After a quick 4 Belgian days, we headed off towards France. No, let me change that. We headed for Paris. Yes, Paris. Oh yes, please.
I got really excited.
Paris is just great. But we only have 5 days! Will I be able to do everything I want to do in 5 days? That’s not long…
Well, see here’s the thing (see I told you we use it a lot!), Paris can be done in 5 days. If you do 13-15 hour days like we did. We actually didn’t have class for the entire time we were in France, so anything education was done via tour (see: Versailles, Louvre, Normandy tours). We had about 4 hours at both Versailles and the Louvre. Then we were free to leave when we wanted. The group I spent most of my time with in Paris ended up going to what seemed to be every single Arrondissement. We hit everything. And as a result, we didn’t sleep much. I haven’t been that tired since RAing. Yikes. But! On the plus side, my French is still functional! I can still conversate! I can understand really well, and I am understood…maybe half the time J It was awesome.
It’s funny. I didn’t recognize Paris too much when I first got there. We were pretty far to the South of the city, and nowhere near where I was the first time with my family. It was kind of unnerving. But then came time to catch a ride. We went down into the Metro station, and WHAM
I recognized Paris by the smell. No, it didn’t smell like urine, or something gross like that. It just smelled like France. I can describe it to you. Maybe I should have bottled up some Metro air to present to you when you inevitably question my sanity after I get back and talk to you. Then I would open the jar and say “Here. This is France.” They say that smell is the sense best tied to memory. I guess they’re right this time.
We made it up to Sacre Coure one of the evenings we were there. What an incredible place. It’s simply gorgeous. A white beacon of a church placed just atop a hill in the north of Paris, it seems to look down at the whole city. It reminds me of the Spire of Ecthalion in Minas Tirith (like LOTR shout out to Jay V., Ty F., and Lizzie Mc.). The inside just feels like a church should to me. You can try to continue your conversation once you are into the nave and chapel, but you won’t. It literally grasps the breath from your throat and yanks it from your lungs while your eyes are pulled upwards. (Saint Chapelle does the same thing. The stained glass there looks like gems glistening from their spots in the cave wall.) Simple stunning. I sat for a while and prayed; thanking Jesus for him and his sacrifice. I almost crossed myself afterwards, but decided against it. But really, if I had done it, would anyone have said anything? If I were to commit a small act because I felt like it sealed my conversation with the Lord well, would it have been wrong? I really don’t even know the answer. Any insight?
Then, on the outside of the church, there is a wonderful juxtaposition. Sacre Coure sits gleaming in its white splendor. In front of the church, upon its very steps, there is all sorts of humanity. Music played. Street performers juggling, dancing, and entertaining. Lovers cooing. Loners drinking. Venders hawking. You can’t help but smile as you turn to see the holy enthroned just above and out-of-reach from the people below. It really makes you think.
We made it to the top of the city about 4 times. Sacre Coure. L’Arc de Triomphe. Notre-Dame. La Tour Eiffel. It was after the second trip up stairs that I thought to myself: you can only take so many pictures of the Parisian skyline. On paper, and on screen, they really all do kind of look the same. So, I put down my lens, and just stopped.
Paris really is a beautiful city.
After the blistering pace of city life, we headed up and out to Normandy. A little bit more of the familiar, and some of the unknown. We stayed in an Abbey. It was just right. The rooms are converted from the original floor plan of the Abbey, so none of them really make that much sense. The building was pretty incredible though. I am finding that I am in awe of cities and country-sides here. Usually people are city people or country people. I thought that I was a city person, but I may not be. I can’t tell.
We spent a long Thursday touring World War II sites. Talk about a world trapped in a certain time. We went to the World War I sites in Belgium, and they felt the same way. Trapped in 1918 or 1944. Going back to the sites in Normandy was… different than I thought. They felt eerily similar. Yet not the same at all. I could tell that I was different more than the sites changing. My questioning of pride, patriotism, and citizenship has definitely shaped the way I perceive things. And I got a bit said about that. I certainly came away from the sites feeling proud of my country, and was unbelievably grateful for the sacrifices, but it took more time to get me there than I would have liked. That was disappointing.
Now…we’re back to Bruges. Time to wind down again. Time to settle. Back to the known. Back to things familiar.