So I saw a "Vosges Chocolat" bag spotted on the blue line at Damen, a cute French chocolate boutique that just happens to be two establishments down from my friends Kari and Lili's apartment. But that's just a coincidence. This simple purple bag reminded me of Erika and Philip's first night in Paris. My parents and myself ate at the Café des Vosges the night before and returned with my siblings to experience the soup d'oignon and bifteck with garlic mashed potatoes. Afterwards, my sister was ambitious enough to suggest a trip to the Eiffel Tower as it seemed appropriate for one of their first nights in town. We made it just in time for one of the light shows, and myself as tour guide was happy that the seven-minute shows were still running in accordance with tribute to its 125th anniversary of construction. It felt surreal to be somewhere so familiar with my equally familiar loved ones.
The fam at the tower.
The next night we ate dinner at the lovely Veronique's, who I've been meaning to e-mail lately. I've had plenty of time to ask her about her new year but just haven't gotten around to it yet. I'm especially curious to know how her new roommate is getting along...yes, she's hosting a new young American lady this semester ;] Anyhoo, she was on her most beloved behavior when the fam came to dine. We had a lovely meal and were entertained by stories of her recent history, sons, and everyday Parisian life. We all loved her and felt such similarities in lifestyle that a language barrier didn't really matter.
I took my first and only picture with her that night. I'm very glad my dad insisted on it. I do miss her.
V and me.
The next day's family time only included a quick trip to Notre Dame and the Esmerelda Café (yes, the latter was my idea...I'm so Disney cliché, I know). The highlight was definitely our climb to the top of the cathedral where multiple pictures of gargoyles and bell towers were enjoyed by all. I even got some pious tributes to their clanging at midday...pretty beautiful if I do say so myself.
I just love this picture.
The luxury of Starbucks here in the states still reminds me of enjoying one of my first drip coffees in the Louvre Carousel while waiting for my family later on that day. They managed to spend five or six straight hours in the Louvre. I had never known my family prided themselves on having such artistic disposition!
We wandered around afterwards in the Tuileries Gardens at night and took pictures in front of a foggy Eiffel Tower. I think that was the first time I'd ever seen the Louvre and its surroundings at night. We got a little lost and had a hard time deciding on dinner but eventually ended up at the Sarah Bernhardt Cafe at Chatelet after a long walk along the Seine. I recall my sister Erika saying that this was her favorite memory of Paris: that shiny river in the cold of the night...with family, and husband of course.
We finally made our way to the Seine riverboat tour after hurriedly asking for times of departure earlier in the evening. Kids insisted on a rooftop view, and parents reluctantly agreed despite the bitter cold. We saw everything from the Bastille to Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower to Hotel de Ville to, my favorite, La Conciergerie (a prison museum that I would later visit with the girls!) It was a clear night and the whole trip reintroduced a Paris that didn't seem so far apart and remote. The whole city made more sense, and the bridges looked magnificent in the late evening. The layout of the city is impressively perfect.
[I love the things I recall from what feels like forever ago...at least I know for sure these specific memories really meant something.]
The last big day trip involved a trek out to Versailles with...(drum roll please:) the lovely Mary Margaret. The two of us fortunately got in for free with one history of art French student i.d. (M.M.) and one imitation "history of art" regular French student i.d. card (me). As a family, we spent a couple of hours on the grounds, amongst the gardens, and a significant amount of wanderings in Marie Antoinette's "country town," complete with cottages, ponds, trellises, and goats. For real.
The rest of the day was spent in the palace itself floating through kingly halls and bedrooms in all their frilly, lacey, and wall-papered glory. A slightly quick trip, but les halles de glace (the hall of mirrors) was worth it in and of itself.
Our last dinner in Paris was salt crêpes at Crêperie Imogene near my apartment in Oberkampf (ahh Oberkampf, such memories). I would certainly suggest this itty bitty café to anyone staying in the area. My sister and her husband found it, after all. Must've been good ;]
I miss these so much, but fortunately there's a cute crêpe restaurant that just opened down the street from my apartment!! Serendipity.
We said our good-byes to the parents the next day after many hugs and thanks. A couple of croissants and café au laits later, Erika and Philip were rushing for metro ticket coins at Gare du Nord, and regretted good byes were exchanged on all accounts. I lonesomely wandered upstairs to buy over-priced train tickets for an adventure with three of my best friends that was yet three weeks and a few finals away, so at least I had something to look forward to.
As I wander around the metro system here in Chicago and even as I sped around Rockford's city streets, I think about the joys and frustrations of travel abroad that I shared with each and every one of these people...and how much our experiences upon destination made up for the difficult pilgrimages themselves. I was blessed beyond belief that my family could visit me while I was there. Looking at our pictures together brings so many emotions: wanting to laugh hysterically, smile broadly, or cry happy tears in remembrance. Sometimes all three.
What made it priceless more than anything else was bonding with my dad over our similar experiences abroad. He backpacked through Europe for a couple months when he was 20, and he made it clear early on in my collegiate career that he wanted me to study abroad. As we stood next to each other that night at the Eiffel Tower, I glanced over at his lit up face and pictured him sitting on a bench gazing up at the same tower, 20 years old with nothing but his military jacket, map, backpack, and a French baguette, and the realization hit me hard: I could relate with my dad and his youth better than I ever had before. I understand better in retrospect that he wanted so bad for me to have my own adventure just like he'd had his back in the day. Susie-mom, too, was so supportive of my time abroad, and I'm still thankful that they pushed me to do it.
Yah, I'd say I got pretty lucky with those two...