A wonderful singer songwriter, Ellis Paul, wrote a song, “Paris in a Day. Paris in a Day. Only an American would do Paris in a Day.” And yet!
I had a plan to see Carcassonne and Mont Ste. Michel, using Paris as my home base, flying in for an overnight, training down to see MSM, back to Paris for a wonderful day, then back south to Carcassonne. It made my in-between, full and lovely day in The City of Light very special, like a gem in a setting. Paris wasn’t the purpose of the trip so the day was the vacation from the vacation, no lists, no rules, no expectations.
Sunshine, gracious not glaring, a light breeze, the crunch of gravel under the blooming horse chestnut trees. The sound of distant chatter from a tour boat on the Seine.
Nowhere to be but here.
Shouldn’t every trip have at least one unplanned day to wander? An absolutely unscheduled day that lets you tap into the joy of the traveler. As a type-A traveler, I set challenges, have lists, and push to the next summit. I can lose the joy before I realize it.
Once, with a whole week to spend in a beautiful city, full of places to be and sights to see, it struck me. This used to be more fun. My travel lust started at fourteen on a fantastic 16-day trip from London to Lucerne. I still have whole sections of the brochure memorized. Though I might not feel the same way today as I did then, walking out of the hotel, luggage whisked away and boarding the bus meant anything could happen. I just had to show up. (The smell of bus fumes in a city still inspire a feeling of possibility and mystery – odd, but true.)
As I stood in the street that day, in that city, I changed my plan. I had a list of three obscure museums that the average traveler would not find and an address for a great authentic lunch. I ditched the plan. How could I reclaim that feeling of the naive traveler wandering through the day like a theme park of history and art? When all else fails, go to the train station.
From the train station, a joyous line of day-trippers was pouring into the streets. Hawkers were selling souvenirs, ice cream and expensive Cokes. I got a $4 Coke Light and joined the crowd. I felt it edging back in – JOY! You could almost hear carnival music.
Wondering with the crowd, I landed in a neighborhood that had eluded me the day before with my map and my list. There it was – a perfect accident. I broke my rules and ate in a restaurant with a menu in four languages. The food was adequate but the people-watching was stellar.
It was the ultimate day off amid a vacation. So, back to Paris and the horse chestnut trees.
On this morning, I bought a pastry on the corner and started a slow ramble along the Champs de Mars. Following a bustle of activity, I watched with the crowd as three military helicopters landed like very dusty dragonflies. (We agreed, the crowd and I, that this was either very interesting or very bad.) Then, from far down the park, we heard the jingle of bridles and the most amazing equestrian parade appeared.
A visiting dignitary had apparently arrived and was whisked into L’Ecole Militaire. Soon after, they emerged once more, were bundled into a motorcade, and traveled down the boulevard with brilliantly uniformed riders before, after, and alongside the cars.
It was spectacular.
And then they were gone, and I continued my stroll. What next?
I like problem-solving and gain great gratification from jumping hurdles and finding myself on the train after a tricky connection or achieving that elusive sunset view at the very right moment.
It is, though, a balance to maintain – the combination of great feats and achieving a purpose and just strolling with a camera and ice cream. That day in Paris I wore a dress that I almost gave away. “At my age,” I thought, “this dress would only work walking along the Seine in Paris with an ice cream cone.” So I did and then left the dress for the next guest.