My first trip to Paris was memorable for many reasons, but the first memory was not the one I ever wanted to have. The flight was (thankfully) uneventful, even for 2004 and all the crazy "security" measures which had been implemented in the years following 9/11. It was early in the morning of the Saturday after Thanksgiving and I had 48 hours to play in the city before I had to be at work on Monday morning. This was going to be epic!
If only I could find my hotel.
Before I left the US, my team lead had drawn out a map for me of the city. I had requested a rental car with a GPS device but none were available when I picked up my ride. No worries, I had this map drawn on a napkin and felt confident that I could get to my hotel in La Defense. Six hours, and probably 4-5 loops around the city later, I finally made wandered into the hotel.
Not only did I not speak any French, I didn't realize something about French society: billboard type road signs don't exist there like they do in the US; at least, not in the cities. Instead of a big sign that says "Exit 123", you see a small sign in an out of the way spot that says "9°" and foreigners are just supposed to figure it out. I lost track of how many times I drove right by that sign having no idea exactly what it meant.
I did get an excellent lesson during those six hours in self-reliance. Never again did I get lost in Paris in the 18 months I traveled there and back again. It was a hard lesson to learn, but the one bit of recompense I received was that the hotel front desk felt so bad for me that they upgraded me to a much nicer room for free. Sometimes, frustration does