Last week I shared my childhood dream of traveling abroad, which only took about 35 years to come to fruition. But here’s the thing with traveling dreams: once you have enjoyed a taste, you can’t help but hunger for more. If the trip to London was the appetizer, and my retirement dream the main course, then my trip to Paris in 2011 must be considered the desert.
I originally documented this trip in chronological order, which you can read here. And I have plans to write several future travel articles based on my notes and photographs. However the focus of this post will be the further realization of the lifelong dream.
My vision for travel is not only to see foreign lands and iconic landmarks, but to live as a native in the country. I have had a love for languages before I developed a love of travel, and the idea of living in a local neighborhood, conversing as a native and experiencing the everyday life is what truly appeals to me. I began studying French in second grade and as silly as it sounds, I was immediately enthralled with the idea of the French having a different word for every one of ours. Hello = Bonjour. Good-bye = Au Revoir. Please = S’il vous plait (literally… if you please).
That same year I was introduced to the idea of studying abroad, and I vowed that I would spend my junior year of college in France, studying not only the language, but the culture. While I did major in French, the trip abroad did not happen until July, 2011, when I spent an intense two-week period alone in the city of Paris.
I knew that I wanted to stay in the 18th arrondissement, Montmartre, home to Sacre Coeur and Place du Tertre. While quite touristy, this section also maintains some of the old-world charm of a small French village, with local artists setting up easels to paint portraits or landscapes or unique works of art. I scoured HomeAway.com until I found the perfect apartment – and Isabelle was the perfect hostess. I was a five minute walk to anywhere I desired to go: the metro, Place du Tertre, local cafes, and boulangeries.
I had several goals for this trip.
- To live as the French live – I refreshed my knowledge of the language by studying with Rosetta Stone for six weeks. I can attest to its merit. While I’m sure my American accent was apparent, I did converse with several in their native language and even received a couple of compliments.
- To experience the old-world charm – while a cosmopolitan city, Paris also consists of small local neighborhoods, each with their own culture and distinct vibe: Montmartre appeals to the artists, the Latin Quarter to the academics, and the Ile de la Cite brings centuries of history to life. The markets at Rue Cler (near the Eiffel Tower), Rue Mouffetard and Rue Montorgueil recreate the feeling of the early 1900s in the midst of the 21st century. Daily shopping for fresh ingredients is still an honored tradition, and a simple meal of chicken, bread, cheese and fruit is considered gourmet.
- To discover the Impressionists – I am currently working on a middle grade novel that takes place in Paris, 1882. Degas and Cassatt play significant roles and the work of these artists and others are explored in depth. I not only wanted to live in their part of town, but I wanted to see their artwork up close. While I thoroughly enjoyed the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay (even though it was in the midst of extensive renovation)… the true joy of the trip was a visit to the Musee de l’Orangerie where Monet’s water lilies completely surrounded me. I took an excursion to Giverny and saw Monet’s Japanese Garden for myself. I traveled to Auvers to see VanGogh’s last residence. And I ate Sunday lunch at the Moulin de la Galette, trying to envision the merriment that Renoir depicted in his famous masterpiece of the same name.
- To experience Adventure – as a shy introvert, it is easy for me to dream of adventure, easier still to research and analyze adventure, but far more difficult to actually experience it myself. And while I had no qualms of flying over the Atlantic Ocean, I was quite anxious to ride the subway for the first time or request a table for one at the local cafe. To help overcome these inhibitions and risk stepping foot outside my comfort zone, I made detailed daily itineraries. Taking a tour of the Palais Garnier was tops on the list, as well as visiting the iconic Shakespeare and Co bookstore. Leisurely walks through the Faubourg St. Antoine (so I could report the setting of Tale of Two Cities to my Brit Lit class) or along the Allee des Cygnes in search of the “other” Statue of Liberty were equally adventurous. I even booked a chocolate tour of the city and wine tour of Sancerre.
These two weeks were indeed the trip of a lifetime. My childhood dream did become a reality and my motto, Je ne regret rien — live life with no regrets — served me well.
While desert is wonderful, however, it does not completely satisfy. And when I returned from this trip I knew that I needed more to assuage my traveling appetite. The Retirement dream will come true because the hunger is there. But for now, I am content.