Paris – Day 1

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View from our Airbnb

After a long day of travel, Rachel and I were finally just one Metro stop away from our Airbnb when our RER turned a corner and there, in the break in the buildings, was the Eiffel Tower. “Wow, look at that!” I breathed, pointing at the massive structure. Rachel gave voice to the exact words in my head: “It’s bigger than I expected.”

We exited the Metro via an escalator leading us outside, where we got our first breath of French air. Sunlight filtered through the trees that smelled like jasmine, and birds chirped happily nearby. It was perfection.

We found our Airbnb, dropped off our luggage and ventured out into the city. After getting caught in our first French rainstorm and having our first cup of French coffee, Rachel and I entered the beautiful gardens of Musee d’Rodin. The lush gardens were shaded by trees dotted with rose bushes, making our walk cool, sunny and fragrant.

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“The Kiss”

After walking around the outdoor paths and discovering “The Thinker”, we made our way inside where we found “The Kiss”. It is a breathtaking sculpture – possibly my favorite ever – because the intimate pose is both passionate and sweet. In my experience, it is hard to find both, but it is a love worth waiting for – and one that models the love that God has for us all. His love is strong.

Rachel and I enjoyed a chocolate-filled afternoon, stopping at both the quaint Jean-Charles Rochoux and the swanky Patrick Roger, as well as getting our first chocolate croissants from a chain called Paul. I saved some of my chocolates (hazelnut dark chocolate and rose dark chocolate) to savor while we sat in the grass at a small park, enjoying the sunshine.

For dinner, we ate at a restaurant I’d found on Yelp: Au Pied du Fouet. I ordered the canard (duck), and it was delicious, although I felt self-conscious because the friendly chef stood at the door to the kitchen watching me eat.

Rachel and I ended every day by climbing seven flights of stairs (127 steps. I counted). Then we rewarded ourselves with a hot shower in our plastic porta-shower and then… sleep!

Authentically Aurora

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La Douceur du Foyer

Flowers from SethI just got home from Paris last night, greeted at the airport by Seth’s smiling face. He’d offered to pick me up and left work early to do so, showing up looking handsome in a blue-and-white plaid button-down tucked into khaki slacks. He wrapped me in a hug and then, from behind his back, pulled a beautiful bouquet of sunflowers dotted with tiny purple daisies. My favorite.

He insisted on carrying my luggage, kissed me sweetly when we were alone in the elevator, and made dinner for me while I showered at home, washing off more than 15 hours of travel. Other than my daddy, I’ve never had a man meet me at the airport with flowers – and certainly not cook dinner for me as well. Seth makes me feel like a princess.

I’m still processing everything I saw and experienced during my whirlwind of a trip to Paris, but in the meantime, my travel-fogged brain has been musing over a couple of things.

I got sick my first day in Paris, and I am not sure if it’s because:

  1. I was stuck in a petri dish of an airplane for ten hours with coughers and sneezers,
  2. My body subconsciously wanted my French to sound more authentic (i.e. more nasal-y), or
  3. I am allergic to socialism.

With the EuroCup going on, Rachel and I made a lot of new friends – British, Welsh, Polish and German, but no French. I was disappointed to discover that Parisians were just as rude as all the stereotypes. I’m wondering if this is because:

  1. They’re bitter about only being back-to-back World War Champs because of American rescue,
  2. They have stale baguettes stuck up their butts, or
  3. They are living under the stench of European socialism.

In the 18 hours I have been back in America, I have already experienced some reverse culture shock. Most notably:

  1. When someone passed me on the street this morning, I surprised myself by automatically clutching my purse closer to my side, wary of pickpockets.
  2. I walked past two women talking in the office and heard one begin her sentence, “We pardoned…” and was stunned to realize that my mind heard, “Oui, pardon!” I think I need to purge my brain of the last week of French speaking.
  3. I passed by a TV screen declaring Hillary is picking up votes. Not that I’m exactly a Trump supporter, but I’d thought I was escaping socialism when I came home and was disheartened to realize that  – in actuality – perhaps the difference in culture is not quite as significant as I’d hoped. Regardless, I am beyond thankful to be back home in the Land of the Free & Home of the Brave.

Yay ‘Merica.

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Authentically Aurora

Our First Date

On our first date, Seth took me to a hole-in-the-wall cafe featuring southern comfort food, and I internally raised my eyebrows at his choice. During the drive from my apartment he’d been talking out loud, trying to decide between the southern cafe and a steak restaurant down the street. I definitely would have gone with the steak restaurant for a first date, but ultimately I decided I liked that he chose a restaurant that suited him.

CrackerBarrelInteriorAlways a gentleman, Seth opened the restaurant door for me, and as I took in the decor, I realized this diner was Seth through and through. Following the hostess, I slid into the booth she indicated, taking in the antlers and farming antiques lining the walls. It reminded me of dinners at Cracker Barrel during family road trips when I was a young girl.

The small town country decor inspired me to order a chicken fried steak, and it was the best steak I’ve ever had. Granted, I’d only ever had chicken fried steak once before, but it absolutely melted in my mouth. Seth tried a bite (and then another) and teased me that I was going to be spoiled from ever appreciating chicken fried steak again.

Cookie_Ice_Cream_SandwichAfter dinner, Seth took me across town to try his favorite dessert – cookie ice cream sandwiches. We ended up splitting one because they were huge. Seth smiled at me across the table, and I giggled as melting vanilla ice cream dripped down my fingers.

When he finished his half of the ice cream sandwich, Seth went to wash up. Upon his return, he announced, “The men’s restroom door has a sign on it that says, ‘Use women’. But I’m not going to do that.” I rolled my eyes at his joke, and he gave me a rakish grin in response.

We walked around outside for a while, enjoying the night air, and on the drive home, Seth reached over to take my hand. My stomach flip-flopped, and I marveled at the fact that such a simple gesture could mean so much to me. My hands had been in my lap and not on the arm rest, so he’d really had to go for it. And he did.

His thumb stroked mine, and he glanced over at me as he drove, seeming to take me in. He tucked my hair behind my ear, sending shivers down my spine. But at the end of the evening, he didn’t kiss me goodnight. And I was immensely glad. 

I was surprised at myself for being pleased by the lack of goodnight kiss, so I mentally explored my reaction. I decided that I wanted him to kiss me, but I also had come to hope that Seth really was every bit the kind, honorable gentleman he seemed to be. So I was glad he continued to show himself to be a slow, steady, respectful man of character.

Seth hugged me goodnight, asking if I had anyone to take me to the airport for my business trip in the morning. Ashley had offered – wonderful friend that she is – but I told Seth what I’d told her. “I was planning on parking at the airport and expensing it. The company is willing to pay for parking.”

“What if I wanted to take you to the airport? Would that be okay?” He wanted to be the last to see me and the first to welcome me home. My heart melted.

“Yes,” I said with a smile, “That would be okay.”

“Great!” He smiled back. “Why don’t we go to church together in the morning; then we can stop by your apartment to get your luggage, and I can take you straight to the airport from there?”

I don’t usually look forward to business travel, but a morning of fellowship followed by a drive to the airport with Seth? This man had definitely given me something to look forward to!

Authentically Aurora

Cruise of the Bruised – Part I

Yankee capI noticed him the moment I stepped from the cab and onto the rain-soaked sidewalk beside the pier. He stood bent over a blue Team USA duffel bag, biceps bulging and baseball cap pulled low over his eyes to shield him from the light drizzle that was already beginning to mist my hair. His sandy brown hair poked out from beneath his cap, and as he righted himself, I saw deep smile lines etched around his eyes and chiseled below his cheekbones.

Marina and Verna made a beeline for the cruise ship so, pulling my gaze away from the tanned athlete, I grabbed the handle of my lavender suitcase and hurried along behind them. Five minutes later, we walked through the metal detectors of security, and I glanced behind me to see Mr. Team USA standing directly behind Verna in line to board the ship.

The two other girls were oblivious to his presence, but as we snaked our way through the line toward the gangway, I glanced in his direction each time we turned a corner to circle back the other direction. The ball cap wearer and I made eye contact a few times, and the third time, he smiled at me. I smiled shyly before ducking my head and scurrying forward in the line, chiding myself. You’re not dating this year. You’re not dating this year.

My younger brother met his wife on a cruise a few years ago, so it was hard not to get the idea in my head, but I kept coaching myself that I am committed to taking this year off dating. It’s a lot easier to keep that mindset when you don’t have two married women – your only travel companions – teasing you, encouraging you and constantly looking to set you up with every young, able-bodied male on the cruise ship.

Long after I’d started making eyes at Mr. Team USA, Verna started complaining about wrist pain from her poor computer set up at the office. I watched in fascination at the various expressions flickering across Mr. Team USA’s face. He was obviously listening, and eventually, he spoke up. “If you wear a rubber band around your wrist, you can do finger and wrist strengthening exercises like this,” he gestured, and we all looked down to where he demonstrated the exercise for us with a rubber band he wore encircling his wrist.

Marina, being a fitness instructor, jumped right into the conversation, asking him what he does for a living. Jordan (as he introduced himself) is an orthopedic massage therapist who studied under the Yankees’ orthopedic physician and also does work on a few guys in the NFL. He is currently studying for his physical trainer certification and has a few patents in the works.

I tried to ignore the winks from Verna and wiggling eyebrows from Marina as we boarded the ship. “Who are you here with?” I asked Jordan nonchalantly. He appeared to be traveling alone.

“One of my orthopedic buddies and his kids,” Jordan answered as – sure enough – a slender man in his late forties approached with five boys and one girl in tow. Only two of the boys turned out to be his sons; the others were friends who’d come along for the vacation.

Our now-huge group was starting to block the gangway, so Marina, Verna and I started moving in the direction of our cabin and, after an only slightly awkward pause, Jordan extended his arm for a handshake, wishing me well with a nod and, “Maybe I’ll see ya around.”

And see me around, he did.

Authentically Aurora

Laughing Our Way Through London – Part I

Hyde ParkLondon is a peculiar city. It has the hustle and bustle of NYC, the rich history of Rome, the quaintness of small town Germany, and the diverse ethnicity of Houston. Over the course of the last week, I found that I quite like London more than most other major cities I have visited, largely because of this synthesis of large scale opportunities with small town class and culture.

My traveling companions on this trip were Ashley, her younger brother Ron, and Kelly – a university friend of Ashley’s who turned out to be delightful company. On one of our first days in London, we explored two of the city’s largest parks: Hyde Park and Regent’s Park.

During our walkabout, enjoying the unexpected sunshine and sipping on iced coffee, we explored many twists and turns of greenery dotted by the occasional monument or fountain. After quite a few miles of walking (we walked a total of 16 miles that day), Ashley called out to the group, “Is that a statue?”

I looked around and only saw people sitting on benches or laying in the grass. Then I saw where she was pointing. A particularly dark featured man sat reading under the shade of a large tree. He was all one uniform color, dressed in dark hues and sitting immobile. I squinted behind my sunglasses, trying to make him out. Was it a statue?

The rest of our group peered at him as well. “He is very still…” mused Kelly out loud. But then– No… no, he moved to scratch his nose. Definitely not a statue!

We all gave Ashley a hard time about her faux pas until I had one of my own. We’d just come from a Harry Potter walking tour where we saw many of the filming sites for the Harry Potter movies, so I had magic on the brain. Walking through Hyde Park, I saw a cluster of people in the distance all wearing flowing black robes.

“Look! Wizards!” I said with delight. I was surprised so many people had dressed up for their Harry Potter walking tour. But as the group got closer, Ron snorted with laughter. They were not in fact wizards. They were Muslim women, dressed in full hijab. Oops. 

Lastly, near the end of the day, Ashley, Kelly and I went to use the public loo in Regent’s Park. Ashley and I both had the misfortune of walking into stalls without toilet paper, so Kelly had to pass some to us from under the stall door (thanks, Kelly!).

As we all finished washing and drying our hands, another woman walked into the loo and straight into one of the stalls without toilet paper. We all looked at each other, horrified, before I called out to the woman, “There’s no toilet paper in that stall.”

She didn’t respond, but I heard the sound of her already using the facilities. So I went into the stall next door, wadded up a ball of unused paper, and held it under the stall door for her. We ladies have got to look out for each other, after all.

“Here,” I said kindly. “That stall doesn’t have toilet paper.” Ashley and Kelly watched my actions. We all waited in silence. The woman never said anything, and she also never took the toilet paper.

After waiting for an uncomfortable amount of time, I glanced at Ashley and Kelly, who both looked very awkward about the entire situation. Then Ashley, with wide eyes, mouthed, “Let’s get out of here!”

So, giggling silently, I pulled my hand back out from under the stall door, stuffed the unused tissue in the bin, and ran out into the sunshine with Ashley and Kelly, laughing all the way.

Authentically Aurora