When I was a little girl, I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house. The kitchen was the heart of her home, as it was with most Italian families. It was my favorite part of her home. The oven and refrigerator were 1950s pink, and on the large back wall was a vast, beautiful mural of the Seine River in Paris. It was painted in soft hues with touches of pink. I was always gazing at the painting. My grandma's dream was to visit Paris. She'd always start with "one day...."
I'd sit and look at the mural and imagine what Paris, a place so far away, was like.
As an adult, my love for a city I had never met just grew. Six years ago, my husband, Joe, and I needed a new garage. Ours was falling apart, with the wood and paint all chipped and faded and a door we could barely open. We finally had enough saved for a new garage, but we were less than thrilled about making that purchase.
Joe and I had already spent time and money fixing up our first home. I had added many Parisian touches in our home, and I endlessly fantasized about the City of Lights. One night at dinner, Joe surprised me and proposed that we use the money we’d saved to take our dream trip. He assured me the garage would last another year. So we booked our first trip to Paris.
That was my first trip to Paris, but thankfully, it wasn’t the last. This past August, for my 41st birthday, my Aunt Cindy surprised me and asked if I wanted to join her, my cousins, and family friends (eleven women total) in Paris to celebrate my cousin Martha's big birthday! YES! Of course, I did! You know it would take six months to organize eleven women to have dinner in Chicago, but mention a week in Paris, and six weeks later, we were on a plane.
My aunt rented a condo in a quaint, residential neighborhood. With a market and some lovely bistros within walking distance, we were living like locals. Well, kind of. We only had two keys for eleven people, and a week later we still couldn't figure out how to get in the building! But I digress.
The trip was everything I could have dreamed of. We spent my cousin's birthday on top of the Eiffel Tower drinking Champagne, followed by a fantastic evening at a popular restaurant. We took a day trip to the Champagne region, where we toured two Champagne houses in the city of Reims. We ate brunch at Versailles, and I rented a golf cart to drive around the extravagant gardens!
We also happened to be there during Fashion Week. My neighbor, a travel agent, found a private fashion history walking tour for us. Ivo, our guide, took us through streets lined with every designer you could imagine. It was like walking through the pages of Vogue. And what would fashion be without Chanel? Ivo took us to the Coco Chanel flagship store. So timeless, so elegant, so French!
My two cousins and I spent a Sunday afternoon exploring Luxembourg Gardens, enthralled not just by the beauty of our surroundings, but also by the French way of life.
We continued strolling through the streets. One of my favorite areas, Saint Germain, is known for famous cafés once frequented by Hemingway and Picasso, among other creative types.
We saw a show at The Moulin Rouge, took a night cruise down the Seine River, ate at countless bistros, had a hundred visits to Zara, and drank lots of wine. Lots and lots of wine.
This trip to Paris was very different from my first. Since I had visited all the traditional tourist sights last time, this time around, I was able to savor my surroundings. Our "strolls" through the streets often meant we were lost, but around every corner was a discovery. A pâtisserie filled with beautiful macarons, almost too pretty to eat. A boulangerie serving fresh baguettes or an elegant boutique. There is just something, a joie de vivre, about Paris, and I loved it even more the second time around.
I thought of my grandma a lot on this trip. She passed away at 93. The closest she ever came to Paris were the books she read at the library. Not only did she miss out on all Paris has to offer, but she missed out on spending those moments with those closest to her.
The thing about my grandma is, she never even tried. She had the health, time, and means, but not the guts. She was scared.
I'll be very candid here - I can relate to that. I am terrified of the unknown., I worry about everything, and over-analyze situations to death. I am the perpetual "what if" person! When my husband suggested we wait on the new garage in favor of that first trip to Paris, fear kicked in. I thought, “What if the garage crumbles down?” Up until the day we left, I wanted to cancel our trip. I felt the same going with a group of eleven women. I had no idea what to expect, and that scared me.
I work hard to fight past my fears. Fear keeps you trapped. I tell myself afraid or not, time will not stop. The clock keeps ticking. I have to do it scared, or I won't have time to do it at all.
I don't want to live my life full of "one day..." like my grandma, because I was scared. I want to live a life of "I did..." because I took a chance even when it took everything inside me to be courageous. I want to look back and know that I lived to the fullest.
Instead of regretting the trip to Paris I never took, now I can laugh for years with my friends and family about all the bloopers of our trip. I can savor the memories my husband and I have of the first night we spent in Paris. We found a small, hidden restaurant completely lit by votive candles. It’s the most romantic restaurant we’ve ever been to and I remember it like it was yesterday. Or seeing the Eiffel Tower the first time, together.
What do you want to do that scares you? Do you want to experience it with someone or alone? Whatever is rooted in your heart, do it.
Don’t let fear or “what if” hold you back from living life to the full. Don’t sit and read about the stories like my grandma, be the one telling them.
Be brave, be strong, be courageous.
I've included some pictures below.
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