By Elyse Simich
There is something so exhilarating about being in a city you’ve never experienced before. Some things are so familiar and other things are completely different to what you’re used to. The streets are different, and so are the languages. This is where a map often comes in handy; you can plan out exactly where you need to go to see everything you want to see.
For people like me, being in a new city is even more of an adventure, since I cannot read a map. No amount of pre-planning will ever make me immune to getting completely lost — and sometimes, this is how the best adventures are born.
On a recent trip to Europe, I met up with a group of people on my third night in London. We ended up in a popular nightlife district, and found ourselves sitting in a cocktail bar. As I sat down at our table, I realised that I genuinely didn’t know which part of London we were in.
“Where are we?” I asked. My question was met by roaring laughter. And that’s how my catchphrase was born.
A couple of weeks later we were able to relax for the first time in our trip. We were in Nice on the French Riviera and spent most of the day lying on deckchairs overlooking the flat, blue expanse of ocean.
That afternoon, my roommate, Jess and I walked along a single street until we found a boulevard of shopping centres. We had one room key, which was supposed to be left at reception whenever we left — but Jess had brought it with us. After about an hour we decided to separate so I could head back to the room. I took the room key and stepped out into the street.
I was sure I could recognise the buildings to my left, so I decided to walk in that direction. Soon, I didn’t recognise any of the buildings. I was completely disoriented and had no idea where my hotel was anymore.
I didn’t have any Internet access, so I couldn’t find directions on my phone. I walked into the nearest store and asked for directions in mediocre French. They didn’t know, so I spent the afternoon wandering around asking different retail workers for directions. It got to the point where I figured I would have to assume a new identity and live in Nice forever. Eventually, I got given a paper map. They had circled where I was and where I needed to be. They had even highlighted the best route to take.
On my way back to the hotel, I paid careful attention to where I was going, and checked I was going in the right direction at every intersection. I saw so much more of the city than I would have if I had gone in the right direction to begin with.
I soon found myself on the correct street ad followed it to the intersection where my hotel was. Except, I couldn’t see it. I looked across the street and saw some people from my tour. I started running after them. Except, they were actually strangers. I was thinking I would have to resort to Plan B at this point. And then, I realised I was standing in front of my hotel. Sigh.
I still had the single room key, so I wondered where Jess would be waiting for me. I climbed the stairs and unlocked the door. She was sitting on the bed and looked up as I walked in.
“How did you get in?” I asked.
“I told the guy at reception that my roommate was sleeping and couldn’t hear me knocking on the door,” she said, rolling her eyes. “He was not impressed, but eventually gave me the spare key.”
Images screenshot from PanAm, photograph by author