Such a beautiful city.
The first time I visited was a few years after school. I took a long sabbatical from my job and travelled with my old roommate and good friend. I had never been out of the country, except for a few jaunts to Canada in the family station wagon as a child. We planned this trip for at least six or eight months. This was before cell phones, or the internet. Hell, it was long before Windows. Hahaha. Oh, my. Feeling my age. Anyway, you had to buy books and make phone calls and send away for information and send information back and wait. Just the process of getting a Eurail pass, something you could research and purchase in under five minutes today, was a weeks long process. And then finding out which countries required Visa’s, and which countries had transportation strikes and determining conversion rates for all their currency. Although I seem to recall that the daily paper listed daily conversion rates for all the major currencies. What’s a daily paper you ask? Go away… And don’t get me started on arranging accommodations in each new city. And we walked both ways up hill and snow. Ok, I’ll stop.
But is it any wonder I wasn’t enamored by the city of lights on my first visit. We had spent the first week or ten days in England and Ireland, where we could speak the language and where we had a few friends. But I seem to recall an especially rough channel crossing which must have been the long way because it took all night from Gallway to a port somewhere in France, followed by a confusing train ride into Paris. I don’t remember where we stayed, but it must have been a short visit packed to the brim with tourist attractions. I was overwhelmed and out of place and probably intimidated by the French, who could spot a naive American backpacker a mile away. I hopped on the train out of town with relief.
My next visit was ten or twelve years later. My husband’s job took him to Paris all the time and he knew the city, the trains, the good restaurants, and he even spoke a little French. My stress level was tons better. And there must have been the internet by then because I remember being able to see a photo of the front of our hotel before arriving.
The hotel was quaint and reasonably priced and our room was clean. But the bed was another story. One of those ancient, flat, musty things that caves in to the center and the lighter person on the bed (me) is always on the slant, trying not to roll into the other. But, really, that bed is my only bad memory of the trip. We wandered the streets and parks and museums by day and had some incredible meals in the evenings. One especially nice evening we sat in the parlor of a nice hotel where my husband had colleagues staying. We dressed in black and must have looked chic because we were mistaken for Parisians and asked directions by tourists on more than one occasion. I fell in love with the city and the cafes and the parks and vowed to learn French. I’ve started to learn French at least five or six times over the years and each time I pick up a little more, but I am a long way from speaking it. Someday…
My third trip to Paris was with the whole family. By now the internet was in full swing and we stayed at a cute little VRBO. Talk about evolution. We stayed in someone’s home and had online conversations with the owner as we prepared our visit. There’s another blog post – stay in a local home. It beats hotels any day!
But back to my story. The kids were high school aged. In fact, I took my daughter’s senior pictures while we were there. It was amazing to see the city through their young eyes. And it was such a privilege to be able to show them how people live in other parts of the world. We’ve always loved to travel and it was important to instill that passion in them. It worked, too. They all studied abroad for a semester at one point or another in their college careers. So, in many ways they’ve surpassed me in travel experiences. I will have to write a future post about the difference between visiting a place and living in it. I hope I have that experience in store for me somewhere in my future.
So, what is my advice to you about Paris? Go. Find a way. Have the experience of strolling a busy street and taking a short cut through an ancient cemetery. Just have the experience of going almost everywhere on foot or public transportation. Know what it is like to sit in an outdoor cafe and sip cappuccino in the morning or visiting the local boulanger for fresh bread and croissants for your breakfast. Watch the lovers stroll the parks and know the cool (but slightly damp) relief of stepping into an ancient cathedral on a hot day and slowly taking in all of the statuary and relics. Sit at a table with your fellow diners literally close enough to eat off their plate and get lost in the maze of side streets.
The world is a big place. We spend too much time in our own little corner and we run the risk of getting conceited and ignorant. Not a good combination!