Bon Voyage: A Magical 10 Day Trip Through France

The linoleum floor of the San Diego airport squeaks beneath my Asics tennis shoes. Riley’s borrowed purple carry-on Samsonite in hand and my Targus backpack swung over my shoulders, I make my way to the international terminal. My Delta flight from San Diego to LAX is on time and so am I, for a change. Once my back hits the navy blue passenger seat my eyes instantly close and my mind drifts off into Lala Land.

The wheels hit the ground marking our arrival. Damn, that felt like we were in the air for 23 minutes. That’s because we really were in the air for 23 minutes. The shortest flight I’ve ever been on.

The flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport is a bit longer. 11 hours to be exact. In the meanwhile I sleep, read, watch the incredible cinematic spectacle known as Birdman and write my blog. I also make friends with my neighbor to the right, a woman in her 40s traveling to Morocco with her father, and my neighbor to the left, an older woman with dyed black hair anxious to explore Paris for her first time. In line for the bathroom a young German girl, bright eyed and bushy tailed, talks my ear off about her first time being in America. “I never thought I would want to be in America, but now I never want to leave,” she says. For dinner I order chicken. Big mistake. As someone who has frequented his fair share of McDonalds’s, Burger King’s and Salsita’s (see entry, “Everything is Bigger in Texas”) in my 25.9 years of life, I’ve consumed a hefty amount of meats that more resemble chemically injected tire than edible foods. Nonetheless, this “chicken” may take the cake for food that isn’t really food. First of all it’s gray. Maybe this was a byproduct of being trapped inside an airtight airplane tray for God knows how long, but nonetheless it’s gray. Secondly, it’s the shape of the tray. I don’t know if it always was, or whether it expanded while being heated, but the chicken was literally a rectangle. I poke the blob of meat and it jiggles like gelatin. Some sort of brown sauce lingers in one corner of the container, seemingly not having spread proportionately. My best description of the food’s scent is aluminum, plastic and something sweet. Too hungry not to eat, I take my first bight. It’s slimy and it’s chewy but it has probably been processed too many times to contain anything harmful. I finish the meal and go back to sleep. I dream about junkyard tires.

The plane touches down and the doors open. For the first time in my life, I step foot in France. Now I must find my parents. Thanks to T-Mobile’s Global Data plan, communicating over a mobile device while abroad is as simple as domestic communication. Unlimited free text and data plus $0.20/minute phone calls. I call my father and identify his location. Thirty minutes later I spot my parents in the train station. I smile as I watch my dad anxiously look down at his cell phone, wondering why I haven’t answered his texts for the past 10 minutes, and mouth the words “Ну, где он? (Well, where is he?)” My dad turns and spots my wide grin. The side of his mouth curls into a half smile. We embrace and say a few not-so-kind things to each other, in typical father-son style. Despite having seen my parents just over two weeks ago, the feeling of being back in the presence of the two beings that gave me life is no less rewarding

30€ poorer, the three of us stand on a mostly abandoned train heading towards Javal station. 10 minutes into our transition we switch to a metro train. We exit the metro and lug our bags towards Port de Javal Bas where the Amadeus Diamonds awaits our arrival. A ship, significantly smaller than your typical ocean cruise line, rests in the calm water of the Seine (pronounced “Sehn”) River. A green walkway leads us from the concrete sidewalk to the carpeted cruise floor. We check in and receive our keys. While my parents share two twin beds pushed together in Room 226, I get room 228 all to myself, thanks to my little brother having to cancel his trip to France due to the high school state finals in tennis. I drop my bags and plop on the bed to read. I’m going to stay up until nighttime so I don’t get jet…, I fall asleep before I can finish my thought.

Tonight is the Captain’s dinner. 147 individuals fill the dining room consisting of about 30 tables. The right side of the room is occupied by Germans while the left by Americans (and an Australian couple). My parents and I locate a table near the back of the room and sit down. Atop the bleach white tablecloth rest plates, silverware, napkins and a menu. The menu is broken up into 5 sections: a cold appetizer (“entrée”), a hot appetizer (also an “entrée”), a snack, the main course (a “plate”) and dessert, in that order. While I scan the menu a young, black couple asks if they can join us at our table. Robert (pronounced “Ro’-bear”) and Regina are from Denver, CO and have chosen to celebrate their anniversary on this river cruise.

The 5 of us take turns dictating our orders to Julian, our waiter from Romania. With a pudge belly, a shiny bald head and an endless supply of wise cracks, I feel an instant affinity towards this man.

While 5 courses may sound intimidating, upon seeing our first dish I begin to wonder whether 5 courses is enough. A salmon and salad dish is what I ordered and what I receive are four 1-centimeter-in-diameter semi spheres of ground salmon surrounding one lettuce leaf. I down the dish, wondering whether my body gained or lost weight after eating this meal.

In between our teeny portions of food, my family and our table guests discuss a wide array of topics, from travel and food to economy and politics (yes, I know you’re not supposed to discuss politics at dinner, but hey, it happens). Robert and Regina seem to have traveled the entire world. This is quite possibly a literal statement. Of the 20 or so countries we bring up in conversation, the couple has been to every one: Russia, South Africa, Spain, Italy, China, Australia, New Zealand, Canada. The list goes on and on. For an occupation Regina works for a marketing company and Robert is a project manager, but from the sound of our conversation, you’d think they spend all day reading the newspaper front to back. Whether discussing the Stalin’s rule of Russia in the 20s, 30s and 40s, the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg or the fluctuations of the Euro over the past century, the couple has a ton of information and opinion to contribute.

Of applicable topic, we discuss the European form of dining. “They treat eating as an experience here,” Regina says. “When Europeans sit down to eat they truly savor every moment. Whether with company or on their own, Europeans consume multiple courses and take the time to enjoy every bite. They don’t watch TV or sit in front of the computer; they simply sit at a table, grab a glass of wine, and allocate a couple hours of their evening to enjoying food.” This statement obviously doesn’t apply to all Europeans, as is evidenced by the group of kids I saw earlier in the day mindlessly eating fries at a McDonalds with their noses buried in their cellphones, but it’s still an interesting concept. I can only speak for myself, but more often than not, I do 10 million things while eating. Whether it’s watching ESPN, skimming the newsfeed on Facebook or texting, I seem to do everything possible to dull out the meal itself. I make a promise to myself to attempt to eat more mindfully going forward.

I won’t go into detail about every course we eat but I will say that they are all delicious. And after desert, we load up our plates with a variety of cheeses and crackers and fill our cups with coffee and tea. From start to finish dinner last 3 hours. But feels a lot shorter. I head to my room and am soon asleep.

I wake up to our boat docked in a new location. We are in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a small commune in North-Central France. This town, with a population barely half as large as that of my college, can be explored in a few hours. The weather is cool and sunny and my parents and I take off on a walk along the cobblestone streets. Not a half block to the left of our ship is a market. Kiosks full of fruits, vegetables, meats, desserts and negotiating customers line a block along the coast of the river. For a tiny market in a tiny town I am blown away by the quantity and variety of meats sold here. Shrimp ranging from an inch to a foot in size, every part of a cow, from its tongue to its kidney, rabbit, lobster and crab. Certain that it’s long dead, I tap a crab atop it’s shell. It’s eyes shift from side to side and it’s claws make sharp, small maneuvers. I jump back in shock. My mom and dad can’t hold back their laughter.

We walk for two hours or so and then another hour after lunch. The typically European cobblestone streets are barely wide enough to fit a pair of bicycles, let alone a vehicle. The cars are tiny, with the brands Peugeot, Renault and Citroen making up the bulk. We ascend the hill leading to the apex of the town and towards a large cathedral. Upon opening the doors and entering the cathedral grounds we realize we’ve just crashed a Muslim wedding. Aside from a few glances, the attendees don’t seem to mind our presence. We soon leave and walk to a wall along the hill’s edge providing a panoramic view of the entire town. Not far below I spot our cruise director and a handful of adventurous tourists making their way through a secret passageway. Not long after I lead my parents down the same route.

I wake up the next morning to another new location. This time we are in Rouen (pronounced “Ruw ah”). My parents and I enjoy some breakfast in the dining room before commencing our 9 a.m. guided tour. We walk along streets and through alleys containing homes dating back to the 17th century. What’s most impressive about these homes is they aren’t made of durable rock, they’re made of wood. Oakwood, to be specific. To make the Oakwood more durable, inhabitants would soak the timbers in the ocean for 7 years and then dry the wood for 7 years before building with it. 14 years later, construction could begin. Another interesting facet of these homes is they are significantly larger on the 2nd and subsequent floors compared to the ground floor. Why? Because back when they were built, owners paid taxes on the surface area of the plot of land. So after building a tiny first floor, they would gradually increase the size of each subsequent floor. The result is an optical spectacle of multi-story, overlapping, leaning houses.

As we wander towards the main square the guide points out that the cobblestone roads are taller on the sides than in the middle. The reason for this is twofold. The first reason has to do with the nonexistence of a toilet at the time. Residents of Rouen (and various other towns) during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries would toss their waste out of windows and into the streets (of course they would first have to yell “Guardez l’eau!” to inform all passerby’s of the oncoming wad of crap (pun intended)). And in case you were wondering – yes, that expression did, in fact, popularize the modern day term for toilet, “loo.” To maintain the filth and the stench residents used a combination of nature and pigs. They let pigs rummage the streets and consume the waste while the rains would take care of any remnants. The second reason the streets were taller on the sides was because that is where the kings would walk. As such, they would appear taller and “of a higher class” than the rest of the town’s residents. If a mere citizen happened to cross the path of a king, he would have to step down into the middle of the street while the king continued walking on the side.

Our last stop in Rouen is at the memorial of Joan of Arc. Joan of Arc, a peasant girl living in medieval France, believed that God had chosen her to lead France to victory in its long-running war with England. With no military training, Joan convinced the embattled crown prince Charles of Valois to allow her to lead a French army to the besieged city of Orléans, where it achieved a momentous victory over the English and their French allies, the Burgundians. After seeing the prince crowned King Charles VII, Joan was captured by Anglo-Burgundian forces, tried for witchcraft and heresy and burned at the stake (which has been since replaced by this memorial) in 1431, at the age of 19.

Sunday morning I wake up to yet another new city. This time we are in Caudebec-en-Caux. Our morning tour takes us to Etretat, a commune along the English Channel. The weather is much colder today and the ocean breeze only makes matters worse. Our group, cuddling to retain warmth, listens to the history of this town. To me, I’m more entranced by the beauty here than the history. To the left is a hill leading to a massive cliff with a striking resemblance to an elephant drinking water from the ocean and to the right is an equally massive hill leading to an equally beautiful view.

While the hike to the “elephant cliff,” as I’m dubbing it, is more challenging, my parents and I decide to undertake it. Shivering in our boots, we ascend quickly, only stopping to take scenic photographs. I cause my mom’s heart to skip a few beats as I climb atop rocks and stand on ledges “only idiots” would stand on. We make it to the top before rushing down to ensure we make it back before the bus leaves. Arriving a few minutes early, my dad and I meander through a local fish shop, with me careful not to touch any crustaceans.

After lunch we have another tour. This time to Honfleur; home to a scenic harbor in the center of the city, an ageless wooden church and 12th Century chateau ruins. Our guide leads us into the Basilica of St. Thérèse, dedicated to St. Theresa. Photos of this wondrous girl rest along every wall. As the story goes, St. Theresa had an energy unlike anyone. She also had the ability to cure many incurable illnesses. 100 years after her death, the ill still pray to her to cure them. Our guide tells us a personal story in which she also prayed to St. Theresa and a miracle happened.

After dinner I head to my room and chat online with Riley. With a 9 hour time difference between San Diego and France I’m only able to speak with my girlfriend for the few hours between dinner and bedtime. Tonight we do a fair bit of catching up. The responsible girl she is, Riley’s been working every day. And with me not distracting her all the time, she’s been wildly productive in purchasing health insurance from the exchange (since she turned 26 this month and will no longer be covered by her family’s plan beginning in May), applying for tutoring jobs in our next location and coordinating her babysitting gig which is set to begin in a few weeks. This is the first time I’ve been apart from Riley for more than a few days since we started this trip together, and I dearly miss her. But as they say, distance makes the heart grow fonder.

Monday morning we’re ported in the same spot as the day before. While the majority of the group leaves for the optional tour to Normandy Beach (think: D-Day), my parents and I decide to have a lazy-day and stay back on the cruise. Our physical activity today consists of my dad and I playing shuffleboard on the deck (this is my dad’s first time ever playing) and my parents and I going on a short stroll through the small town. To put in perspective how small this town truly is, in the 2 hours we walked every inch of Caudebec-en-Caux, we ran into the same man 5 times.

At 5 p.m. every day, anyone interested is invited for coffee, tea, sandwiches and dessert in the panorama room, where servers stand patiently behind the bar and a man in a suit plays classics on the piano. Feeling jocular, I decide to play a prank on my dad today. While he stands up to get some coffee, I take the black olive off my salmon sandwich and bury it into the middle of his vanilla pastry. I carefully compress the surrounding cake to conceal the tiny black ball. He returns to his seat unknowing. Attempting my hardest to avoid laughing I bring up casual topics like our remaining itinerary and how my little brother is doing back home. Waiting for my dad to begin eating his pastry is torture, as he prefers to casually eat his sandwich and sip his coffee. Finally, he takes the first forkful. I turn away, trying my hardest not to laugh. He takes another forkful, still not having gotten hold of his little surprise. I close my eyes and look down at the floor. He takes a 3rd forkful, this time unwedging the olive from its temporary home. It rolls onto the plate. I burst out laughing to the point of streaming tears. My dad stares at me wide-eyed, waiting for me to explain myself. But I can’t. “You need to fix this problem,” he says, still oblivious to my prank. Shaking his head in non-understanding he forks another chunk of cake, this time taking the olive for a ride. I turn to stare at my dad as he scrunches his face in disgust. His face remains in that form until he breaks out into the longest, heaviest laugh I’ve seen in years. For the next three minutes we cannot stop laughing. For sure, the fellow passengers on this cruise ship are convinced we spiked our coffees with vodka. “Those damn Russians.” Once calm enough to speak my dad looks at me and says “If you were 13, I’d understand. But you’re nearly 26 years old, Misha.”

I wake up early on Tuesday, knowing I have to be on the tour bus by 8:30 a.m. The drive to Giverny is storybook like (well, at least the parts I see in between naps). We pass fantastic fields of animals, gorgeous gardens with blooming spring flowers and endless rows of pink-flowered apple trees. Our pint-sized tour guide, maintaining a hilarious high-pitched French accent, utters the words “ooh-la-la” and “ya,” more times in a 5 hour stretch than I have heard in my entire life. But she makes up for it as her tales are captivating and her knowledge is expansive. She takes particular joy in morbid stories, such as that of the 2 men who were having an affair with the prince’s wives and were thus tied to horses, urinated on for days while being starved, then castrated, skinned alive and hung from a tree. “How crazy, ya?” she says upon finishing her recollection with a smile.

Giverny is where Claude Monet lived and painted for the final 43 years of his life. His 5 bedroom home is a spectacle in itself, but his garden is out of this world. The scene for many of his most famous work, including countless bridge paintings and the world renowned water lilies series, this garden contains rows upon rows upon rows of exotic flowers of all shapes, colors and sizes. Foot and a half tall yellow and red tulips, full beds of remarkable red roses, passionate purple Aubrietas and gorgeous white irises trees fill this massive plot of land. We cross the bridge, represented in countless masterful works of art, and near the water lilies. How tranquil it must have been to live here.

No one enjoys this gander through the gardens more than my mom, an aficionado of flowers. The smile never leaves her face as we quietly stroll through this rainbow of color. Using me for my photography skills, she has me snap pictures on her phone of the countless florae dispersed here.

Foregoing the second tour of the day to Versailles, we stay on the boat as it takes off back to Paris. My dad and I sit atop the deck and watch as we approach a dam and are subsequently entrapped inside a lock which fills up with water before allowing us to continue our journey, now 10 feet taller. We then play another round of shuffleboard, which is won by my dad. Old man’s still got it.

At dinner, we eat our usual 4-5 course meal with our new Russian friends, Valerie and Irena. We met them on our second night on the cruise and have been eating all our meals with them since. The couple, appearing in their late 40’s to early 50’s have actually been married for 40 years. Originally from Odessa, Ukraine, they moved to Brooklyn, NY around the same time as my family. They now own a house in Brooklyn and seem to be doing pretty well for themselves. Tonight’s conversation is mostly dictated by my mom and Irena, as they discuss TV shows and Russian books. After dinner I finalize Riley and my move out inspection (taking place the day after I return, on April 26) and our move out date (April 30).

On Wednesday morning we are docked in Paris. The trip has come full circle. We rush breakfast in fear of missing the 8:30 a.m. bus tour. My parents and I stand outside the bus confused why only Germans surround us. Turns out our tour doesn’t begin until 9 a.m.

In the few hours we have before lunch, the bus driver cruises through Paris, while the fast-speaking tour guide describes our surroundings. If you’ve been wondering when I was going to mention all those places you generally associate with Paris, the answer is now. We drive past the French Parliament, cruise beside the Louvre (a whopping half-marathon’s worth of hallways and containing 30,000 paintings on exhibition and another 270,000 in the basement) and park beside the Luxembourg Gardens. We then drive over to Trocadero square where we observe the gorgeous Hôtel National des Invalides and the, you guessed it, Eiffel Tower. Built in 1889 for the world fair and the 100 year anniversary of the French Revolution, the Eiffel Tower is truly a magnificent work of art and architecture. Parting from our tour group in order to do our own exploration of Paris, my parents and I walk beneath this 986 foot tall structure. As much as I’d love to ascend the 3,720 steps to the second (of 3) levels and then ride the elevator to the top, I know that this will consume the entire day and we won’t get to see anything else. As such, we merely walk through the evergreen fields of the Champ de Mars and onto the artificial island of Île aux Cygnes, containing the 1/3 in size replica of the Statue of Liberty, before returning to the ship. After lunch my parents and I walk to the L’Orangerie museum, highlighted by two galleries containing the eight tranquil paintings of Monet’s large-format waterlily series. If lined up side by side, the works would measure 91 meters, or 298.5 feet, in width. They are also conceived so that the four in one gallery represent sunrise, and the four in the other evoke dusk.

The day is capped off with a delightful 5 course Captain’s dinner, an introduction to the wonderful men and women that make our dining experience possible (the kitchen crew) and a few meaningful words from the ship director. The Baked Alaska dessert is the perfect topping to a delightful meal.

At 9 a.m. the next morning we depart the ship for our final time. Despite not refunding us for my brother’s cancelled reservation or allowing us to switch out his reservation to another name, Gate 1 (the company through which we purchased our reservations) and Amadeus Diamond were a class act. Everything from the food to the service was sincerely enjoyable.

A few metro transfers later we arrive at Saint-Mandé Station. A 20 minute walk later we arrive at Building # 23, home to Yafa. Yafa is a woman we contacted through AirBNB. While our original plan was to stay in her second flat in the center of Paris, her boiler exploded. However, she was kind enough to lend us her main unit in Saint-Mandé while she left town for a personal matter. The flat is everything we need. 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen and a living room. WiFi and a functioning boiler is included.

After unloading our belongings, we head back to the center of Paris to meet with a tour guide we hired through recommendation. Her name is Zhenya and she is originally from Moscow, Russia, like us. We start our tour with a tasty peasant-style lunch at Lyon Café, where I get to try foie gras for my first time. For those who don’t have a weak stomach, foie gras is the overfattened liver of a goose. To create this delicacy, a goose’s liver is force fed with food until it becomes excessively large. The goose is then killed and it’s liver is fed to the French. This sadistic ritual results in this fat and cholesterol rich food I consume today. The rest of our afternoon is spent on our feet.  Our first stop is the Saint Chapelle, where Zhenya attempts to bypass the long line awaiting entrance by stating she is a tour guide. In return for her efforts she is reamed out by the woman working the ticket booth, loud enough for the last person in line to hear. After a few impolite things said (which I won’t disclose in this blog) between these two alpha females, we get back in line and eventually enter the cathedral (but not before the ticket lady told Zhenya she will not sell her tickets until Zhenya apologizes). What stands out most about this 13th century building are the stained glass windows on the second floor. These intricately designed pieces of art are the most extensive in-situ collections of 13th-century stained glass anywhere in the world. The blues, yellows, greens, oranges, reds and purples illuminate as the clear-skied sun shines through the glass. The 4 of us then stroll through Ile de Cite en route to the Notre Dame. Emphasis, on “the” as this is the world famous Notre Dame, built in the 13th century. Not one of the umpteen other Notre Dame’s we’ve seen on this trip. The cathedral lives up to the hype, from both the exterior and the interior. 315 foot tall gothic structures encompass this massive form or architecture. It took 185 years to fully complete this structure, and the result is truly awe-inspiring. We also wander through the Latin Quarter, home to the world famous Sorbonne University (University of Paris). In the center square countless students rummage through textbooks in notebooks while sipping on coffee and nibbling on pastries at the Café’s. Unlike my experience at the University of Florida, rather than locking yourself in the silence of your room or the library, students here prefer the jibber jabber of the many cafes dispersed throughout Paris.

As we cross one of the many bridges from which tons and tons of locks (yes, like the cheesy scenes in love movies), a boy on a scooter (not unlike the Razor scooters we rode as kids) scoots by me. This is another unique aspect I’ve noticed of France. These scooters are everywhere. Children and adults alike, cruise around town in these L-shaped chunks of metal as if it’s the greatest invention on earth. And with the narrow streets and heavy traffic, they may be the greatest invention here.

At 6 p.m. we depart from our host and catch a taxi towards Avenue George V, home to the famous Crazy Horse show. Before entering the theater we sit down for dinner at a nice looking restaurant. We order escargot, duck and salmon. Despite the concept of eating snails sounding rather nasty, the pesto and olive oil drenched delicacy is absolutely delightful.

Not to say I’m overly experienced in erotic shows, but Crazy Horse is by far the most sexual thing I have ever witnessed. I won’t get into detail, plus I’d rather you see it for yourself, but all I’ll say is you will be hard-pressed to find any sign of clothes, at any time, on the performers. I also wouldn’t say this is the ideal show to watch with your mom and dad, but if it’s not awkward for you then be my guest.

By the time we arrive home it’s nearly midnight. I undress and plop down on the bed belonging to a child. With my feet hanging off the edge, and surrounded by Spider Man toys, I fall asleep.

I wake up Friday to our final day in France. My mom is sad, as she always is at the end of vacations. Today’s itinerary consists of the D’Orsay museum. While this 5 story, former train station has a plethora of visually stimulating pieces, I am most overjoyed by the 5th floor, containing Impressionist work from the likes of Claude Monet, Eduard Manet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissaro, Alfred Renault and Pablo Piccasso. Three to four hours and a sub-par café lunch later we exit the museum and continue our exploration of Paris. Our next stop is Montmarte, home to the stunning Basilique du Sacre-Cœur. We ascend the 270 steps to the structure and walk through impressive interior. We then walk through the overcrowded-with-tourists streets of Place du Tertre until locating a pastry shop. My mom has been waiting for this moment since, well, probably since before she even arrived to France. Paris is renowned for their pastries and my mom has been aspiring to purchase and munch on one of those little pies with berries and glaze on top. We purchase 3 goodies – a slice of pear pie, a chocolate éclair and a slice of raspberry pie. We sit on a typically tiny French table and ingest more unneeded sugar. Since arriving in France, I’ve been eating desserts 3 times a day. Like clockwork, I have a sweet every lunch, pastry hour (see olive in the cake story above) and dinner. If I’m feeling really rowdy I’ll even have one of those chocolates the cleaning lady leaves on my pillow before bed. That’s an absurd amount of sugar but I’m in France; I can’t help it.

After this tasty break, we stroll along Rue Lepic, where we encounter the homes of Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec, before entering Boulevarde de Clichy (the red-light district). Here we have shop after shop of sex stores and club after club of strippers. We pass a 6 story Sexodrome. Speaking of sex, one thing I would like to talk about is the P.D.A. (Public Displays of Affection) in France. Like the stereotypes suggest, there’s plenty of it. At bus stops, museums, restaurants or merely in the middle of the street – couples are constantly sucking face for the world to see.

After getting offered hashish and cocaine and kindly declining, I continue walking with my parents in search of a restaurant. Along the border of the gay district we find one. We order duck filets and lamb. A wonderful last dinner in Paris. The only thing missing are frog legs.

An hour later I’m hungry again and I order a crepe with chicken, cheese and tomatoes in the Jewish district. This tasty goodness is prepared right before my eyes. Meanwhile, my parents, seemingly wanting to avoid a sugar crash, order another raspberry and strawberry pie at the local pastry shop.

We walk a bit farther until reaching the Bastille metro station. Before descending into the underground world of metro trains we take a second to admire the Place de la Bastille (the center square). Many years ago this city housed one of the most prominent prisons in the world.

I wake up Saturday morning feeling well-rested but unsettled. This wonderful trip has come to an end. I spent 10 wonderful days with my family and once I walk out Yafa’s front door, I likely won’t see my mom or my dad for months. My sadness is mitigated by the thought of Riley. In less than 24 hours she’ll be waiting for me at the San Diego Airport terminal.

I shower and join my parents at the breakfast table. An omelet, fruits and yogurt. It’s a few minutes till 10 a.m. and I turn to look at my mom. The corners of her lips curl downward and her eyes take on the form of a sad puppy’s; a face I’ve seen her make at the end of many a family vacation. “I don’t want this vacation to end,” she says.

A slight pang of guilt fills me as I realize my parents go back to work in two days while I go back to traveling. I stand up and hug and kiss each of my parents. Bon voyage.

The linoleum floor of the San Diego airport squeaks beneath my Asics tennis shoes. Riley’s borrowed purple carry-on Samsonite in hand and my Targus backpack swung over my shoulders, I make my way to the terminal exit, where Riley awaits me.

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