Bonjour! After a week in Paris I have to fight to urge to say that to everyone~
This trip was a whirlwind of firsts - most notably, it marked my first solo journey as well as the first time I traveled to a destination without knowing the language.
I left for Paris a little nervous but mostly filled with excitement and anticipation... I was unsure about being a first-timer in a city so well-known for being the ultimate romantic destination, but after a week there I can safely say that I felt seduced by the city itself. I found Paris to be endlessly sophisticated and beautiful. The elegance was everywhere - in the cobblestone roads, the historical architecture, the amazing fine art, the laid-back atmosphere, the culture, the effortlessly chic Parisians, the cuisine... I was so captivated. There was a moment while strolling over the Seine, right as I caught the Eiffel Tower silhouette against the sunset, when I just felt that something in the air - an indescribable element that left me determined to never take all that I'm blessed with for granted again. That all sounds a little cheesy and like I'm idealizing Paris (which I won't deny) but it was that mesmerizing.
One of my favorite things about the city was that despite it being very compact, it didn't feel overwhelmingly hectic. Parisians seem to place an emphasis on slowing down to soak in the little things in life, whether it's meals that linger over wine and good conversation or afternoon walks through the park. They also seem to really appreciate people-watching; there are cafes around every corner where it's perfectly acceptable to do so while nursing a coffee for three hours. Besides cafes, the countless gardens and parks and random steps welcome anyone to plunk down and just let the day go by - something I took full advantage of on my first day. I was feeling drained from 15 hours of travel (yes it unfortunately took me 15hrs from London to Paris..) and wanted to do something relaxing, away from any crowds. Daniella (a friend who graciously offered her apartment for me to stay at) suggested the Canal Saint-Martin and so off I went. The sky had just started getting dark when I arrived and I unknowingly ended up spending almost two hours just lingering along the banks of the canal with my camera.
A second favorite thing, and a factor that made solo wandering easy in Paris - people are comfortable spending time alone. It was common to spot people pass time at a bistro with lunch and a book or casually sipping wine while contemplating life. Yet even as someone who loves having alone-time and despite all the things that captivated me about Paris, by the end of the week I was tired of not having another person to share my experiences with.
By day 5, I was feeling isolated and for the first time in a long time, I was hit with a wave of homesickness like I've never experienced before. It was an alien experience of sorts - I never pined for home while studying abroad in Taiwan last summer and rarely do so when at school back in Santa Barbara. To suddenly have this intense longing to be back amongst familiar environments wash over me was overwhelming, and being in such a foreign place made it all the stranger. Struggling with this made me realize something fundamental about communication and travel - being alone sparked the homesickness, but it was the language barrier that kept the fire burning. Not being able to communicate the most basic things left me feeling powerless, and proved to be the most disorienting and frustrating part about the whole trip. Before leaving, I was only familiar with a measely six French phrases: bonjour, merci beaucoup, pardon, excusez moi, s'il vous plait (please), and je ne parle pas Francais (I don't speak French).
I underestimated how much the language barrier would affect my experiences, because despite getting by with minimal French (and a lot of gesturing), I felt as though I missed out on so many details by being unable to fully understand my surroundings. I was hoping that the residents would be more accommodating in a city that receives so many visitors, but instead I felt hyper-aware of my foreign-ness. It's something that'll make me think harder about traveling to other destinations where language may be an issue. On the other hand though I would hate for language to prevent me from going anywhere, so I suppose this was a lesson to prepare better next time and to never underestimate the power of effective communication.
Regardless of my frustrations, spending a week in Paris made me more appreciative of the language - there's something about the way French rolls off all the native tongues that makes me stop to listen. Now that I'm back in Canterbury, catching the rare bit of French here and there makes me smile. Surprisingly, I miss hearing the language albeit not understanding 99.5% of it. And on the upside, this was definitely a humbling experience... I'm eternally grateful to all the kind strangers who were happy to help. The next time I stumble upon a lost visitor or flustered family in San Francisco, I'll remember all the times a stranger's kindness made my day and pay it forward.