In mid-May 2015, I traveled underneath the English Channel into a city I had written off as overrated. Little did I know how much I would change in the next few days.
I have never had a person or place or thing exceed my expectations so spectacularly as Paris did.
Paris was magic. We packed so many life-altering experiences into the span of less than two days, and I feel so grateful to have gone. Paris changed me.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t perfect. Not even close. We were in the most high maintenance tour group our tour director had ever worked with. We ended up getting off the train a few stops early, and walked an extra few miles to our hotel because of it. Some of the French were grumpy and hostile to us because they knew we were American tourists.
We were suffocated and sweaty in crowded spaces full of people hell-bent on being stereotypical tourists. I watched people fight each other to take pictures at the Louvre. Watched as hoards of people drooled over the lavishness at Versailles, despite knowing the bloody history it was constructed upon.
But in hindsight, none of that really matters, because like… chocolate croissants, man.
Even though our tour group was a challenge, it was okay because others in our group were phenomenal, and our tour director was even more so. Even though we walked those extra miles, we also got to see a beautifully modern section of Paris we wouldn’t have gotten to see otherwise.
And even though I got yelled at by a French woman for sitting at a table she didn’t want me to sit at, I can’t say I really blame her. I spent three weeks with some of the world’s worst tourists, so I understand her frustration. (And, after the 2016 Election, I’m not a huge fan of many Americans right now, either.)
So while people pushed and shoved their way to capture the Mona Lisa on screen, I held my ground and just looked. I stood there, surrounded by chaos, and looked at those eyes that follow you around the room, no matter where you go.
I held eye contact with the Mona Lisa and I breathed. It was perfect.
I think that’s the thing I am learning about traveling. You go through varying degrees of hell in order to earn a few moments where you just feel… infinite.
Your chest hums and your soul smiles and your heart sings, and you just breathe. You exist. It’s only you and the experience, existing together in your own little cocoon of infinite-feels.
I’m addicted to the feeling, honestly. That’s why I keep traveling. Misery is just collateral damage. Part of the territory.
I’ll get blisters? No problem. I’ll smell like an airplane even after I shower? Sign me up. My ankles will bloat and I’ll constantly worry about being robbed? Ain’t no thang.
I am totally okay with spending long periods of time in strange places, hearing languages I don’t understand, sleep deprived and vulnerable, if it means I get to feel that way again.
And I felt that way more times in Paris than I can count.
I felt it when I walked across the Champs Elysee at sunset. I felt it when I ate a half dozen chocolate croissants while looking up at the Notre Dame. And again when I ate a Nutella crepe underneath the Eiffel Tower.
Okay, so it would seem that the feeling may have a lot to do with food, but that’s beside the point.
Paris is magic.
Before we ate crepes underneath the Eiffel Tower, we got to go up to the top. At sunset.
Yeah, I can’t really believe it either.
Actually, going to the top of the tower wasn’t in our original itinerary. Our tour director found a way to get us tickets earlier that afternoon. (See, I told you she was phenomenal.)
No matter what else I do in this world, that night will always be one of the best I’ve ever lived. It is this bright spot in my life, a constant source of peace and happiness. I know life can be good because I got to experience that.
I feel so blessed, so lucky, so fortunate.
I’m feeling infinite right now, just thinking about it.
Of all the places we saw, Notre Dame was my favorite. Like Paris itself, I approached it with little expectations and was once again blown away.
I think it’s because of my religious background, but I love going into religious places. Churches, cathedrals, mosques, temples, you name it. I love them.
I love seeing the love reflected in the architecture. People do grand and glorious things in the name of worship and exaltation for their deities. There is always a level of reverence I find inside the walls of any hallowed ground. It is peaceful and important.
Notre Dame was stunning both inside and out. The details in the arches and stained glass and stone struck me in a way no other place has before.
I felt infinite.
Especially when a giant tent hosting a bread festival was perched right across the courtyard.
Beautiful Gothic cathedrals and buttery, flaky, gooey chocolate pastries.What more does a girl need?
Like I said: Paris is magic.
The thing you don’t realize about Paris is how big many of these icons are. Pictures and words don’t come anywhere close to doing them justice.
Notre Dame is straight up massive. I could barely capture the front of it on camera it was so big. The inside is even more colossal. The Palace of Versailles contains over 700 rooms, and the grounds that surround it total over 2,000 acres.
The Louvre contains 35,000+ works of art. We spent less than three hours literally running through its halls and up its stairs, and barely had time to see both the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo.
The Eiffel tower is almost a thousand feet tall. We walked down its 1,700 steps and it felt like an eternity. (Note we didn’t climb up the stairs–that’s because we didn’t want to die.) From the top, we could see for miles and miles.
What I’m getting at is while you can appreciate them, you can’t fully understand the expanse of some things until you’re standing right up close. I don’t mean to condescend, I’m just trying to prove a point.
Because just like I can’t communicate the size of the Eiffel Tower, I also can’t articulate how much I was changed by standing at its top. (How’s that for a cheesy, full-circle moment, eh?) I stood at what felt like the top of the world, and I breathed. I knew before I traveled to Europe that the trip would change me, but it did so in ways I didn’t anticipate.
Paris surprised me by showing me a broad range of experiences, and I fell in love with it all the same.
“By then I knew that everything good and bad left an emptiness when it stopped. But if it was bad, the emptiness filled up by itself. If it was good you could only fill it by finding something better.”
– Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast