It was my first time in Europe. I was so excited about everything I was going to see that I could cry, but there was one thing that excited me above all else: Versailles. I had dreamed about my trip to the palace, and when the day finally came I could hardly contain myself. I was traveling with my mother, and, as usually, I was grouchy on our morning train ride from Paris. Morning’s are not my strong suit, and the fact that coffee in France comes in a thimble did not help.
Once we arrived in Versailles, we were greeted by a line that would make Disneyland jealous. When we finally made it through, my head was spinning as I tried to take it all in. I was trying to form a plan, organize my thoughts so I could be sure to not miss anything.
“I have to pee.” As soon as I heard my mom speak the words, I knew it was going to be another half hour before I was able to explore. The line for the bathroom was nearly as long as the line to get in. I took a deep breathe, summoned my patience, and found a windowsill to sit in as I waited, taking the opportunity to use the free wifi.
I waited, and waited, and waited. What was taking so long? I looked at the time. I started paying attention to the people in line. I watched people go all the way through the line and come back out, but my mom was nowhere to be seen. I went into the bathroom and called her name. Nothing. Oh well, I thought, she must have just missed me and gone ahead. No big deal. It's not like it will be hard to find her in the sea of 388383 people, right?
I decided to go through the main section of the palace because that seemed like the most likely place to find her. I walked fast, not looking at anything but the people, trying to spot her among the tourists. I ignored the Hall of Mirrors, the Queen's apartment, the Royal Chapel. I went through the whole palace in around 10 minutes. I didn't see her anywhere.
I rationalized that she would probably be waiting for me at the main exit before you reach the garden. I got there, looked around, but she was nowhere to be seen. I walked around a little, staring at everyone I saw. Panic was starting to rise in my gut. Where was she? Could I have missed her? I sat down and waited, watching the people stream out of the palace, searching for her face. I went to the café, looking at every person in every seat. I looked in the gift shop, the line for the tram, I went back to the palace entrance. I went through the attractions, again looking at nothing but people. She just wasn't anywhere.
I decided she must be somewhere in the gardens, and as Versailles is absolutely gigantic, there was no way I could look everywhere. I figured she had to leave at some point, so I could wait by the exit, watch everyone leave, and spot her there. At this point, closing time was approaching soon, as I had already spent my whole day searching. I found a seat on a wall near the exit and started watching.
Nothing. I watched a little longer. Nothing. I was really starting to panic at this point. What if I didn't find her? I was the one who navigated our way through the trains and subway. Could she find her way home? Did she even have any money? I knew I had to find her. I looked harder, willing myself to see her, but all I saw were unfamiliar faces.
I sat on that wall for around three hours, waiting until well after the palace had closed and the streams of people had subsided. My panic had risen with every passing hour. My only hope now was that I had missed her and would find her at the hotel. I took the train back to Paris, and the subway back to our hotel. I tried to calm myself down in the elevator. I held my breath as I opened the door to our room.
It was empty. The room was empty, and there was no sign that she had been there at all. It was eight o'clock at night. The palace had closed at five. Maybe she missed the train back? Maybe she stopped somewhere to get food? I tried to talk myself out of my worry. If she wasn't back by nine, I told myself, then you can worry. Nine came and went. Ten I thought, if she isn't back by ten then something really must be wrong.
By ten I was in tears. I was thinking of everything that could have happened. I called Versailles see if they had any information that would help me. They only spoke French and broken English. I only spoke English and broken French. They must have thought I was insane, hysterically crying about my missing mother. No they told me, we know nothing about it. I tried to call my step dad on Skype, hoping a familiar voice would calm me down, but the internet in our hotel didn't work.
By eleven I knew she was a goner. There was nothing she could have been doing for the six hours since the park closed. I went down to ask my hotel receptionist if I should call the police. He looked shocked at my tear streamed face. Give it another hour he said. It will be okay. I went back to my empty hotel room, and sat around for another hour, trying my hardest to keep it together.
A little after twelve, the phone rang. I answered it before the first ring was even over. It was the hotel receptionist. He had seen her come through the lobby. Relief flooded over me. She was alive. As soon as she opened the door I was wrapping my arms around her,.
“Thanks for leaving me,” she said in probably the rudest voice she could muster. She was angry and hurt, and I couldn't understand why. I explained to her what my day had been like, asked where the hell she had been. Apparently, she had assumed that I didn't want to wait for her and left her behind. She had spent her day exploring, then gone out to a nice dinner, gotten dessert, a few glasses of wine, the whole nine yards. My panic had been for nothing.
As with any traveler experience, I learned a great lesson from this ordeal. When traveling with someone, ALWAYS have a plan for if you get separated. Have a meeting spot and time. Know what you will do if you can't find each other. Be sure that each of you has money and knows the way back. If you do this, you will avoid spending an entire day in a panic, searching for your lost travel companion.