All my life I've had this idea in my head about Paris. It was this magical city in my head, straight out of the past, full of artists and dogs and flea markers. I had this book when I was a kid called “Linnea in Monet's Garden”, and I think that's when this love affair with France started. I imagined walking cobbled streets and sitting in cafes eating croissants. I imagined seeing monets house in giverny and having a picnic in the garden. From then on I dreamed of going to France. I started teaching myself French in elementary school, and would spend hours searching exchange programs in France. I had multiple French pen pals.
Over the years, I grew up (a bit). France became lower on the list of places I wanted to go to, I lost as much interest in the places that had once held my imagination once I realized that thousands of other people wanted to see those same places and they wouldn't be as pristine and special as they were in my head. These days although I can't say I don't dream, I try not to hold on too hard to the concrete details of a dream. I've found that the more time I've spent imagining exactly how something will be, the more I'm often dissapointed when it doesn't live up to those expectations. Especially when it comes to big events like traveling, starting a new school, a big event, etc. I've found that I'm a lot happier going into things with no, or low expectations. It's a lot easier to be open to anything that way, and most of the time I'm pleasantly surprised. But when I was 11I did not have this mindset, and so when I finally found myself in Paris, ten years later, I found my expectations somewhat disappointed.
There were people everywhere.
Walking out of our 220 square foot apartment in the Latin Quarter we were in a street packed with tourists, and a variety of food of all nationalities, none of it looking very authentic. Vendors called to us, attempting to get us to to buy gyros, Indian food, Italians food. We had just from Prague, a city I loved, having come in with literally no expectations, but I was a little citied out. I was tired of the people and the concrete and the buildings and the fast paced navigating, all things that having grown up in a city, I'm really very competent at, but at this point in my life do not interest me as much as open land and a slower way of life.
We went to the louvre that evening, and after standing in line in the muggy evening for 45 minutes, and proceeding through the crowds to catch of a glimpse of the Mona Lisa, I almost had a panic attack in Greek antiquities. Sitting there on a bench surrounded by ancient marble I just didn't know what I was doing or why I was there. This wasn't what paris was supposed to be like, not what the Louvre was supposed to be like. I love art museums, though mostly more contemporary art, and I just wasn't having any fun at all. I was worn out, hungry, hot and it wasn't worth it at all. My expectations were just too high and there was just no way that real life could live up to it.
But if traveling is anything, it is finding ways to change your attitude when you are tired, hungry, worn out, not having fun, etc. It is being able to comprosmise when you don't have the same priorities as your travel companions, which really is just nearly ever 100% possible. I took some deep breaths and drank some water and got up. We went on to have a really nice dinner and I just reminded myself that it was Paris after all, and in just a few days we would be out of the city and driving around the south of France.
The next day was pretty fun, doing typical Paris tourist stuff, visiting the musee d’orsay (which houses the largest impressionist painter collection in the world !!! my mother and I have a shared love of the impressionists and whenever we travel we go to art museums), the Eiffel Tower (which we kinda happened upon as we were winding our way through neighborhoods, all of a sudden there it was! Such a cool way to see it. It honestly was really impressive to see such a giant structure. We didn't go up, no need to buy into that stuff), and ended the day having dinner in this somewhat overpriced oyster bar, where I had the best seafood risotto of my life. Literally every bite was heaven.
The next day was the day I'd been waiting for since those days when I would lie in our living room flipping through “Linnea in monets garden” and imagining myself there, in Monet’s garden. We took the train 45 minutes outside of Paris to Vernon, where we rented bikes and rode the six kilometers to Giverny, stopping for a lunch at a little cafe in town. Riding through these little villages was just beautiful and I finally felt like I was where I was meant to be. After standing in line for what felt like forever in the hot sun (seriously everything here is a line!!) we were in. Walking in the house was incredible. It feels as though Claude, Alice and the eight children who had lived there in 1890 had just stepped out for a walk, and would be right back, except for of course the few ropes and closed doors to keep you from touching the furniture. Walking through the gardens to the pond, I felt like I could have wandered those paths forever. The gardens were beautiful, full of poppys and zinneas, hyacinth and asters. The green boat floated in a cove of bamboo, looking just as it did in all the paintings, 150 years previously. All in all, a great experience and a wonderful day. The biking just added to it, as opposed to just getting on a bus with fifty other of my best friends, the tourists, and driving the 6k to the pink house.
For our last day in Paris, we met up with a friend of mine, who I had met a year ago while trekking through Iceland. Adelaide lives in Paris and is just one of the most lovely, interesting people ever. A fellow lover of mountains and hiking and climbing, it was great to just talk to her about what we had both been up to in the past year, as well as talking about politics, the environment, and whatever else came up. A year ago we were the only solo women hiking the Laugavegur and we banded together after a seriously miserable first day on the trail, sideways rain, glaciers and all. It was both our first solo backpacking trip and we had a lot of fun getting to know each other and comisserating about how heavy our packs where (mine was over 45 pounds, hers was similar). It was a lot of fun to reconnect with her as since that whole trip was solo, I have no one to reminisce about anything about it, from the beautiful red and gold and green landscapes, to the great little family we formed on the trail, to the weather both good and mostly bad. Adelaide took me and my mom on a little tour of Paris and it was so lovely to have someone who knew the area tell us about it, both from her own experience and the history and backstories of the buildings. We walked around Le Marais, a cute little neighborhood that reminded us a lot of Portland. Then we tried to go to the catacombs but upon arrival we found, big surprise, another line! This one was just too big and we immediately decided it wasn't worth it. We wandered some more, stopping for a drink before finally parting ways. A great day all around and a great note to leave Paris on.
The next day we got up early, got our customary pain au chocolat and cappuccino from the corner boulangerie and headed to the train station to catch the train to Nimes, where we would rent our car and drive to Uzes, where we would be based for the next five days. More adventures to come!
(A few more pics from giverny because it was sooo photogenic)
(And a few more from Paris)