As you may know if you got bombarded by my pictures on Facebook last week, I just got back from my first international trip — one to Paris with two of my friends from college, Taylor and Marie-Claire (the second of whom grew up in France and so knew the language and how to get around). We also spent one day in London, my new favorite city.
I’ve decided to blog about this trip by breaking each day into its own post because so much happened. If you want all the deets, join me here as I recap the experience. (This will also be a good exercise for me in writing speedily.)
Paris Prep and Day 1
Pre-trip fears (i.e. typical Kate)
My go-to emotion in just about every situation is fear. So to me, the idea of traveling to Paris is exciting and romantic until you’ve actually booked a ticket to Paris, at which point it becomes terrifying.
(I know this isn’t healthy, people. I’m working on it. So is Jesus. I also know people go to places a lot scarier than Europe, but again, it was my first international trip.) Travel is particularly difficult for fearful people because there’s so much you can’t even pretend to control. Leading up to this trip, I worried about everything from whether my bag weighed more than the limit of 50 pounds to whether I’d get taken, Liam Neeson-style. What if I lose my passport? Will a pickpocket be able to get into this purse? How long does it take rescue helicopters to get to the middle of the Atlantic?
I read on one site that you should make photocopies of your debit and credit cards and IDs, so I proceeded to make six — six photocopies. When the lunacy of photocopying my debit card occurred to me, I proceeded to worry about whether I could destroy the photocopies sufficiently. (I have scattered their ashes in a place I will never reveal.)
All that to say: I was scared, people. I was reminded of Psalm 139 on the day we booked our tickets, and I read and re-read it leading up to this trip:
“You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!
I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.”
You are not inherently safer in the U.S. than you are outside it, Kate. That’s what this chapter reminded me. The Lord is with me in Louisville and with me in Paris and with me in the middle of the Atlantic, if that’s where I end up.
Crossing the pond
Despite my fears, our actual flight from Atlanta to Paris (8ish hours, Friday night to Saturday morning) went without a hitch. We flew Air France, so all of the attendants were French and spoke French, which made me feel as though I’d entered a foreign country as soon as I stepped on the plane. I wonder what the forefathers of our country — or those pioneers who spent months in ships sailing to the New World — would think if they knew that one day, you would be able to cross the entire Atlantic Ocean so fast that you wouldn’t even need to get up to use the bathroom in the middle. I want to make a joke about poop decks here, but I’m struggling to come up with one.
I sat with MC and Taylor, and we desperately tried to sleep for much of the flight. I accidentally watched the movie Chocolat (about the first black circus performer in France) for 15 minutes thinking that it was actually the movie Chocolat (about the lady with a chocolate shop in France). You can see why that would be confusing. And after the rough night, we woke to the smell of warm croissants because this was Air France after all, and Air France does it French.
We landed Saturday morning at 11ish, got our bags, and grabbed a taxi. I asked Marie why we didn’t have to go through customs, and she said that we had gone through customs. So, yeah, the Paris airport maybe needs to get a little bit stricter if customs is so lax that you don’t even know you’re doing it. We taxied to our apartment, which we rented on AirBNB, and we plopped our bags down and cleaned up quickly before we hit the city.
Exploring the city
Because we are Americans (and Americans who’d just flown overnight), our first stop in France was Starbucks. Sue us. Marie later explained to us that France does not have a culture of convenience in the same way that America does. Getting to-go coffee is not that much of a thing to them, which is why it’s not easy to find a French coffee shop. (Culture Shock #1: I’d always figured love of convenience was a Western culture thing, not just an American thing. I was wrong.) Because we were Americans in Paris, our second stop was the creperie en route to Notre Dame Cathedral. (Are you impressed by all the French in that sentence?) The crepes were good, but Notre Dame was amazing, one of my favorite places we visited all week.
The idea that anyone could’ve built such a structure eight hundred years ago is mind-blowing. I don’t know what’s more amazing: that the cathedral took two centuries to complete or that people back then were willing to take two centuries to complete something. That said, it feels as though it’s taking approximately two centuries for the construction workers in Louisville to build the new bridges downtown, and they’re not nearly as glorious as Notre Dame. (I’m from America, and I want my coffee now.)
Everything about the cathedral is awe-inspiring. It is both vast in size and intricate in detail. The stained glass was undoubtedly the most impressive part. Scratch that — the fact that much of the stained glass is still the original, 800-year-old stained glass is the most impressive part. The cathedral also houses the purported crown of thorns, among other relics, although we did not see them (and who knows if they’re legit anyway). Being there made me wish I remembered more about the history of France and of the Catholic church. Despite its magnificence, there were things about the cathedral that saddened me. It was the only church building I'd ever been in (until we visited Sainte-Chapelle later in the week) that was built before the Protestant Reformation and before the printing press put the Bible in people’s hands. What did the earliest worshippers in this cathedral believe? What about the current ones? I feel like I have a lot of reading I want to do now that I’m back from this trip.
After we left Notre Dame, we walked up the River Seine (which was flooded, as you may have heard) — past the oldest bridge in Paris, the Pont Neuf (French for the New Bridge), and the Louvre Palace, which we would explore later in the week. We hopped on the metro again and headed to the Champs-Élysées where we saw the Arc de Triomphe, which is part of the Axe historique, along which lie many of the most famous structures in Paris. While on the Champs-Élysées, we stopped at the famous macaron shop Ladurée for some treats (already succeeding in our goal of eating our way through Paris), then took the metro back to our neighborhood where we stopped at a little grocery store. (Culture shock #2: Most of the stores in Paris are small specialty stores. You can buy your meat at one store and your fruit at another and your bread at another.)
We picked up baguettes, goat cheese, and sausage and made a dinner of it in our apartment that night before crashing and getting up early to explore the city again.
As fun as it was to see the sites, I often found that the best parts of the trip were the simple ones, like the evenings we spent eating cheese and white bread for dinner (guilt-free because it’s France, after all) in pajama pants on the couch in our Paris apartment.
Join me next time for my recap of Day 2. Still to come: Rodin, Monet, L'orangerie, Versailles, London, and more.