First International Bus Ride in Europe

Nearly 17 months! It had been nearly 17 months since I was last on French soil. My last trip to France before this trip had been in July 2013, and boy did I miss France dearly! But what separated my past two journeys to France from this one was that this journey was taking place in wintertime, whereas my past journeys all took place in the months of June and July. I wanted to experience wandering around la Ville Lumière in a different setting, where sweltering heat and 10pm sunsets would be replaced by the colder, shorter days of winter, where summertime outdoor festivals would be replaced by wintertime outdoor markets, where I could see one of my favorite cities in the world from a new perspective.

Every Great Trip Starts with a Great Plan

A month earlier in November, I had already decided that I wanted to travel to Paris over Christmas vacation. It had been too long since my last trip there and I had been planning on traveling there at some point during my Autumn semester, but with work and commitments not allowing that, my Christmas vacation would be the perfect time for me to go.

I started my planning by searching online for hotels in Paris and plane/train/bus ticket prices, and it didn’t take long for me to pick a hotel and method of travel. Given that I would be traveling during the holidays, I expected vacancies to be scarce and prices to be on the higher end. Luckily the hotel that I stayed at during my 2013 Paris trip had available rooms and was reasonably prices, so it was a very simple decision for me to pick that hotel, plus I was already familiar with the hotel and how to get there so it would make my trip less stressful in that regard.

When searching for plane/train/bus tickets, I noticed that Eurostar train tickets and flight tickets were the priciest, although the short journey time of a couple of hours or less certainly made up for the higher price. However, taking a plane to Paris would involve me having to plan for travel to and from the airport, lengthy queues at the airport for security checks and baggage claims, etc. On the other hand, I noticed that bus tickets were the least expensive, although the bus ride was 7+ hours. However, one pro about taking the bus was that I wouldn’t be subjected to lengthy security checks or rigorous baggage weight/size/liquid limits. Also the bus stations in both London and Paris were conveniently located near the city center and near Tube/métro stations, a big pro in my eyes. And since it had been a while since I had a proper road trip and I really wanted to see the countryside of England and France, I ultimately decided to travel to Paris via bus.

After deciding on how I would get to Paris and where I would stay at, I further planned out where I would visit during my stay, whom I would visit in Paris, and when I would visit him or her. After the planning was finalized the hard part commenced, which was the wait in anticipation until my journey would begin!

Until Sunday England

After several weeks had passed it was mid-December and the day of departure was finally here! I would be taking the Megabus departing London’s Victoria Coach Station at 8pm with an arrival time of 6am at Paris’ Porte Maillot Coach park. I left Hatfield and made my way to central London, making sure to arrive with plenty of time to check-in at Victoria Coach Station. I checked-in and showing my ticket and passport, and the station was quite busy with travelers. I noted that there would be a queue when our bus was ready and the seating would be first-come, first-served. I told myself “I need to get a good spot in the queue if I want a coveted window seat,” and I was determined to do so!

The bus finally arrived and a queue immediately formed at the bus’ departure door. I jumped in the queue and slowly followed the herd outside to the awaiting bus. I watched as person after person checked-in their bags to the bus’ cargo area followed by boarding the bus. I wondered how many window seats had been taken up already, and I grew more anxious as more and more people in the queue ahead of me boarded the bus. When it was finally my turn to board the bus, I was surprised by how packed the bus was with passengers. I scanned the bus for an empty window seat, and by my luck I found one! I settled in for the long journey and another passenger with a look of confusion and apprehension asked me if I had ever done this before. I responded that this was my first time taking the bus to Paris as well; we were both in store for a new journey.

Across the Channel

After a couple of hours following our departure from London, most of the bus’ passengers were soundly asleep when the driver announced that we were close to Dover and would need to disembark the bus for the ferry journey across the English Channel. After waiting in a queue the bus finally drove onto the ferry and we all swiftly got off and boarded the ferry for the 90+ minute journey on-board. I could definitely feel the fatigue setting in after sleeping for a couple of hours on the bus and then being awakened to board the ferry. On-board some people grabbed food, some slept, some typed away on their laptops, some browsed their phones, etc. There weren’t really any good places to lay down and sleep since there were only chairs and hard floors throughout the ferry, but some people slept regardless. After taking for what felt like forever, an announcement played informing everyone that we would be docking in Calais soon and to return to our vehicles. Along with everyone else, I made my way back to the deck that contained the bus and boarded the bus once again.

Bienvenue en France!

After everyone was accounted for by the driver, the bus drove off on French soil on its final leg to Paris. I couldn’t help but notice that the bus along with the other road traffic was not driving on the right side of the road, confirming that we were truly out of the UK and in mainland Europe now. Fatigue had definitely set in as the early morning hours slowly rolled by, and I tried getting as much rest as possible so that I could take advantage of as much of the day as possible after arriving in Paris; I didn’t want to spend my entire morning and afternoon sleeping in the hotel room after all.

As the bus rolled on through the night’s darkness, I thought about how my previous two journeys to France occurred during the summer months, and this was my first time traveling to France in winter. I thought about how I would get to experience Paris in a different light, where t-shirts, ice cream, and warm 16 hour long days would be replaced by winter coats, hot cocoa, and long spells of darkness and frigid cold. I sat back and rested while reminiscing about my past journeys to France and about how much I missed the country, and the fact that I had finally returned once again was slowly setting into reality and brought a pleasant feeling to me.

As the bus rolled on and I glanced out of my window, I noticed several cars about  a half mile away on an adjacent two lane road. The cars were following each other and I imagined that they must have contained commuters on their way to work since it was early on a weekday morning. What came to mind was that those were not just any cars, but cars driving in France. Yes, I was once again in France and in another foreign country! To the average person they were just ordinary cars, but to me they represented something familiar, yet different; they were familiar in the sense that they just contained commuters on their way to work, which could be found anywhere on a typical weekday morning back in America, but they were different in the sense that were several thousand miles away and separated by an ocean from America. The journey finally came to a close as the bus pulled into Porte Maillot Coach park. I stepped off and gathered my belongings, after which I started to head towards the hotel that I had reserved.