To Paris with love:

The first time I saw Paris was from a train window. Riding the rails at night was long and tiresome, though the destination would be worth it. The train whistle beckoned to towns and cities we were approaching. The conductors in the dark, wearing their uniforms of blue and carrying gold watches and chains, kept everyone awake as they collected and punched tickets.

I was just 18 and had finished my eight-week shift in a small hotel in Oberaudorf, Germany. Work was varied there … cooking, scrubbing, cleaning, gardening … from early morning until late in the evening. It was the perfect way for a German student (one of my many majors) to learn German, and I did.

I bought a eurail pass to travel for three weeks in Europe. There wasn’t enough money for a pass and hotels so I used the train for my hotel. Carrying my green leather bag and my laut (a gift from the family I lived with) I traveled the rails in this fashion. (There also was not much happening in the way of showers either!)

If I wanted to stay longer in a city or region, I just set my alarm for the wee hours of the morning, got off the train and boarded one right back. My goal was not quality. My goal was complete quantity. Three weeks? Go! France. Germany. Italy. Spain. Belgium. Austria. Denmark. Sweden. Norway.

And I did see Paris through the glass window of the train.

Years later there were five of us who traveled to Paris. The round-trip ticket was $503 from Detroit to Paris. Who could pass up that deal? This was to be 10 days in Paris to visit the galleries, the museums and the gardens with our American hostess, Tonya Lonsbury. Tonya spent her college January term in Paris and was so excited to show it to us through her experienced eye.

We booked a downtown hotel near the Opera House (yes, the Phantom of the Opera House) which was a European hotel complete with the shared bathroom down the hall. None of us knew French, but we had a guidebook and a guide. Unfortunately the museums of Paris went on strike the day we arrived and our luggage was lost. There were many other things to see and my clothes were not that great anyway.

The Notre Dame Cathedral was first on our list. It was spectacular in every way. We walked through in silence; how can you not? We took a midnight boat ride down the Seine River and purchased art from the many artisans during the day along the riverfront. We took the elevators up into the Eiffel Tower. I did not want to go all the way to the top, but I did. It was windy when we arrived, and I remember thinking the look of Paris was that of a 3-D puzzle or a set from Mary Poppins. It took my breath away. I do not need a photograph to remind me of that image; it is embedded in my memory.

We traveled by bus to Monet’s gardens, stopping along the way to eat in a small guest house. The food was delicious, but I remember the fire on the hearth and the view of the fields from the window more so. The gardens were in full bloom because it was late spring and each flower and each lily garden was just as Monet had painted. We were awed to be in his studio.

After several days our luggage appeared and the strike was settled. We first headed to The Louvre to see the Mona Lisa among the other thousands of pieces of art. I always want to see everything, but was told it takes a six-month commitment from 8 to 5 every day to see everything in the Louvre. We saw what we could and headed over the Musee d’Orsay.

We found dark American coffee in small cafes and reordered the small cups of coffee over and over. We drank wine instead of water because it was cheaper. We were five women in Paris for 10 days.

As our plane circled Paris after take-off, we commented over and over, “We will go back.”

None of us have been back yet, but we will, I am sure of that.

Go to Paris. Go to New York City. Go to Prague. Go to Chicago.

LOU ANN HOMAN-SAYLOR lives in Angola at the White Picket Gardens where you can find her gardening or writing late into the night under the light of her frayed scarlet lamp. She is a storyteller, teacher, writer, actress and a collector of front porch stories.

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