Under Paris's Spell
I knew I'd love Paris long before I ever visited. There was just something about the city that captivated me. It's hard to put it into words, which is probably why I've never written about it even though it's the one place outside of the States that I’ve visited the most.
I first traveled to Paris in 2004 with my sister on a whirlwind trip through Europe. (We jokingly refer to this trip as 'Roberts Girls Gone Wild' if that's any indication of what kind of trip it was.) I returned in 2008 with my then six-year-old daughter, in 2010 on a solo trip, in 2011 with a small group of high school students, and in 2017 for New Years Eve with Emma and Oliver.
On that first trip, my sister, Nicole, and I traveled from London to Paris on the Eurostar. We arrived at dusk, checked in our hotel, and found a neighborhood restaurant for dinner. This was my first time being in a country where English isn't widely spoken, and I didn't yet know how to navigate that world. I had memorized a few French phrases, but I was so nervous that I would mispronounce something that we ended up just pointing to another table's food. "Deux," I told the waiter in my poorly accented French. I was a little more confident by the we finished our meal and a glass of wine, "Je veux un cafe." Imagine my surprise when he brought me an espresso (my first) instead of the cup of coffee I thought I had ordered.
It was a trip of firsts.
And with firsts, everything has this sense of awe cloaked over it. The streets are more charming, the cathedrals more majestic, the language–sexier.
This first trip was back when you still had to go to internet cafes to connect home. Our mom later told us that she loved getting our emails and hearing our differing takes on our trip. In one email, Nicole wrote about Paris rightfully being called the city of love because there are people kissing on nearly every street. My email was more along the lines of Paris being the city of love, and I'm in love with it.
Nicole liked Paris, but it didn't captivate her as it did me.
The sun dancing across The Seine, the bells of Notre Dame reminding us of the city's history with every toll, the Eiffel Tower looming over the city are sights and sounds that still give me pause.
It was in Paris that I learned my daughter is a natural traveler. Since she was just six years old on that first trip, I worried about how she'd adjust to the time difference and if she'd be able to walk as much as I like to when traveling, but neither of these things seemed to faze her.
We spent one of our days in Belgium, taking the first train out of Paris and arriving in Bruges just as the sun was coming up. We spent the morning exploring this medieval city by foot, taking a boat ride through its canals, and eating Belgium waffles for lunch. We spent the afternoon in Brussels, dining on mussels and frites, before heading back to Paris in the evening.
When we were on the train back to Paris, the day had caught up with me. I was tired. I mistakenly assumed Emma must also be exhausted, but as the train approached Paris, she asked if we could go see the sparkling Eiffel Tower. It was one of those questions to which there is only one answer: of course.
We exited our train from Brussels and darted through the station to find the metro that would take us to the Eiffel Tower. We followed the throngs of people, past the immigrants selling blue, pink, and gold Eiffel Towers that they shook on large rings as you walked by. The cheap Eiffel Towers didn’t tempt us, though I did buy Emma pink beret that was too large for her head.
We joined thousands of others on the grass, all eagerly awaiting the light display. They had elaborate picnics of wine and cheese; we had ice cream cones. Emma and I talked about our favorite parts of the day–she liked her waffles, which were covered in chocolate and strawberries and was still giggling about the Manneken Pis statue in Brussels. She did not like the mussels. I liked being back in Paris. I liked this moment, sitting on the grass and recapping our day.
As the sky darkened, everyone grew quiet. And then the Eiffel Tower started sparkling. Twenty-thousand lights creating one spectacular sight. I looked down at Emma, who was looking up, eyes wide in wonderment, and I knew how she was feeling.
It's the same feeling I get every time I step out into a Parisian street.