Last week I shared how travel has been a great source of healing in my life over the years...but if I had to name one place that moved my heart in the biggest way, it would be Paris.
Paris was my first stop in my solo European backpacking trip. (Yes, almost 6 weeks dashing around Europe by myself. Some people dip their toes into foreign exploration with a week getaway, but I dove in head first!) The entire trip was a time of healing and a time to discover myself again....and that process began in Paris, a place I had spent years daydreaming about, reading about and longing to visit (thanks to the world's best french teacher).
Paris is a city you love or hate....I fall firmly in the "love" category. And, honestly, although I can totally understand why Paris might not be everyone's #1 destination, I have a hard time comprehending why people hate this glimmering city of lights full of delicious sights and scents. It's such a large diverse city that there is something there for everyone! But, I think the reason for "hate" is that Paris is too "common" for many experienced travelers. It's no longer "cool" to visit classic locations (which has partly led to my avoidance of London). It's popular to go "off the beaten path" these days - to exotic locations, small unknown provincial towns, up and coming cities, etc. And, I totally understand that, I really do. I, too, have visited some locations that aren't as well-known: Krakow, Poland; Colmar, France; Malawi; Zambia; Montserrat, Spain. It is thrilling to see areas that fewer have seen - and it gives you a chance to dive into culture in a more realistic, less touristy way by digging deep into daily beauty that is not perfectly packaged up for you.
But, just because you love seeing the less traveled places and fear the crowds at more popular destinations doesn't mean you should throw the bébé out with the bath water! Traditional European cities are often anything but boring! In fact, locations like Paris are classic because they stand the test of time. Paris is modern and chic but also full of old school charm. It is glamorous yet trendy, full of gourmet restaurants and cheap street food, a place to see an opera or cabaret, full of wealthy socialites and bohemian college students. It's history mixed with magic. Paris has so much character in each block that it's impossible to discover it all with one visit.
I first visited Paris when I was 23. I was jet-lagged, still recovering from law school exams and heartbroken-- and completely in awe. One would think that a single woman travelling alone, recovering from a break up, would hate Paris and the "amour" it represents, but it was just the opposite -- I was in love with quaint buildings with iron balconies, the candles lit in centuries old churches, the bridges framing the Seine River, wondering aimlessly through galleries, quietly sitting in public parks, exploring side streets and different neighborhoods and of course, the crepes!! You see, before I ever fell in love with a man, I fell in love with Paris, with France, with the idea of international travel and cultures in general. I have my amazing high school french teacher to thank for that obsession.(Excellent language teachers spread a love of the culture as well as a knowledge of the language) Stepping foot into this city of romance and love did not cause self-pity or sorrow or longing - instead, it was like finally meeting the pen pal lover you had been corresponding with for years. During my few days in Paris, I fell more in love with a city, a culture, a mindset and this love gave me a better view of myself and my circumstances.
With that first step onto a Parisian rue, I knew I would be a lifelong traveler (and I knew one of my favorite destinations would always be Paris because first loves remain with us forever). I felt incredibly small in this big international world, yet strong and independent and open-minded. I was proud of myself for being the type of women who would dust her self off, sell her engagement ring and spend the profits venturing off on a journey by herself. I felt blessed for the opportunity to adventure solo and selfishly enjoy all the experiences I longed for. (Traveling alone means you don't have to balance itineraries and can spend your time soaking in the art, food, shopping and neighborhood strolls that interest you! --- says the woman whose permanent travel companion plans vacations around his favorite architects and their creations, so there's a little more compromising of itineraries now....)
Paris is certainly a city for lovers to experience, but let me assure you, it's also a wonderful place for those going it alone. Get lost exploring beautiful alleys, fill your belly with crepes and baguettes and fresh cheese (with no one there to judge you, I might add...), sit leisurely and read in a park without being hurried along, window shop (or actually shop), meander through famous museums and visit the sights you want to see!
Paris gave me back a piece of myself. Seeing the city of lights was something I always wanted to do -- and I did it, by myself. Checking Paris off my bucket list gave me a strange mix of pride and freedom and joy, all at once.
As I boarded a train to Barcelona and said my farewells to Paris, I remember praying, "The next time I come, let me come with someone special." Paris simultaneously helped renew my independence and foster hope. While wondering the streets of a romantic city, broken and bruised at love's expense, I could not help but remember the positive side of love. Certainly it was worth the risk!
This September, I am returning with someone special.... Dave and I are making a week long trip to Paris. We both love traveling and experiencing cities and cultures together -- and although he has been to Europe twice, he has never been to France. This trip has been on our couple's bucket list -- going to Paris together - celebrating love and marriage and hope and survival (and architecture and food).
I can't wait! Holding hands as we stroll through quintessentially Parisian neighborhoods. Placing our lock on the famous Pont des Arts bridge. Sharing pastries and splitting bottles of wine and sitting in collective awe of the lights and beauty before us. Enjoying fine meals and taking a boat cruise and making too many visits to see the Eiffel tower all lit up. Stolen kisses and sweet words along the river. Taking the perfect Christmas card picture. (Okay, this is my view of our trip. If Dave were to tell you his vision for the trip, it would be "see lots of famous buildings and analyze every part of the building and discuss it -- with Katy" What can I say, we view romance differently....)
But, I treasure the fact that my first visit to this incredible city was mine alone, without a husband, even without a friend alongside me. I found healing, hope and little pieces of myself -- and fell in love with a city - the history, lights, culture and yes, even the image and allure of what Paris represents. And now that I am so helplessly in love with Dave, I can't wait to share the city I love with the man I love.