Seemingly out of nowhere, my body was hit with a forceful jolt, which sent a ripple of shudders down my unsuspecting vertebrae as my shoulders were smothered in a in a suffocating embrace. My senses were permeated with the familiar Estee Lauder fragrance, and before I could even turn to look my captor in the eye, I knew exactly who was holding me.
And so commenced my two-and-a-half week European spring break—right there in the Paris airport wrapped up in my mother’s arms.
It had been three months since seeing my mom face-to-face, so naturally, the reunion incited contrasting waves of emotions. The feelings of joy and nostalgia, however, may have been partially hindered by my recently-acquired feelings of cultural superiority—fostered, of course, by all those weeks in a foreign country and independent travel experience. But regardless of how posh and cosmopolitan pretentious I was, nothing was going to stand in the way of our magical, cross-European adventure.
And so there we were—me, my mom, and my aunt Carla—three American damsels in the City of Lights, the world’s fashion capital, and the hub of all things luxurious. Even though we were prepared for our single-stoplight-Friday-fish-fry-corn-field roots to clash with the world outside the airport doors, we didn’t care… We strutted out that sortie (the first—and pretty much the only–French word we acquired on the trip), with intentions of encountering the unforgettable.
We did, of course.
Movies…books…reality TV top-model shows…all of them dress up the great French capital as a symbol of romance—an emblem of perfect beauty and sophistication… And guess what I discovered?
It really is.
Nothing I’ve ever seen before quite compares… The life and vitality of the city was tangible to the point where I swear I could feel its breathing, its movement, and its ever-pulsing heart. Stately buildings with distinctive grand facades flanked the humming streets, while scents of duck and fondue wafted from every open window. As we wondered along we took note of the men clad in their scarves and newsie flat caps and the women who strutted in their impossible heels and classic blazers—the signature simple-chic Parisian style that’s undoubtedly a part of their DNA.
Oh, and I mustn’t forget the berets—people there ACTUALLY DO wear them.
We spent each day in pursuit of covering as much ground on foot as our bodies would allow. With that goal in mind, we were able to see and breathe in more of the French jewel than I ever could’ve even hoped for. Whether it’s prancing down the glitzy Champs-Élysées, taking in the views from the summit of the Sacré-Cœur, waving fronds at Notre Dame Cathedral’s Palm Sunday service, or traipsing along the sparkling river Seine (Sane? Sine? Seen? …we never really figured out the appropriate pronunciation), when you’re strolling through the City of Love, you can’t help but feel like a completely classy and sophisticated aristocrat. At least the three of us ladies did, of course.
But as much as my mom and aunt tried to adapt to this high-class European lifestyle, they quickly discovered the coffee racket just as I had upon being deposited on foreign soil. All three of us are NOT fans of the way this part of the world does size, strength, and caffeine concentration…and basically how far they stray from the American Starbucks ideal brew. In order to combat our caffeine woes, my ingenious mother developed a home-made coffee filter system. Who knew that with just a pot, a colander, a sheet of paper towel, and some boiling water, you could produce a cup of joe that would rival almost any steaming thermos of Caribou?
Coffee aside, when it comes to living quarters and cuisine, I discovered that a definite perk to vacationing with family members is the finer standard of travel. While other spring-breakers were surely getting stoked over their French fries (in FRANCE!), I was happily enjoying escargot (snails), foie gras (fancy pâté spread made of duck liver), and specialty brie for dinner in between sips of a glass of dry red.
My goodness, I’m such a snob.
But despite those fine dining experiences, the Parisian fare that all three of us actually enjoyed the most were those delightful little macaroons. The multicolored cookies were stacked happily behind the glass counters inside Paris’ most renowned bakery Pierre Hermé. Faced with the most difficult decision of our lives when it came to picking flavors—especially when choices included basil-chocolate and mango-lavender, we eventually were able to come to an agreement and left feeling pleased as punch with our purchase. We sat down on a park bench and gingerly pried open the little box to reveal the colorful row of cookies nestled inside. With how pretty those delicate wafers looked lined up in their package, the three of us hesitated before finally deciding to pluck one out. And let me tell you, that first bite was just as much a flavor experience as it was an olfactory one. In a million years, I never expected to know what a rose tasted like…
It tastes beautiful.
On this leg of the trip, I also realized that even more of a benefit than just vacationing with family members is having a relative who actually lives in your place of travel. I don’t know how I had managed to stay out of the loop for so long, but only a year ago, I found that my mom’s cousin just happens to be a resident of the romantic metropolis. This, of course, was great news for the three of us unworldly ladies, who had the pleasure of being treated to her city-savvy ways. From her in-vogue haircut to her sleek, motorbike leather, I knew from the moment I saw my recently-discovered kin that she was the epitome of Paris posh.
We enjoyed the company of her and her gregarious beau, who not only invited us to dinner at one of those small-portion-big-plate-with-drizzle-of-fancy-sauce places, but also took us on a nighttime cruise through the city. The five of us piled into her hip, cherry-red car, winding through the never-ceasing traffic until we reached the mighty Eiffel. Although we had already seen the unsightly incredible structure at nearly every time and angle—including from the breathtaking upper decks of the tower itself—there was something extra special about viewing it just as the clock struck midnight…
It may or may not have involved millions of twinkling lights.
While it would be impossible to recount every last fairytale highlight of this trip, one that undoubtedly deserves mention is our art-filled day at the Louvre. Knowing it to be the home of the famed Mona Lisa and her oh-so-mysterious smile, I was excited to get inside and see what all the hubbub was about. As soon as I entered a room with a giant, amoeba-like mob gravitating towards the center, I knew I had located the da Vinci masterpiece.
And sure enough, there she was.
Over the countless jostling heads I could make out a small, poorly-lit portrait—a brown-locked madam with the most interesting…wait? Is that a smile?
At this point I decided to test my luck and take the plunge into this Mona Lisa Mosh Pit. It was the most intense ordeal I had ever been a part of—my personal bubble was popped like an unwanted balloon as bodies started squeezing in around me. I was completely squashed in the wriggling mass in my efforts to nudge myself, inch by inch, closer to Mona. It seemed like forever, but finally, in an effect that I would say parallels an egg bursting out of a chicken, I was spewed out into the front of the mob…nothing but a velvet rope separating me from that mysterious smirk.
I snapped my front-row pics as quickly as I could before ducking out of the crowd. If you were lucky—and with the right amount of twisting and squirming–you could maybe manage to maneuver your body around and take that coveted selfie before being swallowed whole by the mob. Although choosing to risk your life for such a photograph is for the daring only and should NEVER be attempted by the weary-hearted.
Though I still think da Vinci is vastly overrated, and I left the Louvre still stumped at the popularity of his most famous painting, I wouldn’t trade my experience in the Mona Lisa Mosh Pit for anything.
Sadly our dreamlike experiences there in the French metropolis eventually came to an end. The sparkling city lights faded, the sounds of traffic dimmed to silence, and the Paris fantasy evaporated in a grand cloud of pixie dust.
Next stop: Sevilla