A Cosy Night in Paris with a Romanian and an Indian

Picture your bedroom at home. You’ve got a bed in there, a double or a king-size if you’re doing well in life, a single if you’re poor and unloved. You’ve got a TV on a chest of drawers maybe. You’ve got a lamp, a bedside table, a wardrobe, some pictures or paintings on your wall, and probably some mysterious stain on your ceiling that’s been there since the previous occupants moved out. Now add a sink into that space. Then a stove. Then a shower cubicle. Then your TV, couch and bookcases. Don’t make the room any bigger, just cram it all right in there.

That’s what the one-room apartment in Paris was like. It was also about 13 floors up and barely a croissant’s throw from the Eiffel Tower. I was spending my final night in this city of romance with a Romanian and an Indian in this room; it was certainly cosy enough for us to get all hot and steamy together.

View from Paris Apartment at Night

I sat on the single mattress on the floor that served as a bed. The Indian guy sat next to me. He didn’t say much. Lucian, our Romanian host, stood in the “kitchen” and made us dinner — a plate of pickled cabbage to start, followed by a massive bowl of salad with feta cheese and some tasty dressing from Romania, followed by a plate of vegetables and rice.

I say our host made “us” dinner, but the Indian guy refused to eat.  I guess he was from some wealthy family with a dozen servants and cutlery edged with gold leaf, and he’d found a one-room apartment in the centre of Paris that was a third of the size of his family’s cow’s shed, and he didn’t feel comfortable using up our host’s resources. He clearly hadn’t couchsurfed before.

“Here Chirpy,” Lucian said, handing me a glass and a half-full carton of orange juice. “Help yourself.” So I did.

Lucian was happy to do most of the talking, which suited me just fine. I shared my travel stories and asked questions to satisfy my curiosity about this fascinating Romanian who’d been to more countries than I could name and spoke so many languages I got a headache trying to comprehend how he could store that much information in his head. The Indian guy just sat there in puzzled silence, like he’d just seen a man give birth to a cat. I felt sorry for him. I couldn’t help but smile at the fact he came from a country known for giving approximately 200% of its visitors food poisoning and he’d come to one of the wealthiest cities in the world and he’d found an apartment for which the toilet was a hole in the ground in a room down the corridor shared with 20 other people.

After we’d eaten — including three desserts — the Indian guy made excuses and left, having steadfastly refused even something as basic as a glass of tap water.

Lucian showed me photos of his adventures on his laptop until the early hours of the morning. “Some people just aren’t receptive to travel,” he said, as we looked at a picture of a family he stayed with in Nigeria. “For them, travel has to be hotels and business class, room service and complimentary mints. That’s travel, but only in its most basic sense. Real travel should involve staying with real people, eating their food, drinking their orange juice, sharing their mess and their muck. Only then can you understand a place.”

Lucian was obviously talking about the Indian guy, a friend of his he’d been messaging online for over a year. I could sense his disappointment at finally meeting him, thicker than the crêpe I’d just eaten.

In the morning, after we’d crammed together on the mattress and slept a few hours, I got a hug from Lucian underneath the Eiffel Tower where I was leaving him. There was affection in that hug and I couldn’t help but think it was a warmer hug than I might’ve received if the Indian guy hadn’t been there the night before. We’d bonded.

Below the Eiffel Tower

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11 Comments Add yours

  1. Katie says:

    I’ve never been brave enough to stay with someone new when I travel, but I guess I’m missing out. What Lucian said about travel really makes a lot of sense.

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  2. Rita Kovtun says:

    Glad you got to see Paris! I agree with the sentiment about travel. Travel’s about experiencing culture, not just seeing pretty monuments.

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  3. Jillian says:

    Oh man, I ADORE couchsurfing! I completely agree with Lucian; it really is the best way to travel and experience places!

    And the place you stayed in Paris sounds great! What better view could you want? And close to everything! And Lucian definitely sounds like one of the many warm, caring hosts there are out there! 🙂

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  4. Samantha says:

    Lucian hit the nail on the head. Apart from fancy hotels and room service, something I can never understand is people who do all-inclusives and never leave the resort. I hate to break it to you but you haven’t been to Mexico or Cuba if you never left the resort!

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  5. What a brilliant night you seem to have had. I completely agree with Lucian. My best travel experiences were staying with hill tribes in the northern hills of Thailand, living amongst street families in Cambodia, being invited into the home of a family in a small industrial town in China, living with a family for a couple of months in Frankfurt. I have received so much more from these experiences than in hotels and tourist guides. I have never couchsurfed, not quite had the guts yet! But hopefully I’ll get there one day. I am currently living in Germany for the year, hoping to embrace that culture and learn the language. I have embraced sauerkraut already and am shaking hands with people at every opportunity. What more could you want?! Great post 🙂

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    1. ambigram0 says:

      Staying with hill tribes in Thailand and street families in Cambodia sounds awesome. You shouldn’t have any problems with couchsurfing!

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  6. emesereka says:

    I’m with Lucian on this! Then again, we’re from the same country :).
    Thank you for this article, it brought a smile on my face. Also, thanks for liking one of my posts, it got me to visit your blog. Keep this up, it’s a good one!

    Like

  7. thembalee says:

    Reblogged this on simplegirlwrites and commented:
    Love the thoughts on what “travel” is…

    Like

  8. Madhu says:

    Lovely narrative!
    I agree on principle and I do go to great lengths to experience a place. I detest cruises and leave beach resorts only for family reunions. That said, I have reached an age where I like my creature comforts – particularly my porcelain – and will go to great lengths to avoid the hole in the ground you speak of, even if I come from a country known for giving approximately 200% of its visitors food poisoning 🙂 And, I am no spoiled rich brat by any stretch of the imagination. Doesn’t make me less of a traveler.

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  9. notnyet says:

    Like Madhu, I prefer comforts now, but I wouldnt trade the trips that literally started with a coin toss to decide the day’s direction.

    Like

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