You’re on your own.
And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy
who’ll decide where to go.
– Dr. Seuss
I was turning 60, self-employed and living on my own in lower Manhattan. My divorce was (finally) final, my (quasi-adult) children were living in other cities, the relationship I had been in for several years, (sadly) ended —and my dad, (who I adored) had just passed away. It was time to take a break.
I decided to sublet my loft for 6 months, plop down and ‘live/experience’ life somewhere else. I targeted family & friends overseas who meant a lot to me over the years —decided to revisit places I loved. I bought a RT ticket for Paris leaving on Thanksgiving eve and returning the following Memorial Day. I left the rest of the details open but I knew I wanted to go from exploring Paris in November to Israel in early January (to work on a kibbutz?? for a few weeks), head to Italy sometime in March (for a month), train from there to Germany and eventually wind up in London before flying home.
I put most of my belongings in storage, packed as little as I could (ha!) & headed to JFK for the night flight to Paris on November 17th. Seven hours later, I landed, crinkled & exhausted. As my morning fog lifted, it became shockingly clear that it wasn’t 1972 and I wasn’t 21 anymore —which is how old I was the first time I was in Paris, single traveling solo. This is the other-side-of-Menopause. I was carrying my own bags again — and they were heavy.
Handicapped by knee injuries, a fallen arch & a mature brain, it was somewhat intimidating to venture out in to a foreign language I hadn’t spoken in decades. But I kept telling myself: that’s what I’m here for. I located the train station at the airport, figured out (after several failed attempts) how to purchase my ticket to Gare de Nord in Paris. Once there, I used a cab for the short ride to a friend of a friend’s teeny tiny pied-à-terre I’d be using for the next 6 weeks. I punched in the outside door code, dragged my luggage up the 3 flights, used the keys they’d sent me in advance and walked in. I plopped down on the bed & slept. Re-energized a few hours later, I unpacked, faced myself in the full length mirror and took stock of what I needed to set up my space. Orthotics inserted, I headed back down the 3 flights, to explore.
I found a small grocery store nearby for basics, a map with big enough print to be legible & memorized the name of the closest Metro stop. I also bought (what looked like a cute/fun) DVD (in french) for 5 Euros to watch on my computer since I couldn’t find a movie theater nearby. (Eventually, with the help of a young American friend, I found 2 multiplex movie theaters within a 5 minute walk of the apartment.) I set my iPod in to their speaker & played French music…
I walked outside again the next day— and the day after that— and the day after that. In wider and wider circles to get acclimated to the neighborhood and the neighborhoods that bordered on my neighborhood.
I lived where the Parisians live & walked to where the tourists are, to see the grand boulevards and sights once more: the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Champs Elysee (where I had, in my married life, stayed in the very best hotels). I walked along the Quai de la Loire, a waterway in the northeast section of Paris that offers a pretty passage from the 19th district, south to République (a gateway to the Marais and the Left Bank). On that first weekend, I hopped on to the #8 Métro at République, got off near the Eiffel Tower and rediscovered Rue Clar, a pedestrian street with cafes and food stalls on either side. A warmly dressed Chanteuse was singing “La Vie est Rose” across from the Cafe Du Marché, a sweet brasserie, where I stopped for lunch. They had WiFi (pronounced ‘wee-fee’ in french)/internet. SKYPE was my ‘real-time’ connection back to the States and I used it there to ‘call’ my kids, my friends for the first time since landing in Paris. It’s even easier today with Apple’s FaceTime, Google+ …
Maybe I was cheating but in deciding where I wanted to ‘live’ during my 6-month “Eat Pray Hmmmm” I picked places where I knew at least one person who lived there. I wanted to be on my own but I knew it would be smart to have a friend I could call in an emergency. (That concept eventually became the impetus for AmericanConcierge.com.)
In Paris, it was my ex-husband’s cousin’s daughter, Annie. She’d been living there for several years, teaching Pilates. I wound up seeing her more often than I imagined I would —but it also got me out more often and to places I never would have found on my own. I went back to Paris 2 more times before leaving for home in May. On my last day in Paris, Annie treated me to a citi bike and I gleefully peddled behind her, from Des Invalides past the Grand Palais & the Petite Palais to the Eiffel Tower. Then back up and across to the Boulevard St. Germaine where we stopped to people watch at an outdoor café somewhere along the Left Bank. It was a gorgeous day, Paris was sparkling; it was exhilarating.
Going overseas for 6 months, traveling solo… it sounded so … adventurous, romantic, independent, youthful, brave… it was all that. But it was also intimidating. I noted a new, real fear of getting lost.
To remedy that, I ventured out slowly, at my own pace. I nurtured old relationships and cheerfully engaged in new ones. I became my own best friend. Ultimately, it was life-changing.
NOTE TO SELF:
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
– Dr. Seuss
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