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 international destination 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, and in 2011 with a small group of high school students.
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 nearby place to eat. This was my first experience being in a country where English isn’t the official language, and I didn’t yet know how to navigate that world. I had memorized a few French phrases but was so nervous that I would botch up the language 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. “Je voudrais du cafe,” I told the garçon as he cleared our plates. Imagine my surprise when he brought me an espresso (my first) instead of a cup of coffee.
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 are more majestic, the language is sexier. I had fallen under Paris’ spell.
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 different voices come through. In one email, Nicole wrote about Paris being the city of love and it’s no wonder because there are people making out all over the place. 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 still the things that give me pause.
It was in Paris that I realized my daughter is an excellent traveler. This trip was her first time to cross the Atlantic and deal with a significant time change. I worried about how she’d adjust to the new timezone and if she’d be able to walk as much as I like to when traveling, but neither of these things seemed to phase her. I was equally shocked and delighted.
Emma and I spent one of our day’s in Belgium; we took the first train out of Paris and arrived 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, so I assumed Emma must 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 African immigrants who were busy trying to sell Eiffel Towers to anyone who walked by. We weren’t tempted by the cheap Eiffel Tower figures, but 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 shared our favorite parts of the day. She liked her waffles, which were covered in chocolate and strawberries, didn’t care for the mussels, and thought the Manneken Pis statue in Brussels was pretty funny.
The sky darkened, and everyone grew quiet. And then the Eiffel Tower started sparkling, 20,000 lights creating one spectacular sight. I looked at the faces around me, and they shared the same expression.
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.