I had been eyeing up the Pittsburgh to Paris flight for a few years now. About a year ago my husband and I decided it was time to trade in our fun in the Caribbean sun, fruity drink in hand, feet in sand vacation, and explore across the pond. The desire to explore Europe stemmed from a few places. One reason was understanding where our ancestors came from. Another reason was to explore history, architecture and civilization. Last, but not least, was a desire to explore how others live, since all we've known is the American way of life.
On May 19th, we boarded the nearly eight hour direct flight at 6:30 PM. This put us in Paris at 8:30 AM on May 20th. As we prepared to land, I looked below and realized France looked more familiar than I thought it would. Green grass, rolling fields, beautiful countryside. It felt more like home than I expected. After deboarding the plane, and passing through immigration I found a France public phone to call our shuttle to pick us up and take us to the hotel. We found our shuttle with ease and soon were stuck in Paris traffic. After nearly an hour long journey we arrived at our hotel.
Unfortunately check-in was not until 3 PM and we ended up at the front door of our hotel around 10:30 AM. With some time to waste, we left our bags at the hotel and walked the neighborhood and waited until it was an acceptable time to lunch. After lunch we walked to the Eiffel Tower and then back to our hotel. Jet lag was setting in. I couldn't think clearly and was starting to wonder if I had made a terrible mistake. Maybe I should have stayed within my time zone and headed south to a tropical island?
Fortunately we were able to check-in early at Grand Hotel Leveque (around 2 PM) and catch up on some sleep. After a three hour power nap we decided to venture into Paris life for our first dinner. The location of our hotel, on Rue Cler (a pedestrian street) was great. There were many cafes and restuarants nearby. We never had to go far for a good meal.
Entering our first cafe, we were clearly out of our comfort zone. We were seated outside, along the street in a fast (French) speaking, chain smoking, wine drinking group of Parisians. Panic ensued. I was in over my head. I had no idea what I was doing. But then our menus came and they were in English. I recognized items on the menu and the wine was good and cheap. Slowly I realized we would be ok. This is how falling in love with Paris happens. It happens slowly. Paris doesn't come quickly with an open embrace. Rather, Paris unfolds slowly and pulls at your heart. The more you slow down, take a step back, and open up, the more Paris gives back.
Everything here is much more beautiful and more detailed than you thought it would be. You've heard of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, The Louvre, The Arc de Triomphe, but maybe you didn't know about the rose lined streets, the cobblestone streets, the welcoming street benches, or the friendly green spaces
around the city. No wonder all the chairs outside at the cafes face towards the street.
The French are certainly living differently than the Americans. The pace is slower, but still purposeful. Evenings are reserved for relaxing and reconnecting. Cafés are filled with patrons enjoying the end of the day. Cell phones are not seen at the dinner table unless one is waiting for their dining companion. The focus is on each other. No one seems distracted. After dinner we visit the grocery to pick up a bottle a wine. Many of the locals do the same. Slowly I feel myself slipping into this lifestyle. I'd like to live more like the French.
At night while I would drift asleep, I'd hear the rumblings of the cafe below as they were moving tables and washing dishes. In a strange way, it was comfortable background noise. In the mornings, we would walk across the street to eat wonderful crepes and drink expresso at Ulysse en Gaul. It was the perfect way to start a day of sight-seeing.
On our last night in Paris, we decided to visit the Eiffel Tower to watch the sunset. There is a large park surrounding the Effiel Tower and many gather here in the evenings. Some have blankets and a bottle of wine to enjoy the day's end. Locals finish up thier evening run in the park, then sit to stretch and watch the sunset. We take pictures of other tourists spending the evening with loved ones. Even if you don't speak the same language you can easily understand wanting to take a photo with someone you love in front of the most iconic tower in the world. Some of the people here are Americans too, but many are not. It strikes me how much togetherness I feel while I'm 3,000 miles from home and in a foreign country. Watching the sunset over the Eiffel Tower is something special, that no matter where you are from, you can enjoy.
Paris was the starting point of our trip to Europe and it was also the ending point. I'm hoping that one day I'll be able to return to Paris. It certainly made an impression that I won't forget. Au revoir Paris!
Author: Sarah Warman
I like to run, take pictures and write. I've combined all three in this blog.