PARIS, PART ONE – A 48-HOUR LOVE AFFAIR

One of the best parts of my job as a lifestyle coach is helping women follow their dreams. The sheer joy I feel when I watch a woman follow through with something she has only ever seen herself do in her mind is unmatched. To keep you motivated to follow your dreams, I follow my own dreams!

Paris has been a vivid dream since first turning the pages of Madeline books as a little girl. I would get lost in the color-saturated illustrations of the out-going little girl who lived in a boarding school in Paris causing playful mischief against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower and Seine River. As I’d flip through pages of stylized illustrations I was filled with quiet pleasure and curiosity that evoked a fairytale sense of promise.

As I grew older, the curiosity grew into an ongoing fascination thanks to movies like Sabrina, French Kiss, Forget Paris, Moulin Rouge, and Amelie. By the time I met my husband in 2014, and heard about how he’d fallen in love with the city while studying and living abroad in Paris for 6-months, I knew I had to experience Paris for myself. So, we made our plan, and I would follow my dream!

DAY ONE – FALLING IN LOVE IN A HURRY

As soon as we stepped off the Réseau Express Régional (RER) train I was all excitement and anticipation. I was finally going to see the city I’d been fantasizing about. As we wound through the underground network of tunnels trying to navigate our way to the street-level, an unexpected scent caught my nose. Was that…urine? No matter! I was about to see Paris for the first time! Watch out dreams, here I come!

We emerged from the underground to a shining, sunny day and the bustling streets of the 11th Arrondissement. We were officially standing on the streets of Paris! I stepped out of my body and squealed like the little girl who’d imagined herself in Madeleine books so long ago. All around me was the quintessential Parisian “Haussmannian” style architecture lining the streets as we made our way past quaint apartments, shops, and brasseries. My mouth hung wide open as I tried to take in everything – the passing motorcycles, the chic French women smoking cigarettes. Here I was, living my dream.

Experiencing cafe culture in Paris was at the top of my list. So, after checking into our Airbnb, we walked downstairs to get a mid-afternoon bite at the brasserie, conveniently located at the end of the street where we were staying. Our first taste of French food in this magical dream city did not disappoint – duck pâté, truffle croquettes, cafe creme, and red wine from the Loire Valley. Le sigh.

Walking around the busy Place de la Bastille Square.

I was ready to sit back, relax and let go of the pressure to rush or be rushed. I was going to slip right into Parisian cafe culture. This, however, was not on my husband’s itinerary. After his 13 year absence from Paris, Dane wanted to show me the entire city in one evening. So, after our late lunch, (right on-time in Paris-standards), I let Dane lead me through the streets of the 11th Arrondissement to one of the busiest parts of the city, the Place de la Bastille Square. In the middle of the busy roundabout stands the July Column, commemorating the end of the French Revolution in 1830. From there we walked toward Pont Neuf, where I first saw the Seine River curving through the isles of the city. We stood on the bridge watching as river cruises passed under the bridge and around the Île de la Cité. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There is nothing like living in your dream, and Paris was delivering at every turn.

Taking it all in at Pont Neuf… “ah Paris!”

The domineering beauty of Notre Dame Cathedral along the Seine.

The Louvre illuminated in the early evening.

From the bridge I caught my first glimpse of the stunning beauty of Notre Dame Cathedral. I’d dreamed of seeing this monument since I became enthralled by it’s beauty and dark history as a child watching “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Now, I was standing outside it’s doors wide-eyed and speechless while the bells celebrate the five o’clock hour. I enjoyed this moment for what felt like a heartbeat when Dane whisked me off to our next destination. From Notre Dame we walked to The Louvre and then to Musee D’Orsay (both were closed because we arrived after hours). I was speed-dating Paris, but I was falling for her all the same. I knew during the second leg of our Paris trip in a mere three days, we’d have time to really get to know each other.

Finally was able to sit down and enjoy the Parisian cafe culture!

After several hours of walking from place to place, Paris and I needed a second to catch our breathe and drink another cafe creme. The sun set behind the tiny silhouette of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, as we sat an outdoor cafe table overlooking the Seine watching and becoming a part of Paris life. This was heaven!

I could’ve sat and admired the Art Nouveau decor at Bouillon Racine for days!

My love.

Dinner was at the highly recommended Bouillon Racine (opened in 1906), known for its amazing three-course meals and Art Nouveau decor. We were instantly charmed by the warm cream and pistachio color palette complimented by wall-to-wall beveled mirrors, painted opaline stained glass, intricately carved woodwork, marble mosaics, and gold-leaf accents. Yes, this is exactly how dinner in dream Paris looked. Our friendly, yet quirky, waiter greeted us immediately and started us off with a delicious bottle of house red wine, duck foie gras with mango chutney, and garlic and butter parsley escargot from Burgundy. Hello, decadence. For our main course, we shared the crispy lamb shoulder and the duck breast, rich and flavorful. Everything I’d dreamed authentic French cuisine to be and more! For our third course, we dove into a dark chocolate praline hazelnut cake, and a desert unlike any other – a stuffed waffle filled with creme brûlée. I knew I wasn’t dreaming because I could taste the intensity of each bite, but I don’t know if I believed it was all real.

Fat and happy, we decided to be quite Parisian and stroll the two-mile stretch of pedestrian-friendly walkway on the Seine between Tuileries Garden and the Bastille neighborhood. Seeing the city and bridges surrounding the Île de la Cité illuminated at night was a completely different and magical experience. I was finally getting to experience the City of Lights for myself.

DAY 2 – MACABRE, BUT LOVE NEVERTHELESS

With the first whirlwind day behind us, I was ready to enjoy another day of our love affair starting with a morning cafe creme (of course). We didn’t realize until we sat down at a cafe at 9:30 a.m. that we’d missed the official breakfast serving period.

Paris, you forgot to tell me your meal time rules! While you can find restaurants open pretty much any time of day, there are distinct service times where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served. For example, breakfast is traditionally served between 7-8:30 a.m., lunch from 12-2:30 p.m., and dinner from 8:00-11 p.m. If you find yourself hungry in between these hours, not to worry, you can always step into a brasserie (an informal restaurant serving small dishes), boulangerie (bakery specializing in freshly baked breads), or patisserie (a bakery specializing in pastries). We adapted, and sought out a delicious patissery nearby, picked up some croissants and ate them in a nearby park. Isn’t that what one does in the dream existence of Paris? From there it was time to embark on our adventure for the day, what we affectionately dubbed, “The Day of Death.”

We descended back into the subway-tiled lined tunnels of the underground metro to make our way to Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Who would’ve thought we’d spend our second day falling in love with Paris in an old cemetery? Dane promised me that the cemeteries in Europe, especially Paris, were unlike any other – and he was right.

I couldn’t get over how beautiful the graves were.

Whoever this guy was, he has a very cool memorial statue.

As soon as we stepped into the old cobblestone streets of Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the hustle and bustle of the busy streets fell to a murmur, replaced by birds chirping in the immaculately laid grounds of the cemetery. Never had I been surrounded by so much history; some of the oldest graves date back to the mid-1100’s.

Mausoleum shrines were everywhere throughout the cemetery grounds, often housing entire families in one site.

Frederic Chopin’s grave was so beautiful!

You can’t see it in this picture because I cropped it out, but Jim Morrison’s grave is fenced off for preservation purposes.

Oscar Wilde’s grave has also been fenced off by a glass barrier after years of women’s lipstick stains had to be removed by fans kissing his grave.

Pere Lachaise has outstanding park-style ground with mausoleum shrines. It is the resting place of notable men and women including Chopin, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Camille Pissarro and Oscar Wilde to name a few. We could have walked through the narrow graves and streets for hours contemplating life and all its beauty, but as was the theme of our initial relationship with Paris, we had to move on to her next site – the Catacombs.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going down to the catacomb. The only visual I had was the scene in Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade where Harrison Ford ventures down into rat infested ancient catacombs. So, I was excited, but also a little unsure of what the air quality and conditions of these Paris underground catacombs would be like. But, when in Paris!

The extensive underground tunnels go on files miles underneath the city.

Amazed by the level of craftsmanship in these limestone tunnels.

As we descended the 130-steps (20 meters or the equivalent of five stories) into the catacombs the temperature dropped, and we entered another world. The underground networks of tunnels were mined centuries ago for the limestone used to build Paris. These tunnels were largely unused until the 17th century. Paris did not have enough space to bury all the bodies underground leading to widespread disease and health problems. The air was so rancid from the decay of dead bodies that milk and wine would spoil within an hour of being opened. Can you even imagine? The solution? Paris decided to place the decaying bodies in the century-old tunnels beneath the streets. It took two years to empty the majority of Paris’ cemeteries and relocate the remains underground in the catacombs. By the time the burials were complete, an estimated six million Parisians found their final resting place in the catacombs.

Dane is 6 ft. 1 in. and as you can see, the bones are stacked taller than him at some points.

I guess you could call this a look of fascinated overwhelm from everything we were seeing.

For the first few years the bones sat underground in unorganized piles. In 1810 Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, the director of the Paris Mine Inspection Service, began transforming the underground caverns into a visitable mausoleum. Héricart and his team took creative liberties and stacked skulls and femurs into patterns, which are visible throughout the catacombs today.

These plaques were placed throughout the tunnels and shared grim, but often entertaining messages to catacomb visitors.

Surrounded by history and the people who lived it at every turn.

Can you even imagine creating something like this with human body parts?

Austere yet reverent messages everywhere.

Exploring the two-miles of underground tunnels lined with millions upon millions of stacked bones was beyond surreal. The epitome of macabre, yet I still loved Paris all the same. This was a different side of her, one I hadn’t expected to see. I found myself in awe that six million decaying bodies were stacked in a presentable, even artistic way. And I think my job is stressful sometimes.

Love, it can be found anywhere, even in the most unlikely of places.

Back above ground, we did as any good Parisian would’ve done and found the closest brasserie. We needed time to sit and process what we’d seen and experienced during our Day of Death. Wine, meats, cheese, and all was right with the world.

Our 48-hour love affair with Paris was all of my dreams coming true and more. She swept me off my feet – and so did Dane with his itinerary – and quickly I saw so many of her beautiful treasures. All the visions of my childhood and young adult years became realities. I made my dream come true. I won’t lie. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t say, “Hey Dane, let’s go to Paris,” and a week later we were there. We planned, saved, planned some more, saved some more. The point is, we did it. I had a dream and together we made it come true.

Stay tuned when Paris and I meet again and solidify our life-long love affair.

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