On Sunday morning, I woke up a few minutes before our 7 AM wake-up call. We were leaving Grand Hotel Leveque by 8 AM to catch a taxi to Charles de Gaulle airport. In other words, our Paris adventure had come to an end. I have to admit I was a little depressed. I reflected on the amazing things we had seen and the food we had eaten. I thought about the joy of sharing it all with Jacki. But Paris had left more than just a vacation-like impression on me. It’s a marvelous city that I had completely fallen for. I could stay there forever except for two very good reasons – our children. This had been the longest we had been away from our two wonderful kids and I was itching to see them. I laid there concocting make-believe scenarios that allowed me to go pick them up and bring them back. But the reality was I couldn’t have it both ways and, even though I love Paris, the desire to see our kids easily won out.
Soon Jacki was getting ready and packing the last of her things in her carry-on bag. I opened up our windows to hear the morning sounds of Rue Cler one more time. As luck would have it the skies were bright blue and the sun was beaming down. We had only one day like this during our stay and we laughed at it being such wonderful weather on the morning we were leaving. Soon our bags were packed and it was time to leave. Grand Hotel Leveque had been the perfect place for us, certainly not luxurious, but clean, comfortable, and with a street side view that I was already missing. We took the tiny glass elevator down and turned in our key. We left our Paris abode and just stood on Rue Cler for a moment. As silly as it sounds, it was like saying goodbye to an old friend. Rue Cler has more personality than many people I know and it was hard to part ways.
Before leaving Rue Cler we thought it fitting to stop back by the Artisan patisserie for breakfast to go. It was one last croissant for me and a pastry almost too pretty to eat for Jacki. We decided to take them to the Taxi stop and eat them while waiting on a cab to arrive. When we arrived in Paris one week earlier I still wasn’t sure the best way to get back to Charles de Gaulle airport. But in the days that followed I really felt comfortable with our neighborhood in the 7th arrondissement. We had traveled Rue Saint-Dominique, Avenue Bosquet, Rue de Grenelle, and Avenue de la Motte-Picquet multiple times. We had learned where the restaurants, supermarkets, metro stops, and taxi stands were. In other words, we knew our little neighborhood in Paris.
We arrived at the Taxi stand on Avenue Bosquet but didn’t have the time to eat our warm pastries. Two cabs were waiting. We got in a middle-aged man’s new Volkswagen where he immediately let us know that no eating was allowed. As we took off we both watched Paris pass by through our backseat windows – the lovely streets, beautiful buildings, and ever-present cafes. The Arc de Triomphe stood high, Paris’ final wave goodbye to these two first time European travelers. Just a week earlier, Napoleon’s stunning monument met us and introduced us to its city. Now it was the last of Paris that we watched disappear from sight. What an incredible adventure it had been.
We arrived at the airport and found seats to sit and enjoy our breakfast. It was still warm and flakey after all that time. We drudged through all of the processes required to get ready to board the plane. As we sat in the terminal awaiting our call, I thought back on all that the city of Paris had given me. Unlike the golden tan left from a Caribbean cruise or a week at the beach, Paris left no physical evidence of a vacation with the exception of blisters on my feet. But the mental and emotional impressions left on me by the “City of Light” can’t be described with mere words.
Paris was magical but not just because of the city’s physical beauty and rich history. I found myself drawn to the culture itself. Parisians love their city. They take pride in it. They keep it clean. It’s part of their very identity. Parisians are social people. Meals aren’t just hunger cures, they are social experiences. Parisians enjoy their food but they enjoy their company more. Time spent in the local park is one part relaxation but it’s also about social connections with families, friends, and neighbors. Cafes can be found on almost every street, another testament to the Parisian’s willingness to stop and talk. It’s just part of their makeup and their happiness in being a Parisian is evident (maybe with the exception of riding the metro where obviously a “no-smile” code is strictly enforced).
So many other parts of the culture had won my heart. Even though we’ve been home for exactly one week as I write this, the thoughts of having a fourth floor apartment in the Latin Quarter or Marais District still cross my mind. I still daydream of going down to the nearest market street, much like Rue Cler, and picking up the incredibly fresh produce for the night’s meal. Or how about stopping at a local cafe after a day’s work and unwinding over some hot chocolate and people-watching? I say it again, wouldn’t it be great to live there? I wouldn’t trade enjoying Paris’ monuments, museums, and history for anything. But they’re just a part of what makes the city so grand. It’s those big things laced with the magnificent culture that had me realizing that I want to go back. I have to go back.
Soon we were in our seats jetting across the Atlantic ocean. Jacki slept for most of the 8 1/2 hour flight. I was glad. She needed it. Navigating through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was an arduous task. But our stay there was short and soon we were in Little Rock, Arkansas. We found our vehicle, paid the absurd parking fee, and headed out for the 80 minute drive. We were tired but a special treat was just ahead. The reunion with our children was nothing short of amazing. They literally ran to us with huge smiles and some of the biggest hugs we had ever received. We shared pictures, experiences, and of course souvenirs. I miss Paris but this sweet, sweet moment reminded me that I was HOME.
Our journey was complete. This half-baked plan that started as a surprise Christmas gift to Jacki for Christmas had come and gone. All the nervousness and anxiety, which had been overtaken with excitement and anticipation, proved unnecessary. Our study and preparation paid off and Paris treated us to the time of our lives. We also got a good taste of the joy of marriage and the joy of travel. But the big question remains : “Where to next?” My Vote? Paris!