It did not truly see Paris the first time I arrived. After an almost fourteen hour flight with only one connection in Chicago Illinois and not sleeping for over twenty four hours, I came off of my flight into the Charles de Guelle airport in Paris, France exhausted and in a hazy fog.
As I slowly walked through the airport I was bombarded with visions of brightly lit shops- Swarovski watches, delicious chocolates, clothing boutiques and souvenir shops. The rest of the airport looked the same; somehow I had gotten off the plane and had been transported into a mini-mall with people eager to spend their hard earned money on overpriced perfumes and trendy items. Nevertheless, though tired and drained, I ventured out of the airport doors eager to meet the study abroad program staff and to be driven to our apartment in the city of Lights and Love.
Everything else that happened is one big blur. Our driver who only spoke French was given orders to drive us into the city so that we could meet with additional program staff and be transferred safely to our apartment. During the journey we drove by run-down buildings and houses severely vandalized by graffiti, and there was trash everywhere. People were in the street asking for money and tapping on car windows and as these scenes passed, my mind wandered frantically- was this it? Was this the Paris everyone fawned over and raved about? It couldn’t be. The shock of reality hit me like a ton of bricks leaving me stunned and numb, and the rest of the way I tried my best not to panic as I felt the full weight of my decisions.
As we drove the streets I noticed they were narrow- very narrow and the box like cars drove aggressively and rarely ever yielded to pedestrians or each other. I passed the next few days in a very similar robotic state as I went around trying to get my bearings in a world that I wasn’t familiar with, and around people I could not communicate with. I honestly began to question if choosing Paris was the right decision. I was a long way from home and away from my family and friends, but I knew this city had to have something I was missing if people all over the world came to visit. Soon after, the moment I was waiting for happened-I not only saw but became part of the magic of Paris.
It was a bit after mid afternoon; my second of nineteen days in Paris, and the Study abroad program had planned a river boat tour of the Seine. When we got out of our orientation we walked towards the Siene and through the tall buildings that surrounded the school towards our destination. At some point we rounded a building after passing a delicately adorned carousel and a museum- and then I saw it through the light rain that started to fall softly from the gloomy gray sky. The building’s lights twinkled like stars against the darkness and they lined up hugging each side of the river that was sparkling from the city lights.
We got to the boat soon after, and we were ready to tour the beautiful and serene Siene. Then as the boat motor turned, the boat slowly drifted away from the shore and after five minutes I saw the beautiful Eiffel tower gleaming in the distance and calling to everyone who could see it to enjoy and take part in the marvel and delight. While I saw many other historic landmarks on the boat tour that day, I did not have to look any further to understand Paris’s allure to the masses.
Although the first time I saw Paris I was too blind to see, the shining lights illuminating the city also illuminated my heart. Often when we travel we forget the work that goes into the experience, and if the first time you are in Paris you feel tired and lost, get some rest, be patient, and allow for that one captivating moment where the city finds you.