I have recurring nightmares about getting stuck in elevators and/or twisting and turning wildly through convoluted elevator tubes, through a bizarre skyscraper, the likes of which you’d only find in a Dr. Seuss book. I’m sure there’s some embarrassing, Freudian dream interpretation for all this, but I’d rather not think about what it might be.

Having just conquered the daunting, double-decker elevator of the Eiffel Tower, you’d think a tiny elevator would be no problem. You’d be wrong! On top of elevator-phobia, I have claustrophobia as well!

So you can imagine my dismay when I was greeted with a diminutive see-through iron cage, only slightly larger than the pink plastic one on Barbie’s Dream House.

stairs spiraling around a narrow elevator cage

It was my first trip to Paris, my group tour had just ended, and now I was traveling all by myself, seriously lacking in travel-smarts. I’d just checked in to my hotel, a quaint old building in the 7th arrondissement, near the Eiffel Tower.

Huge, old-fashioned metal key in hand, I followed an honest-to-goodness French maid, in full uniform, complete with starched white apron and hat, toward the center of the hotel. She stopped next to the stairs and a narrow elevator, and opened the swing-out door for me.

I hesitated, not sure what to do.  Was this some sort of dumb-waiter, made just for hoisting (leprechaun-sized) luggage upstairs for travel-weary tourists?  I leaned over and dropped my bags inside, then looked to her for approval before turning to walk up the stairs.  With a strange look on her face, she said, “Mademoiselle, vas-y, vas-y!” Go in, go in!

The mirror on the back wall is deceiving – there’s barely enough room for my luggage, let alone ME!

(Click here for a better photo.)

As une femme d’un certain âge, I hadn’t expected her to address me as a young, unmarried “mademoiselle” nor in the familiar “tu” form, usually reserved for children or close friends.  She didn’t seem much older than I was, maybe even younger. Besides, she didn’t really expect me to get in with my suitcases?!  Apparently, she did indeed.

Too shy to refuse her, especially in French, I picked up my suitcase and stepped inside, placing it back down on top of my shoes. Then I squeezed my carry-on bag tight against my chest, as she closed the door.  “So this is what it feels like to be buried alive in a coffin,” I thought, as I struggled to breathe.

In my head, I heard the voice of Rick Steves, my travel guru, reminding me not to go to Europe expecting to have American experiences. I thought of the years I’d yearned for the adventure of travel. In my naïveté, I had somehow expected the “adventure” to be all romance and fun, nothing really scary or too far outside my comfort zone.

Thankfully, I only had a few seconds to watch my life pass before my eyes, until I reached the 4th floor. I scrambled out and breathed deeply, relieved to be free from my temporary prison. Score one more point for me in overcoming another fear-factor moment!

That’s the cool thing about travel: it smacks you in the face with your weaknesses, and gives you more opportunities to choose something new, to grow beyond the person you were when you left home. I’m not saying I never feel afraid anymore, but in the years since then, I have gotten used to tiny elevators, and I’ve even gone up the big one a few more times! Each time it gets a little easier.

Now, tiny elevators = no problem! (in 2013)

Travel is rich with learning opportunities,
and the ultimate souvenir is a broader perspective. –Rick Steves

Vocabulaire

l’ascenseur ……. elevator

les escaliers ……. stairs

avoir peur (de) ……. to be afraid (of something)

Affrontez votre peur ! ……. Face your fear!

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