"I think, therefore I am" have never been so poignant.
A worldwide pandemic, racial suffering and civil unrest, menacing climate
change and a host of uncomfortable realities have made a great number
of us question many of our basic truths.
So could a trip to Paris help this threatened traveler
feel like she's back on track again? In a word, OUI!
My personal philosophy: I love Paris, therefore I am.
Sick and tired of hearing bad news and exhausted from trying to be
a responsible adult, I decided to brave a trip overseas in the midst
of the global scourge of our lifetime.
I needed to be sure it was still there -- the Paris of my dreams -- and to feel fully alive, part of this world where surely I could find my sense of purpose again.
I booked my flight and accommodation.
Our planned side junket to Amsterdam had to be deep-sixed after the Netherlands ordained a 10-day quarantine (only to be lifted a week after I cancelled
both flight and accommodation) but thankfully Paris was still on the horizon.
For this trip, the planning process felt different.
Unlike the past, where I concentrated on all things novel or undiscovered in the
City of Light, I found myself hungry to rediscover old favorites along with the new.
Overriding all my planning was a list of nagging uncertainties.
How much has the pandemic changed Paris?
Would I be a fun devil-may-care traveler or a nervous-nelly-scaredy-cat?
Days before leaving I felt like I was drowning in a suspicious cocktail
made up of three parts big and hopeful emotions, two parts Covid bitters
and a dash of overthinking....after all, what if we caught the virus on this trip??
Being a big believer in science and all the protocols needed
to stay safe during this trip overseas, I was ready.
Already fully vaccinated (of course), I read up on all the requirements
to make sure we could focus on fun after a few basics were managed.
Day one's priority was to find a pharmacy to issue my pass sanitaire -- the
official French health pass with proof of vaccination.
It's the ticket to the magic kingdom which allows entry into restaurants,
museums and just about anywhere.
A pharmacy in the Marais offered the pass (they had to register our
official U.S. documentation of the vax) and though it was a bit of a pain,
the payoff was well worth the effort.
As usual, there weren't enough hours in the day to fit it all in.
We walked and gawked and ate and drank -- everything an
ardent little Paris fanatic could ever hope for.
It took more planning than before since some of the museums had
timed entry (due to the virus) but once we figured that out,
it was a matter of pre-planning the night before.
We squeezed reservations to special destinations
in between reservations to favorite restaurants.
Not as happy-go-lucky as previous visits but easily attainable
once we got into the flow.
The timed entries had a bright side I hadn't even considered.
The museums didn't seem as busy or as touristy as many had been in the past
plus you got to float right past the ticket line.
Restaurant reservations were a good idea as well because they show respect
and enthusiasm for a particular eatery.
Again, not as easy-breezy as prior visits but definitely worth the effort
with a nice payoff in the end.
All around us, we noticed men, women, even children
sentimentally delighted to be around other people.
The pandemic seems to have created a sense of community amongst many of us.
I felt really happy and hopeful engaging as a citizen of the world.
We examined Rodin's unforgettable sculptures in two different settings, his namesake museum (Musee Rodin) and at a special exhibit in Picasso's museum.
Admiring the colossal majesty of the Pantheon
and all the greats within who lie in grace, I felt a bit overwhelmed
by history and the people who make the world go 'round.
The history and artistic evolution of Paris was gloriously presented
in a renovated Musée Carnavalet which was so satisfying
I wanted to turn around and do it all over again the next day.
On the opposite cultural spectrum, I "wrote" my own screenplay
by following online guides to both "Emily in Paris" and "Call My Agent."
We spent an afternoon grave hopping at Pere Lachaise and another afternoon mooning over the glam Vogue designs at the Palais Galliera.
From Victor Hugo's mansion in the Marais to door devotee on
Boulevard de Malsherbes, we discovered beauty in every little detail.
Luxembourg Gardens and Parc Monceau never seemed more enchanting
and all the while it didn't rain on our parade even one time.
The department stores, the designer storefronts, the boulangeries and
the chocolate shops made both our eyes and our mouths water.
We delighted in the Arc de Triomphe both dressed (by Christo & Jeanne-Claude)
and undressed and a car-free Champs-Elysée the first Sunday of the month.
And just like every other trip to Paris, we dined on all things French
and totally delicious every chance we got.
But there was one element that stood out above all the rest.
Paris woke us up to a land of the living again.
Even with Covid restrictions in place, we noticed how much Parisians leaned in
to everyday activities such as café sitting and full throated conversation.
There's always something happening and Parisians want to be in the center of it.
Paris has always been the artistic epicenter of Europe and yet, right now, the
best pinch-me moments were just watching people interact with each other.
With wooden decks and bistro chairs spilling out into the streets, these
authentic Parisian vignettes were impossible not to notice.
Fewer cars and more pedestrians made interacting with each other
more probable than ever -- and Parisians seem to like it that way.
Walking is life in this country's capital and remains the best way
to feel connected to the heartbeat of the city.
When we took the TGV to Tours in the Loire Valley, we noticed a
masked dog -- yes, you read that right -- sitting across the aisle from us.
So if you're wondering if we felt safe to travel about in France, the answer is yes!
Not an unconditional yes because we realize vaccinated people can still
catch a milder version of Covid but yes to a country that is not too timid
to enforce rules to keep its citizens and guests safe.
Strictly following these rules and witness to others supporting said rules
made this traveler feel good about her choice to travel.
p.s. the dog worked the mask off a bit under his chin while he laid down to nap but the owner lifted it back in place the moment the dog sat up again.
worry was the length of our hemlines and the color of our eyeshadow.
On another occasion, we were reminded of one of the worst times in Paris history.
Visiting the relatively new* Musée de la Liberation, we were struck by the terror of another time as well as the heroic efforts made to make the world whole again.
Sounds like lessons for today....
*Opened in 2019 shortly before the pandemic, the Liberation Museum includes an underground bunker
and visual reminders of the horrors of fascism. Note, there are about 100 steps down to (and up again) the bunker.
Which leads me back to the question, to travel or not to travel.
We've spent a long time now feeling like our world came to a full stop in 2020 and hasn't exactly picked up the pace too much in 2021 and beyond.
It's been both strange and exhausting.
And many of us have learned great lessons from the experience.
So imagine the feeling of liberation when you realize your heart
can flutter with excitement and contentment again.
Paris is not a spectator sport.
It's a place to get up and get going.
We felt unrestrained in the knowledge that though no one is 100% safe
from the covid curse, the benefit vs. risk was overwhelmingly in our favor.
Traveling now is not kooky nor is it revolutionary.
Much like the before* days, it's a positive experience that fine
tunes your perspective - a bit of calm in the midst of chaos.
Am I glad I took a chance?
Was the trip easy and/or perfect?
Was it as fulfilling as previous trips?
Let your trailblazing spirit overcome your anxiety.
Being "comfortable" is so overrated.
After all, traveling is inherently uncomfortable.
You're leaving your "safe place" and embarking on an adventure.
Stick your neck out and shake yourself out of the routine of this long nightmare.
Enough of the stay-at-home loungewear and Netflix.
Step into your best walking shoes and GO!
Whether you're seeing Paris for the first time or the twentieth, this is
your chance to hit the pandemic pause button.
Beat a path from the ugliest time in our recent history to
a full range of beautiful possibilities in Paris.
It's quite possible we'll never again take good health and easy living for granted.
We may suffer from bouts of uncertainty but as long as we get out of bed
and get going we'll come to realize the risk is worth the effort.
Enjoy the one precious life you have.
A trip to Paris is a lesson in happiness and an intense enlightenment
on the value of personal courage.
Follow your heart. Live your dream.
If you see a chance, take it.