The crowds from around the world arrive by plane, by train, and by voiture in Paris, making it the most popular travel destination of the world. In 2018, 17.95 million tourists visited the city and the region, and in 2017 there were a recorded 23.6 million hotel arrivals – an increase of 11% on 2016 and 5% on 2014. And as a visitor arriving and touring the city, you feel the growth of the city and surrounding areas especially in the months of July and August.
Now, indeed what a lovely dilemma – having the opportunity to visit Paris, and then sharing the experience of the vast and rich historical treasures with people from around the globe as the many different languages dance about our ears, seeing how such a diverse confluence of cultures and ages indeed get along very well, navigating and offering everyone a chance to experience what was once perhaps at first only dreamt about or seen via social media or travel books.
But then a breath of air, or repose, aches to be experienced, and that is when the French countryside beckons. And quite fortunately, it is not too far of a journey to be amongst the farmers’ fields, the rolling hills, the vineyards, the small villes and hamlets, and catching your breath and saving your money, but not losing the experience of rich and memorable moments.
During the five trips I have made to France, each involves visits to and staying in Paris. The first three involved a week in the City of Light; the last trip and this trip are bookending the entire trip to France with a couple of days in Paris to wrangle my jetlag before my purpose for arriving commences and catch my breath before venturing back to Oregon. I prefer the latter approach; however, the bookending is tailored to what I love to do in the city and then how I prefer to enjoy my time in France. Had I not had the previous entire weeks in Paris, I would not have had time to experience the city’s historic sites and understand what it was like to call a hôtel particulier home for a stretch beyond a couple of days. So it is my experience that has led me to knowing how I prefer to travel and experience the gifts France has to offer.
Interestingly, it can be the opposite for others.
I had the opportunity to walk about the city of Paris yesterday with an American author who has made Paris his home for nearly 20 years, John von Sothen. And now that he has purchased a home in the Normandy countryside, while he enjoys it, only a few days in the countryside are his preference before he longs to return to the city where he finds his stride most naturally.
Each of us will discover what feeds our soul, so to speak, most fully. Perhaps it depends upon where we were raised, the pace of life that worked/works best for us, the energy that we need to refuel us and the energy we need to reduce that drains us.
To say that visiting Paris is overrated would be untrue – supremely untrue, but as I shared many years ago and also in my first book, the Paris Syndrome is real. In fact, my hair stylist was recently recounting her first trip she took to Paris, and primarily because she traveled with someone who wanted to experience the city differently than she, her experience was not what she had hoped. I offer in the previously linked post regarding the Paris Syndrome simple ways to cure it so that your visit is as lovely and wonderful as you had hoped and imagined, because it absolutely can be.
The gift of travel is that it brings forth knowledge about ourselves we may not have previously known or understood fully. As soon as I arrived in the countryside in Provence and then Normandy last year, I knew I was more at home, found more comfort and appreciated and fell more in love with France than I had ever before having only visited Paris. However, that is my experience and my revelation about myself and does not mean it will be the same for everyone.
Nineteen years ago, as I shared in Monday’s post I first arrived in Paris, and after a week of attending classes in Angers, I spend a full week in Paris. Partially because my brain was exhausted trying to learn a new language, and partially because my being was exhausted being abroad for the first time with nobody I knew and only a few minutes a talk time on the phone to those I did know (landlines were the only means of communication in 2000. 🙂 In fact, I wrote more detailed letters that summer than I had ever in my life, and enjoyed it quite a bit.), I ached to return home to Oregon. I did my best after struggles through tears at one point as I was ready to return nearly the moment classes were out, but my flight wasn’t for a few more days, to visit all of the tourist sites I had heard about and dreamt about – the Eiffel Tower, Catacombs, Musée de Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Jardin du Luxembourg and then I found in my hostel’s backyard neighborhood (I was staying in the Latin Quarter) the Jardins des Plantes.
I caught my breath and found the comfort I was searching for in this space of Mother Nature. I returned there this morning, nineteen years later, before I left the city for the countryside, to catch my breath again, but for different reasons. And in today’s experience, I saw it through far less rose-tinted glasses, and the city as well.
Paradoxically, my affection for Paris has deepened, and as I wandered about the grounds, I can better appreciate that Paris is an urban destination with an abundance of history, beauty, food, wine and people from all over the world – what a breadth and depth of diverse offerings and gifts to give its inhabitants and its visitors. But perhaps now, even though it took nineteen years, I’ve learned the lessons Paris was trying to teach me so many years ago: to not be afraid of the life before you even though you do not know what is ahead; to heed the persistent tugs at the heart and being even if following through can scare the living daylights out of you at times; to not judge, but rather observe, and when you are ready, ask questions; to eat well, and you will never eat too much; waking up with the sun to start the day early rarely is a bad idea; and to share, in a way that you feel comfortable, what brings you to life, and in so doing, you will create the light that will guide you on the way forward for your unique journey.
This morning, I sat on the bench just off to the right of this photo above watching the gardeners work in the flower beds, and observing a Tai Chi class finish up their morning exercise. I nibbled on a croissant (find out where I recommend picking up one of the best), and felt appreciation for feeling far more grounded than the young woman I was nearly two decades ago did who sat on a similar bench catching her breath, and finding comfort in the calm of Mother Nature where she could not anywhere else.
While I am still piecing together the shifts, changes and ahas that have taken place from then until now, simply knowing there has been positive shifts, changes and ahas, is deeply satisfying. And rest assured, when I do piece more of it all together, I will be sharing.
In the meantime, enjoy a bit of a tour through the Jardins des Plantes below, and be sure to follow on Instagram as I have been sharing detailed posts about my trip since I haven’t been posting daily here on the blog as of late. However, since I am in the countryside now and have a bit more time, I will be back to my regular schedule. Thank you of your understanding, and be sure to “join me” on my travels in France! Susan Hermann Loomis’ cooking class awaits and my appetite is ready to enjoy!
~Find more of Shannon’s French-Inspired posts in TSLL’S Archives
~Listen to French-Inspired podcast episodes on The Simple Sophisticate