Airplane food. Though often the butt of many an unfortunate joke, this scoffed-at cuisine stands alone in my mind, not because of its flavor or its lack thereof, but because of its sentimental value. That chewy, cardboardesque croissant, those ice-cold dinner rolls, the oh-so-yummy mystery meat— all new to me. Believe it or not, airplane food was the first among a series of firsts that spanned my trip to France, and for this reason it will remain etched in my memory like the grooves of a coin.
With bellies full of microwavable chicken, oddly colored salad and God knows what else, my family and I embarked on our journey.
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And by “journey,” I mean our small yet hectic trek to Paris. Imagine a family of four—all of whom dazed from both jet lag and one-too-many melatonin —wandering confusedly through the metros, their over-sized luggage dragging at their feet. As comical an image as this may seem, let’s fast forward. Our destination, Paris, was not what I expected, though this was not necessarily a bad thing. In movies, on TV, even on those crisp and vibrant postcards, all you see is the good. The flowers and the architecture and the beautiful young couples. But, as is the case in all cities, darkness lurks about like a cat on padded paws. Litter, rain, poverty—you name it. However, these less-than-idyllic characteristics of Paris simply added to its realness, to the experience, and although my once-lofty vision of the city was tarnished by these things, a new, slightly-less-perfect Paris lay waiting to be explored.
Of course, we visited the city’s hot-ticket tourist venues, whether it be Le Tour Eiffel, Notre Dame or L’Arc de Triomphe. And while yes, they were in fact beautifully beautiful, marvelously marvelous, and wonderfully wonderful, I found that the most amazing spectacles were engrained in the culture itself. Take, for example, the courtyards: On just about every street corner, we found a small yet eclectic green space, complete with both foliage and benches. If you wanted to simply grab food to go— whether it be street falafel from Le Marais or Pain au Chocolat from Rue de Rennes—you could find somewhere to sit, relax, and chow down, if only for a short while.
Just as with the courtyards, other aspects of Parisian life surprised me in the most pleasant sense of the word. The strong European coffee, those teeny little cars, the abundance of attractive, well-dressed men. It was all so very new, yet so very real and vivid and bright. I found myself less enchanted with the tourist sites and increasingly awestruck by the cafés and the flowers and those little details that we, as travelers, often overlook. Even though the trip was relatively recent, I find that with each passing day, images of Sacré Coeur and Notre Dame fade from my mind like ink from an old, forgotten manuscript— easily and without remorse. On the contrary, certain memories—from our trip to a local market to our mastering of the metro—are as clear as day. Permanent. That being said, I have one piece of advice, and it has nothing to do with airplane food, mind you: Enjoy traveling. Do not rush from site to site, viewing everything through the faulty guise of a camera lens. Soak in the details, however minor they may seem, and try to—as that old cliché so simply states—take time to smell the roses.
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