Stepping out of the Charles de Gaulle Etoile subway stop and being greeted by the Arc de Triomphe as snow-peppered wind kissed my nose was the most magical moment of my life. Knowing that Napoleon’s prestige brought an entire continent to its knees and seeing the remnants of his power mere blocks from bullet-worn buildings from the German occupation felt like a swift basketball to the gut. I remember stopping for a moment and just breathing – I never wanted to forget that moment. Although as a massive history nerd I was completely enamored with France, what made it especially warm and fuzzy for me was sharing such incredible experiences with friends.
Everything about France I remember fondly – even the French TSA at 6 AM (although this is … a slighly less rose-colored memory). My friends and I worked for over a year and a half to afford this trip to France – my first time out of the country! – and being able to stumble through Parisian subways, pet French cats outside our hostel, and see lamp posts older than our country was worth every frustrated sigh and stained dress shirt.
As a note of reference, France is roughly the size of Texas. That is as far as the similarities to home went. As a 5 year Spanish student, I was hopelessly lost in every conversation – my friends quite literally were the only reason I could eat. Every creamy, flakey, and sweet concoction we shared was well worth the killer conversion rate. However, even 8,000 miles from home, we were surrounded by love and symbols of the kinship between the US and France. I felt oddly at home in the French countryside with my childhood best friend. My soul felt the same calmness I previously only felt in front of a Texan sunset.
One moment I will never forget is the American cemetery near Caen and visiting Omaha beach. Once we landed in Calais from Dover, we immediately began the long drive to the beautiful Northern Normande region. I have never been so overwhelmed and incapable of speech than when I saw the sea of white crosses facing West. My best friend hugged me and just sat quietly with me. Although it is a seemingly small gesture, I will never be able to express how meaningful this was and is to this day.
The combination of the rich and limitless historical artifacts to satisfy my heart, and quality time with friends provided a much needed reprieve and healing for all of our spirits. With our feet on the Bronze Star in Paris outside the Notre Dame, Lucia, our tour guide, said “ALL roads lead to Paris”. She told us that no matter where you are in the world, if you love France with all your heart, when you spin around in a circle and land with your leading foot slightly in front of the other, you will be facing toward the Bronze Star and simply need to head toward it to come home to France. Here in this beautiful place, my friends and I were reminded of the saying “home is where the heart is”. And in that very moment, with all of our feet on the Star, we were home.
Traveling with my fellow-history fanatic friends and cleaning each other’s latte foam mustaches while bustling down the streets of St. Malo was more than I could have ever asked for. France instilled a travel bug in me that I don’t think I’ll ever find the cure for – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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