I haven’t updated my blog in more than a year. I didn’t know how to talk about the difficult things that were happening in my life. I try to write about it, and I still feel my reluctance.
In the time that has elapsed since September of 2020, the date of my last blog entry, my father grew very ill. He passed away in May of 2021. Of course, he was ill during the COVID travel disruptions, which meant I was not able to visit as much as I wanted. However, I was not the only person struggling with this restriction. Sometimes it does take a global pandemic to realize our privileges were just that, and not a guarantee. We felt the gravity of our physical geographies and understood the meaning of distance again. I didn’t want to travel without being immunized, both for my sake and my father’s fragile immune system. However, I’d had COVID in the fall of 2020 and I was able to schedule my first shot in April, so I went and visited in March.
I was extremely lucky that I was able to visit my family in March, because my father passed away just four weeks later.
I learned at the end of 2020 that my current job would be ending in the upcoming summer. Added to the stress of my father dying was the stress about whether I would get a job with the new company. I waited for half a year to receive notice about a job with the new contractor. I signed a contract for my new job on May 31st and walked into a disaster on June 1st. Suffice it to say it was the hardest six months of my life thus far.
I also moved a few months ago. Although my husband and I were excited about the move, moving is also stressful. I’d been pining to move to the city since we arrived in the small village over three years ago. When we arrived to see the apartment, we had already steeled ourselves to not be impressed. We’d seen so many places at that point and had ultimately been turned down, that we didn’t get our hopes up anymore. We walked up to the nondescript building. As soon as saw the amazing view from the soccer arena to the iconic TV tower, we knew the place was a deal. At long last, we applied and were chosen. Now that we’ve finally settled in and feel more comfortable, it’s better. The beginning was rough. Even when you want to move, it’s difficult to have such a disruption in your life.
Amid all this change, vacation started finally coming into view. My husband surprised me with a trip to Paris. Sounds great, right? I was happy at the prospect of getting a break from my horrible job, but I also knew the chaos would be waiting for me when I got back. I could tell stress had taken over my life because my trip to Paris inched ever closer and I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm. I just felt empty and exhausted. But, I was finally able to quit. My vacation was already on the books. Once I left on that Friday afternoon, I could feel the terrible curse begin to lift.
The next morning, I was on a train racing through the countryside from Stuttgart to Paris. In three hours, we stepped off the train and for the next five days, I tried to shine a light on my troubled soul. I wanted to feel joy. I wanted to relax. I wanted to look at the world with wonder again.
Every bakery and café window that beckoned, we went into.
Like millions before me, I gazed at the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and at the Eiffel Tower. I packed into the Metro and jetted across town. Paris is beautiful. It’s a big, bombastic, busy city. There are blocks amongst blocks of sculpted stone apartment buildings. I’d forgotten the rumble of a truly world city. The winter air was cold, and the trees had already lost most of their leaves, but everything is still very impressive.
The best meal I had in Paris was at Brasserie Rosie (53 rue du Faubourg Saint). The truffle pasta, fries and mushroom shepherd’s pie were perfect. The recommended wine was outstanding. The ceilings full of chandeliers are a wonder. We found this place as we find many places. We simply went with our gut. We were walking hurriedly by it and my husband simply said, “This place looks really nice.”
Another fabulous meal was at Les Belles Plantes (47 rue Cuvier) in the Jardin des Plantes. The mushroom arancini in garlic sauce were so delicious, we almost went back the next day.
Du Pain et Des Idées (34 rue Yves Toudic) was recommended in our German guidebook and it was as good as purported. We tried what was named the best croissant in the world, and this title is well earned. We also tried their standard bread, their bread pudding and a raisin snail. There we were on a drizzly, chilly day sitting outside enjoying buttery sweet pastries and I felt both completely at home within myself and a million miles away.
An honorable mention are the chain of Paul boulangeries and House of 3 Brothers (25 rue de Lancry).
The best views from the Eiffel Tower and Sacré-Cœur cathedral. Paris is famous for a reason. Those wide vistas are indeed breathtaking. Traveling in the offseason during COVID means that there are even less people than normal. For instance, you should of course visit the Louvre and reservations are recommended. We made reservations for Monday morning, and I was able to walk right up to the Mona Lisa and gaze at her long as I wanted.
To get around I recommend using the metro. I think for most people that are on a long weekend trip, as I was, the 10 pack of tickets is most convenient. It can often be very crowded but it’s affordable and easy to use. Or just walk. Just remember to always look up.
Sometimes I wonder why I travel. It’s not simply escape. I don’t do it for the Instagram posting opportunities. I simply like seeing new landscapes, eating new foods, and getting a fresh perspective. When I went to Paris, I had an idea of how stress was affecting me, but it wasn’t until I was there partaking in the little pleasures of life that I finally felt myself crawling out of that tunnel. I didn’t have one day at work where things just went according to plan. Every day with chaos. Every day was just one problem after another, and they were all made to be my problems.
We hear that stress is a killer, but the poisons we hold inside us are insidious. From the outside, I was conducting my normal, everyday life as I always had. Inside, I was broken in a way I didn’t comprehend. I had lost the joy in my everyday life. Every morning, I woke up and my first thought was, “I don’t want to go to work!” I had many health problems that sprang from all the stress. I thought to myself I would rather be sick than go to work. I did realize how crazy that sounded but that’s exactly how I felt – that something like cancer would be less stress than going to work.
I had to leave home for a while to learn how to look at the world again. Actually, I had to find home first. I never felt at home in the village. I don’t miss it or the tiny apartment at all. I love my new place, the building built in 1905 and the neighborhood. It has everything we need – the main train station downtown is ten minutes away – and yet it’s so peaceful and quiet at night. Finally, I feel like I belong.
When I got back to Stuttgart, I looked at the buildings and the storefront windows as though I were a tourist. I realized that if you didn’t know we were in Stuttgart, that many of the things I was seeing could very well be Paris. We have gargoyles carved into the side of buildings. We have cute little cafes nestled in sleepy alleys. Chandeliers glisten in windows. There are bakeries all over the place and in the mornings, you can buy pastries still warm from the oven. I needed Paris to break the spell, to remind me to look, to taste, to feel the pavement beneath my feet. To breathe the warm scent of butter and feel my teeth crunching delicate almonds and be jolted back into my body. To unapologetically drink red wine in the afternoon and eat chocolate for breakfast – and dinner.