French Hospitality

I had always heard that the French are not friendly.  Especially how they wouldn’t engage with you if you didn’t speak perfect French.  This left me a little worried given it was a last minute solo trip. (Please see The Long Awaited Journey).  After the wonderful journey through London and all the friendly people I met, I was brushing up on my French as I arrived at Gare du Nord.IMG_0213From here I got directions for the Metro and made it to the Strasbourg St. Denis, a station in the 2ze district with a zillion exits.  I walked to the exit where I had agreed to meet my AirBnB host, but wasn’t sure if I had walked to the right place in the confusing Paris Metro.  I was a little anxious, since this was my first time using AirBnb and I didn’t have a phone in Paris and pay phones don’t exist any more.  A lady happened to be walking by with phone in her hand.  I asked her in English, if I could pay her to make a call.  She was so sweet, and handed her phone to me and insisted I make as many calls as I wanted since she has an unlimited phone plan. When I was done, she said “Welcome to Paris, have a great holiday.”  So touching!  Not sure if I would do that for a stranger, but after this experience I’m inspired to be more trusting of strangers and be just as helpful.

I was in the right place and made it to the apartment (Please see “Living” in Paris to read about the amazing apartment).  After dropping off my bags and getting out of the apartment, I spent an incredible day seeing Paris.  The owner of the apartment and his girlfriend lived upstairs.   When I got back later that night, they invited me over for some wine they had just brought back from their trip in wine country.  I joined them and a friend for a glass or 2 two of amazing French wine.  Over conversation I found out the owner was an international DJ who’s family has lived in this building for generations. He’s traveled around the world DJing.  His girlfriend was born and raised on Champs Elysee and had lived in America for years – hence both of their English was so good.

Since I’m a totally foodie, I asked them where I could have a vegetarian-friendly authentic French meal.  I told them I wanted to experience Paris like a Parisian and wanted some local recommendations.  They made a couple of restaurant suggestions, but then said it would be best if I joined them tomorrow night for dinner.  They would cook me an authentic homemade French meal.  I totally took them up on the offer and joined them for dinner the next night.  They put together an amazing spread for me.  A super tasty leek salad that you mix in blue cheese. A potato and yam mash that was like nothing else I’ve ever tasted.  A cooked celery dish with an amazing sauce and cheese of some kind.  And last but not least a spread of cheeses  and breads that I have never heard of or never tasted before.  They were all very French, very unique in flavors, and super tasty – very different than anything I had tasted.  The irony is that I don’t like blue cheese, but the one I had here was seriously so different, that I literally inhaled it.  Again with dinner we had great wine and some amazing conversation. image

The next night was my last night in Paris and happened to be a Saturday night.  Since the owner would be in the French Rivera DJing an event, the girlfriend was going to spend the evening with friends and she asked me to join them.  She told me there would be real Parisians there, so I could experience Paris. After a long day I got back at midnight, and came back to an awesome gathering.  I spent the night hanging out with some of friendliest, super fun people I met.  They were all offering to take me around town and telling me their life stories.  I didn’t sleep that night.  I spent time with my Parisian friends till the wee hours of the morning, and got ready to leave for the airport. It was an unforgettable night, with some unforgettable people, and unforgettable stories.  So grateful for the kindness of strangers and French Hospitality!

 

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“Living” in Paris

A couple weeks ago was my first trip to Paris – the city that has inspired to so many artists, writers, and creative thinkers.  I thought the best way to experience a city as inspiring as Paris is to “live” in an apartment – just like those artists and writers did. And who knows, maybe be inspired in the process?  I had very little time to plan this trip, and I was not very familiar with the geography or neighborhoods of Paris.  I took to Airbnb and did some quick research. With 2 days left there were very limited choices and limited time to make a decision (Please see The Long Awaited Journey for more on this last minute trip).  As I learned, having a apartment with a real bed as opposed to a sofa was a premium and a loft with a bunk bed type of situation was common.  With a leap of faith, I booked a studio in the 2nd district close to a few Metro stations (which was important) and a real bed.

imageThe owners of the apartment were on vacation when I got there, so their French speaking maid met me at the Metro and brought me to an old building in the Passage du Caire, a 13th century area with a deep history for which I’ll do another post.  She helped me carry my American size suitcase up 2 flights of a very narrow spiral staircase and handed me a big bundle of keys to get through the many levels of locks.  She pointed out that this was an old building and the plumbing was a little lacking.  While there as a toilet in my bathroom, I should use the “out house” just up the stairs to make sure the flow of water works.   After the maid left, I started to get out of the building, and was unable to open the first set of locks with all the keys.  A shot of panic set in that I was trapped! Not only would I miss a full day in Paris, but I would spend a day without food.  After taking a few deep breaths and searching around the door, I found an old school multiple level lock system that required 2 items to be pushed simultaneously.  I left all the doors open behind me to make sure I could get all the way out, before I closed anything.  This is an experience I can laugh at now, but was sheer terror for a what seemed like an eternity.

I’m used to staying in nice hotels with modern amenities.  This room was smaller than my studio in Manhattan, the building was old, and I had bruised from carrying my suitcimagease up 2 flight of a narrow spiral staircase.  I reminded myself that I wanted to experience the soul of Paris and live like a local – and this was as local as it got. Over the next 4 days so much would unfold.  Through this apartment, the neighborhood, and gracious hosts I was not only introduced to Paris, but truly immersed into the culture.  For the next 4 days, I most definitely lived in Paris – and all because I happened to pick this apartment. So grateful that life took me exactly where I needed to be to experience this city. Please see French Hospitality to read more about this experience.

 

The Long Awaited Journey

“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about unbecoming everything that isn’t you so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.”

After years of traveling very constantly for work and pleasure, I had hit an unexpected dry spell of being grounded – quite literally.  I made a few domestic business trips and a couple trips cross country to see family, but I was missing a true overseas adventure.  While those small trips had their share of enjoyment, what my soul truly craved was a journey to an unknown destination where I could discover.  After having seen a few places in Europe, my heart is always drawn to culture and history there.  Between switching jobs, work deadlines, family and friends (which were all fun) I just couldn’t fit in a time to take a trip.  There were many well laid out intentions, but all ended in near misses and disappointments.  There was a trip to Germany that didn’t happen because of work.  The trip to Thailand, that fell apart due to family stuff.  A trip to Israel that didn’t work out weather wise.  This spring, I determined to take a trip overseas before the weather changed.  With different work commitments, things just weren’t coming together – I just wasn’t able to get time off.  There was a small window that looked promising in August, so I tried planning a trip for then, but that window closed with 2 days of it opening.  That one almost broke my heart.  Then finally on a Tuesday, all the stars aligned, and I was able to take vacation the following week. I started my mad search for destinations, tickets, and hotels.  I was so lucky that by Wednesday I was able to book my flight and by Thursday I was able to confirm all my lodging.  And Friday I was flying out!!!  Yes – 3 days from vacation being approved, I had begun a trip to London and Paris.

This was my first time in both cities, and with the limited time I had to prepare for the trip, there was no time for any planning – I would just show up and let the next step find itself.  This was also my first solo mission.  I’ve traveled alone for work a lot and done portions of vacations alone, but this would be my first time doing  a whole trip by myself from beginning to end – the whole 10 days.  While I love traveling with friends, I really wanted to experience a full trip on my own.  This was an opportunity to discover an unknown place all on my own.  The thrill and excitement of surviving on my own with nothing more, then my own instincts (and Google maps) to show the way. It’s in moments like this when you are dependent on just yourself, that you realize who you really are.  And this was also an unscripted trip with no agenda – all I wanted to do was experience these 2 cities and would let the journey unfold for me.  This was a time to enjoy my own company and on some level prove to myself that I have the ability to survive and have lots of fun on my own.

It was finally time to break out the newly renewed passport with its crisp unmarked pages, and start filling it with stamps.  As I got to the airport, fairly tired from 3 days of prepping and a little anxious at the lack of planning, I get upgraded to first class.  And that is when I knew this would be the beginning of an incredible adventure.

To continue this journey please see Finally In London.
Daily Post Survival Discovery Challenge – Adventure