I guess it all started when James and I decided to cancel our trip to Germany because we realized that Aidan wasn’t ready for both of his parents to be gone for an entire week. We called Delta and after subtracting off some cancellation fees, were able to get what we paid in airfare credit and took a trip to Washington D.C. with the kids instead. No regrets. That was a great trip and it was my first time to our nation’s capitol.
But, we both still had about $600 leftover. I love to travel and so I was looking for a travel buddy to go to New York or somewhere new with me before the travel credit expired in a few months. But I couldn’t find anyone available to go with me. Just when I’d resigned myself to giving up the credit, James’s sister April contacted me to see if I’d be interested in joining her and her friend, Emily, on a trip to the French Riviera.
At first I said no. I mean, I was definitely interested, but again, I’m a busy mom of two little ones, plus my work was putting on a big conference at the end of October and I needed to be around for the planning which really ramps up at the last few months before the conference, and my kids are little, and I just didn’t know if I could get away for so long, and my kids are little…. I was really looking for more of a weekend domestic trip.
But, the more I thought about it, the more I really felt this pull to go. I’d even say it was a spiritual prompting. So, I prayed and told Heavenly Father that if He wanted me to go to Europe, I would, but he had to help everything fall into place. I needed inexpensive airfare, for starters.
The next day, I received an email from NextVacay telling me that Delta currently had a roundtrip deal to Paris, France for $550 right on the dates April, me, and Emily were looking at. This deal would likely only last 24 hours. I ran upstairs from where I’d been in our office and told James. He told me to take it. He and the kids would be fine for a week and this was an opportunity he didn’t want me to miss. So, I ran back downstairs and purchased the tickets. Then I told April that I was in.
We had two months to plan this trip. Over the course of our planning, it changed from a trip to the French Riviera and instead to a trip in Spain. Because I was flying in and out of Paris, and would need to head back, Emily and April decided to head to Paris for a day too.
Ultimately, after all the talking and purchasing and plans were all done, my trip over there turned into: One day in Paris by myself, and then four days in Sevilla, Granada, Málaga, and Madrid, with April and Emily (yes, that’s a new city each day), and then back to Paris where Emily and April would spend the day exploring the main city, and I would head off to Versailles to tour the palace and gardens by myself, then meet them at the Eiffel Tower later that evening for the light show. Talk about an adventure!
I was pumped. When the day came to fly to Paris, I really couldn’t believe that I was sitting at a gate that said this plane was heading to Paris, France. I exchanged my dollars for Euros at the exchange counter (next time, I think I’ll just go to a bank; the fee to use the exchange counter was expensive). Then, I waited.
|This was me when the plane that would take me to Paris pulled up.|
I watched movies for pretty much the entire flight. I think I tried to sleep for half an hour, but then gave up. I was far too excited. Besides, it was kinda nice to just sit and relax for ten hours. And Delta really takes care of you with their food and amenities on international flights by the way—I definitely recommend them.
The picture above was as close as I could get to Notre Dame, but it was enough. The gargoyles were still visible and I snapped a picture of them too.
|The gargoyles are just visible on that top ledge.|
I took a walk down the road that runs along the Seine River and just looked at the magnificent building. It is very much under construction and has a long way to go before it is restored, but it is still incredible and still very much worth a visit.
There were little shops all along the walkway too and I bought two little Paris snow globes as a present for my kids.
|The little crepe shop where I bought my afternoon snack|
|Heading out of the alleyway and toward the Louvre|
I got lost on my way to the Louvre, and what should’ve been a twenty minute walk ended up being an hour long tour of various parts of Paris. I saw some neat government buildings and gardens though and some shops and restaurants I would’ve never seen otherwise, so that was at least something, right?
|I have no idea what that building behind me is. I just thought it was pretty and I passed it a lot while trying to find the Louvre.|
Yeah, it’s nothing great, but hey, it’s proof that I saw her! It really was neat to see that famous painting.
I then headed to the statue area and saw Hammurabi’s Code and the Venus de Milo. I thought about going to find Napoleon’s Coronation, but the Louvre is a MAZE and I was losing a bit of patience. It honestly took long enough to find those two statues. It was about 5:00, I was hungry again, and I still needed to hit the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower before sundown.
|Venus de Milo|
I could’ve stopped at the Louvre’s cafeteria, but again, I just figured I’d find something to eat on the way to the Arc. That was a bit of wishful thinking, and well, there were a few places I could’ve stopped, but as it turns out, the Arc is directly west of the Louvre and I just wanted to get there. Google Maps told me that it was a 45 minute walk, but the Arc is HUGE and looked so close, I figured I could get there in 30!
|Place de la Concorde|
|Tiffany’s on Champs-Élysées|
I finally did make it to the Arc. I only wanted a picture with it and got that taken care of pretty quick by some fellow kind tourists.
|Taxi Ride—can you tell I’m exhausted and going on little sleep? 🙂|
When the taxi turned a corner and the Eiffel Tower came into view, all I could think was, “Wow! That is HUGE!” My friend who had been to Paris before me warned me that I would be amazed at the Eiffel Tower’s massiveness, but I still hadn’t been prepared for it. She told me to get as close to it as I could and just gaze up at it. Yes, it is massive.
|Waiting for the shuttle with my dinner|
|Tile on the floor of La Plaza|
|Andalusia Flag, Spain Flag, and European Union Flag|
I got some lunch and then joined April and Emily, who had arrived by that time, back in the Plaza. We enjoyed watching some Flamenco and they kindly snapped a picture of me in the Plaza.
|I enjoyed seeing the little train playground. It reminded me of Adelynn and Aidan and made me smile.|
|A more castle-looking part of the wall|
|Santa Cruz Barrio. I was thrilled with how “European” it looked.|
|We saw this sign about Washington Irving once staying in a particular room in the barrio. Irving seemed to have been all
over the Andalusia region.
|The cathedral that is home to La Giralda|
|April and Emily gazing up at the cathedral|
Next up was Granada. We got up early and took a charter bus about two hours from Sevilla to Granada. The road to Granada was mainly farms and fields and it was lovely in it’s own way even if it reminded me a lot of the drive from Spokane to Seattle.
When we arrived, we first walked around outside the church where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel are buried. It was quite an active area with shops, restaurants, and even mimes. There was quite a bit of history and life to the area and one building was even being excavated. It was a fun 45 minutes just walking around and exploring.
|April walking down the corridor between the church and the other buildings/shops|
|A mime. Every time someone put a coin in his bowl, he changed position. He had three positions.|
|The building being excavated.|
|April and I in the corridor between the church and the shops.|
|King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel are buried in there|
|Statues of King Ferdinand, a pope (not sure which), and Queen Isabel|
After we explored the area near the famous king and queen’s burial place, we headed to our main attraction of the day: La Alhambra. I had heard of La Alhambra a long, long time ago, probably in a high school Spanish class, and its name had a distant ring to it. April was the one who really drove us all to see this and I’m glad she did. It is a fascinating fortress teaming with the history of the area. I will not spend time in this blog post going over it, but for anyone interested, you can read more about it here.
La Alhambra was as massive as it was beautiful. We spent quite a bit of time exploring the gardens which seemed endless, but were very, very beautiful even in late summer.
|Everywhere I went in Spain, there was so much attention given to detail. Even the floor was decorated!|
|This was a clever irrigation system that was implemented into the gardens.|
|Looking out over the city of Granada from the palace|
After our visit to La Alhambra, we paused for a couple of hours. I rested at the apartment and I believe April and Emily went grocery shopping. After my rest I went to a restaurant and had my first experience ordering in Spanish. I then met up with April and Emily and we headed to the gypsy caves museum. However, something was happening that evening that caused the buses to not go as far as they usually can, or we’d misunderstood which bus line to catch. We were about to resign ourselves to not seeing the caves and just exploring the neighborhoods near them, when I decided that I really did want to see those caves and when would I ever get a chance to see gypsy caves again? Maybe someday, but I didn’t know that. So, I asked Emily and April if they would be okay booking it up a large hill where we had hoped the bus would take us, and see if we could make it to the museum before it closed.
|A home. You can see the bed in the back.|
|Basket weaving cave|
|There was beautiful pottery in another cave|
|The outside of a cave|
|The caves in the hillside.|
|April and Emily heading back down the large hill. (I had to sneak to get pictures of these two! They prefer not to be in pictures, but I wanted to remember them as well as the places.)|
On our way back to the main road where we would get our bus, we noticed quite a lot of religious activity in a neighborhood. We stopped inside a Catholic church to see if we could figure out what was going on, but we couldn’t, and continued on our way. As we did, we noticed a bunch of people lined up, like a parade was going to start. We sat down and I struck up a conversation with the man next to me to see what was happening. This ended up being one of the highlights of my trip!
|Antonio and I|
|The procession starting|
|The proud “marching bands”|
We headed home after about fifteen minutes of the procession. Outside of our apartment, there was some dancing happening and we got to see a little bit of the Spanish night life. We didn’t participate though because we had to be up early again the next morning to head to Málaga.
|The square where people were dancing|
|And, a random street light. I really liked the street lights in Granada. Again, that Spanish attention to detail just amazed me.|
|The section of office building dedicated the the church.|
|As I Search the Holy Scriptures|
|Behold! A Royal Army|
|Translation: “It is through obedience that we acquire light in our soul.”|
|The Relief Society room. The teacher did a great job, by the way. She had a fantastic energy about her!|
After church, we headed to our Air BnB which took a bit of trial and error to find, but we did indeed find it. I got started on some laundry and then we headed on a walk to see an old Roman amphitheater. I was pretty excited. Europe was turning out to be so cool! There was so much history EVERYWHERE!
|James later told me that the Aldi’s he had shopped at in Minnesota as a missionary had never had anything fresh! He was surprised to see these pastries.|
We ate our dinner and then headed to the beach so that I could swim in the Mediterranean Sea. This was another highlight of the trip for me! I have never swam in any saltwater besides the Pacific Ocean. It was very exciting for me to cross another great body of ocean water off my bucket list.
|Me swimming with the lighthouse in the distance|
|The beach. I liked that there was a playground on the beach.|
Next, we saw Sobrino de Botín, the world’s oldest operating restaurant. Hemingway ate here, I think multiple times, when he came to Madrid.
|Guinness World Record plaque stating that it is the world’s oldest operating restaurant|
We took a break after visiting these places and stopped in at a cafe. I ordered some churros con chocolate, which is a must try any time you go to Spain! The hot chocolate is like a thin pudding and dipping Spanish churros in it is a heavenly combination.
We once again did not enjoy any Spanish night life because we had to get up early. I hardly slept that night because our apartment was so stuffy. But, I survived, and we were off to France the next morning.
At the Orly airport in Paris, April and Emily and I parted ways. They went off to see the main city of Paris while I, having already seen Paris, went to Versailles. I wanted to see the palace and had purchased a time-stamped ticket to an audio-guided tour of the palace that started at 1:30 p.m.
I nearly didn’t make it on time because I had the HARDEST time finding the correct metro at the Gare Montparnasse. After a lot of prayer, and asking directions from a kind vendor, I made it with about two minutes to spare. I asked a woman on the train if I was heading to Versailles, and she confirmed it for me. She spoke excellent English and so I then had an enjoyable twenty minute conversation with this woman all the way to Versailles. She was from Peru, but had come to Paris for a job in fashion. She missed her country, but enjoyed her work, and there weren’t many, if any, opportunities for her at home. I could tell she was very smart and likely very good at her job.
Anyways, I made it with a bit of time to spare to the place I was supposed to meet to be guided to the palace and given my audio guide. I was able to drop off my backpack at the palace, which was very welcome. Then, I was given my audio guide after passing through some security, and I was off to explore the palace and its gardens.
The palace itself was very interesting, especially the Hall of Mirrors. I remember being amazed at the opulence and not a bit surprised at how ticked off the revolutionaries of the French revolution were at the monarchy. It was all quite lovely though and the many kings who had lived in that palace had been great interior decorators and also very proud Frenchmen. There was so much history everywhere in the palace and it was such a treat to see it.
|The magnificent golden gate outside of the palace.|
|The king’s room|
|The Hall of Mirrors|
|Marie Antoinette’s room|
|Marie Antoinette and her children|
|The Coronation of Napoleon (so glad I didn’t try to go find this in the Louvre)|
|Bottom floor of the palace where a museum had been placed by one of the kings|
The palace was magnificent, but I especially loved the gardens. I’ll admit though, that despite me being in the gardens of the Palace of Versaille, I did order a cheeseburger and french fries at the little restaurant just inside the gardens. I loved my adventure, but I wanted to eat something familiar and that cheeseburger and fries hit the spot.
|I liked this statue because it’s the only one I’ve seen of a father being portrayed as so attentive and loving towards his child.|
|The view of the palace from one side of the gardens.|
The palace and its grounds closed about fifteen minutes after I finished my self-guided tour. I grabbed my backpack and headed to the train to go back to Paris. I had planned to meet back up with Emily and April at the museum on the west side of the Seine River directly across from the Eiffel Tower. We were going to watch the light show together before we headed to our last Air BnB.Unfortunately my train was heavily delayed by a train in front of it that was having some severe technical issues. We were delayed about an hour and a half and creeped station by station. When we were stopped a station away from the one that I wanted, and been sitting there for about half an hour, I decided to get off the train and find a taxi. I wanted to see the 9:00 p.m. light show with April and Emily. The light show was on the hour every hour after dark and I knew that they wouldn’t want to stay out for the 10:00 show since they wanted to get up early again the next morning and I really didn’t want to miss this light show.
As I hopped off the train, I heard an announcement. I looked at a woman next to me who was listening too.
“Is it the same?” I asked her, hoping she spoke English. I assumed it was the same “sit tight, we’re working on it” announcement that had been happening the last hour and a half, but didn’t speak French, so didn’t know for sure.
“It is the same,” she said.
I would later learn that she was actually asking me the same question. She assumed I spoke French. I assumed she did. The reality was, she spoke Portuguese and very broken English. I just spoke English.
I exited the train station and saw the Eiffel Tower straight ahead, but still at least a 45 minute walk away. I was surprised there weren’t any taxis waiting outside the station for impatient, desperate travelers. I went into a metro station, but none of the lines went to the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t know how to navigate the bus system. I was about to start walking to the Eiffel Tower when the woman I had just spoken with grabbed my arm and said something to me in Portuguese.
“I don’t speak French,” I told her.
“French? Not French. Portuguese. I speak Portuguese!” she replied.
“I speak English,” I replied.
She looked at the man with her who was apparently her husband. She said something to him in Portuguese.
He looked at me and said, “No Portuguese?”
“No,” I replied. “English?”
“Very little,” he replied.
We both sighed.
Then he said, “Where did you just come from?”
I replied, “Versailles.”
“No, what other country?”
“I visited Spain.”
“Sí!” I replied.
And from there we communicated with each other in broken Spanish. I told them that I planned to walk to the Eiffel Tower. The metro wouldn’t get us there. Our train had moved on (apparently that miscommunication between us was costly). They told me they needed to get to the metro station near the Eiffel Tower. I told them that I knew where that was and to follow me.
So, we trekked to the Eiffel Tower communicating a little here and there. They followed closely behind me. The woman seemed to question the wisdom of our decision after about twenty minutes, but her husband seemed to communicate back that he didn’t see any better options. After about 40 minutes I pointed out the Eiffel Tower metro station to them for which they were grateful. We parted ways.
I made my way over to the Eiffel Tower and made it to the top of the stairs of the museum about ten minutes before the show started. April and Emily were still making their way over. As I stared at the lit up tower, waiting for the show to start, wondering at it’s beauty and taking in the view of the city with the moon just to the left of the tower, someone tapped my shoulder.
It was a boy, about my age, maybe younger, offering me a rose. I told him no thank you. He said it was free. Naive, I thanked him and took it. I gazed at the Eiffel Tower again for a few seconds, and then felt him tapping my arm. I turned and asked him what he wanted. He demanded payment. I told him, “No, you gave it to me,” and turned away again. He kept demanding payment. I paid him a little and he demanded a little more. I didn’t want a scene and I wanted him to go away, so I paid him a little more. He went away. I was annoyed, but determined not to let the exchange spoil my evening. Just then the light show started.
It was lovely watching the sparkling Eiffel Tower. Pictures can’t capture it. And in the background the song “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran was playing. I thought of James since that is our song. I missed him. Holding the rose, which he probably would have bought for me had he been there, and listening to the song while I watched the dazzling show, I felt close to him in that moment and looked forward very much to seeing him the next day.
|Thinking of James|
After the show, I met up with April and Emily. We took pictures in front of the tower and then headed to the metro to get to our AirBnB, a fantastic Parisian apartment that I actually wished we could have spent more time in.
I gave everyone their souvenir gifts. James enjoyed the chocolate croissant I had bought eleven hours earlier in the CDG airport, Adelynn put on her pink Flamenco dress and danced around, and Aidan kicked his soccer ball all over the downstairs. They would also run over and admire their Paris snow globes, ask some questions, then run off to play again. I snuggled up to James and watched them play. It was good to be home.
Remember how I said I felt a pull to go on this trip? I’m not entirely sure why that was, but I will say that I definitely missed my family while I was away. I mean, I loved my adventure, but my adventure also helped me realize what matters most. I didn’t miss work which I always looked forward to getting to each day before my trip; I missed my people. I came home with a new appreciation towards them and that appreciation has lasted these last several months, though at times I’ve had to work at it ;).
Travel adventures are fun and I hope for many more in my future. But family adventures are better and I hope for many, many more of those. And, hey, if we can continue to combine the two every now and then, all the better!