Returning to Paris is always an odd experience for me. As my mom and I walked up to our hostel room together the other night we counted out how many times we had each been to Paris, whether together, with others or alone. My mom beat me out, totaling eight visits to my seven times. However, I feel that having lived in the city for ten months must count for something.
It is this fact, that I lived for nearly an entire year in Paris, that makes returning to the City of Light such a bizarre experience. In this year alone, although the South of France and Aix-en-Provence have quite truly captured my heart, I have been to Paris four times. Sometimes for only a few hours between travels, other times for several days. Each time is a little different though, and yet completely the same somehow.
I no longer feel the need to see everything and do everything that Paris has to offer. My visits are more likely to consist of sleeping in, relaxing in my hostel (or the park when it’s nice), going for a stroll, and meeting up with friends for lunch or coffee. There’s no rush anymore, nothing to tick off of my checklist (not that I would ever dare claim that I have seen everything Paris has to offer). At first I would always make sure that I at least went to visit the Eiffel Tower.
Even after seven visits and almost two years in France I have never climbed the tower (a trait that I am perfectly happy to share with many of the locals). Now even that tradition has started to fall to the wayside. Although I try to go pay it a visit, I am also content as long as I can say I saw it even from a distance. Nowadays my Paris visits are mostly just about me enjoying being back in such a wonderful city. Being back in a place I called home for so long.
Each time I still manage to make new discoveries. I wander into new stores, experiment at new restaurants, explore a new neighborhood (this is my personal favorite – I find one of my favorite ways of travelling and getting to know a new city is to just walk, wander, get lost even. You can’t get a real feel for a city or place if you’re just running from one monument to the next, one museum to another you need to actually experience it). There is always more to see, more to enjoy and learn.
Even in old neighborhoods, areas I could walk with my eyes closed, there is more to explore, more to learn. I find a new quicker route, realize a bus goes somewhere I didn’t know it did. Try something new on a favorite restaurant’s menu. It is wandering these familiar neighborhoods, these old haunts of mine that is truly the most disconcerting, however. It is odd, sometimes, how easily I can fall into that old routine.
Walking down the same streets, seeing the same familiar buildings and stores, bumping into the same people even sometimes! It feels like I never left sometimes. And then suddenly I see the boulangerie that had the fire all fixed up now. The grocery store on the corner that was most certainly not there when I left, or the new construction projects that they have started in my time away. Everything is so familiar, and yet so different and new at the same time. It feels (clichéd as it may sound) like slipping into a pair of shoes I haven’t worn in a long time. They still fit, they’re still comfortable for the most part, but it still takes some getting used to wearing them again. They’re no longer quite as stretched as you remember them being. Or maybe it’s your feet that have changed, a new callous here, a scrape there that’s still healing. It’s the same, it’s familiar, and yet there are differences that you just can’t ignore. And you’re not 100% sure if they are good or bad. Maybe it doesn’t matter. They’re just different, and different doesn’t have to be one or the other, it just is.
As for Paris, I don’t think I will ever be done learning about this city. And it will always hold a very important place in my heart. I love Paris, always will. I don’t know yet if I will move back there. Maybe I would like to, maybe not. Aix also holds a place in my heart, as does New Orleans, Portland, and (I am sure by the end of the summer) Rotterdam. Who knows where I will end up next year, hopefully in Europe but even if not then I expect this will not be my last time visiting this corner of the world at least. I don’t know where I will end up long term, and honestly I don’t care too much at the moment. I am young, I am carefree (to an extent) and I have little to tie me down. I will go where the wind (and work) takes me. Maybe there is another city waiting out there to capture my heart. And Paris, in the meantime, keeps changing; keep growing, for I will be doing the same. Just stay wonderful Paris as you do so. Never lose yourself and I will do my best to not lose myself either.
Do you have any cities that you return to again and again? Or places that you once lived and have since been back to? Where are they and what has it been like to return to a place you already know?