Travel moments that touch your soul

I’m still trying to absorb today’s news about the fire at Notre Dame, and the potentially-devastating damage to a building that is not only an historical and religious treasure, but the literal heart of the city of Paris. My husband and I sat at the dinner table tonight sharing memories of our own visit to Notre Dame, and came to the conclusion that it’s one of only a handful of places in the world that truly touched our souls and left a mark.

Why? I’m not really sure. But both of us experienced something when we were there. I’m not a very religious person (despite years of Catholic school), but I actually felt God in Notre Dame. In the sunlight coming through the stained glass windows, and the dust motes dancing in the air. In the stones worn smooth underfoot, and the quiet murmuring of worshippers. The building itself, the physical place, had a power that left a mark on me.

Which led me to a related thought.

In all of my travels, I can think of only a handful of places and experiences that touched me like that. Places that moved me to tears, and made me stop in my tracks and feel something. Sometimes very unexpectedly. Here is my short list. I’d love to hear yours!

  1. Notre Damesee above
  2. Iguassu Falls – I’ve seen water falls. I’ve been to Niagara. Whatever. Right? Wrong. Stood there drenched in mist, crying like a baby, with all my senses completely overloaded.
  3. Budapest – Final night of a Danube River cruise. Sailing through Budapest at night, on the sun deck, wrapped in blankets against the November chill, sipping wine, marveling at the buildings all illuminated in a million white lights, tears streaming down my face
  4. Seeing the David – I’m totally not a museum person. We’ve all seen Michelangelo’s David in our art history books. I knew what to expect, and I “had” to go to the Accademia Gallery because I was leading a group tour in Florence. And yet I found myself standing there with my mouth gaping open, completely struck dumb by a statue.
  5. Kruger National Park – Africa moved me in many ways, but the moment I’ll never forget was when we were racing through the pitch dark, in an open vehicle, off the trails, crashing through the brush, listening to leopards roar, spotlight swinging crazily from tree to tree, trying to spot the cats and their kill, while not getting beheaded by a branch. Equal parts terror and excitement, but 100% alive.

Here’s to more moments like these!

April in Paris

My mother turned 70 this year, and her birthday wish was a visit to Paris, which has long been on her bucket list. My siblings and I were happy to oblige, and we planned our trip for April 3 – 7. My mother, my sisters, and I have all traveled together before, and we’ve even done Europe together (you can read about our adventures in Italy here), but this trip was really special. The milestone birthday was occasion  enough, but we were also celebrating the fact that my mom could even handle a trip like this, after undergoing knee and back surgeries in recent years, and that my youngest sister could fully participate in all of the walking, etc. after a 100+ pound weight loss. I think we all felt giddy and light, and Paris was the perfect backdrop!

If you just want to check out the photos, they can be found here, in a Facebook album. And if you’re interested in what we did while we were there (and what we ate!), read on:

We arrived on a Friday morning, and I had a driver pick us up at the airport and bring us to our hotel to check in. We were sharing two connecting rooms in the Relais du Louvre, which is an adorable little hotel in the 1st Arrondissement, just steps from the Louvre. The rooms were authentically Parisian (read: cozy) but perfectly fine for our purposes, and the location was ideal. They welcomed us with a bottle of champagne for the birthday girl, and we headed out for a quick lunch and a stroll along the Seine to get to our pre-scheduled visit to the Eiffel Tower. Because this was high on my mom’s list, we had paid extra for a skip-the-line tour that included admission to the top floor of the tower — awesome views, and a great orientation to the city. Afterwards, we had an early dinner at a cute neighborhood bistro, and then we crashed.

Eiffel Tower

Saturday morning was gorgeous and sunny and the early birds ran out for croissants and coffee to enjoy back at the hotel. We took the bus to Montmartre and walked up to Sacre Coeur to admire the view over the city. We happened to catch the morning that the parish children were celebrating their First Communion, and we got to see all the French families dressed up and celebrating. Afterwards, we took the funicular back down (much better than walking!) and took the Metro over to the Marais District to wander around and have some lunch (Croque Monsieurs for everyone!) We walked off some calories with a stroll over to Isle St Louis so I could show them “my” cute little hotel that I had stayed in last time around (Hotel St Louis en L’Isle) and we rewarded ourselves with a stop at the original Berthillon ice cream shop. We made it back to the hotel for a quick nap, and then headed out to dinner at Les Fines Gueules , a charming little restaurant in the 1st arrondissement.

Classic lunch

Sunday was cloudy and cooler (in the 60’s) but we decided to eat breakfast outside anyway…and were rewarded with front row seats to the Paris Marathon! The runners passed right in front of our table, and we cheered them on over our pain chocolat 🙂   Afterwards, we walked to Isle de la Cite to tour St. Chapelle and attend Mass at Notre Dame (not to be missed!)  That afternoon we continued over to the Left Bank and explored a little bit of the 5th and 6th arrondissements on our way to the Musee d’Orsay. This beautiful former train station, now a museum of Impressionist art, was offering free admission that day, so the line was long, but it was more than worth the wait. Our dinner that evening (the best one of our trip) was at the Boucherie Rouliere in St Germain des Pres. A charming French waiter serving escargots, great wine, perfectly-cooked salmon, and steak. Tres magnifique! On our walk back to the hotel, we watched the nightly light show on the Eiffel Tower. Truly a perfect day 🙂

Notre dame

Monday, our last day in Paris, was again warm and sunny (about 70 degrees) and we made the most of it. We strolled through the courtyard of the Louvre, and the nearby Tuileries Gardens, then shopped our way up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. From there, we hopped in a cab over to the Latin Quarter for a spin through the Pantheon, lunch at a cafe (quiche, salade nicoise, and French onion soup) and a two-hour walking tour led by “Paris Walks“. We learned all about the medieval history of that section of Paris, and explored nooks and crannies we never would have found on our own. After one last stop for some wine at a sidewalk cafe, we called it a day. That night we had an early dinner at a nearby restaurant (Taverne de l’Arbre Sec) and then packed our bags for home 🙁

Louvre courtyard

If it sounds like all we did was eat, that’s somewhat true. But that’s Paris! We also packed a lot of sightseeing into four days, and there are whole sections of the city that we missed, but I think Paris, like a fine bottle of wine, is best enjoyed in small “sips”. I am sure that I’ll be back again!

drinking wine on a barrel in Bellagio

Bellagio wine bar

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

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Carli (Italy and Spain)