City of Hearts

I’ve just returned from Paris, and I will never be the same.

That is the long and short of it.  If you stopped reading right here, you’d understand the general sentiment of this blog post.  I spent a week in a city I hadn’t seen in 27 long years, and in that week I found my heart and promptly lost it again.

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Arriving at the CDG Airport

The last time I was in Paris, I was 11 years old. It was my second trip to Europe, thanks to my generous grandparents, who splurged so the whole family could go on vacation together.  I don’t remember much about the trip, beyond the sandwiches on the trains and how much I enjoyed Orangina.

Experiencing this beautiful city at the age of 38 was like seeing it for the very first time.  It was cold and overcast much of the time, which I think added a bit of mystique to an already fascinating place.  I didn’t have a plan for sight-seeing, just a list of “must do’s” and a little bit of money in my pocket.  (Truth be told, I relied heavily on my credit cards for certain things, like Uber and Lyft when I didn’t want to take the Metro.)

I found Paris, as a friend predicted I would, much changed.  There were no painters perched along the bridges on the Seine, and I don’t know if that’s because they don’t go out in the Winter months, or because they don’t go out at all any more.  All of the gift shops in the heavy traffic areas carry the same merchandise.  There is a heavy Muslim presence there, which I found surprising, and I worry that the French way of life is being diluted.

Still, the good far outweighed the bad.  While I had heard that there were dangerous areas and “no-go zones” as well as Yellow Vest (Gillets Jaunes) protests going on, I didn’t see any of it.  I, along with my husband, brother, and sister-in-law, traipsed around at leisure and fortunately saw everything I wanted to in the week I was there.

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Notre Dame Cathedral – Stunning!

Paris as a city has a pulse. There are a LOT of people there, and it’s a lot like New York in that it’s always moving, always breathing.  People walk everywhere here, and they walk quickly.  I had to really hoof it to keep up.  It’s no wonder they’re all thin, even with all the bread consumption. They ride bikes and take the metro, and they all seemed like they had somewhere important to be.

The people are also – in my opinion – very beautiful. (And not rude at all!  So friendly.)  The women wear minimal makeup and they look put together.  The men were dressed in long coats and scarfs, and were so handsome.  I am convinced I saw an actual supermodel once or twice on the street. Gorgeous gods and goddesses floating down the sidewalk faster than I could power walk.

What else? The food! Oh, the food! Incroyable! Magnifique! We ate at a different place for every meal, which was super fun and felt like real soul expansion.  I tried dishes that I hadn’t heard of and had chocolate mousse for lunch at least twice. I used my very best French to converse with Parisians, and they indulged me as I giggled out the words.

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A la marche – At the market

I so enjoyed the adventure of it all.  Figuring out the metro and getting lost in neighborhoods, only to find the cutest little cafes and bakeries (patisseries), and share laughs with the locals.  I hesitate to share too much here for fear of giving away the magic.

Paris is a city that has had my heart for a long time, and it recaptured my heart and spirit this week.  How is it possible that such a short trip could be so transformative? I think I know –  Total immersion in another culture, if you’re open to it, is instantly life-changing.  Simply seeing a world outside of the one you know. Realizing the world is so big and you are just a small part of it, and that people are at once so amazingly different and so very similar, leads to some shifting in the soul.  I am changed.  I will never be who I was before I left, and I’m so grateful for that.  I am already planning a return trip, as well as trips to other countries.

Until then, I have these most amazing photos and memories to hold close to my heart.

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Can you feel the joy? Radiating happiness.

 

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Sticky Fingers, Sting Rays, and Strides

[Chattanooga Recap]

My family and I (minus the tiniest guy) went to Chattanooga for the weekend, not knowing what to expect, but full of excitement.  We all enjoy an adventure and I have a serious inexplicable need to see and touch every part of this country and other countries.  I would like to put my two (bare) feet on the ground in every city in every country on Earth, if I could.  I am comfortable at home, but I have a nomad’s heart.

Word to the wise: A trip to the mountains – any mountains – is refreshing to the spirit.  If you’ve ever felt like your soul needs to take a good, long, tingly fresh breath, the mountains are the place for you.  If you don’t believe in that mumbo jumbo, well quite frankly, Chattanooga may still be the place for you.  After all, some things are true whether you believe them or not.  *wink, wink*

The drive from our house to the Noog (as some of the locals call it) was an easy, painless, traffic-free 5 hours.  I love a good road trip and I always like driving through Atlanta and daydreaming about the people who live and work in the beautiful buildings there.  (I see you, Tyler Perry.)  We arrived and met up with my step-dad, and then promptly drove over to see Mom at her wordplace.  Now, I’m going to keep this place anonymous in order to protect her, but we have this running joke that she actually works at a CIA Front Operation (ala Sydney Bristow in Alias) because there is no way any workplace can be this wonderful.  It’s a beautiful glass building that sits on a cliff overlooking the river, complete with coffee shop and neatly manicured courtyard including infinity waterfalls, where she’s encouraged to take yoga classes ON THE CLOCK because wellness matters.  I mean… WHAT?!  This alone is reason to move to Chattanooga.  We took a tour of the building and I tried to get the elevator to go to the “bottom” floor, but it wouldn’t. Probably because I don’t have the security clearance and wasn’t willing to do a retina scan.

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Allow me to inquire about your health insurance.

Since our trip was just for the weekend, we had to try and squeeze a lot of activity into just a few hours.  We were up to the challenge, and we started with Rock City on Friday Night.  I have been to Rock City once, but it doesn’t count, because it was the middle of winter and I didn’t get out of the car.  My 7 year old son has been once before, so he was my official guide.  Rock City is one of the most well-known attractions in Chattanooga, and I recommend it.  Because we arrived somewhat late in the evening, we pretty much had the place to ourselves, which was great because we could wander and chat and it felt very relaxed.  There’s a lot of walking through beautiful foliage and ancient rock formations,  and at the top of Lookout Mountain, you can “See 7 States”, which is really rad.  There are garden gnomes all over the place and a rickety bridge that unfortunately doesn’t come with an alternate route.  I felt a little like Indiana Jones, if Indiana Jones was a complete coward.

(At the end there’s a small gift shop that has some really kitschy gifts.  I chose an agate slice to use as a coaster on my writing desk, and some small vials of blood stone and citrine, which I’m very excited about.)

Saturday morning started early with a 6:30 am wake-up to run in the city.  I had planned to go alone and use my MapMyRun app, but Mom wanted to run too, so my step-dad drove us over to the Walnut Street Bridge and off we went.  Firstly, the weather was fantastic!  We started just before sunrise, and I tried to take some photos of what I was seeing but the photos don’t do it justice at all.  It was cool, not humid at all (a big change from home), clouds hovered around the mountains and there was a nice breeze.  Ideal running conditions.  Walnut Bridge itself is fun to run, it’s made of wood and forgiving on the joints and it’s over half a mile long.  My legs felt fresh and breathing was easy.  Excellent way to start the day, and running is a wonderful and underrated way to explore a new city.  We ran through the Bluff View Art District and Coolidge Park, saw several interesting works of art, and smelled tons of baked goods being prepared for the day.  The run was so good, we repeated it on Sunday morning!

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Panorama at Sunrise, Walnut Street Bridge, Chattanooga (photo: me)
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Sunrise at Bluff View Art District (photo:me)

That brings me to two other great things about Chattanooga:  The food and the architecture!  The amount of coffee shops and bakeries here is mind-blowing and extremely pleasing to the fat girl inside me.  I’m sure I could eat my weight in delectables at Rembrandt’s Coffee. (If you’re ever there, try the Nutella Macaroons!) Many of the buildings in C-town have a German feel to them. I lovingly refer to them as gingerbread houses.  My husband lived in Germany for several years as a kid, so I was particularly excited for him to have the opportunity to see something familiar and tied to happy memories.

Beyond patisseries, there are LOTS of places to eat in Downtown Chattanooga (we mostly stayed around the downtown area for this trip).  We chose to eat at Sticky Fingers BBQ, and it was a magnificent choice, if I do say so myself.  Here in Georgia we use Sticky Fingers sauce and until we drove past the building, I didn’t realize they even had restaurants.  I chose a sampler plate that included a pulled pork sandwich, ribs with sauce (you can also choose them dry), veggies, and sweet potato soufflé that will make you say Hallelujah.  The food was satisfying, the ribs in particular were very well cooked – tender and flavorful – and the sweet potatoes were some of the best I’ve ever had (which is saying a lot, given my affection for my aunt’s Senator Russell potatoes) and our server was very friendly.  I can’t wait to go back and have more ribs.

After our exhilarating run, we headed over to the Tennessee Aquarium.  For my son, the Otter Whisperer, this is a big deal.  We arrived to see that the Saturday Market was going on right outside, so that was fun.  We shopped and met local artisans and crafters and I was reminded that we humans are creative.  We are wildly imaginative and talented, and I’m proud of us.  High five, homo sapiens!  Inside, the aquarium was a little crowded but the place is huge so the crowd moved freely.  There are escalators to the different floors, which is nice, and the air was on “Arctic” setting, which after standing outside in the sun for a while was a welcome break.  Sadly, the otters didn’t feel like playing, but we did see penguins and the gator feeding show, and I pet something!  I honestly do not remember WHAT it was, probably because I was terrified, but on coaching from my son I put my fingers in the water and touched some kind of gross fish!  Check that off my bucket list!  It was softer than I expected, and kept swimming back for more loving.  It acted like a cat, but was definitely not a catfish.  I learned some new things while there, which I love doing, about jellyfish – the Sea Walnut (which reminded me a lot of a flux capacitor) and the Upside Down jelly, in particular.  I also was a magnet for the Sea Horses, which just reaffirms my belief that I am Snow White.  Even though it wasn’t an outside activity, this aquarium was one of the highlights of Chattanooga for me.  If you get a chance to go, please do!

That night we went by Publix, ate at Mom’s and watched Jurassic Park.  It was lovely to get a rest and some family time just relaxing.  Everyone slept early, which was also nice.

Sunday after the run, we packed up and went to Shoney’s.  Step-dad wanted us to go and Emmett is nearly dumbfounded at the idea that you don’t have to wait for your food, you can just go get it!  The breakfast bar was delicious, and I ate way too much.  For our last stop before driving home, we hit up Build-a-Bear at the Northgate Mall.  We don’t have a Build-a-Bear Workshop near us, so this is a special treat that Emmett gets each time he travels to a place that has one.  After some deliberation, he chose a Pokemon outfit for his bear, and we hit the road.

The Noog was fun, refreshing, and educational.  I really have nothing negative to say.  Some things were a tad bit expensive, though someone pointed out that it might have been due to large crowds traveling up to view the eclipse.  We didn’t get to see Ruby Falls because of an enormous crowd, and I’ll also blame that on the eclipse.  The great news is, the tickets we purchased are good for a whole year!  So we’ll be back to Chattanooga in the Fall to see Ruby Falls and Christmas lights.  There was a LOT of art and friendly people (and dogs!) and we walked 4-5 miles each day.  We saw the Trail of Tears and a handful of other historical places, and I got a hug from local radio DJ Joe Cook, my mom’s friend who I’ve known and loved since I was around 5 years old.  Shops like All Things Groovy have a special place in my heart, and while I didn’t photograph them I did shop them.  Highly recommend the Chattanooga experience to anyone who wants to feel a mix of down home and big city, shore town and mountain hideaway, hipster-friendly with an appreciation for history.