There were a lot of silly tears the first three months of my time in Europe. I lost my passport within hours of landing in Spain, I missed home terribly while studying abroad and then my friend who was supposed to meet me in Paris for a long weekend missed her flight. I had to go to the city alone.
One horrible budget flight and a long line at customs later, I got whisked downtown on the Paris subway. Almost a decade ago there was no Wi-Fi, no smartphones and all I had to navigate this foreign place was a notepad with an address written on it. My mother let me know a few months prior I had a second cousin living in Paris with his girlfriend, and he was happy to host my friend and I if I wanted to visit.
At least in Spain a few broken words in the native language got my by when I was lost or confused. But knowing not a word of French made me feel completely helpless. I got all the way to the end of line and spun around looking for the next step in directions – a street name I couldn’t pronounce. Some tiny, wrinkly old lady in a beige overcoat saw my eyes start to well up and gently took my notebook from my hands while she led me down the narrow street. Super lucky.
In front of the door to my cousins apartment stood a frowning woman who also couldn’t speak English, I later learned it was his French girlfriend but she had no idea I’d be there so early. So we sat down at the breakfast table while I nibbled on some goat cheese and just stared at each other blankly. Figured that was my cue to go see a few things on my own.
I went back to the subway and took the stop suggested to get a view of that iconic tower. Up until then everything was a blur, but I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on the Eiffel Tower. I burst into tears. Again. Being melodramatic and naive, I guess I thought an accordion would be playing and I’d be passionately kissed by a handsome foreigner who’d next sweep me up to the top as we watched the sun go down. Instead it was noisy, raining a little and I was pushed out of the way as I passed on the subway steps to take in the view.
A day or two went by gorging on fresh baked goods and alcohol so not all was lost. During one of my aimless walks I stumbled onto the American Library in Paris, which was full of cheap, English language books. I took to the park and indulged hours of idle reading. My friend did eventually show up and we braved the crowds at the Louvre together, then strolled along the river to the Cathedral of Notre Dame, happening upon a cluster of nuns chanting quietly in prayer.
Of course, things have changed. I don’t speak to the friend I went to Paris with anymore, and now I live only a two-hour train ride away from the city instead of an across-the-ocean flight. I’ve re-visited the city a few times and had relaxing experiences sipping wine and celebrating on the streets during Bastille Day.
We were cozied up in southern Wales sipping tea when we got news of the horrible attacks cross the city, which seems too close and awful to comprehend. I’ve always had a strange love-hate relationship with Paris, but none of that matters. Global terror is one of the world’s most horrific realities that needs to end.
It’s been exactly nine years to the day since my first trip to Paris.
Here are some ways you can help:
French Red Cross are accepting donations
Doctors without Borders are accepting donations
If you ever feel inclines to donate funds, check Charity Navigator first to make sure the organization is legit. As always, keep tourism alive in conflicted areas across the world to help support local economies and people in difficult times.
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