This was supposed to be a story about independence.
It was going to be an example of believing in yourself–of being nervous, but standing on your own.
But it turns out, that’s not what happened in this story; life never fails to surprise me.
I was going to Paris on a business trip. I couldn’t wait to taste the chocolate croissants, to look up in the sky and see the Eiffel Tower, to walk the quaint, cobblestone streets.
There was just one little problem: I was going to be alone.
Well, not alone the whole time…but for a few days it was going to be just be me, myself, and I.
As a working mom with two little ones, the thought of having just a few minutes to myself, let alone a few days, is normally something that I only fantasize about. But being alone in a foreign country…I was nervous.
“You have trouble reading a map that’s in English!” Yep, my husband was worried too. Last time I went to Paris, he was able to come with me; this time, we weren’t so lucky.
So why was I so worried? Let’s break it down…
- I have no sense of direction–zero. I still get lost even in my small hometown.
- I hate to admit it, but my husband is right: I can’t read a map. We’ve often joked that I would be the worst partner in the world to compete on the Amazing Race–it’s sad, but probably true.
- I took four years of French in high school, but only remember a handful of words. Although for some reason, I can still sing the French National Anthem…so I did have that going for me.
- The taxis in Paris were on strike; I was going to have to take the metro or bus everywhere. And while people have assured me that it’s simple, please read again the previous reasons why I was scared…add to these, my lack of experience on any kind of public transportation system.
Plus, there was the whole leaving my family issue. (Funny how raising kids can be exhausting and stressful, but being away from them is absolute torture.)
The only thing that made me feel slightly better was the fact that a co-worker from Chicago was going to be traveling with me in the beginning. At least I was going to have someone with me on my flight to Paris.
But then…the day we were leaving….a blizzard hit Chicago, my co-worker’s hometown. Of course! Michelle wasn’t sure she was going to make our connecting flight–her first flight out was already cancelled.
So hours before I was leaving for a dream trip to Paris, what was I doing? Crying. Like a baby. I couldn’t help it. My heart was in pieces from saying goodbye to my kids…and I was having visions of getting lost in some back alley in Paris, being deserted on the streets, and not having a clue of where to go.
I didn’t know what else to do, so I said a little prayer.
I prayed that I would be safe on my trip, that I would find my way through Paris on my own…that my nerves would settle and that I would enjoy this incredible opportunity. (And also that my husband would survive with both kids on his own.)
And with that, my husband dropped me off at the airport and I was off.
To settle the butterflies in my stomach, I started imagining myself writing this post when I got back home–telling stories of how I mastered the metro system and returned speaking fluent French. I was determined to figure out the streets of Paris, to see all the sites…all by myself.
But my trip didn’t go as I had planned. From the moment I got on the airplane, it was as if someone was watching over me–helping me. Trust me, I know this sounds crazy…but that’s how it felt.
When I started telling my husband about this, he initially rolled his eyes and looked at me like I was being overly dramatic. (Me? Over-dramatize? Never!) But then even my biggest skeptic had to admit, the coincidences did add up to something almost unbelievable.
A series of fortunate events:
- Michelle. I had a two hour layover in Philadelphia. I stood in front of the “Arrival” screen, keeping my fingers crossed. “CANCELLED” was written next to every single flight coming in from Chicago. Every single one, that is…except for one. For some reason, Michelle’s flight made it. What are the chances? Granted, she barely made it…in fact, we were sprinting down the terminal with my name being called over the intercom warning that our flight was leaving soon. But she made it. I didn’t have to travel to Paris alone. (And it’s a good thing–without Michelle, my luggage would probably still be sitting outside the restroom in the Paris airport…but that’s a whole other story!)
- Taxis. The day before I arrived in Paris, there was good news: the taxi strike was over. The metro was now an option, not a requirement. This had me breathing a HUGE sigh of relief…and worse case, if I got lost, I could hail a cab to rescue me!
- Friday night. My work was over and it was the moment of truth: I was officially on my own. Michelle had already left and I was flying solo. I decided to spend my first night visiting Sacre Coeur in Montmarte–a place with spectacular views, delicious cafes, and interesting people.
The area is filled with artists–and I ended up meeting one of them. He asked if he could draw my picture for his collection; I was hesitant at first (I knew I wasn’t going to buy it), but for some reason, eventually I agreed and we ended up chatting for several minutes. When he was done, he said, “We should have someone take a picture.” He turned around and tapped a woman’s shoulder. “Excuse me, could you take our picture?” I couldn’t believe my eyes! Of all the people who were there…it was one of my colleagues from Ireland! I had no idea she was going to still be in Paris…she didn’t know my plans either. But amongst the thousands of people, I found a friend. In the back of my mind, I kept asking myself: what are the chances?
- Saturday morning. I had my agenda planned and my sights mapped out. First thing on my to-do list: breakfast! I turned down a street, looking for a cafe when I heard someone shouting my name. I turned and saw two of my colleagues from Sweden! Again, of all the streets in Paris…I ended up finding friends. Best of all, one of them grew up in the city–she showed us places I never would have thought to visit, like the Latin District with University of Paris. We spent the morning and afternoon together. As we walked around the city, the question kept coming back to me: what are the chances?
- Saturday night. It was my last night in Paris. After a full day of seeing the best of Paris, I was starving. I sat down at a small table and noticed a woman next to me, also dining alone. She sparked up conversation and the two of us became fast friends. She asked all the basic questions: where I was from, how I liked Paris, and how long I was staying, When I told her I was going to be leaving in the morning, she said, “Me too!” She asked where I was flying and which airline I was on. “I’m going to be your flight attendant!” By the time dessert came, a man walked by the front of the restaurant and she waved him inside. He said down at her table and introduced himself. Yep–it was the pilot. The three of us sat in the cafe together–telling stories, showing pictures of our kids. And again the thought that wouldn’t leave me: what are the chances?
Turns out, I had an amazing time in Paris. I toured Versailles, saw Notre Dame and the Louvre, spent time at Sacre Coeur, stood in awe at the Eiffel Tower, admired the view from the top of the Arc de Trioumph, walked by the Seine River and through Musee d’Orsay. I also did get out of my comfort zone, trying new things like escargot and steak tartar…I even had my first bus ride! And my flight attendant friend hooked me up with a bottle of wine for the flight back home–now that’s my kind of bon voyage!
So what did this Parisian adventure teach me?
Getting ready for this trip, I was reminded of one of my all-time favorite books: Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss. At one point he says,
“All Alone! Whether you like it or not, alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot.”
Wise words–and I know they are very true.
But there’s another quote I love…words from another wise soul, Mr. Walt Disney: “It’s a small world after all.”
I don’t know…maybe it was that little prayer that I said before I left, but somehow, in a city of millions, I found myself constantly surrounded by friends and smiles. Yes, what are the chances?
There are times in life when we’ll be afraid–we’ll feel all alone, like no one else even speaks the same language. But I do believe, if you look closely and are brave enough to take the first steps, you will find people all around with friendly faces and who are ready to help.
P.S. For what it’s worth, when I was by myself, I did manage to navigate through the streets of Paris pretty well–I only had to get rescued by a taxi once!
With a love for photography, Paris is basically my definition of Heaven. Every time you turn around, there’s something else you want to capture. Here are just a few more of some of my favorite Paris pics.