My first-ever trip to Paris, France from Roseau,Dominica had been anticipated for several months. From the moment French friends Carole and Gildas extended an invitation to their wedding ceremonies to take place on January 10, 2015, I focused on preparations for this big trip overseas. I never dreamed that I would see them just under a year after they left Dominica. And it would be my first winter foray in 18 years! Fortunately, my Canadian visit during the summer of 2014 enabled me to buy winter clothes at bargain prices! However, it wasn’t a simple matter of packing my bags and boarding a plane. With my environmental health challenges, I ensured that my immune system would be in good shape for this exciting
adventure. As a conscientious ‘canary’ (that is, a person living with significant environmental health challenges), I consulted by phone with my longtime Canadian naturopathic physician, Dr. Shawna Clark, N.D. , whose clinic is located in Orillia, Ontario. She advised me about helpful nutritional supplements and homeopathic remedies which would provide support throughout this new and unfamiliar journey. Although she knew that I was somewhat apprehensive about what could happen, her positive encouragement enabled me to put my fears at rest and expect only the best!
I have been fascinated with ‘French’ for most of my life. I guess that makes me a ‘Francophile‘ who grew up in a Francophone country – Canada! However, I was born to Anglophone parents in La Belle Province, which means, in essence, that I really am Québécoise! I actually spent some time there in June 2014, and if you’re interested in that French adventure, then you can read about it here.
Over the Christmas season in Dominica, I rested as much as possible, and continued with my walking, so that I would be in good shape for the Big Trip. My French friends, Carole and Gildas (the bride and groom) had asked me well in advance
for a list of things I would like to see and do. After I submitted it for their recommendations, they surprised me by informing me that during my first few days,Carole would escort me and then they would both take me on a mystery tour later that week. They had also provided me with detailed instructions so that I could more easily find my way from the airport to the Solar Hotel (an ecological hotel), where I would be spending several days. I had my agenda at the ready and I was determined to check everything off of my list. You’ll find out later whether I succeeded or not!
Finally, Sunday December 28th arrived. I left before daybreak to travel across the island to board my flight on WINAIR from Douglas-Charles Airport at Melville Hal,l Dominica to St. Maarten. From there, I spent a few leisurely hours before boarding my Air France flight to Charles De Gaulle
Airport (CDG) near Paris. While there were some slight delays, I was well occupied by watching planes land not far from a crowded beach, just a short walk from the airport. I also studied the guide-book that my Dutch friends Gijs and Georgie had loaned to me. And I also carried a mini-tablet, which proved to be an invaluable tool for communication with friends and family, ordering tickets for a jazz concert, getting detailed travel directions for locations around the city, and reading frequent updates on the terrorist attacks during this unforgettable trip.
Although I only slept a little on the overnight flight, I was almost beside myself when the plane crossed over the southwestern coast of France en route to CDG. As we neared Paris, and started our descent, the bright lights of the city kept my attention, as I marvelled at the unrelenting darkness. It was well after 8 a.m. local time! I had forgotten about the very short days this far north just after the winter solstice! I certainly did gain a full appreciation for the lovely City of Light, as the displays of illumination at night were breathtaking.
Thanks to those specific instructions from my French friends, I easily made my way from the CDG Airport by RER train to the Denfert Rochereau station, a mere five minutes walk to my hotel. However, after I stepped out of the warm train and then dragged my 50 lb. bag and other paraphernalia up a steep flight of stairs, I walked out into the cold air and gasped. My hands turned to ice quickly as I searched for my gloves without success. I had Carole’s map in hand, but I felt so disoriented in the dim light that I did not know in which direction I should proceed. As I dragged my heavy load across a busy street, I noticed a taxi stand. Although I knew I was close, I approached a driver for directions and he graciously pointed the way. He could see that I was uncertain, so he kindly offered to take me without charge to the Solar Hotel, which as it turned out, was just around the corner. No sooner had I stepped out and thanked him, than Carole ran up to me and embraced me warmly. I said (in English) “I have to pinch myself. I can’t believe I am really here!”
I did not feel tired due to my immense excitement, so I dropped my bags, quickly showered and located my gloves while Carole patiently waited for my in the
foyer. We had a light lunch (I savoured a big bowl of French Onion Soup!) and then we headed off by Métro (underground) to the Arc De Triomphe and the Champs d’Elysées.
I was still chilled, so the first order of the afternoon was a café au lait! As we strolled along the broad boulevard, surrounded by thousands of darkly attired Europeans and tourists, I realized that my brightly coloured Canadian ski jacket was not in vogue in this fashion capital of the world. However, I did stand out in the crowds, which proved to be helpful during the next few days. Carole could easily spot me in long queues when she went elsewhere to buy our tickets or find food to sustain us during lengthy waits to enter tourist sites!
When we commenced our climb up the winding stairway inside the 50 metre high Triumphal Arch (I was too close to take a proper photo of it), I was indeed thankful that I liked to walk up hills in Dominica. What I didn’t expect was a little shortness of breath due to the cold air – a dramatic climate change for me! While I admired Napoleon’s handiwork, I was more than mesmerized by the 360 degree views of Paris. Carole continued as my professor by pointing out numerous sites and explaining their significance. My head was not just spinning from the height! I took in what I could, knowing that I would follow up in my guidebooks and online references. Meantime, we circumnavigated the structure, and I swooned when I looked through a sheet of glass down to the Memorial to the Unknown French Soldier during WW I (1914-1918)beneath the arch, far below! After our descent, I spent a few moments there, thinking of my late paternal grandfather who as a young man, served in the British Army and spent time in the trenches in northern France. While he did survive, I wanted to pay tribute to him on French soil as that was one of the important priorities on my list of things to do here.
I hadn’t yet been here a full day, and I had taken in some important points of interest with my wonderful guide and teacher, Carole. We decided that we should continue our explorations the next day, so we boarded the Métro with plans set for a few hours hence. When I arrived back at the Solar Hotel, another
warm shower and a cup of organic herbal tea enabled me to lie down for a restful night in anticipation of the many adventures that lay ahead!