In November of 1998, I turned 30. The following I wrote in 1999 after my first solo trip. At the time I tucked it away, and having re-read it I can see with some relief, my voice in my writing has stayed consistent and the quality of my writing has improved. I have retyped it here with some minor editing of some glaring (to me) word choices. I am choosing to share this in light of the terror attacks in Paris. Paris always has been and always will be a city of light for me. I ran the Paris Marathon and spent another lovely week there in April of 2004. The French and the people of the world will rise against the hatred that comes from cowardly terrorists with love and light. We will stand for Liberté, égalité, fraternité.
Turning thirty was anti-climatic and life altering at the same time. By now I should have expected that, since most things in my life are paradoxical, but that is another story. The night of my thirtieth birthday at a rather late hour, I finally sat down to dinner with my dad. My mom was in the hospital unexpectedly (they were supposed to be in Charleston with me celebrating my milestone) . Instead I had rushed to Virginia. I don’t know why, but for some reason on the rare occasions that dad and I spend time alone he has this need to impart pearls of wisdom. Perhaps since I am still single he feels responsible or maybe because I am an only child he puts his “would-haves” on me. Regardless, as we dug into our Moo Shoo Pork, he focused on how my energies seemed to concentrate on work and not enough on play. “Go somewhere” he urged, telling me about a young guy in his office who had gone to Spain for a long weekend. “Who knows, maybe I’ll go to Paris” I responded rather flippantly.
In the weeks that followed the seeds for that conversation spread like passion flower vine in a lowcountry garden. I dreamed about it awake and asleep. So two months later tickets purchased and plans made, I called my dad to tell him a bout my week long adventure I had planned for the following April. I was somewhat surprised when his response was “You’re going alone?!” In fact that was the typical response I got usually followed by the comment, “How brave of you.” Undaunted I studied guide books, I brushed up on my lapsed French with tapes in the car and subjected my dog to one-sided French conversations. I watched movies and read books set in Paris.
Finally when the day arrived and I strapped myself into the seat taking me from Charleston to an airport with a plane that would take me across the ocean, a little panic set in. What was I thinking, could I really spend a week alone in a foreign city?” On the second plane my fear intensified, I almost got off the plane. What stopped me was a handsome Frenchman who sat down next to me. Over the course of the flight we had many conversations and when we landed he navigated me quickly through customs and on to the train. When his stop approached I asked him for any last words of wisdom. He laughed and said, “Don’t trust other Frenchmen as you have trusted me.”
My stay in Paris was truly magical. April in Paris is so much more than a cliché. The cherry blossoms drifted down around Notre Dame like snowflakes. The tulips in the gardens were like brilliant jewels in green velvet boxes. The architecture and the shop windows were greater than expectation, to take it all in was sensory overload. My hotel was on the left bank and my window looked right out onto the Seine with a view of the Louvre on the other side. I walked everywhere, not wanting to miss a single lamppost or side street window box. My observation skills were in fine tune and I kept my journal on me at all times so I could pause and write my impressions in the moment.
The museums were spectacular, I highly recommend the intermusee pass which lets you in all the major museums and monuments without having to wait in line. At the Musee de Orsay I was able to get in an hour before the general public, I had the top floor virtually to myself. I spent a day and a half in the Louvre, taking in vast treasures, more impressive than the oversold Mona Lisa and Winged Victory. I climbed to the top of the Arch de Triomphe, cruised the Seine, listened to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in Saint Chapelle and enjoyed jazz at a swank left bank club. I enjoyed conversations with strangers and the food from the street to fine establishments was superb. Paris exceeded my expectations and gave me a gift, the gift of growth.
When it came time to leave, I reluctantly boarded the plane, a week was simply not enough. On return to my life in Charleston, I realized the trip had been more than a vacation, it was a life-altering event. I reconnected to myself, to my confident and independent self. I could travel alone and savor the experience. I awakened the spirit of adventure and creativity that I had some how lost in my twenties while trying to become who I thought I was supposed to be. I had found myself in Paris and I can hardly wait to plan my next trip!
Re-typing this makes me so want to plan a trip somewhere! I was blessed to spend time in Paris again as well as Dublin and London since that trip and I have a bucket list of trips at the ready. One of the benefits of travel is your mind and heart open to the world. As a child we lived in Europe for a few years and I was traipsed through many countries, but that first adult trip, my solo trip to Paris will live in my heart, VIVE LA FRANCE!