – the one I had been on the first time. At least three trains going to that other destination came, so I began to walk around and read the signs. A girl walked up to me and began speaking in French asking about the trains – I stopped her and tried to say in my broken French that I was not from here. It was then, watching her walk off, when I noticed a sign.

All Charles de Gaulle trains were cancelled from April 29th – May 5th. Sorry for the inconvenience. You will have to board at another station.

I could not believe my bad luck. I hopped back on the next train headed away from Paris. I went to depart at the next stop, but once again, we whizzed right by. Foiled again by another one of those express trains. No matter, I’d get off at the next stop.

Photo credit: Nick Egglington

I hurried off the train as it came to a stop along with several other people. It was quite a hectic atmosphere as everyone exited the train, and I tried to follow them at this odd little station. There were bridges over the trains to get to the other tracks, and it was absolutely in the middle of nowhere – it seemed like there was nothing but warehouses and flats around. The people that had exited rushed through the gates and on to their next destination, and before I could realize what was going on, I was alone.

Drancy, France. That’s what the sign read at the train station. It looked terribly familiar because when I had passed on my way into Paris, I had noted that I should avoid ever getting off there.

The two tracks were long and empty. I walked up the steps, then back down. How do I know which train to get on? I looked around for a ticket booth but without any luck. I didn’t have much cash on me, so I was afraid that if I left the terminal, I might not be able to purchase a ticket to get back on the train – especially if there were no people at a ticket booth. I looked at my phone.

It was just after 8pm. My flight was at 11pm. I had left the city nearly two hours ago. I began to panic.

I finally noticed a monitor overhead that I had not seen before. It listed the times of the trains. There were five trains coming that would be splitting off away from the airport. At the very bottom of the screen, I noticed one train was listed as CDG – it wouldn’t be here until 9:04. One hour away.

I wanted to look up a cab company on my phone, but the internet was disabled while I was overseas. You never realize just how much you depend on your phone’s internet until you don’t have it.

I guess I could have gotten on another train, hoping it would take me to a station with service to the airport. Maybe I would get lucky and get on in the right direction this time. But considering my bad luck thus far, it seemed a better option to simply wait.

I watched as several trains whizzed by, passing on to their express destinations.

After about twenty minutes, a few people trickled down, quickly boarding their trains. At this point, I was too embarrassed to ask for help anyway.

I called my dad to let him know what was going on, but my phone died before I could finish the conversation.

So I sat and I waited, watching the monitor above and hoping to make it out of Drancy, France on time.


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This entry was posted on June 19, 2012 by in Travel and tagged , , , , .
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