In anticipation of an upcoming trip to the City of Light, I have immortalized my favourite place in the world - Paris - as part of my series of vintage travel poster designs. New merchandise also available in my shop:
Je'taime Paris. :(
After Germany we traveled to Luxembourg, for no other reason than to add another country to the loose itinerary we were winging across Europe. As the Aushfahrt sign symbolizes entrance within Germany's boundaries, Luxembourg welcomes visitors with the biggest potholes this side of Bratislava. Its roads are like the surface of the moon!!! I have no pictures of my stay here, nor any real knowledge to impart about this tiny, mysterious nation, the only evidence of my visit being an IBIS hotel charge on my credit card and memories of eating some truly terrible lasagna. Thankfully we would soon be returning to France, my favourite place on the planet and home to the best cuisine in the world.
Traveling south, we made the pilgrimage to Rocamadour.
Traveling north, we walked the beaches of Normandy.
Nearing Paris during the end-days of our holiday, I couldn't leave without admiring the gaudy extravagance of Versailles again. Last year I came prepared: wisely pre-booking everything, I made it through the gates with relative ease. This year was a shit show. My father's sore hip made it nearly impossible for him to walk any great distance, so I ushered him to a seated location where he could comfortably wait for me as I purchased tickets. The line outside of the ticket office didn't appear to be too long; my naive estimation was 15 minutes tops…2 hours later, my father assumed I abandoned him. He would also get to experience the longest line on earth though as we both had to stand in ANOTHER one for almost two hours before actually entering the palace. Springtime in Paris is glorious.
After completing a University of Wisconsin-Madison course on the French Revolution at the end of March, I wanted to reinforce my studies by retracing the actual steps of my current historical muse Marie Antoinette. However, It's hard to have a moment of reflection at Versailles, to soak in the rich history and everyday pomp and circumstance that played out on its stage. One can barely admire the intricate gold leaf craftsmanship without being forcefully shuffled along by other inpatient tourists who spent most of their day waiting to get in. Not much has changed since 1789 it seems; although fighting to secure the perfect selfie is a tad less honourable than social uprising to secure rights for all of mankind.
The view overlooking the Grand Canal in the gardens of Versailles is one of my top three favourite scenic spots in the world. It is inspiring. Uplifting. Visual perfection. Olfactory nirvana. The perfect spot to enjoy a leisurely lunch (as long as you pack it yourself). As my father and I shared a $21 egg salad sandwich that I waited 40 minutes in line for, the increasingly overcast sky threatened to put an end to this short-lived bliss. He was pretty much done for the day, well exceeding his limit for physical activity, and thus it did seem a suitable time to say goodbye. I would return one day. It saddened me that I couldn't say with certainty if my father would. Right after we left, the sky blackened to shades akin of night and a torrential downpour flooded the cobblestone streets.
As we solemnly packed our bags into the Renault the next day, exhausted by our month-long adventure but sad to see it end, my dad asked me to find the easiest route to Charles de Gaulle airport wisely wishing to avoid the stress provocation of driving through central Paris. Unfortunately, the GPS in our car didn't map out our path that way (or I was too stupid to program it correctly). Instead of choosing the easiest route, it selected the quickest…which brought us right through the city again. On the downside, my dad experienced his final "warm" European greeting, the driver of a tour bus we accidentally cut off practically hanging out of his window to shout obscenities at us. I assumed they were; Rosetta Stone hasn't included them in their lessons yet.
The upside was that we got to see the Eiffel Tower one last time.
After returning from our holiday, my father visited the doctor to get a second opinion on his sore hip. He was originally told the pain was caused by a kidney stone. I felt it might be a fracture.
After running tests, he was informed that his cancer had spread.
April 22, 2014 at Versailles, France:
May 22, 2014 in Winnipeg, Manitoba:
You cannot even begin to scratch the surface of Paris over the course of two days, but as that was the only time we had, a double-decker bus tour gave us the Coles Notes version. My father also appreciated it as it meant less walking on cobblestones and other uneven surfaces that were causing him severe hip pain. Our first stop was Notre-Dame Cathedral. I'm not sure why I'm so drawn this to place but there's something about it that makes me feel at peace. Perhaps it's the way the light reflects prismatic through the stained glass windows. Perhaps it's the creepy gargoyles. A service was underway when we entered. All was quiet. Before our trip, I visited the Notre Dame website and submitted a prayer request for my father. Part of me knows this is ultimately meaningless but my non-skeptical self was willing to try anything if even the most minute exertion of positive energy could somehow make him better.
After the walk-through, I took my father around back past lush pink cherry blossoms in full bloom to Pont de l'Archeveche, the most famous of Paris' many "love lock" bridges. Normally a rite of passage for couples young and old (of whom I question how many are still together), I instead wanted to use the opportunity to place two intertwined locks with mine and my father's name on it - a way to commemorate our adventure and leave a piece of ourselves forever in this great city:
Some consider this vandalism, a blight on the city's architecture. I suppose it ultimately is. Defacement can be interesting though. Artistic even.
Onward we visited the Conciergerie, once a former palace and then a revolution-era prison. It is known as the last residence of King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette before they were brought to the guillotine. It's interesting to me how France, in most instances, avoids mention of the darker aspects of its past; times that have changed the course of history and continue to influence social and political movements today. For example: how many people walking by it know the significance of Place de la Concorde? Or realize that the cobblestones they walk on here were once part of the Bastille? In contrast, England (their biggest rival) has made an economy out of morbid tourism. The London Dungeons even contain a ride, whizzing tourists past decaying fake corpses and plasticized vomit, all to "educate" people on the history of the Black Plague. The Conciergerie just contained replica prison cells, authentic personal items from Marie Antoinette's quarters, and a registry of everyone executed during the Revolution. I'm happy to report that no Clague was listed.
Art, culture, history…Paris has all of these in spades. And her citizens know it. There is a pride of place here that is often mistaken for arrogance. People know they are on a world stage and don't squander the opportunity to take the lead. Naturally beautiful and alluring Parisian women dress as if on their way to a photoshoot with Vogue, confidently walking the streets like a runway even when wearing second-hand thrift items (such as one twenty-something I sat next to on a subway to Montmarte that had the most original, compelling style I have ever laid eyes on). And then there are French men...
I'm not sure if French men are naturally more amorous than others or if it's some deep-felt urge to conquer over something like Napoleon, but Paris is definitely the city for single ladies. You will get hit on every day. Oftentimes with lines that would merit a sharp slap across the face in North America:
"Excuse me, do you have a cigarette?"
"No, I don't smoke."
"Where are you from?"
"May I make myself comfortable?" (points to adjacent empty seat in a room full of empty seats)
"I'm busy right now."
"I would still like to get comfortable."
In comparison, the last guy that asked me out in Saskatoon spent 20 minutes extolling the financial benefits of still living at home with his parents. And he didn't have a sexy accent. Clearly I need to move to France.
Our driver was waiting for us upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle. He was a jovial, rotund man displaying a hospitality that, at times, I've found is not as immediate in this part of the world. As he helped lift my suitcase into the trunk, I took a moment to soak in the adventure I was about to embark on - spending a month exploring Europe with my father, recently diagnosed with stage IV cancer. We had already seen a good portion of the world together and while I hoped that we would see more in the years to come, there was a bittersweetness to everything. As written about before, you can't escape the "white noise" of a loved one's cancer diagnosis; it is omnipresent at every moment in every situation, reminding you of the fleeting time you have on this planet and the importance of holding value to love above all.
Seven hours previous, I was in my home and snow-blanketed native land which was experiencing one of the coldest winters on record. Now I was in Paris, France, sitting at an almost tropical by comparison 20 degrees celsius. Our driver expertly navigated traffic while singing along to Gloria Estefan's "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You" (his favourite song, I presumed, as it was on repeat during the hour-long ride). As we inched closer and closer to the Seine, I could barely contain my excitement pointing out every iconic bit of architecture to my dad. "There's Sacre Couer!", "There's the Opera House!", "There's the Eiffel Tower!!!". No matter how many times I see it, there's something about that last one that continues to hold me in awe. Perhaps because it symbolizes that I am in the world's greatest city, a source of inspiration and enlightenment for some of the greatest minds in history, and that I have every bit as much potential as those who were before me.
Our hotel was located in Montparnesse, a neighbourhood known throughout history as a place where creative-types would congregate. I booked it, intrigued for this reason (Man Ray called Suite 37 his home at one time). I'm also a Left-Bank girl at heart. After dropping off our stuff in Room 57 - and eating my first purchase, an authentic French baguette - my father required rest so I ventured out alone to the Musee d'Orsay to see the Gustave Doré exhibit. I've become obsessed over the past while with the intricate illustrations for which he is known and was awestruck to see more of his original output, including sculpture and painting. It was also interesting to read about how vilified he was from critics back in the day, who felt his work was amateurish and lacked substance. I left rejuvenated, inspired…and overwhelmed. I now wanted to paint, sculpt and do intricate pen-and-ink drawings in addition to everything else I am filling my time with. It's hard to be a renaissance (wo)man without focus though. I know myself enough to know I won't change. Reading random shit on the internet with whatever spare time I have may not be fulfilling nor legacy building, but it is entertaining and lord knows I need the schadenfreude distraction. So much for that potential...
I walked back to the hotel, getting purposely lost for a bit in the Latin District and then not so purposely by turning the wrong way down one of Paris' famous narrow, curved side streets. You'd think that the Eiffel Tower or some other high landmark is visible at all times but they are not. Paris' seduction is deeper. It wants you to stroll and admire less superficial things.
The final week of my spring holiday in France included rushing through every remaining region, just so that I could say I properly did the entire country. It's amazing how much the climate changes from the Côte d'Azur to the Alps. In the span of a few hours, I went from laying on a beach in the Riveria pondering the age at which my doctor would inform me that I have skin cancer to piling on the layers under my winter coat while freezing in Grenoble. There is a severe lack of pictures from my time in this particular region as I was too cold and miserable to want to exit the vehicle, but I did drive through some pretty little towns. I stopped to get a baguette somewhere...the baker was friendly and seemed genuinely surprised - and pleased - that a tourist was traveling through his tiny hamlet (and the bread was still as delicious as any in Paris; quality is never spared in this country).
I decided to spend a few days in the north-east region for a bit, traveling through Champagne (I had already purchased a bottle of bubbly from Maxim's Paris for a special occasion) and entering Belgium to see my paternal grandmother's hometown of Ypres. I didn't get far into the country as Ypres is close to the border, but I immediately noticed how different it looked. Whereas France seemed to retain most of its historic architecture, Belgium appeared to have been physically devastated by WWII with the vast majority of buildings constructed in the post-war style. Having previously visited England (where my paternal grandfather's lineage is from) and, of course, France (where my mother's famille is from), it was interesting to complete the tour of family history. How the heck did I end up in Saskatchewan?
Since I am a Disneyphile and I was in France, how could I not visit EuroDisney Disneyland Paris?! I'm glad I did, but it was shite. The line-ups were insane (you'd think I would have learned by now), the major rides kept breaking down, there were hardly any restaurants open, and European children manage to be even more annoying than North American ones. Having said that, the version of rides that I did manage to get on were far superior to their North American counterparts. For example: the Haunted Mansion (here called Phantom Manor) is creepy as all hell with visuals that wouldn't have been out of place in a Wes Craven movie. My favorite ride - Space Mountain - also had the least amount of wait-time. I pretty much went on it 50 times.
After saying "au revoir" to Mickey and company, I knew my trip was almost over. I was sad that I had to depart but thankful for all of the magic that I encountered. This is the great thing about travel: how it changes your mood, perspective and life. I recall being a depressed twenty-something not knowing where I was going in life and questioning the meaning of it all. At the age of 27 I decided to really start exploring the world and now I'm an only occassionally depressed thirty-something who no longer questions the meaning of it all, as it is beautiful and ugly and divine. As it's meant to be.
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for all of Paris is a moveable feast.” - Ernest Hemingway
The odometer on my Peugeot when I returned it: