Wednesday, January 14, 2015

First Impressions - Paris

Bel Kaufman in her novel Up The Down Staircase tells the story of a young teacher's first year at an inner city school.  The novel opens with the teacher in her first day with her home room class.  She has planned to read them a brief essay she prepared on first impressions.  In the hectic and chaotic first hour of teaching with a room full of unruly students doing their best to distract the new teacher she never gets the opportunity to share with them her thoughts on first impressions.  Much like Sylvia Barrett in the novel I have unsuccessfully wanted to share a series of travel blogs on my first impressions of places I have visited.  And much like Sylvia Barrett I have found myself distracted and never had the time to finish my thoughts on first impressions.  I thought I would start out with my first travel experience in Europe, a trip to Paris.  However my introduction here of the novel and memories of reading the adventures of Sylvia Barrett have already distracted me and unless I use some discipline I will never start this series on first impressions.  I will just have to put Bel Kaufman, her creation Sylvia Barrett, the novel and the movie starring Sandy Dennis on the back burner and return to them some time in the future for another blog.  But let me start this blog on first impressions with the words of the character Sylvia Barrett from the novel.  "First impressions are very important".

This photo is the best representation of my first impression of Paris.  It was chilly, damp and rainy.  The skies were overcast for three days.  I took this photo from the top of the Arc De Triomphe.  When I returned home and to work this photo became my background on my home and work computer.  I looked at it over and over and could never get over the thrill of seeing Paris for the first time.  I joined a web site called Virtual Tourist after the trip.  There was no Facebook at this time.  Virtual Tourist became my very first social media web experience.  This photo was my introductory photo on Virtual Tourist.  Although I have long since migrated from Virtual Tourist this photo still remains there on the first page I created.  A chilly,damp, rainy day in the city of Lights.


I had never traveled outside of the United States and I never had a passport.  I was 48 years old.  My mother had just passed away very unexpected six month earlier.  My two daughters were in high school.  Now this all seems like a life time ago. But Paris still seems like it was just yesterday.  But it was still fifteen years ago.  I was naive.  I had no travel experience.  The person I was traveling with had only one previous experience traveling overseas so he was basically as naive as I was about traveling.  There was no Google to search for photos and to do research.  And I had never read a travel guide before.  So this was going to be an adventure of epic proportions for me.



We booked a hotel on the internet which was a first for us.  We basically went into Yahoo and searched on hotels in Paris.  We found one that was affordable near Pere Lachaise Cemetery.  It was named "Hotel Modern".   I learned my first travel lesson with this hotel.  Don't believe the name or what they say on their web page.  If it's inexpensive there is a reason it's inexpensive.


The room was not great.  It was not even just OK.  It was pretty nasty.  But look at my face in the photo.  I was so thrilled to be in Paris.  The room did not ruin the experience.  I learned my second travel lesson also from this hotel.  You don't spend a lot of time in the room.  So don't over pay and don't fret if it's not beautiful.  The city awaits you.  Get out and experience it.

I will never forget my first impression of Paris.  It was magical and beautiful even on a rainy day.  I had my first taste of true French Vanilla Ice Cream.  It was the best ice cream I had ever tasted.  I had a scoop every day.  I had my first rump steak in peppercorn sauce, a taste I will never forget.  I knew very little about wine before going to Paris.  I drank very little wine and when I did drink wine it was usually White Zinfandel.  So you can imagine my shock and delight when I had my first true French wines.  I was surrounded with people speaking a foreign language.  I remembered from high school how  to say hello, good bye, thank you and Where is the library.  I could also say I fell down in the street.  So basically I spent four days saying hello, goodbye, or thank you as often as possible so I could feel like I was speaking the language.  

Since that time I have traveled a lot.  I have learned a lot.  I now consider myself a seasoned traveler. I have been to many of the worlds great cities.  But nothing compares to that first moment in Paris.   I thought the magic might have been because it was my first trip overseas.  I returned eight years later and was a bit concerned.  I was afraid I would be let down this time.   I thought it might be different the second time around.  It might not as wonderful as my memory had made it.  But I had nothing to worry about it.  It wasn't me.  It wasn't because it was my first time to be in Europe.  It was magical because it was Paris.  I took the photo below when I returned in 2008.  It's the Eiffel Tower once again and taken from the top of the Arc de Triomphe once more.  And it was still a chilly, gray, rainy day.  And it's still Paris, my favorite city of all.


My first visit was in 2000.  I returned in 2008.  Next year is 2016.  I think it's time for another visit.



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