The Vacation, Part One: Paris
While Matt, Austin and I had read and planned and scrutinized the arrondissements on a map, in guidebooks, and in exchanges amongst friends, I felt somehow completely unprepared when Matt and I touched down at Charles de Gaulle on July 18th. My stomach was filled with butterflies as the captain announced that it was going to be a beautiful 35° C. Only on airplanes do they use words like beautiful to describe the weather.
Right away I felt out of sync with the surrounds. While waiting to buy tickets for the train, everyone was so polite to one another we could barely tell who was in line. A nice young Frenchman approached me while I was standing half in and half out of line and launched into three or four sentences before he trailed off, noticing my expression of confusion, and hearing the few words I half spat out and half swallowed when I told him I didn't speak French.
When we got up to the machine, we were lacking in both Euro coins and a chip-and-pin credit card, the only options for payment (!?). I forgot about paying to use the bathroom, and, once outside, we were wholly unprepared for the 90°+ F weather in our leather boots, jeans, and shirts.
As we were getting on the non air-conditioned car, we caught a whiff of sandalwood off the Indian couple standing on the platform and I was literally transported back to Mumbai, trundling along on the train into town. Our first glimpse of Gare du Nord suspiciously reminded us of Port Authority. Not exactly the welcome we were expecting. As we were finally weaving through the metro tunnels on our way to the 11th, I thought of Amélie. I know, real original. But when I first watched the film, I remember being so caught up in this world that somehow felt both forwards and backwards, new and old. It was like a glimpse of the future from back in the 80s, something that would never come to be yet had the makings of a good idea. And here it was, and is. Paris.
Let's just say that although we hadn't traveled very far to reach Paris — unlike my brother who arrived the following day from New York by way of Casablanca — we felt somehow transported.
Over the course of the next several days in Paris, a few in Toulouse, a scant few in Provence, and two icy dips in the Mediterranean before taking our dirt cheap Easyjet flight home from Marseille, Austin, Matt and I continued to venture farther and farther from our known surrounds and deeper and deeper into France. As the trip increased in speed and distance, we unwound.
Yet it was those first few dizzying days that I'd like to share with you here. We walked some 50 miles back and forth across Paris, until our feet were raw and we could barely manage another step. If you're counting sites (see below for our favorites), we visited the Louvre, the Rodin Museum, Luxembourg Gardens, Tuileries Garden, a couple weekly organic markets (Batignolles and Raspail), Shakespeare and Company, Berthillon for ice cream, both of the rivaled macaroon shops (Ladurée and Pierre Hermé), and both the Père Lachaise and the Montparnasse Cemetery. We walked from the 3rd-11th and traveled as far as the 17th, 19th, and 20th. At times our exploring and visiting of sites felt secondary to the primary goal of eating, of course.
All the while I held out my camera and captured memories, big and small, to reflect on later. And it was everything I'd imagined and everything I had not.