On Sept 15th, 2011, I began the lifestyle that would define me for the following months; that of a backpacker. My goal was to explore the world, learn about other cultures, and meet new people solely through mobile applications and social networks. Armed with an unlocked iPhone and 7 days worth of clothes, I made my way around based on the recommendations of friends and followers.
When I arrived in Paris via the Eurostar from London, everything was going according to plan. I had a restful train ride in which I wrote, edited photos and caught up on that week’s episode of ‘Breaking Bad’. When I got to the station my friend Kirsten was there waiting for me at the gate with a big smile.
Kirsten is over in Paris for grad school and had moved here just days before my arrival from Chicago. The original plan was for me to stay with her on. She had anticipated she would have an apartment, but was unable to secure a place before my arrival and was staying with someone from her college alumni association. Fortunately she let me know with just enough time to find a hostel for Paris.
She needed to pick up her monthly train pass so I took the opportunity to purchase a series of tickets as well. The next thing on my agenda was to pick up a prepaid SIM card for my phone so that I could proceed as planned with crowd-sourcing my iternerary. In England I had found vending machines at the train station, so I assumed the situation would be similar in Paris. Not so.
Upon my arrival to my hostel I asked about getting a SIM card and I learned that the country had recently tightened restrictions. Due to anti-terrorism legislation, a requirement has been added to supply ID and fill out paperwork to buy even a temporary pre-paid SIM card. So, figuring that the staff that the Apple Store might offer more help, Kirsten and I head out towards the Louvre shopping area.
Once there I was able to get my bearings and learned that there was an Orange store nearby that might solve my problem.
Sure enough, once we arrived at Orange, a gentlemen was extremely helpful at getting me setup. In just minutes I had what I thought was a working SIM card with 500 MB of data only to have it stop working just moments later. Frustrated, I popped the SIM card out and plugged it back in. Suddenly things worked again! And then moments later, they stopped.
I went back to Orange to discover that I needed to ‘top up’ the SIM with an additional 10€ to make it work on data. Even then, it wouldn’t work until tomorrow.
After a little bit of cross-cultural customer service battling, I returned the card for a full refund and set out looking for other carriers via an old-school paper city map.
The plan was to meet up with Kirsten and her friends at a gelato cafe across from Notre Dame around 7 PM. However, by the time I found myself in the area I couldn’t locate the cafe in question, and spent an hour or so just walking up and down the street peering into restaurants before eventually giving up. Tired, hungry and surrounded by expensive food, I resorted to the cheapest thing I could find that I knew I could get quickly: Subway.
I tried looking for WiFi connections I could use to orient myself but it turned out that the same law that restricted SIM card purchases also restricted open WiFi
Unwilling to let the night be a complete bust I trekked back to Notre Dame and spent my time sitting in the courtyard people watching. As I sat there soaking in the incredible architecture, detailed craftsmanship, and the camaraderie around me, I determined that although nothing had gone as planned, it was still a beautiful night. Also, I was eating gelato. Gelato rules.
After some time wandering around I head back towards my hostel and found open WiFi at a bar near the Stalingrad plaza. When I finally got to catch up on tweets, fellow Chicagoan, Elaine noticed I was in Paris and so was she, I then hopped a train and headed her way.
Small photo set posted, more coming soon.