I’m sitting in a small hotel room in Pisa. I can hear the traffic from the streets, the room dimly lit. Mike is out at a local laundromat doing some laundry, a necessity, since we’re leaving for Rome tomorrow.
Rome. A place I’ve always wanted to see. I’ve long since dreamt of eating piles and piles of pasta, drinking vats of wine, and cramming pizza in my face. In fact, it’s the first thing I plan to do when we arrive.
(Update: I did it as soon we arrived)
My post about France has taken some time to form. It was a really special experience. So far, it’s been my favorite part of my travels to Europe. Even before Iceland, before Melissa’s 100, there was a natural eagerness in me to see the world. There was a fascination with other cultures, a spark that ignited into a giant flame the moment I stepped on a plane to Reykjavik.
And to think, it all started taking form just fifteen years ago…
I was waiting in a dark, secluded parking lot with my mom. I remember the only light coming from those awful industrial lamps that only illuminate certain areas of a parking lot. I’m tired, as it’s about 2 am, but excited, because today was the day I had been waiting for since school let out for summer – today, I met Marion.
Earlier in the school year, my Spanish teacher asked if any of us would be interested in hosting a foreign exchange student. Already hungry for some culture, I rushed home after school and begged my parents to consider. They were open to it, although my father pointed out – only if it was a girl.
It meant that I would have to give up my bedroom, but I didn’t care. As an idealistic, imaginative 12 year old girl, there was nothing more exciting than making a new friend from another country. Thanks to my parents indulgence in my adventurous side, my dream was coming true.
A coach bus pulled up to a crowd of also sleepy, yet eager, families. I saw the lights go on, and then, I saw Marion – just like her picture – short brown hair, a friendly smile. She recognized me as well, short, skinny girl with tangled blonde hair. We waved at each other.
Fifteen years, and a few months later, I was standing outside a St. Christopher’s Hostel in Paris. Again, I was sleepy – as I had been up working late – but also, eager. A Volkswagen pulled up and the same girl – short brown hair, a friendly smile, waved at me from her car.
For the next week, it was if no time had passed at all.
Catching up with my French sister.
I spent the next six days seeing all the important Parisian landmarks, learning French, and pigging out on French food. Mike rejoined me in Paris to finish out our adventure (as buds).
A requirement of my stay, Marion said – was that I could only eat french food. Laurent, her husband, paired our delicious Parisian dinners with wine. A fellow wine enthusiast, Laurent and I had endless conversations about the texture, taste, color of various French wines. I told him I couldn’t wait to go to Italy to drink, and he insisted that French wine was much better (of course).
Hanging out with Marion, Laurent and Mike.
I played with their adorable two year old daughter, Lou – who was fascinated with my tattoo, burst into giggles for seemingly no reason, and rubbed her face after she kissed Mike on the cheek (because of the beard).
Trying to use my limited French to read Lou a story.
She’d squeal “ooooo!” and brush her hand along her cheek, delighted that he had hair on his face.
I lounged beneath the Eiffel Tower – a sight so magnificent, it almost brought tears to my eyes – ate baguettes and croissants, and somehow, kept up with Marion and Laurent’s quick-paced conversations in French.
Marveling at something beautiful.
One of my favorite things was seeing Versailles – the famous home of Marie Antoinette. Despite the stuffy rooms and crowds of people, the palace was absolutely breathtaking. Mike and I were in awe – of course, until the audio tour mentioned something about grand balls being held there, and we started giggling like 12 year olds. Marion had us try macaroons, (fancy french cookies), and they were heavenly (except for the rose ones, as Marion said, they tasted like soap). My filmy, Coppola admiring self imagined myself in Kirsten Dunst/ Marie Antoinette garb prancing around the Hall of Mirrors, with tall hair, pale skin (already got that down), and lots and lots of shoes.
Versailles with Marion
I even put a lock on their famous love bridge (well, one of them). As my truest love is adventure, I declared it for all to see:
In love with the world.
With exception to being picked up by a mysterious car at midnight, and hanging with Fitzgerald, I saw a lot of Paris, and had an incredible experience. But out of all of those experiences, my favorite was being reunited with my friend.
Marion and I circa 1999.
Marion and I got along famously when she was in the U.S. When I came to France, it was exactly the same. I was surprised at how much we had in common – including a mutual appreciation for Vanessa Paradis and the movie Heartbreaker. We spent a long time talking about our lives, sitting outside on her porch, chatting, and enjoying wine as if it’s something we’ve done for years.
(The language barrier didn’t prevent endless conversations about typical girl things)
I even got the opportunity to meet Marion’s family – the Carmes, and visit their family home. They spoke very little English, but before long, I was laughing along with their stories about Marion’s visit to America. We looked at the journal, letters, and photos from Marion’s American adventure and reminisced about our experience.
Grabbing a snack at the Carmes.
My visit with Marion got me thinking about all the people I’ve lost touch with along the way, over the years. When I left Paris, I knew that it would only be a matter of time before I returned. Facebook, Skype and the occasional email can’t make up for the friends I reconnected with. I promised Marion I’d be back (with friends or family!), and told Laurent next time I came to visit, we’d go to the French wine country. He bid us adieu and gave us some parting gifts. I gave Lou a hug and kiss goodbye, knowing the next time I saw her, she wouldn’t be as tiny and would be speaking fluent French.
Parting gifts from Laurent. Probably the best gift ever.
After I arrived in Nice, I started thinking about that love bridge again. There are so many people, not just abroad, but in the U.S., that I love dearly. In the past few years, due to circumstance or obligation, I’ve watched myself drift away from them. As mentioned in a previous post, I spend a lot of holidays away from family, commonly forget to send out birthday cards, and am embarrassed to admit I need to think before I can confidently say what grade my brother is in.
Musing over locks.
After I put on my lock – yes, to declare my love for adventure, I also thought about all the people I love. All the other locks that were latched on, promising that they’d love that person forever. In that moment, I made a promise to myself – to try to reconnect with family and friends, and that’s what leads me into my next adventure…
I’m departing Europe on October 16 – (I’ll be back, Greece), and returning to the U.S. After some careful thought, I’ve decided to continue my journey in the States. Instead of just landmarks and beautiful scenery, I also want to visit the people I care about. I want to spend time with them and learn about their lives. Along with my regular Melissa’s 100 ambitions, I want to reconnect with my loved ones. I work from home now, so my schedule is pretty flexible when it comes to location – if you fancy a visit, let me know. I’d love to explore somewhere new (or old) and spend some time with you. Au revoir (for now) – going to make Mike watch mentioned French chick flick (Heartbreaker).
Most photos were taken by Mike, and if I don’t mention it, he’ll start adding watermarks to his stunning photography. Thanks for the pics, derp!