The one that almost wasn’t.
This is the reply to the question I didn’t know how to answer before.
Confession time: I am a slow writer. I like to live in the moment, scribble a few thoughts and let the experiences settle before I write them up/make sense of them later. Proof of this? There is a blog post coming in October that has been on my heart for two years!
Since I got home, I’ve been asked countless times: “How were your travels??” And I’ve been stuck as to how to answer.
No- one asking the question is looking for a gushing monologue with a PowerPoint slideshow! (I only just resist the urge to do this when talking about Berlin, which I can’t shut up about. A Berlin blog-post is coming soon, you’ll all be thrilled to know.)
But how do you sum up 6 countries in a few breezy sentences?
So I decided to get back to writing blogs. At least for my readership of those who love me enough to wade through my ramblings xx — so, my mother, my granny and of course, the chadwick chicks (my loyal and lovely housemates)
But a French blogpost was almost the one that wasn’t!
I was going to skip straight from London to Italy. But then when I was reminiscing about our family holiday in La Rochelle and the Loire and my few days in Paris there was actually lots to write about!❤
So, I arrived in Paris:
1. Severely sunburnt
Fellow pale ones, when it comes to suncream…
LATHER THE STUFF ON. ROLL AROUND IN IT. BATHE IN IT.
Lobster life — aka, an inordinate amount of after sun, stiff legs, ice packs on your knees and shedding your peeling skin for a week after is about as fun as it sounds and was NOT worth the tan line that I still have somewhere unmentionable on my body 2 months later.
I got burned because I stupidly put sun-cream on while wearing a t-shirt and shorts and forgot to do the areas that would be uncovered when I went for a swim. After, I fell asleep beside the pool and woke up to the sound of my poor pale thighs sizzling in the unforgiving French sun. A German woman actually stared at me and then nudged her daughter to point at my red and white pinstriped skin. Learn from my mistakes. xx
This snow -woman has now accepted that without the help of fake tan, she will always be one of the fairest of them all, though her freckles happily multiplied.
We wish these were natural tans, alas….
2. Phoneless — the phone that had been so temperamental in London (even after spending 4 hours in the Apple Store in Covent Garden getting it fixed…) gave up the ghost in La Rochelle. (but happily was replaced with a working one in Paris….that stopped working by the time I got to Italy.) My phone woes this summer have made for some interesting adventures/encounters that could constitute a blog-post all of their own.
3. With a REALLY full heart -
after a hilarious, mad, loud, fun and happy holiday with my family — adjectives that sum them up pretty well too!
If you’ve ever asked me about my fam, you’ll know I’m mad about them (even when I’m mad at them!) They’re all actually quite lovable and one thing I’ve learned this summer is to never ever take family time (especially when it involves ice cream, beach swims and lots of laughs) for granted.
*CUE A PROUD BIG SISTER MOMENT*
My younger brother has just officially become a part of the Irish Diaspora by moving to London to work as an Android app developer! I can’t explain what exactly that means, but I know he’s incredibly gifted and that his future is bright.
I was/ am beyond thrilled for him — but I will also miss him. I already miss being able to pick out his violently ginger head in a crowd, his satirical one liners (usually directed at me) and going for pizza in Parlour on Tuesdays. (He has a tiny appetite and I always got to finish his pizza.) So, time spent with him this summer, even though it was short, was really special. (Though if he reads this, he’ll cringe at that statement. xo)
4. Still sick.
Alas, the sickness that began in London, lingered in La Rochelle and came back with a vengeance in Paris.
I know Paris well and am always enchanted by its effortless charm and elegance. But this time, when I arrived in the City of Love, exquisite cuisine and beautiful walks, (single, appetite-less, and experiencing dizzy spells) I realised it was going to be a different sort of blog post than the breezy one about all my favourite haunts that I initially intended to write!
Every morning commenced with me steadying myself on the side of the bed as I’d wait for the room to stop spinning, before standing up and walking to the bathroom with shaky steps. I still didn’t know what was wrong and it frustrated me to not have control over my body when I was trying to have the time of my life!
Perhaps, as one astute person suggested, it could have been my body telling me to slow down. Between one thing and another several million, I hadn’t really slowed down in a really long time.
But there were still so many vivid encounters and lessons learned:
In the middle of my Paris stay, it was my birthday! but a migraine kept me in bed most of the day.
However in the early evening — I decided to go for a long quiet walk along the the Left Bank. I pushed myself to walk far. Because Paris is truly breath-taking, gorgeous and whimsical. Especially on a quiet, cloudy, Sunday afternoon.
As I walked I did feel a little lonely, I missed my family and the usual birthday tradition of Chinese and the Lion King. I reminisced about past birthdays — and how, when we lived in Cork, my best friend Crystal from the Philippines every year without fail, would show up on my doorstep with putos. (rice-cakes)
So how hilarious was it that just I was passing Musee D’Orsay, a Filipino and Filipina approached me speaking bubbly but nervous French?!
“I’m Irish” I grinned. “We can speak English”
“OH GOOD!” — came their relieved reply — “Because we are pretty lost!”
I was going in the same direction they needed to go in.
They were thrilled that I lived in Game of Thrones land, (Northern Ireland) spoke English and knew where I was going! I was thrilled because my best friend from home is Filipina and so it was a piece of home in Paris. LOVERLY AND AL. Two law students and two of the loveliest people you could ever meet. Out of the blue, when we reached their destination, they asked me would I go for dinner with them and we ended up having such a fun night. Even if they did embarrass me when they found out it was my birthday 😂. Their insights and experiences and life stories were vibrant and thought provoking and gave me a window into another world. Their kindness made my heart want to burst. And I’m amazed by how quickly strangers can become friends! Even if we never meet again. I’ll always look back on this encounter with so much fondness.
Friends that became family
On the number nine metro line, there is a stop, around the corner from which there is a little apartment where flowers spill out of the windows and two of the most special and sacrificial people in the world live.
She’s French, he’s Spanish. He ran away from a monastery while he was training to be a priest and ended up at Bible college in Belfast. Here they met and fell in love. Their one common tongue when they married was broken English. Now they are both fluent in English, French, Spanish (and she’s fluent in German as well.) They’re like grandparents to me and have made Paris feel like home for me so many times. The first time was when I came to France to work for a summer, as a homesick 18 year old with truly awful French. Now I love the weird mixture of French and German and English we speak with each other.
Have you ever met people who just love Jesus with every fibre of their being?
This is evident in everything they do. As the pastor and wife of the local church, people are always in and out of their apartment. They help asylum seekers with their applications for asylum, visit the elderly and minister into many broken situations. This time, on the days that I was too sick to leave the apartment, I’d watch them as they constantly coupled gospel confession with heartfelt compassion.
Another day, on another Left bank walk, I had a serendipitous encounter with a poet a couple of years older than me, typing poems in red ink on a rickety typewriter. (Such a quirky sight is cool but not uncommon in Paris.)
We talked for a while. As would be writers, you obviously spend a lot of your time creating fiction. But sometimes you have to focus on reality. So talking to strangers can be remarkably freeing. They see you exactly as you are and not how they want you to be. And sometimes you have the most opaque talks when you are both anonymous and unlikely to meet again. We were very frank with each-other. About a myriad of things. Nation. Place. People. And he even wrote me a poem in red ink on his rickety typewriter.
- are more vivid and captivating than monuments, fountains, buildings and walkways.
A city like Paris is full of exquisite sights but if you peel back a city, you find even more exquisite layers of humanity —
For me, they came in the form of a poet, law students from the Philippines and a lady who lives at the end of a metro line and is one of the few people in this world who calls me Tina. (The unlikely nickname I was given in France.)
- …are more precious than places.
It’s doesn’t matter where in the world you are, but rather who you are with, or who you are not with.
Paris was probably the loneliest part of my trip, I wasn’t alone but it was the only place where I wasn’t constantly in the company of others.
I know now that I couldn’t travel alone. In a lot of ways, it’s good for a writer — and probably necessary if they are to get any writing done!
But I missed people as I wandered and that made me so glad. It gave me a chance to reflect on all the precious people in my life. What a privilege it is — to have so many people to love and miss!
On my first night in Paris, I received news from home that didn’t make sense and which I struggled with. All I wanted to do was have an ugly, messy, sob your heart out cry, which is a greater relief than the otherwise ache in your chest. But just at that moment, my best friend rang me and she did the most remarkable thing in that painful moment: she made me laugh.
And again, the next day when the urge to cry came again, my other best friend decided to ring me. What a joy it is to hear the voices of those you love! There is no sweeter sound, not even the bells of Notre Dame which were singing gently in the background when she rang.
And all my Instagrams began to function as substitutionary postcards to those at home whom I loved and missed: all with the same underlying message:
“Thinking of you. Wish you were here.”
To anyone who actually wanted to hear about Paris. I’ve included pictures at the end of this blog of places of interest.
But, all I can say is go and explore for yourself. Your Paris will not be my Paris, (that is the beauty of a place that escapes definition.) But I do know it will be a place of colour, character and charisma.
- Run to Him.
Don’t run away, run to Him! Whatever place you’re in, spiritually or physically — run to Him. Even when you’re confused and hurt. Even when your heart is aching, or you’ve sinned or you feel far from Him. Run to Him. Lay your burdens (life or travel related) at His feet.
2. Walk with Him.
When I’m somewhere familiar like Paris, I always assume I know where I’m going and don’t need a guide. But life, with its joys and struggles isn’t always familiar terrain and when I try to guide myself, I always end up lost. Let Him guide you.
Because when you can’t walk, He really will carry you, in ways both imperceptible and cacophonous.
3. Stay with Him.
Sometimes all you can do when your heart is aching and you’re far from home is surrender it all into His hands. Let go and go on, for He will go with you. He is always with you — whether you’re retching into a toilet bowl in Kings Cross in London, sitting on a Parisian rooftop, devouring pasta at midnight in a cobbled street in Italy or wandering along the Wall/East side gallery in Berlin…
PS. Next blog post is about all the crazy fun the stellar Sarah Elliott and I got up to in ITAAALLLY. Till next time. xx